The Midnite Disturbers features members of Galactic, horn players from several brass bands and others.
After Jazz Fest’s delayed opening Sunday, a green suit-clad Dr. John (Mac Rebbenack) settled in at the Acura Stage with his star-stuffed band of New Orleans musicians. With Herlin Riley on drums and Roland Guerin on bass, the grooves on classics like “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” “Right Place Wrong Time” and “Such a Night” were loose and funky, giving Rebennack plenty of room to stretch out on piano and keyboards beneath his husky growls and incantations. (Back-up singers Regina and Ann McCrary’s soaring R&B vocals, which also appeared on Locked Down
, provided a nice contrast.)
Dr. John recently rebuilt his ensemble after discharging former musical director, trombonist Sarah Morrow, and the overly clipped, sterile-sounding Nite Trippers outfit she organized for him. The new band also features saxophonist Charles Neville, guitarist Eric Struthers and Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown on trumpet. Though Rebennack, 76, moved from piano to keyboard with the help of two carved wooden canes, he sounded strong.
Drummers Stanton Moore and Kevin O’Day defied the laws of Jazz Fest scheduling to bring together more than a dozen of New Orleans top horn players for the Midnite Disturbers’ set, an annual, high-energy brass-funk workout on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. The sprawling group — all wearing T-shirts with shoutouts to music legends such as James Black and Louis Armstrong — ran through a mix of vintage funk and jazz tunes by Galactic and Moore, plus their go-to Lil Rascals throwback, “Buck It Like a Horse.” There were extended solos by Roger Lewis, Big Sam Williams, Corey Henry, Ben Ellman, Skerik and Matt Perrine. Guitarist Jonathan Freilich also joined the group.
An assortment of band members’ kids sat near the back of the stage by Moore and O’Day’s drum setups, and Shamarr Allen’s son handled snare drum duties. That served as a reminder of the way successive generations of local musicians learn and carry on New Orleans’ jazz, funk and brass band sounds.
What was intended to be a showcase for strong female voices on the Gentilly Stage was truncated by the rain delay. New Orleans cabaret rapper Boyfriend’s set was canceled, but Elle King was able to perform before and New Zealand-born pop star Lorde took the stage. Dark skies above the Fair Grounds seemed like a perfect setting for Lorde’s alternately passionate and angst-fueled electropop, backed by a full string section.
As trip-hop beats surged behind her (the bass was so intense listeners could physically feel it at some points), the black velvet-clad 20-year-old darted and bounced around the bare expanse of stage, her rich voice imbuing tracks such as “400 Luxe” from her 2013 breakout album Pure Heroine
with waves of emotion and darkness. She also performed her biggest hit, “Royals.”
After saying she loved the New Orleans crowd for dancing more than the audience at Coachella, the singer plopped down on the front of the stage and shared some backstory to introduce “Liability,” a lilting, confessional single from her new album Melodrama.
“It’s truly a trip to be able to sit here and sing a song I wrote about being a loser,” she said, earning cheers from the teenage girl- and millennial-heavy crowd. The tune began as an homage to frustrated isolation (“they say, ‘You’re a little too much for me / you’re a liability’”). The music grew airier and Lorde’s voice grew stronger. “They’re gonna watch me disappear into the sun,” she sang. “You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.”
After the set, Lorde was swept up by handlers and ushered into a waiting SUV. But when 15 or 20 girls and young women appeared on the track, waving and cooing that they loved her, she hopped out of the car and ran over to them, giving a hug to almost everyone who had lined up to see her.