Hometown hero Dr. John helped close out the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz Fest on Sunday by jumping on piano during Bruce Springsteen's headlining set for a funky rendition of "Something You Got," the oft-covered 1961 tune by New Orleans singer Chris Kenner. Afterward, Springsteen acknowledged the Doctor's unmatched piano work. "It's all about that groove. You can't make that groove exactly in New Jersey. That's all there is to it," laughed Springsteen. "He comes down, he sits in that groove, man, and all of the sudden – oh my God, your sexual organs are stimulated! That's exactly what happens."
Earlier in the day, Dr. John and his 10-piece Lower 911 band hunkered down for some gumbo ya ya fire, and the 71-year-old was looking dapper and lively. When he wasn't hammering out New Orleans-style paino rolls he was doing two-step jigs and even barking, as he did after playing "How Come My Dog Don't Bark (When You Come Around)." Cuts from his new, Dan Auerbach-produced Locked Down LP were the focus of the set – the catchy tune "You Lie" was a highlight, as was the lead single "Revolution" – but this crowd was more excited to hear older tunes like "Right Place Wrong Time" and "My Indian Red," during which band member Jon Cleary tapped a drumstick on an African nutshell shaker. There were hollers of agreement from the crowd during "Save Our Wetlands" (from the 2008 LP City That Care Forgot) when Dr. John said over the music, "We should all use our freedom of speech. Call your congressmen…show 'em you give a damn about what's happening." Local rapper L.G. Meyer helped close out the set, shouting, "Go Doctor, go Doctor, go!" after rhyming his own verse. Dr. John watched the youngster with a sly smile and danced with him before heading off the stage.
Competing with headliner sets from both Springsteen and Al Green was Janelle Monae, whose visuals and theatrics mostly enhanced but at times overshadowed her songs. Monae came dressed in her trademark androgynous black-and-white tuxedo, and her entire backing crew matched her look and energy throughout. The set revolved around songs from 2010's The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), with "Cold War" and "Tightrope" emerging as the clear audience favorites. During ArchAndroid's "Mushrooms & Roses," Monae took a thick paintbrush to a blank canvas to create the abstract form of a woman in red, then splattered blue paint on the image and wrote "LUV!" across the bottom. She sounded remarkably like a young Michael Jackson during a cover of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and screamed out "We love you Prince!" during the bridge of his "Take Me With You." The lack of bodies on the lawn had little effect on the performers, who sustained maximum energy and showmanship throughout.
Austin guitar whiz Gary Clark Jr. played a raucous and fulfilling mid-day set in the Blues Tent, where a seated area with misting water jets offered respite from the hot sun. Clark plays an urgent, timeless kind of blues, and his innate skill was on full display on the set opener "When My Train Pulls In," where his blazing guitar shred thrust audience members out of their seats, their arms flailing in approval and what appeared to be disbelief for those unfamiliar with his live show. Clark's guitar work on love song "Please Come Home" was particularly masterful; at one point during his drummer's solo, he muted his guitar strings and manipulated the pickup switch, producing a record-scratching effect. It was a nice show of lagniappe, as they say in Louisiana.
Jazz Fest picks back up on Thursday, May 3rd through Sunday, May 6th, with headlining sets from the Eagles, My Morning Jacket, Florence and the Machine, the Neville Brothers and more.