“We’d like to do one of our favorite songs from the Eighties,” Arcade Fire’s Win Butler announced yesterday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival – which was just when Cyndi Lauper walked onstage in a sleeveless black top and black leather pants to sing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” with the band. She shared lead vocal duties with Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne, who grinned and danced with the abandon Lauper displayed in the original video. Lauper stayed onstage to add a dulcimer to the band’s wall of sound for “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” playing the instrument with a shot glass. She left the stage before an emotional, show-ending “Wake Up.”
Lauper’s appearance capped a triumphant show for fans and the band, who are obviously loving this moment of meeting America 50,000 people at a time. The energy onstage was relentless without feeling forced or exhausting, and Butler at time seemed genuinely humbled as he looked at the audience. He worked to connect with New Orleans on multiple levels, explaining that “The Suburbs” was influenced by a drive from Houston to New Orleans, and asserting, “How we’ll be judged is how we deal with Haiti and New Orleans.” Then he got people where they lived: sports. “We all can revel in the Lakers being down 2-0” to the Dallas Mavericks, he said – a week earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers knocked the New Orleans Hornets out of the NBA playoffs.
Elsewhere at the Fair Grounds, Lupe Fiasco was one of the few artists during Jazz Fest to mention Osama Bin Laden, saying that the government should forget about him and fix New Orleans instead. Willie Nelson added a trio of Hank Williams’ chestnuts to his usual setlist – “Jambalaya,” “Move it on Over” and “Hey Good Looking” – and called out the Blind Boys of Alabama for a spontaneous reprise of “I Saw the Light,” which they’d performed just an hour or so earlier with Jamey Johnson.
Johnson is the current best hope for outlaw country, with a band that could easily be mistaken for bikers or a metal group, with their long hair and full, bushy beards. In fact, the set began with the pre-recorded sounds of cell-block doors slamming shut, the intro to “High Cost of Living,” which started a set that brought to mind Lynyrd Skynrd as much as Merle Haggard. Haggard’s signature is on Johnson’s heavily autographed acoustic guitar, along with John Anderson and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and the three together suggest the musical world Johnson comes from.