Renowned New Orleans piano man Dr John brought some hoodoo to Melbourne last night.
Playing a packed house at the Corner Hotel, the 69-year-old, backed by the superb Lower 911 on bass (David Barard), drums (Herman “Roscoe” Earnest III) and guitar (Reynard Poche), cast a spell in this sideshow gig ahead of Byron Bay’s East Coast Blues and Roots Festival at the weekend.
John looked resplendent in purple suit and hat. There were skulls on his piano and organ, a little bit of bone-shaking during a voodoo tune, a necklace of what looked like alligator teeth. (Barard, who played a solo support slot, had a Mardi Gras throw hanging from his mic stand.) But the magic was in the music, a parade of swampy R&B/blues/funk/gospel that had many in the crowd moving in time in defiance of a couple of sound glitches.
John looked a little slow on his feet, but the voice was as strong and distinctive as ever, joined in places by the throaty growl of Barard. He has a particularly fetching way of saying “all right”, that Southern accent carrying the charm of New Orleans in two simple words. He didn’t have a lot to say, but when he did, he revealed a dry sense of humour that appealed to the audience, if the shouts, claps and chuckles were an indication.
He played for 90 minutes, with Right Place, Right Time in the mix, and a couple of covers I didn’t recognise but apparently one has been around since “eleventeen years after dog shit”.
The encore saw John return for a version of Let the Good Times Roll, taking up the guitar — he started his career as a guitarist before an injury to his hand saw him turn to the piano — to rock out his farewell.
I still haven’t worked out what the object hanging from his right ear is, or how he manages to keep his glasses attached to the top of his ears. But there’s no doubting the good doctor still has his mojo.
As an aside, I’m not sure the Corner was the ideal venue for this gig. The general admission sweat pen might suit the young’uns who don’t mind pushing up the front once the gig has started, but I felt sorry for the older people in the crowd — and there were plenty of them as you’d expect for a performer of this style and vintage — forced to stand for at least two hours in the hot crush. Being shouldered and having line-of-sight disrupted by latecomers and drink-bearers is, unfortunately, par for the course when you’re surrounded by rock pigs, but you have to wonder how the grandparents enjoyed their not-cheap concert from the floor as the humidity and body odour rose.