June 22, 2017
When a promoter pairs Cowboy Mouth, the New Orleans-bred rock 'n' roll outfit with the Delta Blues-influenced Memphis Crawl, audiences are in for a treat that they will not soon forget. When the two bands team up to play a small, cozy and intimate venue, the treat becomes even more special.
Cowboy Mouth was formed during the early 1990s during the heyday of grunge. The music that the band makes is far from grunge. It is an amalgamation of gritty blues, rock, swamp pop, rockabilly, punk, new wave and a heavy touch of syncopated, rhythmic New Orleans funk. In short American music. Some of the band's most popular songs include "Voodoo Shoppe," "Joe Strummer," "Light It On Fire," "Everybody Loves Jill" "Disconnected" and "Jenny Says." It has also covered Howlin' Wolf ("Spoonful"), Bo Diddley ("I Can Tell"), Hoyt Axton ("The Pusher"), The Beatles ("Tomorrow Never Knows"), Guns N' Roses ("Sweet Child O' Mine") and the New Orleans staple "Iko Iko." Many of the group's original songs are about hardship, loss and sorrow. They're not sad, but they are about life, its hardships and overcoming them. A Cowboy Mouth performance always features the life-affirming message that "it's good to be alive."
A Cowboy Mouth performance is a "happening." Cowboy Mouth's lead singer is drummer Fred Leblanc. Leblanc's stage persona is made up of some disparate yet similar parts--TV evangelist, jive-talking huckster, car salesman, carny and preacher. He is outrageous. He is funny. His energy, enthusiasm and slight touch of OCD is unmatched. During the course of every performance LeBlanc (who religiously asks the question "Are you with me?" during his speeches to the adoring crowd), gets himself and the fans so riled up and excited that by the end of the concert both he and the fans are spent and soaked in sweat. For the uninitiated and those who haven't already surmised it, a Cowboy Mouth concert is an audience participation event. One of Leblanc's favorite catch phrases is a call and response offering where he yells, "The name of the band is…" and the audience, in unison, screams, "Cowboy Mouth!"
Memphis Crawl, on the other hand, hails from New York City. Lead singer Matty O'Brien (with his Jim Morrison-like stage persona) was raised on a strict diet of rock 'n' roll, funk and Delta blues. Along with guitarist Stevens, bassist Arvin Q. Rojas and percussionist Michael Powder, Memphis Crawl has played across the U.S. and in Europe to an ever-growing fan-base known as "CrawlDogs." The group's motto is "play like its your last night on Earth!!" This high-energy band is a perfect complement to outrageous insanity that is Cowboy Mouth.
The evening's performance was to be an intimate affair in the Paramount's cozy Founders Room. The close quarters of the Prohibition-era themed Speakeasy set-up maximized the sweat. Audience members were encouraged to dance in the area directly in front of the stage. This provided Leblanc with an opportunity to get up-close-and personal with his people. It provided the fans with an area to shake, rattle and roll to the raucous beat provided by Leblanc, John Thomas Griffith (guitar), Matt Jones (guitar) and Brian Broussard (the latest in a revolving line-up of bassists, actually its eighth).
Memphis Crawl didn’t waste any time getting the party started with its up tempo, big guitars and drum filled powerhouse set of originals and covers. Opening with a blast of rhythmic backbeat drumming and bluesy chord changes, the band blasted through a short set of songs that got the crowd on its feet and into a party frame of mind. With little effort, the band quite easily whipped the crowd into a state of frenzy with its blend of blend of Americana-influenced music.
Cowboy Mouth arrived onstage a little after 9pm. The performance commenced with Leblanc questioning the crowd. He asked, "How ya doin' Long Island? Are you ready to have fun tonight?" The audience responded enthusiastically to which Leblanc replied, "Alright, let's get this one started!" To those who know and are familiar with the band, the statement was a declaration--a declaration of war against boredom and adversity. Leblanc was declaring that it was party time and he was the master of ceremonies. The opening notes of "Belly" did just that to the already primed (by Memphis Crawl) crowd. Leblanc, who was barefoot and clad in shorts and a New Orleans Saints Jersey emblazoned with Steve Gleason's number 37, then provided an affirmation, if it was even needed, of his band's mission for the evening. He said, "Tonight our goal is to make you guys leave here feeling better than you have in a long, long time...You may think you're on Long Island, but tonight you're in Tipitina's in New Orleans, LA. Are you with me here?" He continue with his pleas to the crowd, imploring it to let go of everything outside the club by stating, "There is no negativity here. For the rest of the night we're going to act like a bunch of 5-year-olds on too much damn sugar...Put your hands together and give me rhythm!" He then led the band through a set that included "Love Of My Life," a breakneck version of "Tell Her Your Sorry," "Man On The Run" (which featured Griffith on lead vocals), "So Sad About Me" which flowed into "Voodoo Shoppe" and the sing-a-long "I Believe (In The Power Of Love)."
Other highlights included: "Everybody Loves Jill" from Easy (Atlantic Records, 2000), "Blues at Bay" the Griffith sung "Here I Sit In Prison" and "Disconnected." Between songs Leblanc would lead the faithful through the call of "The name of the band is…" followed by the response from the audience of, "Cowboy Mouth!" Cementing its position as a group of premier musicians, Cowboy Mouth also delivered a taught growling reading of Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" (which many in the audience identified with Cream) and "Take Me Back to New Orleans" which segued into "Stand By Me."
The evening ended with an amazing extended version of "Jenny Says" from the group's first studio album, Word Of Mouth (Monkey Hill Records, 1992) that featured Leblanc improvising some scat singing, before returning to the basic song. When the song ended, the band and the audience were drenched in sweat as were the members of Memphis Crawl and its entourage (who also obviously enjoyed the show). As the lights came up, Cowboy Mouth took its bows and exited the stage and the intimate venue regained some semblance of sanity.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon