The traditions of Mardi Gras are intricately tied to the musical heritage of the city. New Orleans music just sounds better during Carnival. It is as though the proper context of the sound has been restored for a bit. The funk is funkier and the brass is brassier. The collective sigh of a city released for a moment from the alienating drudgery of everyday life is heard in the drum lines of high school marching bands and the excited buzz of a thousand half-tipsy conversations. I have always said that my favorite part of Mardi Gras is the chance it affords us to catch up with friends and family outside of any set occasion. Every delay, every walk to the route, float breakdown or watched crawfish pot is another chance to listen both to each other and the city. It’s through this mixture of textures that the sonic landscape of New Orleans truly makes sense. What follows are some suggestions for shows that will capture this sound over the festival season.
Tonight drop by d.b.a. for Drums and Tuba with One Man Machine. Bernard Pearce, who goes by the One Man Machine moniker, is a staple of the local music scene. His shows are eclectic, organic and beautiful. This is one you won’t want to miss. If you’re over in the Bywater you’ll want to stop by Siberia for the stunning combination of Helen Gillet with Trapper Keeper and the Mike Dillon Band. This is too much talent for any one venue. Don’t forget about the excellent Polish food at Kukhnya in the back.
Tomorrow check out The Gumbolians at Chickie Wah Wah. This supergroup features Cyril Neville, Johnny Sansone, John Fohl and Big Chief Juan Pardo. If you want to hear what real Mardi Gras music sounds like, this is the show. Also that night, Morning 40 Federation will be at One Eyed Jacks with the Lost Bayou Ramblers. From my unofficial research I would guess that about 25 percent of all “you’ll never believe what happened last night” stories in New Orleans begin with “we went to the Morning 40 show…”
Saturday if you find yourself Uptown avoiding the Mid-City traffic, drop by Dos Jefes for a cigar and The Joe Krown Trio. Krown is one of the undisputed masters of the New Orleans keys. If you’re Downtown check out Sexy Dex and the Fresh at Mag’s 940. Sexy Dex and the Fresh have one of the best sounds around town right now.
Sunday is a good time to escape from the madness. If you’re not going to Bacchus, hop the ferry over to the Old Point Bar for Tom Hook’s set. If you find yourself on Frenchmen the Original Dixieland Jazz Band is doing two shows at Snug Harbor.
On Lundi Gras Gravity A is doing their usual late night set at Blue Nile, which should get rolling in the wee hours of the morning. If you are looking for something a bit earlier, Ed Volker of the Radiators is rolling into Chickie Wah Wah with his Do-Rad-Choppers project. The Maple Leaf has the New Orleans Suspects that night also. If your tastes are a bit more refined, the incomparable Charmaine Neville will be doing two shows at Snug Harbor as well. Don’t forget that the Krewe of Orpheus really celebrates the music of New Orleans, they get a high percentage of the best bands.
On Mardi Gras day the best music is always in the streets. Follow your ears. The Mardi Gras Indians will be out in the 2nd and Dryades area. The battle of the bands will be going on under the Claiborne overpass. The walking crews will have their rolling jazz bands. Get out and follow the sounds of the city. If you find yourself over by d.b.a. drop in at 3 p.m. for the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.
Ash Wednesday is always a bit quieter than the preceding week. It’s a time of introspection and recovery. With that in mind you’ll definitely want to check out the Lady Lamb living room show. You can find more details on her website. This will be a perfect sigh after the craziness of Mardi Gras has crested and pulled back.
To Listen This Week
There are many Mardi Gras albums but one stands above the rest. The Wild Tchoupitoulas record sees The Meters come together with The Wild Tchoupitoulas Indians and producer Allen Toussaint to capture one of the greatest assemblages of Mardi Gras chants ever recorded.