The music of New Orleans was all over Kansas City on Friday night. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band held court at VooDoo. Cellist/songwriter Helen Gillet played a set at the Brick. And at Crossroads KC, Crescent City legend Dr. John performed before a crowd of more than 700.
The man born Malcolm John Rebennack brought with him a band led by jazz trombonist and vocalist Sarah Morrow. She was a focal point throughout the 90-minute set, whether adding background vocals or laying down a trombone solo.
The set list included several tracks from “Locked Down,” his most recent full-length album, including the title track, a soul/blues romp, and “Big Shot,” a slinky, groovy blues number embellished with plenty of horn lines from Morrow. Live, those songs can’t quite replicate the deft touches of producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, but they were effective nonetheless.
He reached far back in his catalog, too: “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” from “Gris-Gris,” released in 1968, was one of several highlights. It’s a smoldering jazz-blues hymn that unleashes its spell slowly, and Dr. John milked its mood perfectly. Morrow’s slow-burning solo deepened its seductiveness.
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Other highlights: “Goodnight Irene,” his version of the Leadbelly classic, and his cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Dr. John’s contribution to “Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch,” the tribute album he released in August. His rendition is jazzy, bright and high octane, nothing like the original and not instantly recognizable.
Dr. John played piano most of the night; on a few songs he switched to electric keyboards. He’ll turn 74 in November, but he hasn’t lost a step or shed much vigor, instrumentally or vocally. “Right Place, Wrong Time,” which aroused the biggest ovation, sounded much like it did when it was a hit 40 years ago.
He ended with “Such a Night,” a track that goes back to 1973. It’s about a smitten guy trying to steal a girl from his best friend on a starless, moonlit night. Treachery may be its motive, but in the hands of Dr. John and his band, it becomes a romping, redemptive blues number, cast in the accents and attitudes of New Orleans.
Locked Down; What a Wonderful World; Big Shot; I Walk on Guilded Splinters; Right Place, Wrong Time; Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Such a Night; Goodnight Irene