Early arrivers, of which there were many, were eased into the evening courtesy of country folk locals The Mountain Firework Company. It was good to see them on a larger than usual stage and they sounded great through the big PA. They went down really well with a short set of woozy blues mixed with fancy fiddling and sang some sweet harmonies on their last number ‘You’re On Your Own From Here’.
We came back from the interval to be greeted by a human skull gazing out from the grand piano, as The Nite Trippers came on, closely followed by the man himself, who moseyed on out supported by two canes before opening with a short burst of ‘The Doctor Is In’.
The first few numbers saw the 74-year-old Mac Rebennack riffing on a number of themes that dipped into Sinatra, Marvin with a splash of ‘The Peanut Vendor’; his piano style a melting pot of New Orleans influences from Professor Longhair to Fats Domino. The band was led by trombonist Sarah Morrow who threw out some dirty JBs funk while Mac rapped about workin’ fo’ the man.
An instrumental take on ‘Blue Skies’ was lifted by a testifying Hammond B3 solo from the barefoot jazz legend, Rhoda Scott, which ended with a ‘Love For Sale’ refrain. Switching to a keyboard that was set to Clavinet Stevie Wonder 1972 mode, a slow groove ‘Big Shot’ led nicely into ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’ to cheers from the crowd as Mac stood to accompany Herlin Riley’s drum solo with his collection of bones and shells.
Through all of this it was that unmistakeable world-weary but still strong Louisiana voice that was the centrepoint of each song, particularly on the classics ‘Night Tripper’ and ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’. He may be a little wobbly on his legs but he had no problem in strapping on a low-slung Telecaster for ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, switching from lead to rhythm in support of Rhoda’s organ solo.
His recent Louis Armstrong tribute album was represented by a fast, funked-up take on ‘Wonderful World’ that saw the whole band stretching out, followed by a reflective ‘That’s My Home’ with everyone adding vocal parts. Then it was back to the standards with an explosive boogie woogie intro to Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ and a swampier Muscle Shoals sound on ‘Motherless Child’.
With the curfew well past, the band continued with ‘Iko Iko’ and ‘Such A Night’ with its call and response line “If I don’t do it, somebody else will” that Mac rounded off with a ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ excerpt. The standing ovation was truly deserved after an electrifying two hours in the company of a real living legend.
Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Thursday 12th March 2015
Words by Steve Clements