When a man sets up with two skulls on top of his Steinway, you know you’re not getting Liberace. Dr. John delivered a funky, rocking, and powerful 100-minute set at the Granada last Friday, leaving absolutely no question that the 72-year-old artist still has the chops, the pacing, and the sense of drama that he’s long been known for, along with an abundance of new musical energy and old-school New Orleans groove. The program mixed numbers from his recent, Grammy-winning, and Dan Auerbach–produced album, Locked Down, with other songs from the whole range of his more-than-five-decade career. Standouts from the new album included “Revolution,” a bubbling funk cauldron of conspiracy theories and 21st-century political hexes. From there he proceeded to offer a special treat for those who prize his first album as Dr. John, the incredible Gris-Gris, above all others. That gift came in the form of a long, bluesy version of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” Hearing this great song live revealed all the layers of its gorgeous, spooky complexity and reinforced the sense that it belongs high up on the list of all-time jams.
“Right Place Wrong Time” certainly hit the spot, as did the other up-tempo tunes that dominated the first two-thirds of the set. Dr. John played some sidesaddle electric guitar on “Let the Good Times Roll” and then sat back at the piano for a turn through Leadbelly’s classic barroom weeper “Goodnight, Irene.” Although I understand there’s been some pushback in the New Orleans press on this new band — Sarah Morrow, trombone and musical direction; Reggie Jackson, drums; Joel Johnson, guitar; Dwight Bailey, bass; and Bobby Floyd, organ — they were tight and convincing at the Granada. All hail the king of the (Mardi Gras) Zulus!