Jon Cleary The Ardmore Music Hall September 2, 2016
Jon Cleary's albums are chock full of indisputable funk steeped in New Orleans tradition, fine musicianship and stylized songwriting but the real mojo is in seeing him and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen live. His album Mo Hippa Live captures this electricity as well as any recording could hope to but in the flesh, the amperage is considerably higher.
The music that flooded The Ardmore Music Hall this night was not merely foot-tappin' music. By the time they left the stage, there wasn't a head in the room that hadn't bobbed or a butt that hadn't shimmied -with several patrons complaining of goosebumps for good measure. In addition to consistently hitting them out of the park on a visceral level, Cleary gave those who were paying attention a masterclass in performance, set pacing, and how to please a crowd while keeping your street cred with musicians. Not that the last item mattered a whole lot considering the infectiousness of the music and the good vibes filling the room. But it was hard not to marvel at how fine-tuned the band was and how large this three piece could soundboth instrumentally and vocally.
Touring in support of his recent Grammy-winning release Gogo Juice, the band covered a good portion of that album while including career high points that hearken from there all the way back to 1999's breakout Moonburn. Nola staples like Tipitina were also included but the titles on the set list this night were almost irrelevant as there were incredibly no lows or lulls in the band's entire performance. It's a testament to the years of experience Cleary has amassed as a bandleader rooted in New Orleans and road warrior miles he's logged that he kept an audience fully rapt through a whole host of styles and grooves. Straight shuffles, second line beats, soulful ballads, pure funk, Gospel-like rave-ups, Caribbean inflections, slow NOLA funeral processionals, honky tonk blues -it was all there. Indeed, if there's a Venn diagram with circles for funk, soul, blues, gospel, jazz and well, just about anything with the power to get you out of your chair or move your soul, the zone of their overlap is where Cleary resides. And he, bassist Cornell Williams, and drummer A. J. Hall delivered the whole with conviction , seasoned telepathy and massive three-part harmony.
As the Jon Cleary song unabashedly goes, "What we got is mo' hipper than what you got" and, as anyone witnessing this show can certainly attest, that's no idle boast. As much as Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen have got, it's what the audience got that night that was extraordinary. Kudos to the Ardmore Music Hall for having them.
Photo credit: NOLA.com
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