By Kristen Becker
ArtsPost staff writer
Cowboy Mouth brought the spirit of its native city of New Orleans and the excitement of Mardi Gras to the nation’s capital during their stop in the city Friday night.
As the house lights dimmed, the excitement in D.C.’s 9:30 Club was palpable. As the band members came out on stage to a deafening roar from the crowd and launched directly into the show, it was obvious that the audience’s experience was of the utmost importance to the band.
The band members set the example for how their shows should be enjoyed. From the moment they emerged onstage, Regina Zernay, the band’s bassist, rarely took a break from dancing around as she played; Fred LeBlanc, the band’s frontman and drummer, embodied the idea that the show was all about, as he told the audience, “celebrating the fact that we’re all alive.”
Despite the fact that he was confined to his drum set, LeBlanc, through his over-the-top facial expressions and interactions with the audience, made it clear that he expected the audience to have as much fun as he was.
Cowboy Mouth’s dedicated and energetic fans came ready to comply. Many in the audience carted in their own Mardi Gras beads (those who didn’t could catch the beads thrown out by the band throughout the show). Some fans even came decked out in green, yellow and purple, a tribute to the colors associated with the holiday and the city.
For those who were not familiar with Cowboy Mouth, some of the fan traditions may have been a bit mystifying, such as the presence of concertgoers who were waving plastic red spoons in their hands — it is apparently a tradition to throw the spoons onstage when the band performs the song, “Everybody loves Jill.”
While the band may not be well-known, they perform more than 2,000 concerts per year and claim to have been seen live by 8 million people. Cowboy Mouth has released 11 albums and sold 450,000 records.
Cowboy Mouth’s sound mixes musical genres traditionally associated with New Orleans and more mainstream rock. Rolling Stone magazine described the band’s style as a mix of rock, punk, zydeco, country and folk music. LeBlanc has described the band’s music, saying, “If the Neville Brothers and The Clash had a baby, it would be Cowboy Mouth.”
The music was catchy, if not quite something I would listen to at home. While the band’s energetic performance gave everything they sang a joyous quality, the lyrics also seemed meant to uplift, particularly the song ‘Glad to be Alive,’ which LeBlanc labeled as an “anthem for living.” The sense of joy in both the band and its audience is impossible to miss. As Cowboy Mouth took the stage, LeBlanc reminded his band’s fans that the music was all about “energy, passion, joy and soul.”
The band’s liveliness was contagious. During show opener Junior Brown’s performance, there was not much moving around to the music. In fact, most of the people in the club’s balconies were sitting down – once Cowboy Mouth came out onstage, the atmosphere in the club changed completely. Everyone was on their feet, many dancing around and singing along with the band.
Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and the audience sing-along that accompanied it set the stage for the New Orleans band better than opening -act Junior Brown did. While there is no denying that Brown is adept at playing his guit-steel (a combination of the neck of a standard guitar on top of a modified steel guitar), the audience simply did not seem interested. The sounds of numerous conversations could be easily heard above the music.
But Cowboy Mouth’s live performance is worth the price of admission. LeBlanc succeeds at his mission of spreading the love for life his native city is known for to his audience.