Saturday’s NOLA triple threat at The Mint was as close to Frenchmen Street as you can get on Pico Boulevard (in fact, last time Sanchez and company played the room in 2010, their gig was billed as the “Return of Frenchmen Street West”). But this evening was as much Napoleon or Carrollton Avenue as Frenchmen Street, with Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen’s satisfyingly feisty 90 minute performance (and long overdue LA appearance) starting the night before the Tin Men and the Road Show took over for a later show.
Cleary’s set wasted no time, diving right into “Fools Game” (from his 1999 release, Moonburn) and “Just Kissed My Baby” (from the Cleary & AMG, self-titled 2002 release). The former a propulsive soul blues romp with enough barroom piano rollick and get in your bones undertow to make every beer go down like an Abita. The latter a showcase for the best of the band, with its sticky Cornell Williams bass break and Cleary’s clavvy keys. Naturally, Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” was in the mix (featured on Cleary’s 2008, “Mo Hippa Live” release) and Cleary and the AMG had ample opportunity to display their soulful R’n’B side throughout the set (“Help Me Somebody” from “Moonburn”, in particular). “C’mon Second Line” (from the 2006 release, Alligator Lips and Dirty Rice) brought out the white napkins and of course Fess stayed in the house with “Tipitina” (also featured on “Mo Hippa”), a legacy that could not be in better hands. It was one of those Festive sets where the next tune just felt better than the last, only because it was the next tune and they kept on coming. Cleary is the swampiest Brit I’ve ever heard and the band of Cleary, Cornell Williams on bass, Derwin Perkins on guitar and Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, played as a tight, friendly unit of innate familiarity throughout the show. Yes, please sir, may I have some more?
Cleary’s set did not seem to suffer from the early start time (7:00) and the room turned over decently before the Tin Men and Road Show sets got underway a little past 9.
Both The Tin Men and Paul Sanchez are familiar sights at Frenchmen Street venues like d.b.a, and only the insane power trio of washboard, guitar and sousaphone known as The Tin Men could credibly pull off a cover of Zepp’s “Immigrant Song”. Seriously. Alex McMurray’s rubbed in gravel vocals, and hollow body string playing are fitting and winning. Chaz and McMurray often alternate vocal duties and Chaz’s thimble laden playing on a washboard rig replete with tin cans and a clerk’s bell may just be the bayou’s answer to the tabla. Anchoring it all are the lungs of Mr. Matt Perrine and the sum of the three somehow pull it off with aplomb.
The latest edition of Irish Channel troubadour Sanchez’s Road Show had a Villainous infusion. Former Vaud & the Villains vocalists (and LA to New Orleans transplants) Arsene DeLay and Antoine Diel were front and center throughout the 20+ song set, adding generous sparks and chills to what has really become a family affair, if not a musical haven for a few freshly minted New Orleanians (Sanchez and the post-Katrina displaced know something about relocation, so it only seems natural). Even Vaud himself (Andy Comeau playing sax), as well as Silky (vocalist Thomas Silcott) and Two Boots (David Silverman on sousaphone) joined the party. Sanchez sings of what he’s lived and tunes such as “Stew Called New Orleans”, “Hurricane Party” (from the 2009 and 2008 releases of the same name, respectively), “Rebuild, Renew” (from 2012’s Nine Lives and Colman DeKay’s lyrics) and “Foot of Canal Street” (from Hurricane Party) emotionally and affectionately express the smiles, tears and resiliency of his home town. This particular Road Show featured the Tin Men, Sanchez on guitar, the aforementioned Villains and early Sanchez collaborator Vance DeGeneres on bass for a few tunes. The set was about songs and stories, familiar and retold to a receptive and appreciative Threadhead crowd. The world’s good fortune of Sanchez as troubadour cannot be overstated, and I have to admit, is just plain fun.
Suffice to say that this same night/two shows Mint weekender fortifies venue’s importance in connecting SoCal to the heart of New Orleans contemporary music. As other NOLA acts grow in popularity and play to bigger crowds, The Mint keeps the NO/LA connection vital and real. Meet me on Pico Boulevard.