Old fans and friends from the band’s earliest days on the circuit and much-celebrated sting at the legendary Momma’s Blues Palace club came out in full force, filling the main music room at the Market Street venue. By the end of the band’s first set on Thursday, it was a standing-room-only scene.
Lead guitarist James “Poppa” Dupree and his bandmates — bassist JoJo Wall, organist Dale Roberson, and drummer Richard Hudson — warmed up with some rockin’ blues and R&B standards before introducing the star of the show, vocalist Rhonda “Momma” Wall. She came out in a cool pair of shades and a big grin, saying,. “Hey, thanks so much — it’s been a long time since we’ve been downtown.” Indeed, it was their first show in the Market since 2006.
Momma belted out a dynamic mix of tunes, from smokin’-fast originals with a James Brown drum beats to slow-burning heartbreakers, like Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying.” She joked around with the crowd plenty, too, apologizing early on for the salty language and raunchy asides that were to come. She called the tunes as they went, praising and introducing her bandmates with genuine cheer and appreciation.
Poppa Dupree conjured some dense and edgy tones from his Fender Strat from song to song, launching into more than few soulful, Clapton-esque solos along the way. The rhythm section kept things anchored with a solid backbeat. At times, Roberson looked like he was about burst at the seams with excitement as he slapped the keys during a few solos. His Hammond XK3 sounded killer through his vintage Leslie amp.
The show was a seated affair, but if the room was clear of tables and booths, most of the crowd would have been strutting and swaying from the front windows to the stage and back. It was a terrific way to conclude the series.
It’s too bad there weren’t more people in attendance when Paige performed at Mad River on Wednesday evening (June 6) as part of Piccolo Spoleto’s ongoing Blues & Jazz Series. There was a small crowd on hand — a few uninterested couples eating in the booths, a handful of lively music fans sitting along the bar, and series organizer Smoky Weiner’s pack of buddies at a table up front. Fortunately, Paige wasn’t fazed by the low turnout, and she played with the cheerful vigor she normally displays.
It was an odd set-up on stage, though. Her regular Original Recipe bandmates weren’t around, but drummer Ian Dunning Brown was sitting on an abbreviated three-piece kit with an oversized kick drum. A capable timekeeper with a nice, jazzy touch, Brown often jams with Paige during open nights at the Wolf Track Inn in West Ashley. Rhythmically, Paige and Brown clicked pretty well, but it sounded strange to have drums without any low-end support from a bassist or additional guitarist.
Paige and Brown played two full sets of rock ’n’ roll show, only some of which seemed particularly bluesy. They included a lot of fun songs from Paige’s 2010 album Whole Lotta Woman. The country-styled title track and the raunchy blues-rock of “Paint the Town Red” were highlights. The sparseness of the simple instrumentation allowed plenty of room for Paige’s sneering, gutsy slide work and distorted guitar tones to ring out nicely. Some of it resembled the swampy jams of the Flat Duo Jets and the White Stripes.
The admission price might be a bit high for happy hour shows like this. I saw more than a few touristy types peek in, hear about the cover charge, and walk away. It’s one thing to ask $11 at the door for a well-established touring artist who rarely visits Charleston, but it’s pretty pricey for a local act that plays regularly for free around town. Piccolo’s Blues & Jazz Series offers a mix of local talent and out-of-town headliners. Local musician Andy “Smoky” Weiner’s efforts to book solid shows at Mad River for Piccolo festival deserve praise, for sure. But when a local artist who’s featured in the Piccolo lineup puts on their usual show — particularly a stripped-down version of their usual show — one might feel slightly overcharged.
Troy Andrews, a.k.a. Trombone Shorty, is no Ketil Bjornstad. He’s a far cry from Toninho Ferraguti or Willy Gonzalez. Diane Reeves, Karryin Allyson, Danilo Rea, he is most definitely not. It’s arguable whether or not Mr. Shorty even belongs in Spoleto’s Wells Fargo Jazz Series.
And for that we are thankful, because often it seems the seriousness of Spoleto jazz programming requires a stiff kick in the pants, and Trombone Shorty, with his band Orleans Avenue, was just the man to deliver this kick at the Cistern for his first of two programs there on Thursday night.
“Program” may in fact be the wrong word, as the experience was much more of a rock concert performance, despite that Spoleto organizers at first tried to maintain an ambiance in keeping with the seriousness of a capital-J Jazz program. It was clear from the start Shorty wanted none of that.
“I know y’all got seats and all out there, but don’t hold back!” he exclaimed on making his entrance, signature trombone held high over his head like a weapon of battle. “Cause we sure ain’t holding back.”
Shorty’s two-hour set of NoLa-infused bouillabaisse of rock, funk, jazz, hip-hop and soul was clearly the product of a man used to Lenny Kravitz-style gigs, with whom he has toured. The overwhelmingly young and middle-aged audience spilled out of the rows of plastic chairs and onto the Cistern lawn, milling about the two open bars, dancing near blankets to the sides.
Outside, the fence audience was as big as I’ve ever seen for a jazz concert there, with scores of people lined up along the wrought-iron bars peering in or squatting along St. Philip and George Streets, toes tapping. The crowd seemed to understand the nature of the event even before seeing it, as ticket-holders continued to stream in for 30 minutes after the show’s start, creating a party-like atmosphere that Shorty encouraged. Forty-five minutes into the set, he’d had enough of this sitting-down business: “Everybody out of your seats,” he shouted, jumping up and down. “I want to see you shake what your mama gave you.”
Across the street at the Emmett Robinson Theatre, Edgar Oliver’s East 10th Street brought the mood down a notch or ten. The house near the East Village's Tompkins Square Park where Oliver lived for years is surely an interesting place filled with zany, wacky characters, who make for fun anecdotes.
How many of us have lived next to a midget who keeps hundreds of coffee jars filled with his own excrement on shelves in his apartment? Or a building superintendent who tiptoes over the ghosts he sees lying prone in his foyer every night.
But that’s all there is to his monologue — descriptive portraits of admittedly weird people he knew, delivered in Oliver’s baroque bass monotone. It’s a voice that seem to have such potential, a bottomless Bela Lugosi canyon of a voice, but for some reason he seems to limit its range here to a just a sliver of its theatrical potential. Physically, he does the same, limiting himself to just three or four gestures for the entire show — fingers fluttering before him, arms outstretched like wings, slowly flapping.
What seems to be missing here is any sense of theatricality or, more importantly, insight into the human experience. Although it’s told from a first-person perspective, the monologue is is completely lacking in emotional content. Oliver is surely a very capable performer, but East 10th Street gives us nothing but amusingly eccentric sketches of Brooklyn oddballs. All of this might be interesting at a cocktail party or over an evening huddled around the bong, but beside such works as The Red Shoes, The Cripple of Inishmaan, County of Kings, even Taylor Mac’s sneering heartbreak, East 10th Street feels like a blank piece of paper, a story waiting to be told.
If you ever want to sober up from an acid trip, Lemon Andersen recommends getting chewed out by your girlfriend's mother. If you're carrying a concealed gun and your trip is of the Papa Smurf variety, well, so much the better. Andersen knows this from personal experience, a story he relates in a narrative mashup of hip-hop-suffused rhythm, rhyme, and true crime neatly woven together with a physical performance that's equal parts modern dance, sashay, electric slide, and swagger.
At the Emmett Robinson Theatre for last night's premiere, Andersen — or Andy as he refers to himself in his lyrical 80-minute biography — inhabited not only his own youthful Puerto Rican self growing up in a fatherless Queens, N.Y. apartment with a heroin junkie mother who contracts HIV, but the whole neighborhood as well, which ultimately includes his pals at Rikers Island, where he was incarcerated for stealing cars and selling drugs. This cast includes his mother Millie, his car-stealing stepfather Charo, his one-eyed neighbor Miss Judy, Grandma Mammi, an instructor at Feld Ballet School, his girlfriend Lillie who loses her virginity to him (in a funny, poignantly rendered re-enactment), and at one point, God, who is revealed to be a spiteful, foul-mouthed Puerto Rican who delights in torturing His creations with fun little plagues like poverty, drugs, AIDS, and Chuck-E-Cheese.
Andersen flows around like stage like mercury, graceful as a cat, slipping into and out of characters from his life, his story a kinetic, balletic narrative that, line by lovingly crafted line, peels back the brittle external carapace of his youthful circumstances to reveal a very human heart, one that worships Andy Gibb as "the hippest white man in the world," and exults in Soul Train and American Bandstand.
It's hard not to make comparisons to hip-hop performance artist and character actor Danny Hoch, who was here in 2006. But Anderson's eye is focused inward rather than out upon the world, and his technique is more about poetry than portraiture.
Following his release from prison, Andersen happens on a poetry slam which hits him like a revelation: "All this rhythm and rhyme without a single breakbeat to use as an audible." Andersen's life here does have a soundtrack, which includes as much disco , Bee-Gees, and "Ring My Bell" as it does hip-hop, but the breakbeat is all his own.
Last week I interviewed Sarah Jarosz, a 19-year-old roots musician who's making her Spoleto debut on Thurs. June 2 at the Cistern. When we spoke, she was still at school in Boston (New England Conservatory of Music) gearing up for the end of the semester and the beginning of her biggest tour yet. From the Punch Brothers to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, bluegrass has brought a vibrant young crowd to the last few festivals, so it's probably a good idea to buy your tickets soon if you want to see Jarosz's show. Check out her cover of Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House" for a taste of what's to come.