Tag Archives: Eric Lindell
December 12, 2012
Certain celestial alignments skip decades, if not lifetimes, or at a minimum, involve covering great distances at greater expense. Think solar eclipses, Comet Hale-Bopp or if you get around, the aurora. Even then, there is the unexpected cloud cover that can scotch the most anticipated and well-planned events. While the intersection of talent that is Dragon Smoke may not operate on a celestial plane, the fact the band exists, let alone has endured for a decade, is pretty damn impressive. Comprised of the Galactic’s drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist/songwriter Eric Lindell and funk master Ivan Neville on keys and vocals, the band is a potential one-off that never offed. The lineage speaks propulsive, jammy funk meets soulful vocals as one would expect with the Galactic rhythm section, stinging Lindell leads, swampy Neville keys and alternating Neville/Lindell voices. They deliver that and then some.
The demanding tour schedules of Galactic, Dumpstaphunk and Lindell, coupled with additional musical pursuits, make the right place/right time convergence of the four principals slightly more frequent than a Cubs post-season appearance, or at least cause for celebration. Yet, the band has been a fixture for 10+ years on the Tuesday between Jazzfest weekends, while managing to pop up for rare winter forays west of the Mississippi, including another December gig at The Mint as part of a 5-date West Coast-ish swing. Their show last year killed and was of one the room’s most memorable of 2011.
The musical affection between the players is obvious from the get-go. Like a family reunion where you don’t see enough of each other, stay up all night, then go on with your lives until the next one. The material is generously shared and enthusiastically played. And while many similar collaborations often lose focus, tread on reputation or simply go sideways, these guys play for keeps. It sure doesn’t feel or sound like a side project.
Opening with the country ramble feel of “Sunday Morning”, the trademark swapping of Lindell and Neville led tunes jumped right into the Dyke and the Blazers funk of “Let a Woman, Be a Woman” with Stanton Moore sneaking in a NOLA brass snare rhythm between a barrel full of fills, and Neville chomping at his clavs and working his B3. Funky, fun, and delicious. The stutter step blues rock of Lindell’s “Country Livin’” (from 2009’s “Gulf Coast Highway”) sounded pretty damn good, accented by Neville’s Hammond runs and Moore’s cascades, and the War-like soul of father Aaron’s “Hercules” brought things back to an appropriate simmer. A couple of Lindell tunes followed, including “Two Bit Town” (from 2006’s “Change in the Weather” and the pretty “Lullaby for Mercy Ann” (from “Gulf Coast Highway”). The Meters were in the room with “Out in the Country” (“nobody plays it like this” professed Neville), before Lindell stretched out with the breezy “Valerie” (a Zutons’ song most notably covered by the late Amy Winehouse). The first set closed with Gerald Tillman’s (aka, Professor Shorthair) “Padlock” (from Neville’s 1995 “Thanks”) anchored by Neville’s B3 and clav blend punctuated by Lindell’s needle stick delivery and a perfect Meters-esque groove over the lines “somebody’s been sleepin’ in my bed”.
The sold out room had a climate closer to a Bikram yoga class than the cool rainy weather outside, so some oxygen was in order for the break. By the time the band returned for their second set, everyone was a bit more refreshed and most stayed.
The 10-song set went appropriately deeper than the first. Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” began with spare soulful “uh-huhs” from Neville and built into a creeping, slippery jam that had the crowd singing the “like the way you work it” chorus part of the tune. One of the night’s high points, for sure. The band brought a relaxed loping ‘tude to the Mardi Gras Indian driven “Indians, Here Dey Come” and even a touch of Dead influence meets NOLA backbeat to it, thanks to some Jerry-like inflections from Lindell and Moore’s expansive snare vocabulary. Another Lindell tune, “Won’t Be Long” (from “Change in the Weather”) featured a slow voltage bridge and blue-eyed soul progression that lives in Lindell’s wheelhouse. “Slippin’ Into Darkness” is such a natural cover for the band, they should have written the classic. All the pieces fit just right. Dropping in a “Get Up, Stand Up” tease, then flipping into The Meters “Fire on the Bayou” and again to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, before landing back to “Slippin’” was pretty fine. Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s a Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go”) was sandwiched between a few more Lindell tunes that brought the set to a close, and featured some well past midnight clav explorations by Neville. The clock was pushing 1 AM on an early Thursday morning by the time the encore of Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” had wrapped.
Robert Mercurio’s recent interview with jambands.com is illuminating reading on how these guys find a way to stick together, and the glue that makes it happen. With grueling schedules and commitments all over the place, the band must want this pretty bad (heck, it would be way easier not to do it). Nonetheless, you may have a better chance of catching an eclipse some years, so best to presume their next orbit is their only orbit. If you are in NOLA the days between the Fest or within hollering distance of their brief trips west, consider yourself lucky and get your ass down to One Eyed Jacks or other respectable live music establishment. This constellation may not come around again, and if it does, you better be there.
December 7, 2011
“Supergroups” are described by Wikipedia as one “whose performers are already famous from having performed individually or in other groups”, citing a 1974 Time article that such configurations are an “amalgam formed by the talented malcontents of other bands”. Wiki does not know all, but the concept of taking a bunch of disparate talents of some repute, throwing them together and expecting them to live up to their progeny is typically a recipe for failure, or at least a really lame experiment (or an overt attempt to cash in). They’re not always stinkers, as this year’s “SuperHeavy” project, or the legacy of the “Travelling Wilburys”, and even “Blind Faith” exemplify. But what some may call a “supergroup” is often just another night in NOLA during Jazzfest, when the best of the NOLA music scene can’t stay away from each other and keep going ‘til dawn cracks the sky. These loose jam sessions don’t always click. Overly familiar material, too much noodling and no cohesion are not unusual. But other nights, magic gets sprinkled and familiar material becomes musical epoxy for epic jamming that can’t be bottled, or more daring tunes work their way into the mix. NOLA musicians form so many different constellations during the Fest it borders on incest, but it really is just the natural order for players who love to flat out play wherever, whenever they can.
Which brings me to Dragon Smoke. Neville. Moore. Lindell. Mercurio. Names not as familiar west of the Mississippi, but NOLA royalty be it as Galactic, Dumpstaphunk, the Nevilles, Lindell, Garage a Trois and others. Formed in 2003, they have played every Fest since, but rarely travel west to bring their 3 AM spirit around a corner that’s not on Frenchmen, Napoleon, Peters or Oak. The lineage speaks propulsive, jammy funk meets soulful vocals as one would expect with the Galactic rhythm section, stinging Lindell leads, swampy Neville keys and alternating Neville/Lindell voices.
At Wednesday’s Dragon Smoke gig at The Mint, I went looking to see if the whole would be bigger than the sum of its parts, and whether the vibe and sound would be more of the loose one-off of funk covers variety, or filled with the swagger and punch of seasoned vets excited to find a fresh voice. Surprise. From the first tune through last of two full sets, the band played as a singular unit totally conversant with each other, and were tight, tight, tight all night long. Opening with Lindell’s “Country Livin’”, (from his 2009 Gulf Coast Highway release) these guys jumped right in and never let up. Lindell was in strong voice and coaxed the right twang out of his SG (not an easy thing to do), trading licks with Ivan Neville, then stopping on a dime for a cascade of Stanton Moore fills. The straight up funk of Dyke & the Blazers “Let a Woman Be a Woman” nicely showcased Ivan’s straight from the early 80s clavinet chops. Lindell’s “It Won’t Be Long” (from the 2006 release, Change in the Weather) and Ivan’s father Aaron’s “Hercules” continued the nice back/forth between Lindell and Neville arranged tunes. Ivan and Stanton Moore brought some nice seasoning to “Injuns, Here They Come”, with Moore’s snare really leading the way. Later in the set, Neville brought just the right touch of churchy keys to complement Lindell’s Anders-esque vocals on the tender “Lullaby for Mercy Ann” (from Gulf Coast Highway). The first set closed with a rollicking and hard edged cover of Steve Miller’s “Jet AirLiner”. So far, so good.
After a refreshingly reasonable break, the band returned for the next set. Despite pushing midnight for a mid-week show, everyone stuck around, and no doubt, glad they did. The second set had deeper grooves, and some extended playing. Not loose single-minded solo excursions, but concise all for one explorations that allowed the quartet to settle into just the right pocket with each other. A cover of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” had some great moments, especially slinking around every note of Ivan’s clav and keys, creating plenty of space for Lindell, Moore and Mercurio to reach, punch and throw more into the stew. Delicious. Lindell’s “Lucky, Lucky” (from the 2011 release, West County Drifter) brought a “Sugaree” reminiscent feel with some compact and very tasty turns on his SG. The jazz-blues inflected “Valerie” (made famous by Amy Winehouse) was perfectly suited to the Dragon Smoke treatment and covers of “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” were completely gratifying. The set wrapped with Lindell’s “It’s a Pity (from his 2009 release Low on Cash, Rich in Love) with the sickest jam of the night – all four guys just hugging the minor 7th-ish change for all it’s worth. Everyone stretching out one more time, the whole unit bringing an almost Derek & the Dominoes cum NOLA infused feel to the Lindell tune. That’s high praise. The band came back for the upbeat soul of Lindell’s “Nothin’ Can Stop Me” to cap it off.
Far from being thrown together, the four musicians that make up Dragon Smoke are meant to play together – each bringing something to complement and wring the best out of the other. They just fit. The band intends to lay down some tracks soon, but in the meantime their recently released live CD, “Live in New Orleans” is available on Amazon and iTunes, and features many of the songs featured at The Mint.