Dr. John – Paramount Theater, Austin, TX 4/28/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

Who else but the good Dr. John could strut onstage with two canes each adorned with all sorts of gris-gris? The legendary New Orleans musician moved slow when he emerged from the darkness at Austin’s Paramount Theater on Tuesday night, but as soon as he took a seat at his grand piano his age (74!) didn’t show in the least. Dr. John is still a fiery performer and a master at carrying on the styles of James Booker and Professor Longhair, as well as his own voodoo-laced fare.

Backed by a band of talented musicians, the Nite Tripper took the crowd on a journey through his best-known tunes and those of others from his beloved New Orleans. It’s interesting that someone who has amassed a prolific body of work sticks to a fairly straightforward setlist that doesn’t change much, but this is the luxury of being a living legend and those that have the privilege to see him have nothing to complain about. As soon as he got comfy in his seat he made his presence known with a stretch of “The Dr. Is In”, a medley of “Iko Iko” and “Shoo Fly”, and “Runner In The Jungle”, seamlessly drifting from one tune to the next with no breaking. Trombonist and singer Sarah Morrow, who functioned as a sort of musical director and guiding force throughout the show, had no problem grabbing the spotlight on “Runner” and taking off with a solo. Of course, “Tipitina” found its way onto the setlist, and even though Dr. John has probably played this song thousands of times over the course of his career, he made the Professor Longhair classic look like the most fun song to play that’s ever existed. The unified groove of the tune also allowed bassist Dwight Bailey and drummer Reggie Jackson to show off their chops, giving it a funky, loping shuffle. “Love For Sale” saw the band taking a turn into a jazzier direction, spending time on playing instrumentally as a group.

Perhaps the biggest applause came when the doctor got up from his seat and was handed a guitar. Those that know his history know he started as a guitarist but turned his focus to piano only after getting shot in the hand during a fight, so seeing him lay down bluesy licks on “Old Settler’s” felt like a special treat. Another highlight came during the band’s up-tempo, exuberant rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, which was featured on Dr. John’s recent tribute album to the great trumpeter. Eventually, the funk was too much to handle for the seated crowd, and a handful of audience members made their way to the front of the theater to dance along while the band busted out what may be Dr. John’s best-known tune, “Such A Night”.

It would have been exciting to see Dr. John pull out some of his deeper cuts or even play some material off his incredible 2012 album Locked Down, but the fact that we can still even see this master of New Orleans music perform is enough of a gift. The standards are standards for a reason, and if the Dr. himself isn’t sick of playing them, the fans sure as hell aren’t sick of hearing them. In Austin he dosed everyone with a little gris-gris, proving once again why there can only ever be one Dr. John.

 

 

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