Jon Cleary's actions speak for themselves. When the dapper Englishman turned New Orleans funkster takes off the jacket of his vanilla-white suit -- as he did a mere two numbers into his show at the Rams Head on Monday -- it means he knows he's making some hot sounds. When he puts on the big black hat, he's showing that he can laugh at such showbiz trappings -- and still look fine. And when he eschews the piano for a guitar -- well, then he's just showing off.
Cleary, possibly better known as Bonnie Raitt's keyboardist, was no one's sideman that night. Backed by the Absolute Monster Gentlemen -- bassist Cornell Williams, drummer Raymond Weber and keyboardist David Torkanowsky -- Cleary threw down a couple of hours of polished pop-funk that suggested the Doobie Brothers -- if the Doobies had spent less time in SoCal and more on Bourbon Street.
Cleary plays piano as if he's revving up an engine and sings as if a line drawing of his behatted self were next to "soul" in Webster's. His cover of the Professor Longhair classic "Tipitina" was a ragtime delight, tweaking emotions with every chord change. And the Meters' "People Say" opened with Cleary coaxing a little fuzzed-up blues-rock from his guitar -- like Hendrix waking from a long sleep -- and proceeded to go from the bedroom to the bunker to the revival tent, all in less time than it takes to get drive-thru at Popeyes.
-- Pamela Murray Winters