Night of the Iguanas at Birchmere

"I've never had a mailing address outside of New Orleans": Bassist Rene Coman, far right, and sax man/pinch-hitting singer Joe Cabral, center, playing their hearts out Saturday night. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2005

And the band played on.

Of course it did: In distressing and dispiriting times, rocking out can soothe the soul.

The Iguanas know this, and the Iguanas need this.

There's something both comforting and cathartic about being onstage, especially before a crowd in Tommy Bahama shirts that's swapping Mardi Gras beads, swing-dancing and singing along boozily as you blast through "Nuevo Boogaloo" and "Para Donde Vas."

And so the Iguanas are at the Birchmere in Alexandria, having driven from Texas, by way of Richmond, in a white Chevy van with Louisiana plates. The boys in the New Orleans band are here because they're committed to their touring calendar, set long before their beloved city became an urban swamp: All five members of the group lived in New Orleans and are uncertain what's become of their homes.

They're also here because there's something to that old music-as-salvation cliche. Bassist Rene Coman calls the post-disaster shows a release. Drummer Doug Garrison says: "If we didn't have music to play right now, we'd be really miserable."

It's Friday night, and the band with the national cult following is performing its born-on-the-bayou brand of honky-tonked, Tex-Mexed, jazz-and-R&B-infused swamp rock in the Birchmere band shell. (The music is distinctly New Orleans, and it has been embraced thus: The Times-Picayune newspaper anointed the Iguanas' "Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart" as album of the year in 2003.)

The band is casting something of a festive spell over the room -- never mind all the recent depressive developments, of which there are many. First Katrina et al., and now this: The father of Iguanas singer-guitarist Rod Hodges passed away in Sebastopol, Calif., the day before the Birchmere booking.

Hodges has flown to California to be with family. The band plays on.

"Is everybody having a good time out there?" singer-saxophonist Joe Cabral asks the audience.

Yes! is the answer from several hundred satisfied customers. (Actually, they say "WOOOOOH!" But same difference.)

Now Cabral is charged with singing almost every Iguanas lyric, including those normally handled by Hodges. He sings in Spanish, and he sings in English, and he's spirited and superlative in both tongues.

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