tue 26/01/2021

Dr John, Under The Bridge, London | reviews, news & interviews

Dr John, Under The Bridge, London

Dr John, Under The Bridge, London

Dr John brings voodoo swamp blues to Chelsea

The cat in the hat delivers boogiePhoto © Eve Deacon

The omens did not augur well for this one. Under The Bridge, a venue beneath Chelsea Football Stadium, used to be an iffy nightclub called Purple but has been redesigned by the man behind America’s House of Blues chain into a shiny visual fusion of TGI Friday's and the Hard Rock Café.

The omens did not augur well for this one. Under The Bridge, a venue beneath Chelsea Football Stadium, used to be an iffy nightclub called Purple but has been redesigned by the man behind America’s House of Blues chain into a shiny visual fusion of TGI Friday's and the Hard Rock Café. Industrial girders are visible in the ceiling and the walls are plastered in top-notch rock and pop photography but, overall, there’s an ersatz, squeaky-clean vibe that’s going to take some piercing by any act who takes the stage.

I turn to my right and there’s Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. What do I do? 

British (but US-based) singer Jon Cleary is not the man to do it, playing loose piano jazz-blues, clad in a bowler hat and pinstripe jacket. Tasty canapes are being served. I grab a beer, a miniature pot of gumbo and observe the crowd. They look rich and satisfied, bland. The look for men is expensive jeans, expensive slip-on shoes, expensive-but-casual shirt, all accessorised with a designer leather or box jacket and, perhaps, some carefully crafted stubble. It’s a look that speaks loudly of bulging bank accounts and a complete lack of imagination. But I drift…

Allow me one more digression. As I stand at the back listening to the tinkling of this Cleary guy, who has been in the HBO series Treme, I turn to my right and there’s Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. What do I do? His relentlessly unpleasant music has ruined probably hundreds of moments in my life, seeping like ear sewage out of the radio and spoiling parties with a bland, dreadful ubiquity. I feel sure I should throw gumbo over him but resist the temptation. He is chatting with ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman. Next to them on a bench, hopping about and whooping, is Harry Shearer, of The Simpsons and Spinal Tap. And this is only the support act.

These stars have gathered because Dr John, the bearded New Orleans bluesman who dips into all manner of styles, from raw funk to zydeco, is a name to be conjured with. From the venue, the crowd and the support act, I’m dreading an evening of Dr John on a smooth jazz tip, but I needn’t have worried.

His band, the Lower 911, troop on – sax, keys, bass, drummer and sassy female trombonist – then the good doctor, AKA Mac Rebennack, takes his place between a Hammond organ and a grand piano, each topped with a skull. His ponytail is tied tight within a trail of coloured elastic bands and his hat is encrusted with voodoo jewellery.

At one point Dr John plays guitar but for the most part he’s content to sit at his keyboards and jam away

The band boogie into life and before long are hammering out some of his most famous songs, crowd-pleasers such as “Walking on Gilded Splinters” and “Right Place Wrong Time”. With each number they grow looser, the drummer exhorting us to party while his bass-playing rhythm section compadre, moustachioed in a Panama hat, keeps the sound fluid. At one point Dr John plays guitar but for the most part he’s content to sit at his keyboards and jam away.

By their seventh number, “A Cappella”, they’re cooking, and for “Big Shot” (“Never was, never gonna be another big shot like me”) the brass section step up to really give it welly, with female trombonist Sarah Morrow, clad in leather kecks, playing a wild wah-wah solo with her mute. By this time, even the rather staid crowd are clapping along (though their feet remain firmly stationary, for the most part). The songs “Revolution” and “Ice Age” from his new album Locked Down have as much thump in a live setting as anything from the back catalogue. Then, "Y’all want to see Dr John get funky?” shouts the MC-drummer, and, of course, we do and he does, leading his band into sheer Lalo Schifrin-style grooves, which they embrace as easily as Professor Longhair numbers, two of them, including “Big Chief" with its whistled chorus, Cuban salsa jazz, and much more.

There is a looseness about them, a honkytonk spirit that the best Southern US music has. It’s the perfect bar-room boogie music and I’m afraid to say my notes were neglected during the final sequence as I was too busy shaking my tush, JD & coke in hand, although I do recall snippets of Dixieland jazz in the stew as well as the expected sequence where each band member is introduced and played a solo, to much applause. For an encore Dr John played a piano solo on his grand and then he was gone, having successfully injected the bordello sassiness of the New Orleans night into a venue that clearly aspires to such rootsy Americana.

 Watch Dr John play "Revolution" in New York

There's a looseness, a honkytonk spirit that the best southern US music has

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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