Yesterday at Jazz Fest, it looked like no one told the Strokes about New Orleans weather. Singer Julian Casablancas wore a biker black leather jacket, black T-shirt, black jeans and neon lime high-tops for the band’s Jazz Fest debut, and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. Nick Valensi showed similar commitment to rock & roll cool under all circumstances, wearing a black blazer over a black T-shirt and black jeans, despite temperatures in the mid-80s with the humidity rising.
At the other end of the Fair Grounds, meanwhile, Jimmy Buffett embodied Gulf South good times. Wearing a Saints cap and a sunny yellow T-shirt for his Jazz Fest performance, he played the hits, threw in a cover of “Brown Eyed Girl” and sang “Biloxi” with guest Jesse Winchester. He called out New Orleans piano great Allen Toussaint (who played the set before his) and guitarist Sonny Landreth to nod to Buffett’s days playing Bourbon Street on “I Will Play for Gumbo.”
Unlike the genial Buffett, Casablancas was reserved between songs, at one point meandering silently around the stage snuggling a beach ball. He seemed amused by the idea of a decidedly New York rock band playing Jazz Fest and riffed on it throughout the set, at one point announcing, “I stopped following jazz in the Forties.” As the last notes of “You Only Live Once” rang, he asked, “Is that a jazz chord?”
Still, for the hour that the band played, they validated the belief fans continue to have in the band, displaying wiry energy and, in case of guitarist Nick Valensi, ripples of melody that subtly opened up the songs to the setting.
Lauryn Hill made her Jazz Fest debut Saturday. The often-late Hill – who didn’t appear at a December concert until after midnight, over four hours after the 8 p.m. doors – showed up only 20 minutes late for her set, which she opened with “Everything is Everything.” Hill’s voice is huskier now than it was when she was queen of the R&B universe when The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released in 1998. But it was in better shape than at Coachella, and she loosened up as the show progressed. By “Ooh La La La” late in the set, she seemed fully comfortable on stage, perhaps even enjoying herself.
Hill and the Strokes had reputations to live up to. New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty’s in the process of making his, and his set before the Strokes was one of the best-attended of the day. A year ago at this time, he released his Grammy-nominated debut, Backatown, and since then he and the songs have grown. His signature songs, “Hurricane Season” and “Suburbia,” merge arena rock and New Orleans funk, and they initially tilted toward hard rock heaviness. Yesterday, the muscle remained but the grooves were more supple and showed what a year on tour will do for a band.