Dr. John & The Neville Brothers
Memorial Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill
Tuesday, Feb. 24
The eye sockets of the skull perched atop the grand piano glared at the sold-out, seated audience in Memorial Hall last night. Dr. John spent his Mardi Gras away from his New Orleans home to be in Chapel Hill, and, although it had been showered with beads beforehand and encouraged to get up and dance, most of the crowd sat quietly and tapped its feet as Dr. John led his band onstage.
Luckily, a few numbers finally pulled some people out of their seats.
While Dr. John’s set lacked an engrossing voodoo creepiness, the crowd did receive a boogie-woogie version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” particularly well. The tension between New Orleans party music and this proper concert hall existed through the night, but Dr. John helped loosen things up for The Neville Brothers during his hour-plus set.
When the Brothers finally took the stage, they brought Mardi Gras with them—even with the absence of the eldest, Art. Pounding, polyrhythmic grooves drug the audience to its feet, Cyril growling like hype man. A group of 20 or more fans squeezed near the left side of the orchestra pit, dancing during the entire set. Their moves got more sensual during a cover of “Fever,” made famous by Peggy Lee. Beginning with a gentle, bubbling voice/ sax duet between Aaron and Charles, it finally broke into funky jazz.
“Come on, y’all, this is Mardi Gras,” beckoned Cyril from behind his percussion kit during an extended version of “Iko Iko,” played earlier in the evening by Dr. John. The crowd clapped itself into standing and didn’t sit until Aaron’s encore performance of “Amazing Grace.” The marathon set didn’t end until almost 11 p.m., and by its close, the Mardi Gras spirit—illustrated by plastic beer and wine cups littering the floor—triumphed concert hall stuffiness, after all.