“Do whatcha wanna” may be the spirit of his New Orleans home base but on Friday night at the Music Hall, Dr. John and his Nite Trippers were all about making damn sure no one went home from the show without a smile on their face. Even if that meant playing “Right Place, Wrong Time” for the umpteen-millionth time in his remarkable career. The Doctor and his ultra-talented crew delivered. Of course, you don’t make tasty stew like that in a minute.
Start in with those good ingredients — solid tunes and ace musicians to play them. Stir it up while the stew pot warms and by the end of the fourth number, you and your audience start sharing that happy feeling as the seductive steam off that cooking tells you how good this is going to be. As a friend of mine says, “It’s not rocket surgery,” but there is an art to it. Tight precision has little place in setting the groove up just right. But it’s all good.
The great thing about a Dr John show is that he might nudge you in with something like “Iko Jockamo” early on, then take you down a deep-shadowed excursion with something like “Eleggua,” where he’ll show you the old spirits coming out to play. Moments later, he and the band will crank things up (and crack you up) with a tune like “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark” — one of the highlights of a show that also sparkled with tunes like “Old Settlers,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” and the moody cautionary tale that is “Black Widow Spider.”
Throughout all this, we had the pleasure of hearing the four Nite Trippers, the Doctor’s top-shelf supporting talent stretching themselves out —Jamie Kime killing it on guitar and musical director/trombonist Sarah Morrow making that instrument entirely bend to her will.
Perhaps a good summary of the show presented itself about midway through it. “Life’s a one way ticket,” the Doctor sang, “Ain’t no second time around.” Maybe his prescription here is just like the Friday night show: No rushing required — just really live this moment. Naturally, that doesn’t mean we’d turn away another taste of that stew sometime down the road. Just saying.