Dr. John. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, August 18
Reviewed by Stanley Naftaly
As the drummer yelled, “It’s gonna get
funky tonight!” from behind his huge, glittery kit, Mack
Rebennack — a k a Dr. John, the Night Tripper, the witch doctor
of R&B, and purveyor of voodoo music — shuffled onstage in
perfect time with the music. The crowd was already on its feet at
the Lobero last Friday evening, and the first song hadn’t even
started. This was N’Orleans music in Santa Barbara, but it could
have been Mussel Shoals, Chicago, or Detroit — anywhere where
playing music is as natural as breathing, anywhere where it isn’t
about costumes or histrionics. What we had before us was just an
absolutely tight, funk-laden, blues-rock quartet led by the same
gravel-voiced magician we’ve loved since he dropped into the midst
of the psychedelic ’60s.
Dr. John’s backing trio was superb.
David Barard is as strong and hard-edged an electric bassist as
I’ve heard in years. John Fohl, with his stinging wah-wah sound, is
the perfect guitarist for the doc, and drummer Herman Roscoe Ernest
III used everything within reach to his advantage. He not only
anchored and drove the band, but enriched its melodic content and
served as its emcee at times.
The doctor advised, “Keep That Music Simple” while working out
on the grand piano and Hammond B-3 organ simultaneously, and then
paused to talk about the tragedy that befell New Orleans. He
lamented, “New Orleans didn’t die a natural death, it was
cold-blooded murder” and dedicated “Sweet Home, New Orleans,” with
its refrain of, “Home sweet home, we goin’ to be there twice as
strong,” to his town. Other highlights included “Accentuate The
Positive,” from his latest CD, Mercernary, a tribute to
Johnny Mercer; his greatest hit, “Right Place at the Wrong Time”;
and, most wonderful of all, a dip into the voodoo pool with the
comfortably eerie sounds of a slide whistle, bones, shells, and
various shakers augmenting the band’s instrumentation.
During the encore, about 50 eager dancers swarmed the stage and
the rest of the audience stomped and clapped where they stood. The
whole evening was an exhilarating sermon on joy … Amen!