Jon Cleary - New Orleans based Cleary comes out before the big show to bang out 15-20 minutes on the piano and rev up the crowd some. He has a nice rolling style and hits the jazzy, bluesy rocking notes with keys and voice and offered standard fare. This is in the standing area of the Birchmere, which although appropriate in accommodating a few dancers, is a bit challenging for the Dr. John peers in the crowd, being that Dr. John is now 71 years old. There are some canes and wheelchairs around. There are also plenty of umbrellas as the tornados and flash floods may have kept the crowd a little smaller than what would have been. Still a good crowd listened attentively.
Dr. John - Mac Rebennack is back with a nice little band with a big sound. He's got drums, bass, keys, guitar, trombone, and sax. There's some backing vocals and he ambles around between vocals, guitar, and keys. The band is about as New Orleans solid as you would expect and provides more funk and R&B than rock or jazz, although there is plenty of everything in the sound. The set was good, although it felt more of a greatest hits than a throwback to "Gris-Gris", supposedly unlike the recent album (which I have not heard yet). Still, the band was flexible and did some cool things like the well received trombone solo. One moment that stood out was Rebennack's guitar solo which was filled with all sorts of jarring notes and patterns and doubly stood out from the band's ultrasmooth backing. That was fun. His voice was in great shape and was clear in the mix. Although vocal quality is something I listen for carefully with performers older than me, I did have to chuckle when I realized that he sounded pretty much 70 years old early in life. It is a little more of a challenge for Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone to perform Zombies cuts so flawlessly at this age, then it is for Mac to Dr. John it up for a set. But like John Mayall, it is impressive that he can still keep it going, although it is of no surprise whatsoever that he will bring a cooking band with him. I do miss my regular trips to New Orleans. I may have even ended up there if there summers were not even worse than the ones here.
Booking Question of the Night: This is the first standing show I have done at the Birchmere since the redesign. It came off well, although they really should put some chairs in what now is the side room or bar area. There were a lot of older people in need. I am curious to see if the Howard Theatre and the Hamilton will alter Birchmere's booking policy. They will clearly lose some shows (although the State Theatre is truly more moribund than ever). I had predicted a few younger shows headed to the standing stage and indeed Blitzen Trapper is slated for a show soon. I do not see any other obvious changes yet, but I will be curious to see what happens in the next year.