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Allen Toussaint takes requests

Allen ToussaintSomething magical happened at the very end of Allen Toussaint’s solo show at Ronnie Scott’s last night. A very enthusiastic fan in the front row, who had been permitted to sing most of the lead vocal on “Brickyard Blues” earlier in the set, invited Toussaint to play “On Your Way Down” — a song that appeared on his album Life Love & Faith in 1972 and was unforgettably covered by Little Feat on Dixie Chicken a year later — as his encore. The great man complied, and immediately led us into territory we had not visited in the preceding hour and a half.

Much of his performance — including a medley of the hits he wrote for Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman and Lee Dorsey in the early ’60s, and other classics such as “Shoorah, Shoorah”, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”, “Yes We Can”, “Southern Nights” and “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” — had been genial, expansive, discursive, showcasing his wonderfully witty and flexible New Orleans-bred piano playing. There was also a sweetly elegiac rendering of Jesse Winchester’s heartbreaking “I Wave Bye Bye”, which Toussaint recorded for the tribute album to the singer-songwriter last year, and a gorgeously plain “St James Infirmary”, as heard on his most recent album, The Bright Mississippi (2009).

But the encore was something different. For a couple of minutes we were transfixed by a 76-year-old master’s journey to the essence of the music with which he has lived his life: to the heart of the blues, of which “On Your Way Down”, with the sober elegance of its contours and its wry reflection on the human condition, is one of the very greatest examples.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I was in New Orleans for Satchmo Summer Fest in 2011 and Toussaint played an outdoor gig gig in Jones Alley, where Louis Armstrong lived as a child; it was one of my more recent musical highlights. What made it even more fun is that he had conversations with people in the audience that he knew, chatted like he would while standing in a bar. When I was growing up listening to all those fabulous songs he wrote I never ever thought for a moment that I would get to see him in his home town. His recent album with Elvis Costello is a gem.

    April 15, 2014
  2. What a gentleman Allen Toussaint is – and a stylish one at that, always immaculately dressed in the suit. One day in 1989 I was walking down narrow Royal Street in New Orleans and I saw a silver Rolls Royce stuck at the lights – its number plate was PIANO. As I came level with it, I noticed it was Allen Toussaint inside. I waved, he waved back, and saw I had a camera in my hand. He would down the window. “Do you want to take a photo?” “Yes please Mr Toussaint,” I said, and remarked how much I’d loved seeing him in a recent concert. He smiled and said, “Do you want me in the car or outside the car?” I was speechless. He put his hand brake on, spoke into his clunky car phone that he’d be a minute late, then got out, put his jacket on, and stood in front of the Rolls, with extreme dignity. I gave him my card, then six months out of date from my last job, as editor of NZ’s Rip It Up magazine, and we both went on our way. It was a great lesson in so many things, one being that R&B and country musicians never forget who put them in that car. I felt for him losing so much, including his archives, in 2005.

    April 15, 2014
  3. charlie banks #

    I love that Story Chris – perfect. I wish I had my own story but sadly not.
    Anyway, on the song On Your Way Down, a long number of years ago, there was a CH4 series Beyond The Groove starring David Rappaport as a disillusioned “city type” (he wore a bowler hat at all times!). He escaped to the US and travelled around to seek the “truth”, I guess. On his adventures, he dropped into New Orleans. The whole episode was fabulous but he came across Mr Toussaint at a piano in a courtyard festooned with blossoms and shrubbery. He was accompanied by a conga player and a sax player (son Reggie?). That was the song he sang, with David reflecting on the lyrics as part of his own dilemma….in life where do I go from here. It was an inspired setting and choice of song. Now where”s that video…..

    I never ever thought I’d see Allen perform. Katrina’s cloud brought me a silver lining. I’ve seen him twice in Newcastle over last few years and made a trip to London to catch him at the Roundhouse.

    April 15, 2014
  4. Tim Penn #

    I was also there on the Monday night. Great concert. The guy who sang along to Brickyard Blues was a friend of mine, who sings the song regularly at the New Orleans jam that happens every other Tuesday at the Alleycat in Denmark St (IKOS New Orleans Music Shop is its FB group. He went back stage afterwards, and Allen admitted that he had had a blank on the lyrics in the 2nd verse and was genuinely surprised that some one knew the song as he put it “better than him”. What was nice was that Allen just allowed the interplay to happen and enjoyed it. I was the helpless fool who got up to do the piano boogie during the encore. Like a fool, I didn’t go back stage. What really struck me about the concert was the genuine pleasure Allen was taking in performing that night.

    April 21, 2014
  5. Fred Shuster #

    Nice to read of such a marvelous and well-attended Toussaint gig at Ronnie’s. Sometime in the mid-’80s, I caught him in a solo show at the now-defunct Club Lingerie on Sunset Boulevard. I was among about two-dozen people in the audience — a typical showing for something as good as Toussaint in a city laughingly known as America’s music capital. It must’ve been the same two-dozen who turned up for Fela’s rainy Greek Theatre set shortly afterwards and an unforgettable Kassav date at a near-empty Hollywood Palladium. That’s why most artists of any worth typically bypass L.A. entirely.

    April 22, 2014

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