By Laura Cayouette
The Radiators formed in 1978 and have kept the same members since, a rare feat in the music business. The band has over 300 original songs as well as mastery of over 1000 covers so there's really no way to predict which concert we'll be watching, only that it promises to be great.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers played the Square last week to another packed crowd. Kermit plays a mix of covers from old jazz standards to rap but much of it is reworked. Imagine a brass band version of Halftime (Stand up and get Krunk) or Fly Me to the Moon. And maybe it's the eclectic range that gives Kermit Ruffins his staying power. A founding member of Rebirth Brass Band, he left the band in 1992 and began playing with his Barbecue Swingers. Smiling like a pawpaw bouncing a child on his knee, Richard Knox, a veteran of Dirty Dozen Brass Band, made the keyboards look effortless. Kevin Morris was a cool customer on electric bass. Derrick Freeman provided the toe-tapping, hip swinging drums.
Kermit's relaxed style led to birthday wishes and talk of the Saints then unfolded into an evening of people dropping by to lend their talents. Naydja CoJoe joined the band for 2 songs in the first set. With the confidence of an Eartha Kitt-like diva, she roused the crowd, inspiring them to wake up and enjoy the Wednesday. Her bluesy version of Summertime was beautiful.
During the break, I had my usual $4 crab cakes from Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar. As well as some irresistible $3 mac and cheese from Miss Linda's Soul Food. Abita beers go for $4 and sodas and water are also available. Every dollar spent on food and beverage feeds a family of four one meal. That means I fed a family of four 16 meals while feeding myself and enjoying great live music.
The second set started with another fun mix of tunes including I Love You More Today than Yesterday, I Can See Clearly Now and Saints in the Super Bowl. As dusk disappeared into dark, the music became a much sexier nighttime collection of hits. Freeman, the drummer, took the mic and sang Maze's Joy and Pain merging into Sly and the Family Stone's Family Affair.
Michael Baptiste joined the gang onstage for a lively, soulful rendition of Try a Little Tenderness. Then Ms. CoJoe brought Rockin' Dopsie, Jr. to the stage. Though he's the first washboard player to front a Zydeco band, he's best known for his dance moves that easily rival James Brown's. He'd been told the band had played it earlier, but Dopsie put his spin on Ooh Pooh Pah Doo.
Naydja CoJoe came back onstage and set up Bobby Caldwell's What You Won't Do for Love then Kermit rapped rewritten Katrina-centric lyrics to Notorious B.I.G.'s Big Poppa. Corey Henry joined the party to rap the next verse, peppered with local references. It was a hell of a show, like sustained fireworks with a grand finale, a burst of stardust in the night sky. They capped the evening with the crowd pleaser and hip gyrator, the theme from Treme.
See Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers at their Thursday night home, Vaughan's or their classic Tuesday gig at Bullets and join us at the Square at 5pm for The Radiators!