Year after year, the Hong Kong Arts Festival brings a parade of great artists to Hong Kong, most of whom probably wouldn’t appear here if not for whatever voodoo it is that the festival does to get them here. Among this year’s shows, 2 nights with Dr. John and the Lower 911. Of course, the good Doctor did not disappoint.
I had to look it up – Mac Rebbenack aka Dr. John is now 71 years old. He’s been recording since he was a teenager doing studio work down in New Orleans. (The last time I saw him live was in Boston around 1973 or 74.) His most recent albums have focused on the post-Katrina New Orleans and he’s also showed up in the TV series Treme, so it’s probably fair to say that 50+ years into his career, he’s the closest thing to being famous as he was back in the early late 60s and early 70s when his records got played on the radio and he had a couple of hits. But you don’t go to see Dr. John because he’s “famous,” you go because the man is a truly unique performer, not just a legend but a walking encyclopedia of multiple genres that get too little attention these days.
His set certainly reflected where he’s been. He kicked off with It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, followed by I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You. We got New Orleans classics like Tipitina and St. James Infirmary. We got his two biggest hits, Right Place Wrong Time and Such a Night (loved when he ended that one with a bit of Rhapsody in Blue tossed in). There was blues, there was rock, there was jazz, there was soul – it was, in short, The Real Deal.
And while I’m at it, I should raise a glass to The Lower 911, Dr. John’s backing band. David Barard on bass, John Fohl on guitar, Raymond Weber on drums – these guys were able to follow their leader wherever he went. The Doctor of course gave a master’s course in piano, occasionally switching to the Hammond B-3 and even cutting loose on guitar on a Champion Jack Dupree song. The program said that the running time would be about 90 minutes but it was closer to 105 – and it started almost exactly at 8, meaning that there were quite a few late arrivals in the audience. He almost never spoke to the audience – a couple of times intro’d a song by mentioning the songwriter and introducing his band towards the end.
I only wish I had some better photos to share with you. The HK Cultural Centre seems to be one of the few venues where the ushers are actively going after people with cameras. I had no way to adjust settings, just set to “P”, cover the back LCD screen, point the camera, click, drop it down out of sight again.
And speaking of the HK Arts Festival bringing in the kinds of stuff we don’t otherwise get in HK, tonight’s little program booklet mentions some of the stuff that I guess has been confirmed for the 2013 festival. One of the items on this list makes me very happy indeed – Einstein on the Beach! The only Philip Glass opera I’ve ever seen is Satyagraha, which was transcendent; I’ve always wanted to see this one on stage.