Thursday, December 5, 2013

Concert Review: Allen Toussaint at the Dakota Jazz Club

Allen Toussaint, "Songbook," 2013.

Me, my wife Pondie, and the wonderful Allen Toussaint, November 9, 2013.
Last month my wife and I saw Allen Toussaint at the Dakota. It was the third time I’ve seen Toussaint at the Dakota, and he has put on a great show every time. I reviewed his 2009 show with his band  here. His 2011 show was a solo show, as was the one last month. Toussaint is a wonderful performer to see solo, as his piano playing is the perfect accompaniment to his legendary songs.

Toussaint is a great piano player, and his voice is warm and inviting. At the age of 75, he hasn’t lost a step. He opened the show with a medley of famous instrumentals he wrote, including “Java,” which was a big hit for fellow Crescent City resident Al Hirt, and “Whipped Cream,” which was the theme to “The Dating Game,” and was a big hit for Herb Alpert. Toussaint introduced himself to the crowd, saying, “I’m not so full of myself that I think you all know who I am. I’m Allen Toussaint.” He’s a really humble guy, and seemed genuinely thrilled that people would show up to see him perform. The Dakota was much more crowded than when I saw him in 2009, and both shows were sold out. Toussaint is a musicians’ musician who doesn’t have a huge media profile, but for those music fans in the know, Toussaint’s fingerprints are all over popular music. In addition to writing numerous hit songs for New Orleans artists like “Mother-In-Law,” “Workin’ in the Coal Mine,” and “Fortune Teller,” he wrote arrangements for The Band for their live album “Rock of Ages,” he played the piano on some songs on Paul McCartney’s “Venus and Mars” album, and he made an excellent album with Elvis Costello “The River In Reverse.” Toussaint also has a new live album called “Songbook,” which is full of great live versions of his greatest hits.

In addition to a medley of his famous instrumentals, Toussaint also performed a medley of his New Orleans hits “A Certain Girl,” “Mother-In-Law,” “Workin’ in the Coal Mine,” “Fortune Teller,” and “Lipstick Traces.” Toussaint also sang lovely versions of “It’s Raining” and “Brickyard Blues,” two more hits he wrote for other people. It’s always fun to hear a great songwriter like Toussaint sing their own songs, even though other people had the hits with them. I think the only songs that Toussaint sang that were covers were “St. James Infirmary” and Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.” (Toussaint invited the audience to sing along “City of New Orleans,” saying, “All white people know this song.”) 

One of the highlights of the show was the last song, “Southern Nights,” which was a big hit for Glen Campbell. Toussaint plays the song much slower than Campbell’s version, and he plays the melody of the song as he speaks about the childhood memories that inspired the song. When I saw Toussaint in 2011, his version of “Southern Nights” was about 15 minutes long, and simply mesmerizing. Toussaint apologized that he didn’t have enough time to tell us the whole story, so it wasn’t quite 15 minutes long, but it was still magical. 

It was a wonderful concert, and afterwards Toussaint signed autographs for people. He was very generous with his time, and of course, super nice to everyone. He’s a true gentleman. I told him that I’ve seen him 3 times, and he said he was glad I kept coming back. Any concert of Allen Toussaint’s is a treat not to be missed. As always, he was impeccably dressed, wearing a blue-purple suit, with a matching pocket square, of course.

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