Headliners Wilco and Dave Matthews drew crowds to the Fair Grounds Race Course on a cloudless day for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Local indie rockers Motel Radio warmed up the Gentilly Stage with the band looking seasoned beyond its years. The group has a bouncy, dreamy tone, with the keys and guitars hitting psychedelic pitches in providing a canvas for lyrics about love, desolation and joy painted by guitarist/singer Winston Triolo. Motel Radio showed why it has caught fire, recently touring nationally after signing a deal with Roll Call Records last year. It pumped out the signature catchy grooves that distinguish songs such as “Phasing Out” from its debut EP as well as “Palmilla” from the solid debut album last fall, Desert Surf Films
Anders Osborne has been prolific of late, releasing roughly an album per year for the last five years, so he has plenty of recent material from which to draw. Propelled by relentless beats from his new drummer, Brady Blade (in lock step with long-time bassist Carl “Bayou Buddha” Dufrene), Osborne recruited frequent collaborator Eric McFadden (a ferocious speed metal/deep blues guitarist who played for George Clinton and Stockholm Syndrome) for the show, along with two back-up vocalists, including Jenny Jones, who supplied stirring violin playing. The native Swede seems New Orleans-born at times. He showed his affection for his adopted home in the blistering track “Flower Box,” with its opening line “Born down in the swampland” leading to the painful poetry of “If you love, set me free / If you don’t, just let me be.” “Flower Box” closed with McFadden and Osborne face-to-face in a bromance of guitar-frenzy climax. Osborne dedicated his last track to “Bruce” (Col. Bruce Hampton, who died May 1) and another friend “Tim” in the desperate, hell-bent rocker “When the Devil Comes to Me,” which opened with primal fuzz and distorted feedback and closed with a full-on jam.
Paired with long-time collaborator Tim Reynolds, Dave Matthews reached deep into his catalogue for a sit-down acoustic set at the Acura Stage. Early in the set, “Warehouse” from 1994’s Under the Table and Dreaming
, a tune about a legendary Virginia party that’s proof of Matthews’ hedonist roots, was accented with flamenco-style frenetic guitar work by Reynolds. Matthews told the crowd, “I’ve been luck enough to go all around the world to a lot of lovely places, but nowhere have I found people as unique, creative and resilient as the people of New Orleans. You’re a treasure.” Another Under the Table and Dreaming
track, “Jimi Thing,” followed with its “keep me floating, keep me swinging” philosophy of beatific bliss: “What I want is what I've not got / And what I need is all around me.”
Chicago-based Wilco, featuring Northshore native/bassist and multi-instrumentalist John Stirratt, returned for its third Jazz Fest appearance to close out Gentilly with a show filled with songs from its brilliant 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
. Guitar master Nels Cline, about 12 hours removed from a stellar showcase of all-improvised music with Medeski, Martin and Wood at the Civic Theater, strapped on his vintage Fender Jazzmaster guitar for the opening number, “Ashes of American Flags” with this haunting intro of “I know I would die if I could come back new.”
Frontman Jeff Tweedy, oddly resplendent in a white Derby hat, glasses and beard, oozed his alto-pitch vocals of angst and hope on “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart,” pausing at the title’s refrain at the end of the song to let the crowd sing that repeating line. “Random Name Generator” followed, and soon the band went into an stellar version of “Impossible Germany,” notable because that song from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky
was the last song the band played during a Jazz Fest set cut short due to lightning two years ago. Cline sat down at his National lap steel guitar to lead into the tender “Jesus, Etc.” before going back to his electric as the band put the pedal to the medal for a closing run of “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Hummingbird” “Late Greats” and as encore from the eponymous double-album “I Got You” and “Outtasite.”