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Honey Island Swamp Band and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes

May 17, 2013

Honey Island Swamp BandRepresenting lesser known aspects of the New Orleans music scene, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes’ 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 “Bayou Americana”), both bands used their sets to showcase new material and invite friends to the stage for covers.

If you’ve been to New Orleans, you probably know that the city’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 city’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. Paradis’ cello playing colors the band’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, Paradis’ 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 Notes’ set and proceeded to jam his iPhone as close to band members’ 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 man’s still-recording phone and waved it around before adding—in perfect timing and harmony with the song’s original chorus– “I’ve got your motherfucking phone!” to rapturous applause.

Towards the end of their set, Paradis and the rest of the Dirty Notes welcomed Trevor Brooks and Sam Mulé 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 Mulé, the mixed-company lineup did the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off” sweet justice.

When it came time for Honey Island Swamp Band’s folksy upbeat rock, the set faltered slightly out of the gate before righting itself with undeniably solid playing. Mulé’s lead guitar, in particular, often serves to take otherwise unremarkable straight-ahead country rock in interesting and dynamic directions.

The evening’s peak would come on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” 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 “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” Robert Johnson’s “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man,” and 1960’s pop hit “Good Lovin’.” 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 band’s new material outshone the past as they closed out the evening.

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