June 26, 2011
Honey Island Swamp Band swung into the Westside on Saturday, another NOLA nugget appearing at the Mint. This is a New Orleans band that reflects its Katrina Diaspora-Bay Area birth with chunky and soulful jams, tight arrangements and great material. If you are expecting ballads, standards, and second lines, this ain’t that NOLA band. Whether moving easily from moments Dead infused or Dr. John influenced, their self-described Bayou Americana sound never loses sight of its swampy swagger or solo driven joy. The band has kicked ass at Jazzfest the past few years, so a chance to enjoy them here in the Southland was indeed a treat, and to my knowledge, The Mint gig is their first Los Angeles show.
At Fest performances and in the studio, HISB often fattens their arrangements with horns, and Saturday had that taste with Karl Denson sitting in for both sets contributing frequent solos and locking into some killer grooves with Trevor Brooks on keys and Chris Mule’s SG/Strat driven leads. When not providing the good time feel of a summer day front porch harp, Aaron Wilkinson switched between mandolin and his hollow-body Tele, taking the bluegrass string thing into Hendrix/Page territory, while the rhythm section of Sam Price and Garland Paul just kept having too much fun and pushing the band ahead. HISB can swing easily from romps like “Natural Born Fool”, and the Anders Osborne reminiscent “Till the Money’s Gone,” to there and back deep intense jams like “Wishing Well”. While the material is straight ahead, HISB is not shy about stretching out live.
The mixed crowd ranged from music savvy date night couples, thrilled to have the tables gone and the dance floor open for the second set, to the usual NOLA diehards that wouldn’t miss it. The vibe was relaxed and up.
This summer tour behind the their recent Threadhead Records release, “Good to You”, takes HISB from the where it all began of San Francisco’s Boom-Boom Room, to the where it was always meant to be at Tipitina’s in NOLA. I suspect they will be back in the SoCal soon, and playing bigger places. Catch them while you can.