Dr. John & the Lower 911 administered a dose of bayou blast into The Bear’s Den last Friday evening as the eclectic six-piece tore through selections from the good doctor’s catalog without even breaking a sweat.
They led off with a hip-shaking stroll through “Iko Iko” and never once let their foot off the gas.
Because “The Nite Tripper” experienced a creative resurgence stemming from his collaboration with Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) on last year’s “Locked Down,” both his health and performance were amped up compared to his last appearance in western New York. He came bearing the soul of the New Orleans underground scene for all to see and proved why he’s still one of the coolest musicians on the planet.
His voice slithered through each funk-filled arrangement with the control and jocularity of his early records, while the band laid down one tasty groove after another, leaving plenty of space for muscular improvisation.
Considering that this incarnation has only been playing together since the previous members were fired back in January, their ability to coalesce around whatever tribal rhythm Dr. John threw at them was impressive, to say the least.
At one point, he rose from his keyboard and began to prance across the stage like a medieval shaman keeping watch over his village. The band simply smiled and proceeded to further lose itself in the music, which meant that the audience was treated to some sublime back and forth between the members that elevated the show to its peak.
His best songs are laced with satirical commentary about the human condition, and “Revolution” and “The Monkey” fit that bill to a tee. Both were delivered in stunning fashion as his keyboard dexterity took center stage and had nearly everyone in attendance stomping their feet in ecstasy.
A Dr. John show is also one of the few moments when a trombonist is allowed to seize the spotlight for an extended period of time, an element that didn’t appear lost on those clamoring for the band to show off their individual chops.
Sarah Morrow, who has previously played with Ray Charles and Wynton Marsalis, made her trombone come alive in a way that’s not heard a whole lot anymore, so her contribution to the night’s overall success was invaluable.
When the two-hour set was complete, the gathered knew that they had just experienced one of the finest shows of 2013 thus far.
As for where Dr. John takes them in the future, who can say?
He’s a 72-year-old hall-of-famer riding a post-Grammy wave, so, whatever he does, the results will be just as significant as he is.