Tag Archives: 9:30 Club

And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

With the stage lights dampened to a minimum, John Baldwin Gourley, a quiet and unassuming figure, strode onto the stage of the 9:30 Club.  Clad in a red, white and blue hoodie, the shy and pensive frontman of Portugal the Man donned his guitar and approached the microphone.  The crowd roared in preparation for the band’s performance, but Gourley stood on the stage, motionless and silent.  The dimly-lit stage and creeping wisps of smoke produced by the smoke machine added to Gourley’s mystique.  He faced the right side of the stage, tuning out the audience to find his voice, and moments later kicked right into the opening licks of “People Say.”  With little more than his soft, versatile voice, delicate guitar strokes and support from the rest of the band, Gourley became king for the night.

In only a few short years, Portugal the Man rose to the top ranks of indie rock through unrestrained perseverance and a creative spirit that continually inspires listeners and challenges itself with contemplative, beautiful pieces.  Claiming Sarah Palin’s own Wasilla, Alaska as their hometown, the group formed after the demise of Anatomy of a Ghost, Gourley’s first band with Portugal bassist Zachary Carothers.  The members of Portugal packed up their gear and relocated to Portland, Ore. in 2004.  Since that time Portugal the Man has readjusted its lineup and released five studio albums, currently touring in support of their most recent brainchild “American Ghetto.”  The band’s current lineup is comprised of Gourley (vocals/guitar), Carothers, Ryan Neighbors (keyboard/synth), and Jason Sechrist (drums).

From the outset of the March18 show, it was obvious that the show was going to be a collective family act.  The New York four-piece known as The Dig opened the show, warming the crowd up for the rest of the night with a solid performance led by frontman Emile Mosseri.  They concluded their set by bringing all the members of the other touring bands up on stage to perform a song, attempting to fit at least 15 different musicians up onstage.  The artists each played their own unique instrument, ranging from an added tom head to a bottle of whiskey to a manican leg, passionately attacking their instruments (and the song) in a supportive family atmosphere.  Port O’Brien followed The Dig, adding their brand of folksy California indie to the mix, inviting all of the other bands up on stage once more.

By the time the openers had wrapped up their sets the club was filled to the brim with an interesting mix of plaid-and-tie-dye hipsters eager to rock out to the laid-back musical stylings of Portugal the Man.  Following the opener they went right into “And I,” a crowd favorite from their critically acclaimed album “Censored Colors.”  With Carothers swinging his bass up and down, Gourley bathed himself in the red, green and blue strobe lights, lowering the mic and dropping to his knees under the weight of the song.  The band pleased their hardcore fans by playing a number of songs from their first two albums, including “AKA M80 the Wolf,” “Shade,” and “Church Mouth.”  The majority of songs, however, came from the albums that shot them to success, “Censored Colors” and “The Satanic Satanist.”

Gourley remained humble and shy throughout the set, despite cheers and bursts of applause.  Before playing “60 Years” from the new album and spoken as an after-thought, Gourley half-heartedly suggested to his fans that they “download the new album or whatever.”  The statement was less a matter of disinterest and more indicative of Gourley’s shy and polite persona which, unexpectedly, commanded the crowd as effectively as any bombastic act.  After closing with “The Home,” the fan’s passionate and emphatic cheers for an encore brought Gourley out to stage to perform “Created” solo.  Lighters were raised in the air and the crowd fell into silence as he uttered the first line of the song.  Halfway through the sentence, however, Gourley stopped and stepped back from the mic, chuckling to himself.  Once he had composed himself, Gourley told the audience how deeply he was moved by all of their support over the course of the night.

“I just got the chills,” he muttered.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever freaked out onstage.  I almost passed out.  Thanks a lot guys, this is the biggest show we’ve ever played.”

The band sauntered in after Gourley finished the song and went straight into the song “Church Mouth.”  In keeping with the night’s tradition, they brought back the family atmosphere by inviting the other musicians onstage with them to perform a deeply emotional cover of “Strangers” by The Kinks.  For the night, the 9:30 club was turned into more than just a club venue.  It became an intimate family community.

Cowboy Mouth brings the Big Easy to D.C.

By Kristen Becker
ArtsPost staff writer

Image of Cowboy Mouth by Guy Aceto, Cowboy Mouth Official Site.

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.

The name of the band is… COWBOY MOUTH!

By Elizabeth Ward
ArtsPost staff writer

Image of Cowboy Mouth by Guy Aceto, Cowboy Mouth Official Site.

Image of Cowboy Mouth by Guy Aceto, Cowboy Mouth Official Site.

“This is no wine tasting. This is kick-ass southern Louisiana rock ‘n’ roll!” exclaims Cowboy Mouth’s front man, Fred LeBlanc.

If the audience wasn’t clued in to the impending pandemonium by the Mardi Gras-inspired set covered in yellow, purple and green paraphernalia, they were reassured of it as soon as Cowboy Mouth stormed onto the stage yelling, “Happy Mardi Gras, DC!”

With a New Orleans craze, a life-possessed front man, almost a dozen album releases, a grueling tour schedule, and a life-changing live concert that has gone unchanged for more than a decade, Cowboy Mouth still continues to electrify its audiences across the country.

The band ransacked the 9:30 Club on a recent Friday with yet another cultish crowd-raising clang. Opened by the laudable but shrilly uninspiring Cash-like Junior Brown, Cowboy Mouth proved anything but lackluster. Their goal of the night (as it is at every concert): Make you live in the moment.

Founded in the early 1990s, Cowboy Mouth entered the music scene back when M.C. Hammer and Sinead O’Connor were the hottest commodities on the charts and alternative rock was just breaking onto the scene. Playing around 200 concerts per year to audiences that rarely reach more than a thousand, Cowboy Mouth continues to wear its New Orleans heart on its sleeve, winning audiences over not by its disappointing albums, but by its live Mardi Gras energy.

Cowboy Mouth is an ever-changing physical conglomeration of characters. Lead vocalist, drummer and psychotic front man, Fred LeBlanc, is a shoeless Jack Black meets Meatloaf meets Yogi Bear persona. He is the justification for Cowboy Mouth’s existence, as he goofily takes front stage at his drumming throne. Lead guitarist and the only other founding member, John Thomas Griffith, is a Mraz vest and fedora hat exterior with a Jimmy Ray Vaughn talent – almost the yen to LeBlanc’s unedited yang.

Bassist of three years, Regina Zernay, is the band’s token anime character. She wildly shakes her red-colored hair in pigtails and rocks a black mini skirt with white patent leather boots, all while keeping the solid bass groove. Finally, rhythm guitarist Jonathan Pretus is the quiet sideliner in his unassuming jeans and characteristic New Orleans Saints “Who D@t” t-shirt. Different from the rest, Pretus seems to defer the spotlight to his alpha band mate characters as they “rip the living hell out of” classic Mardi Gras songs and Cowboy Mouth originals.

Yet somehow this improbable equation works – and rocks.

LeBlanc is the hamster keeping the wheels spinning as he literally feeds off the crowd’s enthusiasm and frenetic energy to make it through the show. Between almost every song, he chants, “Give me rhythm, give me rhythm, give me energy, give me rhythm,” for fear of an idle crowd.

Above all, he reminds us to continuously “scream out all the stuff that’s weighing us down” and to “jump up and down” like there’s no tomorrow. Songs like Glad to Be Alive and New Orleans are feel-good cues for our weary consciousness, while Voodoo Shoppe, Drummer Man and Joe Strummer keep us in a moshpit-like frenzy.

Yet while it is nearly impossible not to drink the juice of this participatory concert revolution, the blueprint of Cowboy Mouth’s music remains astonishingly derived and unoriginal. Even the songs that inspire movement, howls and Bourbon Street bead throwing necessitate New Orleans contexts to keep them cool.

The Hurricane Katrina response, “I Believe”, is a Billy Joel “River of Dreams” song with New Orleans reference. Crowd-favorite “Belly” is a long-lost ’80s anthem, and the only slow song of the night, “How Do You Tell Someone,” is Vertical Horizon mainstream drab. Cowboy Mouth is Barenaked Ladies with stage presence and New Orleans fervor.

Yet for some reason, I don’t really care – and neither do they.

Cowboy Mouth is already aware of its cliché. For the past 15 years, Cowboy Mouth has imparted an unusual survival system: put out albums people won’t buy, and put on concerts that people won’t deny. Essentially, create music that can’t survive — that has absolutely no character — without a Cowboy Mouth-sized live performance.

This explains why their music is so straightforward and their commentary is so desperately optimistic: crowds cannot help but sing and dance along and have an undeniably fun time. Every concert is uniquely the best night of their lives.

They are the spokespeople of what it means to be alive in happiness. Truly, there is something wrong with you if you can stand still during a Cowboy Mouth concert.

As a believer of good music — of unique voices, harmonic textures and profound lyrics, I can honestly say that I would unabashedly go back to a Cowboy Mouth concert in an instant.

Next time, though, I would bring a red spoon to throw on the stage during “Everybody Loves Jill,” practice my hairography to get it just like Regina’s, stand in front so I could hopefully catch one of LeBlanc’s flying drumsticks, and scream along to the much-anticipated 1997 headliner, “Jenny Says.” I would go for no other reason but to experience their life-giving fun.

At the very least, Cowboy Mouth made me a believer of the New Orleans’ Saints imminent Super Bowl victory. More important, they convinced me that a good band doesn’t necessarily need spectacular music — an unparalleled live set and an enraptured crowd can keep you around for decades.

I left that concert proud that I might have contributed to LeBlanc’s black apparel drenched in sweat, and too musically wired to call it a night.

Image of Cowboy Mouth by Guy Aceto, Cowboy Mouth Official Site.