Arts Desk

Last Week: Raphael Saadiq, John Legend, and Dr. John

Saadiq/Legend at DAR Constitution Hall; Dr. John and the Lower 911 at Blues Alley

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Raphael Saadiq and Dr. John are both on tour at present, peddling different brands of regressively delightful music to packed, loyal audiences. The Doctor (Mac Rebennack, to get technical) and Saadiq (né Wiggins) wear their influences on their sleeves and dress in full-on vintage: Rebennack in voodoo regalia, Saadiq in a chickadee-yellow suit and oversize horn-rims.

The distinction, of course, is that Saadiq's throwback pose is provisional; the Doctor's is dynastic.

Headliner John Legend has been filling houses for Saadiq during the pair's national tour that closed two days ago. That's fine, if it means more people listening to Saadiq—but mainly it means sitting through most of Evolver after the livelier performer (with the better band) has already left the stage. Legend struts and takes his cheese seriously; Saadiq dances and seems to acknowledge that the salvation/procreation dyad of contemporary R&B is about as synthetic as a modern soulman who channels Curtis Mayfield.

Dr. John dances too, in a sense—if that's what you call the frenzied Dixie wobblings that ensued whenever the sexua-(nearly septua-)genarian stood up for a break from the ivories. "Pull ya pants up...ooh, that's just unnecessary," drummer Herman Ernest III chided as Dr. John demonstrated an unusual two-step for the audience. "I know: it's hard with the prosthetics." These moments were special, but also left the band lacking the dirty-ass center of its sound—Dr. John's swampy piano, without which the group regressed into a generic species of funk. The high point of the set was the funereal, "Ballad of a Thin Man"-type take on "When the Saints Go Marchin' In"—as fine a eulogy for the Doctor's Katrina-ravaged home as anything on City That Care Forgot, the critically admired disc behind which the Lower 911 is touring.

Saadiq's recent Katrina tribute—"Big Easy," which gets a nice treatment from the Rebirth Brass Band on the album—shined on Tuesday night, courtesy of some beautiful, warbly trumpet. But Saadiq reserves his grooviest arrangements for a more playful subcategory of the fuck anthem than anything in the Legend songbook—such that when he tells a girl that he "want[s] some sex" and proposes a walk outside, it's not background music, nor some cosmic event: it just is what it is.

...and what it is has a hell of a lot more to do with Dr. John singing "Makin' Whoopee" than with Legend on "Take Me Away."

Photograph by Brian Reed

Photograph by Brian Reed

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