For Irma Thomas, backfields in motion
Irma Thomas, a veteran of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, belted out danceable soul, R&B and gospel in her midafternoon show at the Acura Stage with a big 10-piece band. Her four-piece horn section didn’t just play her signature songs and solos: They danced choreographed moves with the lady known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans.
As for her own singing and dancing, Thomas’ onstage energy and vocal authority seem little diminished by the passing decades.
“I’d like to sing a song that got me into this business,” she told the crowd. “It’s older than most of you.”
Indeed, Thomas’ debut single, “You Can Have My Husband (But Don’t Mess With My Man),” was released 54 years ago this spring. Nonetheless, she unleashed the song’s “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah! Ah, yeah! Ah, yeah!” with commanding volume and impact.
Of course, Thomas also sang the beautiful Allen Toussaint ballad “It’s Raining,” featuring the tick-tock rhythm that counts down the lonely hours. “I’ve got blues so bad, I can hardly catch my breath,” she sang.
Following her second-line segment tradition, she pulled out her white handkerchief for a medley of “Sing It” and “Iko Iko.”
“Now,” she instructed the audience, many of whom probably were from out of town, “the proper way to do this is to wave your handkerchiefs and umbrellas and towels in the air and put your backfield in motion.”
Crowd goes ‘Wild’ for Royal Teeth’s show
The New Orleans pop band Royal Teeth has had a good spring. Members performed their best-known song, “Wild,” on “American Idol,” and were spotlighted by NPR’s “All Songs Considered” after they played the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
On the windswept Samsung Galaxy Stage on Sunday, singer Gary Larsen was in constant motion, bouncing around the stage, returning to his mic to sing or attack a drum stationed there. Vocal partner Nora Patterson worked to hold her ground in the face of the wind.
It was quickly clear that the band’s sound was sweetened by prerecorded vocal and keyboard parts, and while that’s unusual for the Jazz and Heritage Festival, it didn’t affect the crowd, which was right with the band, singing and clapping when prompted.
After a while, the high spirits, ’80s sonic palette and wordless sing-alongs begged for a change-up that didn’t come.
But when Royal Teeth ended with the undeniable “Wild” — which has all those traits — it was exactly what everybody wanted.
Chocolate Milk pours on the funk
Funk band Chocolate Milk didn’t make the same mark on music as The Meters did, but not for a lack of chops. The members played on Allen Toussaint-produced sessions, and in the mid- to late ’70s, they hovered on the verge of breaking through nationally.
Sunday on the Congo Square Stage, Chocolate Milk brought the old-school funk, including the flute solo.
The band grooved along amiably for 20 minutes until it settled into the fat funk of “My Mind Is Hazy.” Even with a jazzy middle section, it started the dancing that continued with a credible cover of Pharrell’s “Happy.”
The soul jazz groove of “Time Machine” didn’t hook hard enough to keep the attention of the audience, many of whom were waiting for Charlie Wilson, but the shimmering, summery “Groove City” won everybody over.
By the end of the set, it was hard to imagine that Chocolate Milk had convinced many in the crowd that time had cheated the band out of its place in musical history. But it did make the case that the group shouldn’t be underestimated.
John Boutte delivers mystical set in Jazz Tent
New Orleans vocalist John Boutte sang a transporting set Sunday at the Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The performance included a swinging “Straighten Up and Fly Ride,” a song popularized by jazz singer-pianist Nat King Cole in the 1940s; Latin jazz that Boutte recorded with Cubanisimo; and Boutte’s mystic rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s pop ballad “Time After Time.”
“I love this song,” Boutte said before launching into “Time After Time.” Boutte, his musicians and trio of singers gave a gentle, quiet performance, filled with love.
Boutte, a light tenor vocalist who shapes his notes and phrases with jazz-musician care, concentrated on jazz Sunday in the Jazz Tent. But his varied selections showcased his wide artistic range. “On the Foot of Canal Street,” another of his selections, is a secular song he filled with gospel feeling.
As Boutte has for four years now, he ended his Jazz Fest show with the bouncing, happy theme from HBO’s New Orleans drama “Treme.”
It brought nearly everyone in the tent to their feet.
Preppy Vampire Weekend closes Samsung stage
Vampire Weekend could not have looked preppier as the band closed the Samsung Galaxy Stage on Sunday evening. Singer Ezra Koenig wore a white, long-sleeved shirt and camouflage cargo shorts, while bassist Chris Baio sported white pants — before Memorial Day.
The band is known for incorporating elements of African music into its sound, but after a half-hour, those elements simply seemed like an affection for trebly guitars and a bass played up the neck. The resulting sound sparked dancing wherever people had enough room.
The skittering energy of “Cousins” and “A-Punks” was hampered a bit by the festival’s booming drum sound, but the fans singing along clearly weren’t put off.
The regular set ended with its most emotional moment, the patient “Obvious Bicycle” and its chorus, “Don’t wait.”
After a short break, the band returned and started to play Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood’s Swingin’ ” and Cream’s “White Room” but then switched back to their own songs, concluding with the bouncy “Walcott.”
“The first time we came to New Orleans, we slept on floors,” Koenig said at the end of the show. “Now we get to sleep in beds. Thank you, New Orleans.”