Tag Archives: New Orleans

Cowboy Mouth brings Mardi Gras to D.C.

By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer

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

“At Mardi Gras, everyone loses their minds to find their souls!” yelled Fred LeBlanc as he stirred the enraptured crowd into a fervor that threatened to tear down the roof of the 9:30 Club.  Masks, colorful beads and classic Mardi Gras flags were strewn across the stage, covering amplifiers and instruments alike.  Hundreds of rowdy 30-somethings ardently cheered the singer/drummer of Cowboy Mouth on as he looked over the audience from the throne of his red Slingerland drum set.

With eyes closed and hands in the air, Fred LeBlanc humbly requested that everyone hug and get to know the person next to him or her.  With all the passion of a Louisiana minister preaching to the congregation, he declared the crowd a community with the sole purpose of celebrating life.  He followed with a countdown from four that culminated in an explosion of energy from the crowd, hands in the air, screaming away their troubles.  Welcome to a Cowboy Mouth show.

After more than 15 years, 2,000 live shows and at least seven lineup adjustments, Cowboy Mouth still has all the raw energy of any younger, up-and-coming band.  The four-piece hails from New Orleans and represents their hometown with all the pride in their hearts.  If LeBlanc were to somehow cut his arm on a splinter from one of the hundred drumsticks he tosses around throughout the performance, it would surely bleed Mardi Gras yellow, purple and green.

The band got its start in the early ’90s, releasing its first album, “Mouthing Off,” on Viceroy Records in 1993.  They hit it big with their 1996 release of “Are You With Me?”, the group’s first major label release on MCA Records.  Since then, Cowboy Mouth has moved from label to label due to some albums’ low record sales.  Despite this, the band has steadily persevered because of the passion of its members and a thriving, dedicated fan base that make album sales insignificant.  Having sold more than 8 million tickets over the course of their careers, they show no signs of stopping.

Their Friday night show at the 9:30 Club opened with a set by country singer Junior Wilson, strutting with his white cowboy hat and double-neck guitar, and singing his brand of good ol’ country blues.  Supported by his clean-cut, gray-suited bassist and drummer, Junior Wilson mumbled out his rolling, bass vocals about troubles with the law, women and the Lone Star state.  Wilson seamlessly mixed his Johnny Cash voice with the intricate guitar work of Stevie Ray Vaughn, whose “Pride and Joy” he covered at the end of his set.

Although Wilson’s performance was appreciated (even with the sometimes ear-splitting high guitar notes and simple, repeated bass line), the crowd only really came alive once the lights went out and Cowboy Mouth took the stage.  LeBlanc’s drum set sat front and center, clearly positioning him as king for the night.  To the left stood lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith in a brown fedora, and to the right rhythm guitarist Jonathan Pretus and bassist Regina Zernay, whose pigtails playfully bounced side-to-side throughout the night.

The group opened with a Fats Domino cover, then into “This Much Fun,” during which LeBlanc stirred the crowd into a frenzy.  Throughout the entire night, his dominance over the audience was unwavering, constantly working the crowd up with hand clapping and screams of “I can’t hear you!” followed by deafening shouts from the audience.   One fan captured the mood perfectly.

“He’s got so much charisma he can command the whole f****** crowd,” he panted after the crowd favorite “Belly.”  “Obama thinks he’s got charisma, but it’s nothing compared to this guy.”

The president could only dream of having the support that Cowboy Mouth had that night. The group’s brand of poppy, alt punk party rock kept everyone on their feet, jumping and dancing for the entire set, begging for more.  With his tongue lapping more furiously than Gene Simmons, LeBlanc beat away at the drums, belting out the lyrics to classic, energetic anthems of “I Know it Shows,” “Joe Strummer” and “Jenny Says.”  During “Everybody Loves Jill,” the crowd ceremoniously threw a barrage of plastic red spoons on stage at the end of the last verse.

The night’s festivities could be summed up as an intimate tribute to the city of New Orleans and the turbulent, carpe diem spirit of Mardi Gras.  In between the tumult of their faster-paced songs, Cowboy Mouth fit in the hometown anthems of “New Orleans” and “I Believe,” the band’s faith-inspiring dedication to the New Orleans Saints, who LeBlanc confidently proclaimed the soon-to-be champions of the 2010 Super Bowl.  He also told the audience why their beloved hometown deserved Mardi Gras with a spot-on cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”

By the end of the night, despite all the sweat and hoarse voices that were sure to come, fans demanded an encore, unwilling to call it a night.  LeBlanc capped the show with “Follow Me” and “Disconnected.”  For the audience, the performance amounted to nothing less than a cathartic, religious experience.  In the span of only an hour and a half, the raucous Cowboy Mouth chewed up everyone’s troubles and spit out a masterful live performance, reinventing Washington as the nation’s party capital for the night.

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.