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Dr. John Played to Enthusiastic Crowd at Pier: Rousing End to Twilight Dance Series

The final evening of the 2010 Twilight Dance Series came to a rousing end on September 2. Though a gorgeous sunset was followed by increasing clouds after dark, the atmosphere was warm, if not New Orleans steamy, from the enormous crowd and the lively music of two acts that played music from the Big Easy.

Opening act Eddie Baytos and the Nervis Brothers played an instrumental New Orleans march as they came on stage. The seven-piece ensemble included a full horn section with trumpet, trombone, two saxophones and (alternately) a tuba. Baytos, talented at several instruments, played piano and did most of the singing. The sound was Dixieland with some R and B and blues but as Baytos described the band “This is our 25th year in Los Angeles. We started when we were five!”

Baytos and company proved versatile, playing everything from the blues standard “Got Love if You Want It “ to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and an amusing original called “Everything I Love is Bad For Me.” Toward the end of their set, Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, one-time drummer for the Meters, played a guest stint on drums.

Headliner Dr. John, with his band The Lower 911, was the legend everyone had come to see. As his band began playing, the Doctor walked on stage in a purple suit and hat, and sat down between a piano and an organ. The man played both instruments, sometimes with a hand on each keyboard. Later in the set, Dr. John also played guitar on a few numbers.

Mac Rebennack (his real name) started out as a session man in the late 1950s so it is no surprise that he is a consummate instrumentalist. He is also a musical historian who has absorbed all the styles associated with New Orleans music. His song selections at the Twilight Dance Series ranged from a bossa nova-flavored number to a cover of “Makin’ Whoopee” with a boogie-woogie beat. His expert keyboard work accompanied his characteristic raspy voice.

Much of the material performed by Dr. John was from recent albums, including 2010’s “Tribal.” For those who hoped to hear Dr. John’s classic voodoo psychedelic music, the doctor is long past those days of being “The Night Tripper.” His set seemed a bit tame for anyone who remembers the days in the early ‘70s when he came on stage dressed in a Mardi Gras costume with a huge hat and threw glitter and beads at the audience.

But if Dr. John is taking it easier (certainly he stays seated more these days, playing his two keyboards), he still can get audiences dancing on their feet. And when he finally came around to performing his 1973 hit “In the Right Place,” he made the song sound surprisingly fresh.

Between the sets of Baytos and Dr. John, Ben Franz-Knight, director of the Pier Restoration Commission, said his goodbye to the Twilight Dance Series. Franz-Knight is leaving to work in Seattle.

Expressing his appreciation of the support for the series, Franz-Knight asked the audience to “care for this pier so it can be enjoyed by future generations.”

And that was it-until next year.

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