It's a good time to be a Dr. John fan living in New York: The 71-year-old New Orleans R&B standard bearer begins the final weekend of performances of his three-week residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Night Tripper's theme for the April 13 & 14 shows is "Funky But It's Nu Awlins," which highlights the best of Crescent City funk with guests artists Irma Thomas, Ivan Neville and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. It should be awesome.
I caught Dr. John's set at BAM last weekend, and there's no doubt that the man still has the corner on the market of vaguely psychedelic, sinuous R&B. The show I saw was the first live performance of his latest album, Locked Down, which has attracted more attention than other late-career releases thanks to its producer, the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.
For the BAM performances on April 5-7, Dr. John was joined by Auerbach on guitar, three outstanding soul singers, a swingin' horn section and bumpin' rhythm keepers as he jumped back and forth between two organs and a piano.
Decked out in a garish yet suave purple suit, Mac Rebennack (real name) played his swampy marriage of rhythm, blues n' rock while bathed in psychedelic bayou lighting and surrounded by scattered voodoo paraphernalia (A human skull on a piano? Interior design by Leatherface.)
Auerbach's guiding influence could be felt on the songcraft and even the band's playing. The tunes they showcased were more tightly constructed than John's material has been in a long time, but they were still carried by that loose, bluesy boogie that he's been mining since his classic 1968 debut Gris-Gris.
Oscillating between inspired, stream-of-consciousness mumbo gumbo and slinky New Orleans grooves, Dr. John and Auerbach were perfectly in sync and clearly relishing the live debut of their collaborative material. At separate points they both threw down a few moves, with the Doctor looking very sprightly for 71 and Auerbach resembling a Max Fleischer cartoon as he busted a move.
If you live in New York, I'd highly recommend heading to BAM this weekend to see Dr. John and his assortment of guests playing "Funky But It's Nu Awlins" on Friday and Saturday night. You can see the full guest list and grab tickets here. So far Dr. John hasn't planned a national tour behind Locked Down, but if he does, make a point to check it out. The Night Tripper is still in top form.