Dr. John, The Fremont Street ExperienceThe Sara Patterson Band, Money Plays Las Vegas, NV- 4/9
Las Vegas is never short of entertainment options, and ever since the days of the Rat Pack and Elvis music has always been a staple element. Even Hunter S. Thompson took a few minutes out of his busy drug-fueled rampage to catch Debbie Reynolds. Saturday, April 9th, 2005 would prove no exception, but instead of the recent slew of Celine Dion's and Barry Manilow's setting up shop to rake in tourist cash, Sin City threw the local music lovers a bone. A formidable triple threat of New Orleans voodoo, songwriting prowess, and good old fashioned rock music defined the night's scene.
The unseasonably crisp night started off on Fremont Street, where old Vegas continues to live, aided heavily by a city-sponsored feeding tube called the "Fremont Street Experience". The local government sponsors Downtown events and a laser light spectacle displayed on an overhead canopy every hour on the hour. Tonight, the city brought Mardi Gras to town in the form of keys legend Mac Rebennack, also known as Dr. John. Costumed stilt walkers and a mini parade got everyone in the mood for the good Doctor, not like the usually liquored crowd needed an excuse to party. The "Experience" even arranged for festive bead tossers, despite the presence of two casinos on the block that distribute beads to their gambling patrons everyday anyhow. The concert started promptly after the 9PM light show, and undoubtedly marked the first time in his decades-long career the piano man would have to plan his opener, set break, and closing number around laser fireworks.
It's difficult for the casual listener to decipher where Dr. John's classic songs end and his new material begins, primarily because each song resembles the bluesy-jazzy one that came before it. Aside from his unique vocal styling, think Linus from the Peanuts Gang surrounded by an above-average funk band. Presumably, each set was split with oldies and songs off his most recent release, N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or d’Udda. "Hen Layin' Rooster" was a slow blues burn, while the title song shuffles down the track like a hundred car freighter. Performing without the horn sections prevalent both on the new album and in traditional Mardi Gras music, the band's drummer, bassist, and guitarist each still handled the material well and excelled when thrust into the spotlight for a timely solo. "Right Place Wrong Time" brought a roar from the transient crowd grateful to hear a song they actually knew.
Physically trapped between a piano and organ, occasionally playing both simultaneously in awe-inspiring spread-eagle fashion, music flows from the man effortlessly. But that's part of the problem. While trying to inspire a New Orleans throwdown, Dr. John looks like he would rather be anywhere else than in between his instruments. His "dance routine" obviously happens every night like clockwork, and occasionally he appears to have passed out. Regardless, the man is a legend, still put on a fine show, and has earned the right to phone it in occasionally; chalk Friday's performance up to being surrounded by drunk gamblers and playing second fiddle to a laser light show.
Next on the list was local songstress Sara Patterson and her Band at Money Plays. In the middle of an off-Strip strip mall, attached to a taqueria, the bar specializes in yards of beer but also offers live music on the weekends. The staging area is eye-level and surrounded by video games and shuffle board, not an ideal setting. Bands will attract local fans and barflies to Money Plays shows, and this gig would be no different.
Unlike the stroll-through gawkers at the Dr. John show, Sara kept her fans attentive and riveted throughout the show. Her repertoire ranges from rollicking anger pointed towards corporate America to folky danceable pop, her set sprinkled with occasional covers, like the sexiest version of Bob Dylan's "I Want You" you will ever hear. A unique aspect to her band is a cello player, who can emphasize Sara's longing with one long stroke of the bow or enhance a song's rage by rocking just as hard as the electric and acoustic guitars perched beside her.
In a more just world, Sara and her Band would be right next to Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch in line to be the next Joni Mitchell and Carole King. In reality, her palpable disgust for MTV, the Bush Administration, and Big Business (note her tongue-in-cheek website, www.commercialwhore.com,) positions her more as the next great protest singer; think Ani DiFranco without the dreads or Joan Baez with an amplifier. Either way, catch her before she outgrows strip mall bars for an intimate experience with a rising talent. If Dr. John displayed her enthusiasm, perhaps more folks would have boogied away from their slots to in front of his stage.
Las Vegas was still running on all cylinders when the Sara Patterson Band closed out their show with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and her own sweet "Cinderella" around 2 AM. Just enough time to hit the Time Inn Lounge for the Bounders for a Las Vegas Jamband Society production. More psychedelic than your average acid test and louder than your average pointblank gunshot, Las Vegas's longest running jamband anchor the hometown scene and have done so for quite awhile. Precisely the reason I decided to call it a night with two quality shows under my belt knew, as I knew I could catch them around the bend sometime soon. No disrespect to the Bounders, who undoubtedly played until night faded into morning, dispensing a heavy dose of blues and rock and jam so thick it would rip your toast. Any of these three acts would have made for a memorable Saturday. A night with two of them made Las Vegas even more the place to be for live musical entertainment. A night with three of them, well, even Hunter S. Thompson slept for a few hours in between binges.