Hosting a Halloween concert a tad early at the Birchmere on Wednesday night, Dr. John gave new meaning to his 1973 hit "Right Place, Wrong Time." The gruff-voiced singer and keyboardist, whose real name is Mac Rebennack, wasn't going to let the calendar get in the way of one of his patented "fonk" parties.
Seated between a piano and a Hammond B-3 organ -- and sometimes playing both instruments on the same tune -- Rebennack conjured a ghostly parade of artists via some songs that were, as he put it, "older than air." Shades of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton inspired a rumbling Latin-tinged arrangement of "St. James Infirmary." Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" slowly evolved into a Crescent City chant. Tunes that rarely keep company with each other in concert, Duke Ellington's "Perdido" and Hank Williams's "Jambalaya," generated slinky, organ-powered grooves and Cajun-flavored romps.
A sucker for sentimental ballads and vintage pop novelties, Rebennack also sang "Candy" and "Makin' Whoopee" in that unmistakable voice of his -- a soulful, slurring and distinctly Southern croon. He freshened some of his own hits, too, with plenty of rhythmically churning support from drummer Herman Ernest, bassist David Barard and guitarist John Fohl. Among the highlights was the atmospheric voodoo anthem "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," which created a suitably ghoulish mood.
Ernest eventually gave the crowd its marching orders, inviting everyone to strut through the club waving napkins, hankies or paper place mats. Once the sharply syncopated "second line" parade beats kicked in, a lot of folks merrily complied.
-- Mike Joyce