Dr. John in New Hope: Perfect pre-Halloween

Dr. John and his sympathetic quintet played more than just the old favoritesin their two-hour set in New Hope.
Dr. John and his sympathetic quintet played more than just the old favoritesin their two-hour set in New Hope. (SCOTT WEINER)
Posted: October 27, 2013

Having "Mac" Rebennack, the master of Crescent City funk and swampy voodoo soul known as Dr. John, appear at New Hope's dark, multicultural Havana eatery Wednesday - one week before Mischief Night and Halloween - was perfect timing.

At 72, the good Doctor hasn't lost a bit of his murkily mysterious mystique, his flavorful dedication to the most joyful and most haunted elements of New Orleans' musicality, or that naughty crackle in his soulful, snarling voice signaling ghostly romanticism and danger. John's ever-present, low-slung, snap-brim chapeau and black sunglasses only enhanced his bewitching appeal.

With a sympathetic quintet behind him (including aggressive trombonist Sarah Morrow) and a skull set upon his piano, Dr. John ran the voodoo down for two tight hours, starting with the percolating "The Dr. Is In." From that moment, John's piano hands tap-danced across the keys like the Nicholas Brothers, with speed, passion, and a sniper's accuracy. During the honky-tonking "How Come My Dog Don't Bark" and a tantalizing boogaloo version of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," the pianist teased each run with a deliciously snaky playfulness. By the time he hit "Goodnight Irene," his piano's bluesy tone went from slowly simmering to roughly rollicking with his voice turned into a lover's scuffed-up plea.

John didn't just stick to old songs or familiar hits like the grungy clavichord-filled "Right Place, Wrong Time." New tunes from last year's Locked Down, such as its Stonesy titled track, and the slow-stewing "Big Shot," felt as aged as they did fresh. While trombonist Morrow toyed with a round, soft tone aided by her old-school plunger-mute on "Ice Age," John crafted a dissonant, whining organ riff during that same song that was more Sun Ra than NoLa. That same spooky jazz sensibility helped make "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" the night's most dramatic number, a psychedelic, bluesy epic complete with wah-wah effects on the trombone and a vocal take by John that proved to be his most haunted lament. "J'suis the Grand Zombie/My yellow belt of choison/Ain't afraid of no tom cat/Fill my brains with poison," purred the Doctor in a voice so sexily menacing, he could seduce the dead from their graves.

Boo!

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