Laissez les bons temps rouler! Let the good times roll!
That was the motto for the big fais do-do (party) at the Tralf as Tab Benoit's Swampland Jam rolled into town Friday. Towards the end of the show, when Big Chief Monk Boudreaux finally emerged from the backstage area -- resplendent in a multi-colored headdress and an outer garment that would've made Nudie Cohn (the legendary maker of rhinestone-encrusted splendor for country music stars) envious -- the evening was complete.
Benoit's background as a Grammy nominated blues guitarist who has played alongside Jimmy Thackery and Louisiana legends like Raful Neal, Tabby Thomas and Henry Gray gives him a certain cache, one that is backed up by powerhouse picking and rough-hewn vocals. Combine his talents with those of a couple of his bandmates for the evening and you end up with a stage filled with the makings of a super group.
Those bandmates included Cyril Neville, whose background as percussionist with the Meters and the Grammy Award winning Neville Brothers is impeccable, and Waylon Thibodeaux, the former Louisiana State Fiddle Champion (back in 1984 when he was only 16) has become a Zydeco/Cajun institution in Bourbon Street clubs of New Orleans.
And then there's Boudreaux, a key figure in the specialized world of Mardi Gras Indians, a former associate in Bo Dollis' Wild Magnolias and the current leader of the Golden Eagles. Even though Tab Benoit was the titular leader of the ensemble, it seemed as if Boudreaux's presence on stage -- the way he sang and moved, the nearly palpable glow radiating from his face -- required that honor be paid towards the senior member of the tribe.
There was a large space in front of the stage and it was filled with a bouncing, dancing mass of humanity. Every song played, whether it was a NOLA classic like Benoit's take on Professor Longhair's "Her Mind is Gone," Thibodeaux's riff on Rusty and Doug's "Louisiana Man" or any number of original tunes, the results were drenched in bayou essences.
That large space was still there before Benoit and his associates took the stage but it started to fill up when the Tin Men -- a uniquely composed trio of washboard, sousaphone and guitar -- got the audience on its side with a mix of material that emphasized the traditional ("Do the Mess Around" and "Such A Night") but included, as an encore, an outrageous version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." The band members also got the audience all hyped up for partying by uncoupling from their amplifiers (yep, even the sousaphone had a microphone) and wending their way through the Tralf, parting the crowd as they danced a path off the stage and creating a wave of happy followers in the process.
Buffalo was fairly represented at the start of the night with performances by the Steam Donkeys and the Brass Monkeez, two bands offering alternatives to what would occur later in the evening.
The Steam Donkeys are a known quantity. Its shows are polished without being pretentious, and front man Buck Quigley is a comfortable master of ceremonies for the country-tinged tunesmithing it has developed over the years. When the band sang about "raising the bar a little higher," I was forced to accept that the snippet of "How Dry I Am" slipped into the middle of the piece, and Bob Marley's classic "Rivers of Babylon" both carry elements of the same melody in much the same way that the Blind Boys of Alabama have taken "Amazing Grace" and grafted the lyrics onto a bed that sounds suspiciously like "House of the Rising Sun."
The program's opener, the Brass Monkeez, is a young band with all the virtues and opportunities for improvement that go along with that status. It won the right to be on the bill by winning the student battle of the bands at the 2011 Music is Art Festival last summer. Based on its influences (Phish, the Grateful Dead, etc.,) the band appears well on its way to treading the same jam band path taken by Umphrey's McGee and moe.
Tab Benoit's Swampland Jam
Friday night in the Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.