Honey Island Swamp Band and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes
Representing lesser known aspects of the New Orleans music scene, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notesâ€™ opening set Thursday night at the 8×10 provided a sharp contrast to their headlining counterparts Honey Island Swamp Band. The latter leaning more towards established Louisianan tradition (self-described as â€śBayou Americanaâ€ť), both bands used their sets to showcase new material and invite friends to the stage for covers.
If youâ€™ve been to New Orleans, you probably know that the cityâ€™s basic image as a jazz dominated town–while earned and bolstered by historical importance–is far from its most intriguing musical aspect. For as representative as brass bands, traditional jazz, and accordion-rife zydeco are of the cityâ€™s music scene, New Orleans is also fertile ground for experimentation. In this spirit, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes deftly incorporate an array of seemingly incompatible influence; ragged gypsy punk, traditional Americana, swaggering funk, and classic composition follow one another with aplomb in a typical Johnny Sketch set.
Frontman Marc Paradis operates on stage with an affable sense of humor, mixing off-the-cuff jokes involving crowd members and offsetting his pronounced stage personality with otherwise completely unexpected virtuosity on the electric cello. Paradisâ€™ cello playing colors the bandâ€™s occasional forays into territory marked by a precarious balance between Eastern European influence and ska-reggae upstrokes.
With the well timed delivery of a veteran entertainer, Paradisâ€™ between songs banter almost always involves audience interaction and good-natured ribbing. When an obviously intoxicated man in a business suit wandered towards the stage halfway through the Dirty Notesâ€™ set and proceeded to jam his iPhone as close to band membersâ€™ personal space as possible, Paradis appeared a bull presented with a waving red scarf.
Akin to the moment between a heckler brazenly announcing themselves and the response of a sharp stand-up comedian, a few seconds lagged before the impressively bearded Paradis put the man in his place. After several moments of withstanding indignity, Paradis snatched the manâ€™s still-recording phone and waved it around before addingâ€”in perfect timing and harmony with the songâ€™s original chorus– â€śIâ€™ve got your motherfucking phone!â€ť to rapturous applause.
Towards the end of their set, Paradis and the rest of the Dirty Notes welcomed Trevor Brooks and Sam MulĂ© of Honey Island Swamp Band to the stage to sit in on keyboard and lead guitar, respectively. On the strength of the Dirty Notes horn section (Omar Ramirez on trumpet and Brad Walker on saxophone) and the spot-on slide playing of MulĂ©, the mixed-company lineup did the Rolling Stonesâ€™ â€śRocks Offâ€ť sweet justice.
When it came time for Honey Island Swamp Bandâ€™s folksy upbeat rock, the set faltered slightly out of the gate before righting itself with undeniably solid playing. MulĂ©â€™s lead guitar, in particular, often serves to take otherwise unremarkable straight-ahead country rock in interesting and dynamic directions.
The eveningâ€™s peak would come on a cover of Bob Dylanâ€™s â€śGotta Serve Somebodyâ€ť that featured Paradis and Walker. Honey Island would also welcome local guitarist and vocalist Cris Jacobs to the stage for energetic covers of traditional number â€śGoing Down The Road Feeling Bad,â€ť Robert Johnsonâ€™s â€śIâ€™m a Steady Rollinâ€™ Man,â€ť and 1960â€™s pop hit â€śGood Lovinâ€™.â€ť Concluding their set with the title track from their forthcoming release Sugar Cane, Honey Island Swamp Band revealed a move towards a more heartfelt and genuine tone than some of their backyard-party-in-the-Bayou material. Surely, their more lighthearted numbers have an appropriate time and place. In close comparison on Thursday, however, the bandâ€™s new material outshone the past as they closed out the evening.