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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Dr John  

DR JOHN at The Barbican, London
Tuesday January 11th 2005

by Nick Morgan

It takes something (a charmed life perhaps?) to survive childhood illness, a shooting injury to the hand, long term addiction to Class A narcotics, two years imprisonment in a State Penitentiary, sessions with artistes as diverse as Little Richard, Phil Spector, Frank Zappa and the Rolling Stones, and an appearance in an advert for Southern Conmfort. But Mac Rebennack, aka Dr John, aka The Night Tripper has managed all of this and pursued a solo career for over thirty years with a chain of somewhat erratic and diverse albums, and a heavy touring program. His last few visits to London have been in the company of an irresistibly funky band but tonight he’s solo, and for the most part devoid of the Voodoo paraphernalia that normally bedecks his piano.

Maybe this is because the management of the Barbican objected to (plastic?) skulls and Ju Ju beads being hung from their Steinway, or that they were concerned about the sensibilities of their elderly and genteel audience, the majority of whom look as though they are out for a night of Gilbert and Sullivan, rather than the master-class in N’Awlinz ‘second-line’ syncopated rhythm and blues that they receive.
The Doctor is in unusually avuncular form, as if stripped of the sinister aura that he displays with his band – anyone who has witnessed his bizarre spastic-dancing will know what I mean. But tonight he’s almost a jolly old gentleman –“dats- definitely- not- da- way- Cole- Porter- compozed- dat- song- but- itz- definitely- da- way- I- decompozed- it” – chatting and joking to his audience in an N’Awlinz patois that was almost incomprehensible to most of the audience. In between what we got was a history lesson (“I- gonna- play- one- or- two- dat- you- might- know- and- spose- one- or- two- dat- youz- might- not”) and the Doctor’s greatest hits...
So we get ‘Walk on gilded splinters’ from his first album Gris Gris, played seamlessly into ‘Marie Laveau’, a celebration of New Orlean’s famous Voodoo Queen, from last year’s N’Awlinz dis dat or d’udda. Professor Longhair’s ‘Tipitina’, Dave Bartholomew’s ‘The Monkey’, a Huey Smith medley ending with ‘Rocking pneumonia and the boogie woogie blues’ made up a bit of the history; ‘Such a night’, ‘An imitation of love’, and (again from “Dis dat”) ‘I ate up the apple tree’ the Dr John catalogue.
  Dr John

And not only was the Doctor good-humoured. His growling drawl of a singing voice was on top-form – clearer and more concise as it needed to be without a band. His piano playing was outstanding. Not an instrument I really understand – but his improvisations over and around the driving rhythms of his left hand were inspired – and if Dr John looked possessed at all it was when he was in the middle of these long, flowing and complex passages. The Gilbert and Sullivan fraternity were foolish enough to try and clap along (a bit like tapping your foot to Rachmaninov), which in turn prompted the Doctor “to- persionally -hit- on- youz- to- participate”. The resulting “Dooba dooba doos” were sung with all the conviction of a dwindling congregation in a Home Counties Parish Church. I cringed – the Doctor visibly winced - “I- tink- dat- most- of- youz- were- shocking- but- datz- just- my- persional- opinion”.
Apparently there is a forthcoming DVD of Dr John scheduled for release later this year – if you’ve never seen him then it’s worth looking out for. If that’s a strong recommendation (which it is) then a very weak one is to look out for Mr David Viner. This young tousle haired Oxfam suited friend of the stars gave us thirty uninspired minutes of folk-club average blues covers. But be warned – this young Mr knows people in high places – I fear we’ll be hearing more of him than we will of the good Doctor in the future. - Nick Morgan (photo by Kate).


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