Saturday, 18 February 2012

HK Under Dr John's Spell

Dr John performed in Hong Kong
Last night I went out of my comfort zone in terms of music (classical, jazz and pop) to listen to some soulful blues from legendary New Orleans artist Dr John accompanied by The Lower 911.

The concert was part of the 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival and it was held at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

I'm used to watching the Hong Kong Philharmonic spread out on the stage with the male players in tuxedos, the women in black evening wear.

So it was strange or perhaps refreshing to see the place converted into an intimate concert space using colourful lights.

Just after 8pm Dr John did not come out right away -- The Lower 911, made up of a drummer, bass and guitarist -- came out first and warmed up the crowd before Dr John decked out in a gray pinstripe suit, pink shirt with a wide collar, hat and dark glasses holding a walking stick decorated with feathers, came shuffling out and sat at the grand piano.

His real name is Mac Rebennack and at 71, it's very impressive to see someone his age continue rocking with his style of music and keep doing this again and again.

He started off playing guitar, but in 1961 Dr John tried to wrestle a gun from a motel owner who tried to shoot the lead singer of the band Dr John was in. The gun went off and his left ring finger practically fell off. But he managed to get it reattached and now modifies guitar pieces and focuses more on the piano.

Rebennack got the persona of Dr John when he started learning creole rituals and voodoo. Which probably explains the feathered walking stick and the numerous necklaces he was wearing.

When Dr John started to perform, he mostly played the piano, followed by a portable organ, then a bit of guitar and singing back-to-back until the 90-minute concert was over.

It was a bit strange sitting in such a formal theatre to listen to a concert where you wanted to get up and sway to the music so most people were polite and sat in their seats.

However about halfway through a group of young non-Chinese women got up and started dancing where their seats were and then moved to the aisle. Surprisingly the attendants didn't say anything to them, but focused their efforts more on stopping people from recording and taking pictures of the concert.

I enjoyed the music, but Dr John didn't seem to notice the audience hollering, clapping and whistling. He just dove straight into the next song. He never once said anything like, "How are you all doing tonight?" or any banter about being in Hong Kong... nothing.

It seemed like he just wanted the 90 minutes over with as soon as possible and wasn't interesting in building a rapport with the audience which I felt held me back from a really satisfying concert.

He didn't even acknowledge the girls who were dancing in the aisle who later then led a kind of congo line around the aisles. It all seemed very strange.

Was it because he had his dark glasses on that acted like blinders? Was it because he didn't know if Hong Kong people could understand English? Or was it because he had a bad day and just wanted to get back to his hotel room as soon as possible?

At the end of the concert many people stood up and clapped and soon enough Dr John came back for an encore. But he left the stage and finally waved to the crowd before the music was finished, leaving his band members to say good bye to us.

I don't recall any other concert I've attended where the star of the show did not show any appreciation for his/her audience.

So while his music is intimate and soulful, why was he was so distant?

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