"New Orleans Social Club"
Austin City Limits
With Hurricane Katrina's devastating attack on America's Gulf Coast over a year old, it is sometimes easy to forget the pain and suffering of its victims, not to mention the former vitality of the affected towns and their citizens. The New Orleans Social Club's performance on Austin City Limits was a graphic reminder of both.
I had never heard of the New Orleans Social Club until last spring, when I heard an NPR piece about the band's new album. Three of New Orleans' legendary Neville Brothers (Ivan, Cyril and Charles) combined with two members of the Meters (Leo Nocentelli and George Porter, Jr.), and Raymond Weber & Henry Butler to form the band, and recorded Sing Me Back Home in seven days with the help of friends Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Dr. John, Willie Tee, Troy (Trombone Shorty) Andrews, the subdudes, the Mighty Chariots of Fire, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and John Boutte. As impressive as this group of musicians is, the album exceeded my expectations. The arrangements are loose but perfect, each player gave his all in this testament to New Orleans, both old and new.
Having enjoyed the album, I was looking forward to their ACL performance. The band roared to life with their first song, then brought out accompanying guest after guest. Piano whirlwind Marcia Ball and soul diva Irma Thomas added a rousing "Look Up," while Cyril Neville got political with "This Is My Country." Brother Ivan Neville followed that theme with "Fortunate Son." The band even flexed some reggae muscles, backing Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in a reggae-influenced "Chase."
As the band effortlessly worked through their songs, melding perfectly with whatever guest they were accompanying, I found myself thinking of New Orleans. The performance had much the same effect on me as had Sing Me Back Home, but seeing the joy, the anger, hope in the eyes and voices of the musicians brought the tragedy closer, along with a revitalized commitment on my part to continue to help the cause. The band's Austin City Limits performance combined this faith, hope, and friendship, and reminded us all of the true spirit of New Orleans.