By Andy J. Gordon
A musical line up of Louisiana all-stars joined forces for one of their rare live appearances together at the intimate venue in Los Angeles on December 9. Ivan Neville, Eric Lindell, Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio delivered a two set show of tightly arranged tunes that were familiar to the adoring fans in the club. The packed house of New Orleans music lovers sang, danced and cheered throughout the show.
Calling this quartet a “supergroup” may be a cliché, but it is deserved. Each has a loyal following and busy schedule with separate bands. Neville is the leader on keys and vocals for funk powerhouse Dumpstaphunk. Lindell is a prolific songwriter who leads his own band while playing guitar and singing his tunes. Moore is an inexhaustible drummer and Mercurio is the creative bassist that form the killer rhythm section of Galactic. They were brought together twelve years ago for a onetime Jazzfest gig. The show went so well that it has evolved into an annual reunion with a few West Coast performances and occasional festival gigs. Their journey each year to Los Angeles brings them to the beloved Mint where the group members have fond memories of past gigs.
A Dragon Smoke live show follows a familiar pattern. Lindell and Neville take turns on lead vocals, mostly singing songs from their individual catalogs. Some classic covers are thrown in and every song is stretched out to allow the musicians room to perform tasty solos. Highlights of the first set included “Hercules,” sung by Neville. The song was originally recorded by his father, Aaron Neville and Ivan’s version has lots of soul. Another tasty Neville treat was “Let a Woman Be a Woman,” the hit by 60s funk band Dyke & The Blazers. While Neville has a fiery, soulful style, Lindell has a subtle, pleasant tone, both in his vocals and guitar playing. His “Milk and Honey” and “It Won’t Be Long” were examples of his fine songwriting. Each song showcased his low key, but skillful guitar playing while Neville added some keyboard magic. Moore and Mercurio have an understated yet essential role in this lineup. Their playing stays in the background for most of the songs with an occasional flourish and solo to remind the audience that each is an expert at his craft.
The first set ended and after a short break the band came back to the stage for some more exceptional music. Neville sang an impassioned version of “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out” originally by Bobby Womack. He also stirred up some emotions and sad memories of Katrina with Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.” Another throwback to the funk roots was a stellar version of The Meters “Out In The Country.” Lindell did a sing-a-long version of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion.” The set ended with Neville on vocals for a passionate “Someone Sleeping in My Bed” that closed with a powerful drum solo by Moore. The band came back quickly for an encore. Lindell led the group on his funky blues number “It’s a Pity.” Each musician showed their chops on the tune and the late night crowd showered them with applause after the song ended and they left the stage.
Dragon Smoke is a rare treat. These are four exceptional musicians with busy careers that get together just a few times a year. In spite of their infrequent gigs, they sound like they play together all the time and their music brings smiles to the faces of everyone that gets to experience their unique chemistry. The fans in attendance at The Mint in Los Angeles got to share in the magical moment. It was a gift that will be savored, cherished and remembered.
All photos courtesy of ©2014 Jim Brock Photography www.eyeonthemusic.com.