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Blues Up and Down the Mississippi

A novice being introduced to the blues might well have walked away from Wednesday's Hollywood Bowl program thinking New Orleans was the home of the middle-of-the-road ballad and Chicago is the birthplace of the meandering guitar solo. At the very least though, they'd be intrigued by the pianist in the white suit who demonstrated how the port of the New Orleans has absorbed influences from the world over and placed its own unique spin on the blues. After starting their headlining portion with a tepid version of Sonny Landreth's funk number "Congo Square," the Neville Brothers chose to use much of their 50 minutes to highlight brother Aaron's balladry. Even when they shifted the focus to Art, Cyrill or Charles, the tempo stayed sluggish. The bland material didn't help matters, and despite an impressive use of Mardi Gras colors in the lighting, the presentation was pat and uneventful.

With:
Performers: Neville Brothers, Buddy Guy, Dr. John. Reviewed Aug. 20, 1997.

Chicago guitarist Buddy Guy, in the middle seg, showed off his two exaggerated personas: roaring and hushed. He finds no middle ground in his presentation, choosing to head straight for the sonic extremes and working those territories. Worse yet, his show has become a tiring experience and every festival appearance has the same warhorse songs and same gimmicks — playing while walking through the crowd, insulting the audience for not singing well, allowing his hack band to solo needlessly and imitating other legendary musicians with a bit too much of a smirk. For anyone who has seen this elsewhere, it’s a bore.

Dr. John on the other hand, started the evening with an impeccable set that stuck to the issue at hand — the blues of New Orleans. He shied from any of the big-band idiom he has been working in for the past 10 years, choosing instead to explore the music of Professor Longhair, Mardi Gras Indian ceremonies, spirituals and his own compositions such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night.”

In Dr. John’s hands, and it’s evident on his new live disc “Trippin,’ ” New Orleans music becomes a travelogue to the world and the ghosts of Crescent City; he’s as much a history lesson as he is a vital source of great American music-making and Wednesday saw him and his quartet in excellent form. Guy and the Nevilles has presented equally vivid musical journeys, but to create that sort of magic it requires something they didn’t have — focus.

Blues Up and Down the Mississippi

Hollywood Bowl; 18,000 seats; $65 top

Production: Presented by L.A. Philharmonic Assn./Lexus

Cast: Performers: Neville Brothers, Buddy Guy, Dr. John. Reviewed Aug. 20, 1997.

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