WOULD GOD SEND HAZEL NUTS FROM HEAVEN TO EZRALITES IN THE WILDERNESS?
Last we spoke, I’d just left Michaul’s to rush to the Joy Theater for the first of two nights of concerts that are the centerpiece of Krewe of Rocckus. As I arrived with Pete and Vince-not-Vinnie the firefighers and Alyssa, the two attorneys, (they earlier combined their names, Melissa and Amanda, celebrity couple style in jest—not that there’s anything wrong with that!) still in pirate costume, the ticket-taker declared I was her new best friend, confessing she loved dressing like a pirate. Who knew it was a fetish?!
As we entered, Sister Hazel had already begun. Although not a Hazel Nut–the nickname given their loyal fans–I’ve respected the band since seeing them live at a festival on Mayo Island in Richmond, VA where I’d gone, ironically, to see Better Than Ezra. When Sister Hazel first hit it big I found “All For You” a little Hurricane sweet for this Sazerac sipper, but the great thing about music festivals is you come to appreciate bands you may otherwise ignore. SH won me over with solid songs and impressive chops as well as some killer covers, most unexpectedly a kicking “Gold Dust Woman.” You wouldn’t think a bald dude in black frame glasses could pull off Stevie Nicks, but Ken Block interpets it well and guitarist Ryan Newell uses it as a chance to stretch and show off along with their cover of “One Way Out.” Although we were treated to neither of these covers at the Joy, they spun a solid set of originals capped by their finest tune “Change Your Mind.” As Block tapped his temple and reminded the crowd that they held the power to change their own lives, it occurred to me this could be the theme song for My Year of Mardi Gras: “If you wanna be someone else; if you’re tired of fighting battles with yourself…change your mind.” While self-help songs often annoy me with their ‘duh!’ wisdom presented as epiphany, the catchy wordplay of this song has always resonated. It’s such a simple sentiment yet we often forget that we create our own reality and happiness.
The Ezralites in attendance (BTE die-hards) reacted enthusiastically to these veteran openers. Considering they’re friends of BTE whose Rock the Boat cruises inspired BTE to create KoR, it made sense they’d jive well together. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an Ezralite simply because it makes me sound like a groupie or cult member, I do think its behooves a band to choose a name that is easily nickname-able. Hazel Nuts or Ezralites is much catchier and more memorable than something plain like Grateful Dead fans. (That band really missed out on the whole memorable nickname boat!)
GINGER AIN’T NO MARY ANN
As we waited in the section roped off for KoR between shows, the kind of debate broke out that only could happen amongst hardcore fans (part of the beauty of such an event). The band would devote nearly the entire show to recreating the electronic-music inspired How Does Your Garden Grow?, their most experimental album. My second favorite BTE offering behind Closer (which too stretched and experimented but relied a little more on white-boy hip-hop and a little less on looping), I like to think of Garden as what Radiohead might sound like if they were laid-back, bead-catching bayou boys rather than pent-up, overly serious Brits. While half the crowd agreed with me on the album’s strength, Deluxe loyalists considered it somewhat of a disappointment. I tried not to let such blasphemy dampen my excitement, convinced the show would win them over, though the next day I was vindicated when separate chats with Kevin and Tom revealed the album held a special place for the band too.
The album must hold a special place for KoR attendee Ginger too, or else she’s just a relentless fan, as she showed up halfway through the show on crutches. It turns out she was dancing at Michaul’s when she felt something pop. Parade EMTs were called over where they diagnosed her with a possible torn ACL. She left with them to be fitted with an immobilizer and crutches but showed up for the show where she crutch-danced with the best of them, spirit intact. Now that’s an Ezralite!
Well after 11:00pm the band took the stage in flight suits and began to jam atop the hypnotic loop of “Je Ne Me’n Souviens Pas” (which I believe translates “I don’t remember”), the album opener they had never played live. I won’t take you through the whole show—buy the album!—but, though you could sense perhaps a bit of nervousness or tension, I thought the experiement was a success. I was unsure of how I’d like hearing a pre-determined setlist since the surprise of what comes next is part of a show, but hearing an album that holds so many great memories for me played verbatim with a new energy and a few twists was exhilarating. The studio-slicked transitions were a little awkward live following “Je Ne” and later “New Kind of Low,” and my friend Aimee, watching via webcast, said some fans were chatting that Kevin’s voice wasn’t in top form (though I didn’t pick up on that, perhaps being caught up in the moment), but overall it was great hearing favorites like “One More Murder” I hadn’t heard live in their sets in a decade and the beautiful “Everything in 2’s” which for some reason they had never played live. It’s not tricked up like some of the tracks. Certain songs that aren’t necessarily my album favorites also stood out with their live energy such as “Happy Day Mama” and “New Kind of Low: Low/Coma.”
As the ethereal chords of “Waxing Or Waning?” faded away, Kevin, who admitted in my interview with him last month that this was their most difficult album to recreate live, pumped his fist in the air and spun, declaring “We did it!” I don’t know if Garden skeptics were won over, but the reaction of the crowd revealed I wasn’t the only one thrilled. They closed with three solid favorites, pulling a Will Ferrel costumed fan on stage to rock out on Cowbell during “Juicy,”complete with gut sticking out in a perfect rendition of the famous Saturday Night Live skit. It was a great show, and I would have gladly stayed for even more cowbell.
FUNKY, JUICY, SNEEZY & OTHER DWARFS
Friday left us wanting more and Saturday delivered. In fact, the afternoon cruise on the Creole Queen was so eventful, with a private performance by Emerson Hart of the band Tonic and a surprise solo by Kevin Griffin that I’ll save it for later. After the river cruise, it was down time again, which for me meant blogging, and by the time I got my article posted I was late meeting up with the krewe on Canal to watch Endymion. Most notable for meeting Barbara from Switzerland, as I’ve already written about, it was too crowded to really enjoy the parade so a group of us retired to Mother’s where I had a debris biscuit–debris is the beef that falls off the roast overnight and soaks in the gravy–one of my favorites. Although no roped off section was available, KoR had an early admittance line at the House of Blues and were permitted plenty of time to socialize before the show. I’d has a few drinks at the parade from the coolers the organizers dragged along, Barbara gave me one last one to finish in line, and when I ordered two before Big Sam’s Funky Nation, the traditional Saturday night opener, I didn’t realize they were 24oz a piece. Needless to say this was my one night of over-indulgence and if I had a time machine, I would defer bending to peer pressure and going to see Big Sam again at Blue Nile after the show, staying out well past 3am and wrecking the rest of the weekend. My throat is still sore from the cold I caught! This was not a rookie mistake, but rather the mistake of a veteran trying to make a comeback and stretching his first single into a double while forgetting he no longer has twenty-year-old legs!
As for the show, it was more of a traditional setlist, but BTE was in great form. The Joy Theater was incredible but the amount of energy BTE brought Saturday made me more aware of the nerves they may have had the night before. That is except for Michael Jerome. Before Friday’s show he expressed nerves about playing the Garden album, with it not only being challenging with all the loops but recorded long before he joined the band. He was clearly sandbagging, though, because he ripped through the drums both nights like he was playing the devil for his soul. In a question that had to be cut from my Offbeat interview, I asked Kevin the difference between playing with Michael Jerome as opposed to Travis McNabb. Calling them both great friends and great drummers (Travis still sits in from time to time when not with his current band, Sugarland), Kevin described Travis as more a finesse player while Jerome has more a visceral energy and a powerful presence on stage. During both shows, this visceral energy filled the venues.
Opener Big Sam with his Funky Nation not only brought the funk, but a similar hard-driving, visceral energy. You’ll rarely hear trombones played over rock and funk with such a hard edge, and so impressed was KoR that, as mentioned above, a good portion of the group followed them to Blue Nile. After this strong opener, BTE was in top form, with Jerome propelling them forward full force. There were no new antics–Michael Jerome telling the story of his partying by playing only the cowbells has become a common gag, though still fun–but the songs were well-chosen and well-played, leaning heavily on the strong Closer album. The only hitch in the night was a drunken dolt who pushed his way up front and not only was annoying but rude to one of the women in our gang. The men swarmed, ready to self police (I was running through jiu jitsu chokes in my head) and he soon got the message and left. By the time the band invited all its lovely female fans onto stage for sultry favorite, “Juicy,” (or more appropriately “J-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-juicy!”), the crowd was at fever pitch. It was a satisfying end to a satisfying three day ride with Krewe of Rocckus. If only it would have ended there….