Night Life

New Orleans Is a Lot More Than Just Jazz These Days

The first live music we heard on a recent trip to New Orleans was a brass band honking out some nasty grooves for a small but gathering crowd on Frenchman and Chartres. The last live music we heard before heading home was a solo trumpeter, doing his best angel Gabriel, blowing and singing a spiritual while tourists trickled into Café du Monde for beignets. (They’re just fancy-sounding funnel cakes, people!)

Look, New Orleans, we get it. Your thing is jazz. It doesn’t mean we have to be reminded of it every step we take down Bourbon Street. True, we have to shoulder some of the blame, since we did do touristy stuff like the French Quarter while we were there, but there’s more to New Orleans music than second lines and jazz heritage, right?

Damn right there is. As we’ve done before in Amarillo, Denver and San Francisco, we simply asked the locals about the music scene, then shared some of our favorites. We’re happy to report there’s much more to New Orleans music than what’s being preserved down at Preservation Hall.
Take Joystick, a band with a stellar horn section that’s not going the brass-band route. Instead they're a ska band — a damn good one, too — that hosted the show featuring New Zealand’s Night Gaunts, which we traveled to see. Joystick would fit in nicely on a Houston bill with brethren like Los Skarnales, Fuska, La Skandaloza or Always Guilty. Its lead singer, Paul “Duck” Tucker, is a tall, can’t-miss fellow with a friendly grin seemingly tattooed to his face. He made the rounds at the Dragon’s Den, the show's venue, shaking hands and hugging folks with all the charm and affability of a true Southern gentleman. Then his band closed out the night with a raucous set that had the Den’s denizens moving in unison, as ska music is wont to do.

Take note, Houston acts: Dragon’s Den is a venue that thrives on diversity. It’s not all that far away and it’s very band-friendly, from our firsthand observations. The bill this night was heavy on ska, but it also hosts DJ sets, burlesque shows, a reggae night and, of course, a jazz jam. Wetting our whistles, we encountered Sheena, lone bartender of the Dragon’s Den that night. Sensing her extraordinary multi-tasking capabilities, we asked if she’d take on yet another assignment and put the brakes on drink-slinging long enough to talk music with us.
“There’s a local thrash metal band that’s up-and-coming, in talks with some labels, called Six Pack,” she told us. “Most of the members are originally from Honduras, I believe; they’ve been here for about ten years. They’re right in the vein of Slayer and Master, stuff like that. They’re really good; they’re a really tight band.

Classhole, they’re a local band," Sheena continued. "They’re older members of the punk and metal community here. Some of them are owners of Siberia, which is a local venue. They play punk and hardcore, and they’re really good, too.”

Yes, you read that right — New Orleans has a punk and thrash-metal scene, has apparently had one for some time, and its brightest new hopes are Hondurans who dig Sepultura and Bestial Holocaust. And you thought you knew The Big Easy. As we’ve done in the past, we offered a CD from a local band to complete this cultural exchange, and Sheena handpicked Thunderdog by Dallas’s The O’s. Okay, not a Houston band per se, but at least we’re turning a Texas artist onto our neighbors.

We ran into our old friend Scoops, whose former band, Scissor Dicks, is on the sort of hiatus that may or may not be permanent. He showed genuine Southern hospitality to us all evening, buying us this beer or that, sharing his informed opinion on which bars in town make the best Sazeracs and agreeing to share his thoughts on his choice for most exciting band currently performing in the area.
“There’s this band, Yes Ma’am, they're like a New Orleans street band that’s been touring all over lately,” he says. “They’re real folk-type, if you wanna hear a sound of New Orleans that’s the quintessential type thing to hear.”

Scoops said to check out the band’s latest, Bless This Mess, on Bandcamp, so we did and were treated to a plethora of banjo, an insanely good fiddle player named Elena Dorn and a voice fit for The Voice, courtesy of vocalist Matthew Bracken. That’s not just our opinion; it’s the story line of the band’s wildly entertaining video for “The D Song,” an amazing six minutes of music, crawfish, white limousines and twerkers.

We fanned out the CDs we carried along and Scoops, a true Louisianan, picked out the one Louisiana artist we brought along, Lafayette’s Kevin Sekhani. Sekhani’s Day Ain’t Done is an uplifting collection of roots music that connects Austin, Sekhani’s longtime home away from home, and southern Louisiana.

By the time New Zealand’s Night Gaunts hit the stage at Dragon’s Den, we’d learned maybe their music scene wasn’t any more foreign or exotic to us than the one just five hours east down I-10. But, that’s the beauty of music — when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s always something else to discover.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.