New Orleans Jazz Fest Day 5 Highlights: No Doubt, Chicago, Estelle & More
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's second Friday is when the crowds and maximum star power return to Fair Grounds Race Course. Aside from a great treasure chest of recognizable hits, the day's headliners (brass-driven classic rock band Chicago and '90s ska punkers No Doubt) shared one specific live quirk: they both rocked keytars unironically. The day included an emphasis on bands from U.K. (soul revivalist Paloma Faith, R&B singer Estelle) and Australia (the graceful Aboriginal music of Gurrumul) as well. New Orleans' native music presence remained strong in the form of the thoroughly modern funk band Galactic and recent New West records signees The Deslondes.
2:00 p.m. On the Acura Stage, British soul singer Paloma Faith and her color-coordinated soul revue band look at first like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings or Robert Palmer's band gender-reversed. But listening closely, it sounds scattered about the R&B/soul revival map: Mark Ronson (Faith would sound very much at home over a Ronson production), the soulful moan of Amy Winehouse, the squeal of Little Richard and so on. Songs like "Trouble With My Baby" are a fine entry into the U.K.'s fine efforts at stateside-soul revival.
2:40 p.m. Australian Aboriginal singer-songwriter Gurrumul is playing pensive and spiritual acoustic folk to the Blues Tent. It's a bit of a stylistic mismatch for a Jazz Fest venue used to electric rockin' blues but "Wiyathul", his first song-- about "longing to be connected to the spirit of the land," Gurrumul's bassist Michael Hohnen said-- sounds aching and gorgeous. Other songs draw on the ancient stories of ancient Aboriginal culture, often involving birds, sky, desert, fathers and so on. Gurrumul and the band he helped found, Yothu Yindi, put songs like this on display in 2000's Summer Olympics in Sydney. Jazz Fest is part of Gurrumul's first U.S. tour as a solo artist.
3:30 p.m. New Orleans funk band Galactic has gone in just about every musical direction readily available to it, but never with an eccentric soul vocalist like Macy Gray. "You sure are quiet for a bunch of sexy people!" Gray said twice, to cheers at the Acura Stage. Gray's swagger and Galactic's versatility and grooves worked together almost seamlessly, like they'd been playing together for years on songs like "Why Didn't You Call Me?" and "Do Something."
4:15 p.m. In a somewhat rare U.S. festival date, Estelle brought sounds of London's new club music to the Congo Square Stage: two step, garage and house but with a fierce soulful vocal personality. "Something Good" is likely the magic Mary J. Blige and Disclosure were looking for and her vocal on David Guetta's "One Love" makes for a club-ready banger. "American Boy"-- Estelle's sole U.S. hit, which won a Grammy and peaked into the top 10 of on the Pop Songs chart in 2008)-- dug into the crowd's head with its addictive hook.
5:25 p.m. Chicago must be chomping at the bit to start, as the band starts right on time or perhaps a little before it's scheduled set time on the Gentilly Stage. The band-- namely its stellar horn section-- comes out swinging with "Questions 67 & 68," a hit from its Chicago Transit Authority days. The band is sewing songs in its setlist together gracefully with its horn section, playing the role of elder-statesmen brass band for a partly New Orleans crowd. It's not exactly a stretch because the hits keep coming: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?," "Make Me Smile," "Saturday in the Park" and "25 or 6 to 4", among its impressive catalog.
6:00 p.m. "Why am I so lucky to get to sing songs for you, I don't understand! Why me?" Gwen Stefani of No Doubt asks the packed Acura Stage crowd. Surely, Stefani knows well why she's there, but she still appears grateful, or at least modest. No Doubt is still a fairly young band by Jazz Fest standards but is drawing the best crowd of the day with a greatest-hits set. The quintessentially Southern California band tore through "Ex-Girlfriend," "New" and "Bathwater" with unfazed pop-punk pep. The band wasted no time getting to its '90s radio hits like "Hey Baby," "Simple Kind of Life" and "Sunday Morning." Gwen Stefani and company also gave a nod to the New Orleans crowd momentarily, its brass section playing the melody to "Second Line (Joe Avery's Blues)." "The first time I ever kissed [husband and Bush lead singer] Gavin [Rossdale] was in New Orleans," Stefani told the crowd to many aww's. Then the band ended with a bang: the all-killer no-filler hat trick of "Don't Speak", "Just A Girl" (driving the mostly female crowd bonkers) and an encore of "Spiderwebs." One of the best sets of Jazz Fest 2015.
10:30 p.m. The Deslondes is one of handful of serious young roots revivalists in New Orleans: ones that are harmonizing in moans like string bands, with singular singer-songwriter voices and reverent to the folk/country/bluegrass tradition, going back nearly a century. But that its members are young, doesn't make them want to modernize the music in the least. In fact, kind of the opposite: it's hardly distinguishable from the original article. How many young bands dig deep enough into stacks of old vinyl to conceive of covering Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell"? The Deslondes' young bandleader Sam Doores sings "You Might Be the One"-- a new song off the band's forthcoming record in June-- like someone three times his age did during the Depression. That The Deslondes were signed to venerable alt-country label New West seems almost like a reaction to the poppy roots revival formula of Mumford & Sons and all the "Hey Ho". Heck, Mumford and Sons doesn't even wanna do Mumford and Sons anymore. So, hey, maybe The Deslondes is onto something.