MAKING A TRIUMPHANT RETURN Nigel Hall comes back to Maine Friday night.
The Portland musical diaspora can be a wonderful thing. This past December I found myself in New Orleans, asking around about where to catch a great local show, and winding my way to the Maple Room (on Oak Street, naturally).
"Who's playing?" I asked the bouncer, handing over a fiver. He sort of grunted and pointed to a printed out Word file taped to the window.
"Holy shit! Nigel Hall?" That's right, the pride of Bangor and one of the original Monday night soul players at Portland's Big Easy was the featured attraction at one of the actual Big Easy's most respected local spots.
Now, you need to understand that New Orleans is hardly a glamorous place. And the Maple Room isn't much more than a black-box, elevated stage a couple steps up from a grimy bar with a single bartender. But this wasn't Bourbon Street. This wasn't a crowd of tourists with two-foot beers in their hands and designs on puking in the nearest gutter. People were there to get down (including a large 60-year-old black woman who was insistent on putting her hands down my pants).
Damn if Nigel didn't deliver. Playing a big old electric organ and a few other keyboards across from a guy on a light drum kit and a dude standing in the back on electric bass, Hall was impresario, bandleader, ham, lead singer, and everything in between. Doing soul and R&B standards, extended jams, and whatever might get the crowd going, the three-piece turned every song into a 20-minute opus.
At one point, they looked a bit at a loss for what to do and the drummer said, "just do that thing you were doing when we were warming up," and Nigel pounded out a bluesy riff that channeled everything you never knew about the Deep South. People were freaking the fuck out. Caught up in it, Hall finally punctuated the song by ripping the Jets hat off his head (he assures me he just likes the colors) and chucking it at the drummer to during his solo.
And that's the kind of thing you can expect to see when Hall brings himself back to the Big Easy this weekend for something of a triumphant return to the Pine Tree State, following a few years of playing with the likes of Soulive, Warren Haynes, Lettuce, and John Scofield.
He credits his time in Portland for honing that monster stage presence, too. "It helped me realize the importance of an audience," he says, over the phone from New Orleans, "and when you actually get an audience, what to do with it. When I get a crowd full of people, then I'm going all in. I'm going to make sure they come back. I mean, I'm not going to get naked and rub green Jell-O all over my body, but I'm going to do something that makes them say, 'Did you see what the fuck that Nigel Hall did on stage last night?'"