Cowboy Mouth with the Cringe
B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill
New York, NY
July 17, 2014
Cowboy Mouth is a rock 'n' roll band formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the early 1990s during grunge's heyday. Its sound is best described as a musical gumbo mixing gritty rock, punk, blues, new wave, swamp pop, rockabilly and a touch of New Orleans funk. Some of the band's most popular songs include "Voodoo Shoppe," "Joe Strummer," "Light It On Fire," "Everybody Loves Jill," "Disconnected," and "Jenny Says." It has also covered Bruce Springsteen ("Born To Run"), Bo Diddley
("I Can Tell"), Hoyt Axton ("The Pusher") and The Beatles
("Tomorrow Never Knows").
In a previous life, Cowboy Mouth's Fred Leblanc must have been either an evangelist preacher or a carnival barker. The man is a marvel. As a front man, he has no peer. He is outrageous. He is funny. He is a whirling dervish of energy, enthusiasm and OCD all rolled into one being, with the spirit of rock 'n' roll coursing through his veins. During the course of every performance LeBlanc (who religiously asks the question "Are you with me?" during his speeches to the adoring crowd), gets himself and the fans so riled up and excited that by the end of the concert, both he and the fans are spent and soaked in sweat. For the uninitiated or those who haven't already surmised it, a Cowboy Mouth concert is an audience participation event. One of Leblanc's favorite catchphrases is a call-and-response offering where he yells, "The name of the band is..." and the audience, in unison, screams, "Cowboy Mouth!" This is repeated not once, not twice but upwards of four times. It is repeated numerous times during the course of a show.
Now, a Cowboy Mouth concert is not all sunshine and rainbows. Many of the group's songs are about hardship, loss and sorrow. They're not sad, but they are about hardship and overcoming it. Leblanc and company's high octane performance always feature the life-affirming message that it's good to be alive. This is achieved through some outrageous rituals that a less charismatic group of musicians and singer could not pull off. Among the practices are being commanded to hug the stranger to the right and conversely to the left and throwing red spoons at the stage (and for the most part, at Leblanc) during a specific passage of the song "Everybody Loves Jill." Its performance on this warm, slightly humid July evening featured all of that and more.
On this evening, B.B. King's was set up in an effort to maximize the sweat. A dance floor was created by removing all of the tables directly in front of the stage. The result: an area near the stage for Leblanc to commune up-close-and personal with his people and an area where the faithful could simultaneously shake, rattle and roll their asses off to the raucous beat of the incredibly energetic songs of Leblanc, John Thomas Griffith (guitar), Matt Jones (guitar) and Brian Broussard (the latest in a revolving line of bassists (actually its eighth, recently replacing the departed Casandra Faulconer). Surrounding this dance floor were a few dozen plush leather booths. The club, nestled below New York City's bustling 42nd Street, also features a bar in the back that runs the length of the venue. The people at the bar and in the booths were not safe. Leblanc, who is known to leave his perch behind the drums, waded barefoot into the audience and brought the whole of the crowd out onto the dance floor. When one woman balked, Leblanc good-naturedly growled, "If you're not coming out, then I'm taking your food." With that he grabbed her plate and quickly exited through the artist's entrance into the bowels of the club, reappearing within seconds sans the audience member's entrée.
The evening began with an energetic and eye-opening set by New York City's the Cringe, led by singer/guitarist John Cusimano (who also happens to be Rachael Ray's husband). The Cringe is a four-piece indie rock outfit. Its sound is equal parts power pop, alternative rock, punk, garage band rock, and pure old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. In addition to Cusimano, the group is rounded out by lead guitarist James Rotondi, bassist Jonny Matias and drummer Shawn Pelton. Opening with a blast of rhythmic backbeat drumming and power chords, the band blasted through a short set of songs that got the crowd on its feet and into a party frame of mind. Highlights included the new song "You've Changed" (which was announced as having been written only two weeks prior), "I Can't Walk Away" from Tipping Point
(Listen Records, 2007) and covers of Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," as well as "Gotta Find A Way" and other selections from Hiding in Plain Sight
, the group's 2012 Listen Records release. As the Cringe left the stage, one audience member was heard exclaiming, "I don't know anything about them, but I'm sure gonna find out! "
Cowboy Mouth arrived onstage at just after 9:00 p.m. as Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" blared over the venue's sound system. The performance commenced with Leblanc announcing that it was party time, as the opening notes of what has been called the unofficial anthem of the great state of Louisiana"Light It on Fire"which did just that to the already excited crowd. If the crowd wasn't already in an excited state when the band hit the stage, Leblanc made certain that they'd be that way before the second song began and waded through the crowd, asking people how they were and offering and a number of stream of consciousness statements including, "Three things you need to know...#1, Disney Channel sucks. If you don't already know it, you'll learn it soon enough." Unfortunately, he was sidetracked by a fan asking him to wish another fan a happy birthday. He obliged, but never offered the other two pearls of wisdom. He did, however, continue with his pleas to the crowd, imploring it to let go of everything outside the club by stating, "There is no negativity here. For the rest of the night we're going to act like a bunch of 5-year-olds on too much damn sugar...Put your hands together and give me rhythm!" He then jumped back onto the stage, sat behind his drum kit and led the band through a set that included "Go!" from the CD of the same name (Elm City Records, 2014), a breakneck version of "Tell Her Your Sorry," "Song of The Summer" (which featured Griffith on lead vocals) and "How Do You Tell Someone."
While Griffith was taking a sip of refreshment following his vocal turn, Leblanc stood up and with an impish grin on his face, introduced the next offering with, "We've got a new album out. It's the greatest thing in the history of music. It's called Go!
better than the Beatles and Mozart...they both suck!" The partisan crowd again erupted as the band played "My Little Secret." The show continued with the singalong "I Believe," and snapped off "You Are My Sunshine," that for some reason worked as the intro to "Disconnected." Leblanc then told a story about his son chanting "Energy...Energy...Energy," over and over. He said that when he heard it he knew it had to be worked into the set. It was, and acted as an intro to "Belly."
A Cowboy Mouth show borrows from every part of the band's career and from every crevice of popular culture. "Drama" from (Elm City Records, 2013) segued into Gary Glitter's "Rock 'n" Roll Part 2," which in turn segued into "Everybody Loves Jill" from Easy (Atlantic Records, 2000) during which the crowd as expected to shower the band with red spoons. While he was brushing the spoons from his snare drum Leblanc stated, "We're going to have to blow off Baltimore tomorrow and play New York again tomorrow. Hello Baltimore, sorry can't make it..." The crowd cheered and the band played "Blues At Bay," followed by an impassioned "New Orleans," with its lyrics:
"Take me back to New Orleans
And don't call me anymore
Cause I might love you yeah
But I love me more"
At the end of the song, Leblanc announced, "We were supposed to stop about five minutes ago. In the words of my lord and savior, Jesus Christtough shit. We're not stopping until were finished!" With that the familiar bass and hi-hat cymbal opening to "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" ignited the crowd yet again. This time the cover version led into "How Do You Tell Someone (You Don't Love Them)" from Are You With Me? (MCA/Fontana, 1996). During the song, while the band continued to play, Leblanc again wandered out from behind his drums and walked around the venue dragging audience members to the center of the club to dance. While Leblanc danced, Broussard played while standing on the band's biggest amp. Griffith smiled while he riffed and jammed, and Jones stood center stage playing his heart out and the audience shrieked in approval. Leblanc then returned to the stage and finished the song.
The evening ended with an amazing extended version of "Jenny Says" from the group's first studio album, Word Of Mouth (Monkey Hill Records, 1992) that featured the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" and some improvised scat singing, before returning to the basic song. The song ended, and the band took its bows and exited the stage. As the lights came up, inside what had been transformed into the First Revisionist Church of Fred, the faithful remained in place, not wanting to leave the underground temple formerly known as B.B. King's.
Christine Connallon (view more concert photos)
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].