A blizzard of jazz, funk, boogie woogie and blues
Dr. John - Live At Under The Bridge, London

“Don’t hang your jacket on me for hanging in the projects” growls Malcolm John ‘Mac’ Rebennack Jr., aka Dr. John, on his 1973 album ‘In the Right Place’. The New Orleans funk and R & B legend has hung a few colourful jackets on himself in more than fifty picaresque years in the music business; from collaborations with a host of famous artists to heroin addiction and numerous scrapes with the law.

Compared with some of his previous incarnations though, tonight’s outfit is quietly restrained. Here he shuffles onto stage with dark glasses and a walking cane, like the villain of a David Lynch movie, to the night time atmospherics of a Louisiana swamp. His ponytail is tied with a series of bands giving it the appearance of some oddity from Eraserhead. Draped in a fedora hat, crocodile skin shoes and necklaces of assorted bones and teeth, the Dr. John persona is carefully cultivated to express the voodoo mystique of the city he loves.

Settling at a piano dotted with skulls he’s somewhat detached from the audience at Under the Bridge and it’s exuberant trombonist Sarah Morrow who fills the void, coming front of stage to solo and hang the trunk of her instrument out over the crowd like an exploratory elephant. The punters adore her and the Lower 911 are clearly enjoying themselves as they rattle through the Doctor’s creole-infused back catalogue. Joined by the talented Jon Cleary on keyboards, who had earlier provided a support set of Alain Toussaint covers, it’s a great line up. Cleary’s feet kick out under the piano as if, up on top, he’s being smothered with a pillow, and so, is perfectly in tune with the gothic, cartoonish hue of the Dr. John enterprise.

The performance languishes mid-set with brackish renditions of standards like ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, and features none of the psychedelic rock Rebennack burst on the scene with in the late ‘60s. However his recent collaboration with The Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach on the critically acclaimed ‘Locked Down’ comes through strongly; from the album’s title track to the strolling blues of ‘Big Shot’ and the hustling rhythms of ‘Ice Age’. The pure funk of ‘You Lie’ is a particular highlight. His contribution to the soundtrack for Sleepless in Seattle, ‘Makin’ Whoopee’, surfaces, as does ‘My Indian Red’, a song performed on HBO’s Treme.

The subterranean venue has the weight of Roman Abramovich’s footballing ambition pressing down on it, not to mention the presence of some blank and intimidating Russian security staff, but it does have great acoustics. And after an hour and a half’s blizzard of jazz, funk, boogie woogie and blues the self-styled Night Tripper exits to the rapturous thunder of the sell-out audience, without so much as a wobble. And, belatedly, the trace of a smile on his lips.

Words by Adrian Cross
Photo by Richard Gray

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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