One of the best shows of the summer in New Orleans featured Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint concluding their tour in front of a packed House of Blues. The everdapper Toussaint took leave of his piano to slide behind an organ for a few tunes and his hand-picked horn section, featuring the likes of Sam "Big Sam" Williams, blew "Pump It Up" to new heights. Costello had also asked Toussaint to rearrange many of his songs.
The more-than-three-hour, two-encore marathon worked through much of Costello's repertoire, backed by the Imposters, and dabbled with some New Orleans classics. But besides the show itself, it's a good reflection of what makes the local club scene go around. There's a steady stream of big names coming through on tour, but New Orleanians like their own music and like to do their own thing with all music.
For both the uninitiated and those returning to see how the clubs have changed, a guide to the music scene follows. The classics are still in place, but a few new clubs have arrived, a few have changed their names and a few are changing their tunes.
While slow to reopen its doors following Katrina, the House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com) has hit its stride again and features a diverse range of acts in the large, two-story club room. This summer featured shows by everyone from LL Cool J and Indie.Arie to Peaches to teen idols like Teddy Geiger. The Parish is a smaller music room within the venue and hosts alt-rock bands and smaller local shows.
With the worn bust of patron saint Professor Longhair just inside the doors, Tipitina's (500 Napoleon Ave., 895-TIPS; www.tipitinas.com) is still the epicenter of New Orleans' steamy jazz funk from brass bands to the Radiators to jams lead by musicians like original Meter George Porter Jr. and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Tip's was founded in the converted warehouse space in the early '70s during a renaissance of New Orleans music and was named for Longhair's song "Tipitina." While regular visits by George Clinton used to be a rite of passage for area university students and major touring bands still book shows at Tip's, it is one of the best places to get an education in the local music scene. Its schedule remains loyal to many of the city's established bands, and successive generations of musicians, as in the case of Ivan Neville and his band Dumpstaphunk. The Tipitina's Foundation is a non-profit extension of the club that has raised money to supply instruments and support music education in the public schools. Besides New Orleans music, the club hosts a Sunday afternoon (generally 5 p.m.) Cajun fais do do dance party with top Cajun musicians such as Bruce Daigrepont.
The Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) is convenient to the Uptown university neighborhood and also a home to many of city's most popular brass, funk and rock bands. While not cavernous like Tipitina's, the Maple Leaf has a double-barreled layout and can pack in quite a crowd. The entrance is on the bar side, and the music side extends far back to a second bar and patio. Many of the regular acts fit into a particular groove. The Monday night Papa Grows Funk show is a regular event but has about nine years to go to catch up with the Rebirth Brass Band's Tuesday-night legacy. Weekend shows often feature New Orleans rock, funk, blues and jazz by everyone from John Mooney or Walter "Wolfman" Washington to jams led by Galactic drummer Stanton Moore.
Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave., 482-3133; www.rockandbowl.com) is not just an oddity but an institution. The upstairs club has plenty of lanes for bowling plus a big bandstand and a spacious dance floor. There is a sort of retro '50s-diner feel to the place and a regular swing night with a live band. Thursdays feature top zydeco acts from Acadiana, including Geno Delafose and Willis Prudhomme, and the rest of the schedule includes everything from brass bands to rock.
Mid-City's newest club, Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St., 304-4714) is also presenting a mix of local jazz and funk. Sousaphone player Kirk Joseph and his Backyard Groove have set the tone. A founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Joseph has been pumping out great jams with rock bands.
For more of a taste of the touring college music scene, a couple of clubs have been good venues for alternative and new rock. One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net) in the French Quarter hosts traveling bands but has also carried on the previous incarnation's regular '80s Night dance parties on Thursdays. Also refreshed is the Howlin' Wolf (907 S. Peters St., 529-5844; www.thehowlinwolf.com), which has moved a block down the street to the former Praline Connection's spot, which has a better music space. It's also a place to find up-and-coming local rock bands.
Two new jazz clubs have been added to the music scene. Jin Jeans Lounge (1700 Louisiana Ave., 894-8970) is a new spot Uptown, just off St. Charles Avenue. The lounge features traditional and contemporary New Orleans jazz by chanteuses like Samirah Evans, and some local R&B. Downtown in the Marigny, Ray's Boom Boom Room (508 Frenchmen St., 248-0801) is the by-product of a movie shoot. The long-shuttered spot got a full-scale renovation with two elegant bars and a back room with a balcony over the dance floor. It has started off by focusing on jazz by popular local performers like Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers.
A good place to browse for live music is on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. Within three blocks, there are several clubs and typically a good variety of choices of both music and ambience. Beginning at the edge of the French Quarter, Check Point Charlie (501 Esplanade Ave., 949-7012) offers a rowdy mix of everything from blues and gritty folk to punk and harder edged rock. Caf Brasil (2100 Chartres St.) has survived the summer on Latin vibes, particularly from Fredy Omar con su Banda. Brasil's scheduling is open-minded and eclectic and can range from Sunday afternoon banjo- and clarinet-led traditional Dixieland jazz to evening worldbeat vibes. Reggae continues to drive the schedule at the address now occupied by the Palm Tavern (606 Frenchmen St., 220-1785), but blues and rock are also common. The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St., 943-3887) offers acoustic jazz and brass band music by the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, Washboard Chaz and others. Meanwhile, across the street, d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731; www.drinkgoodstuff.com) with its remodeled back stage recently hosted a couple of interesting blues shows by the legendary David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and R.L. Burnside's son. It also features local rock and contemporary jazz by Jim Singleton's 3Now4. A couple doors down, Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St., 949-0696; www.snugjazz.com) remains the premier club for modern jazz and top names and bands such as Wess Anderson, Ellis Marsalis and Astral Project.
Some unique music spots sit off the beaten path. The Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616) is a little oasis of off-the-wall music. The tiny barroom on Lee Circle features everything from freaky organ and electronic music to alt rock to honky tonk and rockabilly to solo slacker troubadours like Alex McMurray. Back in the Riverbend, near the streetcar barn, Carrollton Station (8140 Willow St., 865-9190) features a lot of singer/songwriter and acoustic shows. Across the river in Algiers Point, the Old Point Bar (545 Patterson St., 364-0950) features barroom rock in a neighborhood saloon.
Many barroom brass band blow-outs are still going strong. The Soul Rebels Brass Band adds hip-hop to the mix on Thursdays at Le Bon Temps Roule (4801 Magazine St., 895-8117), which also features rock a couple nights a week. Deep in the Bywater, Vaughan's Lounge (800 Lesseps St., 947-5562) has expanded on its Thursday night jazz jams with Kermit Ruffins by hosting the Palmetto Bug Stompers on Wednesdays and the Treme Brass Band on Sunday afternoons. Donna's Bar and Grill (800 N. Rampart St., 596-6914; www.donnasbarandgrill.com) will return to being brass band central in the fall but has had jazz jams on Monday and Sunday nights during the summer led by everyone from the gruff George French to guitarist Todd Duke.
The best place to hear brass bands, however, is in the streets. Second line parades can suit all occasions, and they are ample proof that New Orleans marches to its own beat.