Dr. John brought his “Nite Trippers” to Royce Hall on Dec. 6 — and the walls are still reverberating. To quote him: “Such a night!?” And to quote the woman sitting next to me: “I never knew a piano had so many notes.” Let’s be clear — Dr. John is the man who put “forte” in “piano forte.”
The Dr. John that the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA brought to Los Angeles is not the same Dr. John whom I saw in New Orleans two decades ago. In the mid-1980s he sauntered on stage. On Saturday, he came in stage left using two gris-gris decorated canes — but in his hands they were more like show props rather than walking aids. To his many believers in the audience, Dr. John’s pact with the voodoo Gods must still be intact ’cause he still has it.
Dr. John (his real name is Mac Rebennack) is a 74-year-old master musician who grew up in New Orleans’ Third Ward (known by some as “Third World”) whose repertoire, unlike Preservation Halls’, holds a full portfolio of Louisiana music — not just New Orleans.
A talented group of five virtuosos complemented his unique piano, keyboard and guitar numbers. The sole female in the group, the sexy and vivacious Sarah Morrow, blows a mean trombone and provides essential musical direction to what otherwise might turn into a rudderless musical orgy (which may not be a bad thing — but the Royce Hall sessions are limited to 90 minutes or the neighbors bitch).
To get what Dr. John is all about we must turn East. In 1950, the wise Japanese legislators passed a law called “Law for Protection of Cultural Properties.” It’s under this aegis that Japan recognizes those who “preserve important intangible cultural properties” as “Living National Treasures.” If Dr. John were from Kyoto rather than the Crescent City, he’d be a National Treasure.
Standards including “Such a Night” and “Right Place Wrong Time” and lesser well-known numbers like “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around” brought the eclectic crowd to its feet.
In closing, this is to suggest to the President that a requirement to becoming an American citizen should be to attend at least one Dr. John concert. And do it while he can still walk on stage.
—Ekphrasis Rex, Culture Spot LA
For information about upcoming events from the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, visit http://cap.ucla.edu.
Ekphrasis Rex is the nom de plume of an art aficionado who heads an engineering group specializing in green technology.