Los Lobos performs “La Pistola y El Corazon” at New Orleans Jazz Fest

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One of the many beautiful things about Los Lobos is how, after so many decades, they can still turn on different audiences in different ways. One of America’s greatest roots-rock bands, “just another band from East L.A.” can take fans old and new through a tour of genres — Mexican or American folk, roadhouse blues, Louisiana swamp pop, or straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, you name it, they can play it, and leave ’em wanting more. Having seen them play in different venues over the past 20-plus years, I’ve marveled at how they can tailor their set to a given show, from an all-encompassing set that spans their four decades, a tight compilation that includes their few hits (“La Bamba,” anyone?), or something more precise.

That latter approach is what Los Lobos provided fans at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell on Friday (April 29) at the Sheraton Fais Do Do State. Playing off a 2014 tour that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Grammy Award-winning “La Pistola y El Corazon,” Los Lobos easily tore through that landmark work (an EP that clocks in at 25 minutes) while also delighting the audience with a range of other Mexican and Latin works — often introducing each one for a cultural context befitting a festival with the word “heritage” in the title. So instead of looking forward by showcasing their excellent new album, “Gates of Gold,” Los Lobos took a look back — way back.

There in a row stood the original members: Cesar Rosas (sporting his ubiquitous black shades), bassist Conrad Lozano on guitarron, Louie Perez, and David Hidalgo working his way through the guitar, the accordion and fiddle depending on his mood. Steve Berlin, a longtime member, remained frequently on the sidelines, occasionally popping out to add some beef with his massive, silver baritone saxophone.

For a 25-minute work of Latin folk, “La Pistola y El Corazon” covers a lot of ground, dipping at various times into conjunto, mariachi, Tex-Mex and Chicano rock at any given moment — every song feeling distinct and fresh from the other. Part of that is due to the dual threat of Rosas and Hidalgo trading lead on both guitar and vocals. This is where they have to each trim down their repertoire, Rosas shelving his passion for roadhouse blues and Hidalgo refraining from some of his more ruminative folk colorings. And yet they still breathe new life into vocal moment.

This is where their instruments serve them well, for if nothing else, Los Lobos could possibly be America’s greatest acoustic act — Hidalgo strumming his sturdy requinto jarocho when not on fiddle or accordion, Rosas plucking his huapanguera, and Perez sometimes furiously attacking “Howard,” his trusty six-string jarana. When they were all in full strum, the crowd practically swooned, especially on such memorable versions of “El Gusto,” “El Canelo” and the title track.

It became so blissful, the band holding the audience so easily in their hands, that when they broke into a more traditional version of “La Bamba” — which Richie Valens had compressed more accessibly into his 1958 hit — and the Cuban folk classic Guantamera (with Lozano taking his lone lead turn on vocals), it felt like Los Lobos were running up the score.

(Trivia: It should be noted that “La Pistola y El Corazon” was the band’s follow-up their amazing success performing “La Bamba,” and other Richie Valens tunes, for the movie soundtrack. While most fans and observers suggested they build on this rare moment of mainstream success, Los Lobos went in the completely opposite direction. Maybe this is why they failed this year to get voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

With barely an appreciation of the lyrics, it was easy to weep out of joy.

I watched as my wife swooned from song to song, caught up in an EP she had discovered years ago, in a department store of all places, and had spent the past couple weeks playing on a loop in anticipation of the show. I had proudly boasted of being the big Los Lobos fan in the household, but it was fun to sit back and watch her fall madly in love with this band on this, her second time seeing them live. The first time was more at a distance, on a double bill with Los Lonely Boys at an amphitheater outside Atlanta. This time was up close, practically at the barrier, behind other hardcore fans who’d camped out during the preceding set by the Honey Island Swamp Band to get into position. When her eyes weren’t closed, her face was beaming as Los Lobos strummed their way permanently into her heart.

Or corazon, if you will. As the opening of the song says (in English, anyway), “I don’t know how to tell you, don’t know how to explain that there is no remedy for what I feel inside.”

With Los Lobos, the only remedy is to keep rediscovering them, over and over again, in whatever way possible.

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Todd Mouton: How the King of Zydeco christened Jazz Fest (book excerpt)

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From left to right: A who’s who of Cajun and Creole music – Cleveland Chenier, Dewey Balfa, Marc Savoy, Doug Kershaw and Clifton Chenier – are featured onstage together in this historic, previously unpublished Philip Gould photograph taken at a 1983 evening show on The Riverboat President during Jazz Fest. (Used by permission; all rights reserved.)

“Jazz Fest, like Clifton Chenier, came from humble beginnings,” says author Todd Mouton. “And in 1970, the King of Zydeco’s version of Creole culture was still very much a mystery to a lot of folks in the big city of New Orleans, as the interview transcription in this clip makes clear. At the same time, though, this brief passage also demonstrates the bridges that were being built between cultures at the very first incarnation of the now-enormous phenomenon known as The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.”

Mouton will be interviewed with Chenier’s son C.J. at 4 p.m. Friday (April 29) on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage at The Fairgrounds, and the author will sign books at noon Saturday (April 30) in the Book Tent at Jazz Fest. He’ll also be signing copies at Rock ’n’ Bowl during Sonny Landreth’s performances on Friday and Sunday nights. Complete details are available at waydowninlouisiana.com.

Mouton’s new book on the King of Zydeco includes profiles of numerous other south Louisiana artists and bands from BeauSoleil to Bonsoir, Catin, and it also includes 130 full-color images by two dozen photographers. Herewith is an excerpt exclusive: PopSmart NOLA.

todd-mouton-way-down-in-la-scanIn the fall of 1969, Clifton Chenier crossed the big pond with his trio to take part in the seventh annual American Folk Blues Festival tour. Photos from the trip show the accordionist, his rubboard-playing brother Cleveland Chenier, and drummer Robert St. Julien with blues greats Earl Hooker, Magic Sam, John Jackson, Juke Boy Bonner, Carey Bell, and “Whistling” Alex Moore.

First, though, the King of Zydeco helped christen the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. On Thursday, April 23, 1970, Chenier and his group were featured at the inauguration of what is now the mother of all professionally produced cultural celebrations. The four-day event featured four stages—Blues, Cajun, Gospel, and Street—and cost just three dollars to get in.

Jazz Fest producer George Wein had founded the Newport Jazz Festival and, with Pete Seeger and Theodore Bikel, co-founded the Newport Folk Festival. The debut New Orleans program promised “You’ll have the opportunity to explore a variety of musical experiences, folklore exhibits, the art of New Orleans and the great food of South Louisiana.” Creole succotash and Begue’s praline ice cream pie were on the menu. The location – Congo Square, now part of Louis Armstrong Park and the famed site where slaves were allowed to gather on Sundays to sing, dance, and play music – was steeped in cultural history.

At 3:30 on that Thursday afternoon, “Clifton Chenier’s Band” was part of a program called “The Musical World of French Louisiana” along with Adam and Cyprien Landreneau, Bois Sec Ardoin and sons, Ambrose Thibodeaux, and other artists. Co-emcee Dick Allen, curator of the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane, admitted he didn’t really know all that much about French music, so he passed the baton to “someone who’s come all the way from California, Chris Strachwitz, he’s the manager of Clifton Sha-nay’s band.”

“I think Clifton manages himself, he does a good job at it,” Strachwitz said. “I’m just a good friend of his, I record his records. And if you wanna get Clifton for a party, just look him up in the Houston, Texas, phone book, and he’ll be happy to come and play for you. . . . Last October we were in Europe together on a blues show and he finally got to Paris to speak his French, but here he is, with his own kind of French, Clifton Chenier!”

After some brief instrument line checks, Chenier addresses the crowd. “Well, they call me the Frenchman [laughs]. Eh toi! Whooo, we let the bons temps rouler, baby. I guess the boys ready. See this’s my brother on rubboard, Cleveland Chenier. And this my soul brother, Robert St. Julien, on drums. And I also have Big Butch on guitar. And also Jumpin’ Joe Morris on bass. So now I hope y’all enjoy our music, ’cause we gon’ try to sock it to ya. We gon’ first start with a lil’ boogie woogie first, then we gon’ get back to the French music, get the boys in action, you know.”

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Todd Mouton

A swinging instrumental follows, and the accordionist explains that “Sometime you got ta kinda wake the boys up a little bit, cha know, shake ’em up a little.” “Release Me” and a great three-piece “Zydeco Est Pas Salé” follow, then Chenier says, “Thank you very much. You know, my home is Opelousas, Looziana, and uh, yeah, my hometown. The rest of the boys from Lafayette . . . Looziana, yeah. Well, we do a lot of traveling, and we enjoy our work, and we enjoy the people and everywhere we go, look like everybody havin’ a good time so we gonna play y’all’s a waltz this time. It’s a record by Ray Charles I recorded in French. ‘You Promised Me Love,’ but it’s in French, see.”

 

As was typical, his translation is anything but a duplication, and halfway through he says, “Maybe some uh y’all can’t understand French,” and switches to English.

Before his encore, Dick Allen attempts an interview.

Allen: “Is this what you call zy-DE-co?”

Chenier: “Zydeco.”

Allen: “Tell ’em what zydeco means.”

Chenier: “I told ’em once befo’, I’m ’onna tell ’em again, see. You know, do you eat snap beans?”

Allen: “Oh yeah.”

Chenier: “You sure?”

Allen: “I hope so.”

Chenier: “But you put salt in it?”

Allen: “Mm-hmm.”

Chenier: “Well, that’s what it is. No salt in your snap beans, zydeco est pas salé. You see, it’s just that simple, see. Zydeco est pas salé is no salt in my snap beans.”

Allen: “Well, what’s that got to do with music and dancing?”

Chenier: “Well, you see, where I come from they do the zydeco music. One them days, we gon’, we might get together and rig up somethin’ that I can bring some uh them real zydeco dancers down here and let you see how they used to dance in the olden time. Yeah. We’ll do that. You know, uh, right now, you look at the teenagers right now, if you look at them old people dance the real zydeco where I come from, that’s what’s comin’ back, see? . . . We gon’ let the good time roll in French.”

With that, the band charges through a half-French, half-English version of “Bon Ton Roulet.”

The Theatre at St. Claude releases 2016 spring-summer season schedule

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The Theatre at St. Claude, the new theater launched by brothers Jim and Ryan Fitzmorris, announced a diverse lineup of shows for its spring and summer season for 2016 in a party held at the venue on St. Claude Avenue.

“It is one that lives up to its mission statement of presenting plays that revel in the whisper of conspiracy, delight in a collective gasp, and enjoy a taste for the curious oddity,” the theater said in a press release. “We hope you agree that this collection of new works, challenging plays and alternative programming proves we are New Orleans’ premiere venue for the wild, weird, and wondrous.”

In addition to the regular schedule, the theater also will host other shows such as Southern Rep’s 6×6, 3×3, and Pat Bourgeois’ “Debauchery.”

Below is the complete schedule with descriptions provided by the theater:

  1. “Be A New Orleanian: A Swearing in Ceremony (Presented By Dirty Coast)” by Jim Fitzmorris (Thursday through Saturday, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28 with a bonus show on Monday, Feb 29.)
  2. Irish Voices including Samuel Beckett’s “Not I” (Thursday through Saturday, from March 10 through March 19.)
  3. Tennessee Williams Fest
  4. Jazz Fest
  5. Strange For Hire Presents “Sideshow and Tell” (Friday through Sunday, from May 13 through May 15.)
  6. “Would Jesus Thank God It’s Friday” by Paul Oswell (Friday through Sunday, from May 27 through May 29.)
  7. “Barker’s Edge of Town” by Bradley Warshauer and “The New Wave” by Stephanie Garrison Warshauer (Thursday through Saturday, from June 10 through June 19.)
  8. “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” by Jim Fitzmorris (Thursday through Saturday, from June 23 through July 9.)
  9. Halloween in July (Thursday through Saturday, from July 14 through July 16.)
  10. “Niagara Falls” by Justin Maxwell (Thursday through Saturday, from July 21 through Aug. 6.)
  11. “On the Verge” by Eric Overmyer (Thursday through Saturday, from Aug 11 through Aug 27.)

“Be A New Orleanian: A Swearing in Ceremony (Presented By Dirty Coast)” by Jim Fitzmorris: Just in time to help with those post-Mardi Gras blues, the hit monologue returns for a month-long run.

“Be A New Orleanian” is a wild, comic ride through what it takes to call yourself a citizen of the Crescent City. History, heartbreak, and celebration are all part of an evening from a performer/writer The Times-Picayune calls “electric.”

Thursday through Saturday, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28 with a bonus show on Monday Feb 29.

Opening night to feature a book signing party of “Be A New Orleanian” from Dirty Coast.

Irish Voices including Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”: It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without a few tales of melancholy, blarney and ebullience. Works of Samuel Beckett and W. B. Yeats are included in this evening of monologues featuring Kathleen McManus, Margeaux Fanning, and Blaise Lanigan.

Thursday through Saturday, from March 10 through March 19.

Tennessee Williams Fest: We will soon be announcing a series of theatrical events, ranging from the serious to the uproarious to the outright risqué, all in celebration of arguably America’s greatest playwright.

March/April: Check for dates.

Jazz Fest: “Chapter:SOUL “presents two weekends worth of after-hours musical programming guaranteed to blow the roof off and knock you through the back wall.

April/May: Check for dates.

Strange For Hire Presents “Sideshow and Tell”: Coney Island veterans Donny Vomit and Frankie Sin introduce New Orleans to their own unique version of the strange and wondrous with a full evening of acts, stories, and sexy turns.

Friday through Sunday, from May 13th through May 15th.

“Would Jesus Thank God It’s Friday” by Paul Oswell: A freelance journalist and sometime comedian, Paul Oswell brings his latest theatrical offering to The Theatre at St. Claude.

Born in the UK, Oswell has lived in New Orleans since 2010 and currently hosts two weekly comedy shows: Local Uproar and Night Church. He has written and performed several one-man shows which were featured in the New Orleans Fringe Festival, including “An Englishman in New Orleans”, “A Britsummer Night’s Dream”, “This Rhyme It’s Personal” and “Narrowing My Horizons”.

Friday through Sunday, from May 27 through May 29.

“Barker’s Edge of Town” by Bradley Warshauer and “The New Wave” by Stephanie Garrison Warshauer: Bradley and Steph Warshauer will take audiences to the shadowy tip of nowhere with a double feature of original plays set in worlds unlike our own but strangely familiar.

Thursday through Saturday, from June 10 through June 19.

“The Killing of A Lesbian Bookie” by Jim Fitzmorris: On the eve of her nightclub’s opening, burlesque dancer Triple Lexxx receives a visit from a stranger who is more than he first appears. His arrival jeopardizes her relationship, her career, and…maybe her life. Jim Fitzmorris’ “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” takes place in a world where romance and commitment are nothing more than the flip side of violence and vengeance.

Starring Lin Gathright, Justin Welborn and Kimberly Kaye.

Thursday through Saturday, from June 23 through July 9.

Halloween in July: Why should Christmas have all the fun? Pandora Gastelum and Jim Fitzmorris will ask the interactive question, “Is There A Good Movie Buried Inside Halloween III?”

And if that doesn’t pique your interest, then just join us for the “Halloween in July” party on July 16.

Thursday through Saturday, from July 14 through July 16.

“Niagara Falls” by Justin Maxwell: One of New Orleans’ leading playwrights, Justin Maxwell (“An Outopia For Pigeons”) takes us down a waterfall of language with his world premiere “Niagara Falls”. Though set in upstate New York, this tale of ghosts, political corruption, and deep longing will undoubtably resonate with New Orleans viewers.

As an added bonus, the three week run will include readings of Maxwell’s shorter works and a panel discussion on the state of playwriting in New Orleans.

Thursday through Saturday, from July 21 through Aug. 6.

“On the Verge” by Eric Overmyer: Our spring/summer season ends with one of the most popular language plays of all time. Eric Overmyer’s delightful delirium of words is about three female Victorian explorers who make their way into the mysterious Terra Incognito. Overcoming great obstacles, they leap forward through space and time into a world full of yearning and possibilities.

Co-produced with Rebecca Frank’s In Good Company, “On The Verge: The Geography of Yearning” will be directed by Frank.

Thursday through Saturday, from Aug. 11 through Aug. 27.

Interview with David Simon and Eric Overmyer – Treme from Peabody Awards on Vimeo.

Allen Toussaint tribute: A photo gallery

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UPDATE: For Allen Toussaint, and his fans, the music was personal (a reflection)

I’ll have more on the tribute to Allen Toussaint on Friday (Nov. 20) at the Orpheum Theater. It was an overwhelming experience fill with memories, music and emotion. Until then, here’s a photo gallery (with a few duplicates/extras), which I’ll tidy up with the post.

Enjoy.