One of the things I've always liked about Dr. John is his ability to turn any music he touches into his own — Duke Ellington, Tin Pan Alley, Howlin' Wolf Blues. Which is maybe why it's been difficult for me to warm to his widely celebrated new release, Locked Down (Nonesuch). The Ethiopian-jazz doo-dads and retro-contemporary production by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach seems an attempt to turn Mac Rebennak into someone not himself – Amy Winehouse, perhaps.
>> PHOTOS: Dr. John at the Paradise <<
At the Paradise Wednesday night, in a generous performance (nearly two hours) in front of a full house, Dr. John and his Lower 911 Band stripped off the studio gunk of the new tunes; his regular crew seemed to enjoy digging into their grooves and odd harmonies. The baritone saxophone R&B kick from Derek Huston seemed just about right, as did the trombone blare of Sarah Morrow (the rest of the 911 Band was guitarist John Fohl, bassist David Berard, drummer Raymond Weber, and percussionist/second keyboardist Jon Cleary).
And Dr. John was in good form. He barely said a word except for one of his typically off-kilter raps in the middle of "Renegade" (which included the hoary joke about the psychiatrist who says, "I can see your nuts"). And there was the full complement of Dr. John New Orleans-funk standards, from the opening "Iko Iko" and "Right Place, Wrong Time" to "Goin' Back to New Orleans" and "Big Chief." He and Cleary (who opened the show with a solo set) each took turns playing some pointed, nasty blues guitar. With Dr. John, you're also always aware of the Afro-Latin underpinning of New Orleans funk, especially when he turns to a sweet, medium-tempo mambo like "Mama Roux," or even the slow voodoo groove of "I Walk on Gilded Splinters."
The typical Dr. John malaprops and turns of syntax kept the humor in close proximity to the political commentary of the newer songs. By the encore, "Food for Thought," Dr. John — who'd kept a straight face all night beneath his fedora and shades — broke into a broad smile. As he had sung earlier, "I ain't no Doctor, and I ain't no Doctor's son." He was Dr. John the Night Tripper. Mac Rebennack. Himself.
: Live Reviews
, Paradise Rock Club, Paradise Rock Club, Dan Auerbach, More