Jazz Fest Redux: Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Rockin’ Dopsie

31 05 2016

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Offbeat June 2016 [*Bits and pieces from my contributions to our group stab at covering Jazz Fest in bite-sized chunks. Because who doesn’t like bite-sized chunks?]

ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE IMPOSTERS

He could have stayed in his trailer backstage at Gentilly, but Elvis Costello had clearly come to this year’s Jazz Fest on a mission of honoring his late friend and collaborator, Allen Toussaint. And Toussaint was a guy whose ability to inspire awed stares and teary-eyed handshake introductions never kept him from passing out warm “hellos” by the food stands or by his Rolls after it pulled up on the track.

Shortly after the brown fedora–clad Costello arrived backstage for his set, he exited the Imposters’ trailer, tiny silver teacup in hand, and chatted with whomever passed by, smiling for pictures with giddy fans and looking content as he watched other artists load in under darkening skies. As his set time approached, Costello retreated into his trailer again, then returned, this time wearing a Toussaint button–adorned raspberry beret.

The set began with a massive burst of energy. What initially sounded like Kraftwerk blared through the speakers, the words “rise, robots, rise” audible through the ’60s sci-fi sound blur. A trip to the end of the Internet indicates it’s a tune from the 1965 flick Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon that sets the stage for what multiple bloggers say is some kind of intelligent robot takeover. That sounds about right given Costello’s use of radio and old-school TV imagery on his last tour. Whatever it was, it lasted less than a minute—long enough for Costello to give himself and a guitar a “ready, set, go” before running, full-speed, to center stage and slicing his hand into the first chord of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?”

The amped-up energy continued, courtesy of the megaphone siren Costello turned on the audience with a snicker after the line, “it only took my little fingers to blow you away” in “Watching the Detectives”; the sheer speed and intensity of “Radio, Radio,” and some guitar work as internally complex as Costello’s image-stuffed lyrics.

A Steve Nieve–centric piano ballad and a billowy version of “Beyond Belief” reined things in before Costello switched gears for the inevitable—and lovely—Toussaint dedication portion of his set, featuring the Crescent City Horns, a great story about Toussaint’s unwaveringly polite studio demeanor and an arms-in-the-sky singalong to “I Cried My Last Tear” with Bob Andrews on keys. (JO)

PAUL SIMON

“You got to have a wristband, my man, you don’t get through the door.” That line off Paul Simon’s new album cracked me up the first time I heard it, as did the tune’s narrative of a guy whose band is about to perform when he steps out for some air and suddenly finds he doesn’t have the credentials to get back in the venue.

There was something both magical and hilarious about seeing one of the great American music icons of our time holding up his hands above the Acura Stage repeating the mantra “wristband … wristband” eight days into our most wristband/pass/list/laminate–required time of year.

Yes, Simon’s set was plagued by technical problems to which he could have responded with a bit more grace but the highlights stood out to me more than the minor flubs. He’d hit his stride by “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and his deep affection for the use of unexpected rhythms made tunes like that even more compelling in the midst of a festival that highlights the blended rhythms of different cultures like Jazz Fest does.

That said, I’m still irritated with the cameraman whose obsession with keeping the lens focused on Simon left most of the audience unable to see what was making all those glorious sounds in the breakdown on “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” among other things. Luckily (for me, anyway), so many folks had split before the encore that it was easy to move way up through soupy mainstage muck for the evocative familial love song, “Father and Daughter,” and a rendition of “The Boxer” so alternately soft and peaceful then dark and stormy that the music felt like an aural expression of New Orleans springtime. (JO)

ROCKIN’ DOPSIE’S PRINCE TRIBUTE

It was still pouring. It was still gross. My ankles and calves were starting to blister and bleed from all the water in my rainboots. But when I stopped to slurp down some spinach, zucchini and crawfish bisque near Fais Do-Do, I heard the strains of “Purple Rain.” Unlike the other zillion times it was played on the Fair Grounds, this version was coming from Rockin’ Dopsie. And he was wearing a calf-length purple robe that glistened like wet Saran Wrap. After hyping the crowd to sing the chorus with him (“we doin’ it in the rain, y’all!”), he tore off the robe, James Brown–style, spun around, waited a few beats, then busted out some high-to-low, second line–ready spin-dance moves that would have worked equally well during a TBC-fronted parade or a New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars performance. Sometimes the best things come to those who get soaked. (JO)

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