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One-Night Stands: Cottonmouth Kings prove cliches can be captivating

THE GIG: New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings, Fridays at 10 p.m.
THE VENUE: The Spotted Cat, 623 Frenchmen St. No cover.
THE SCENE: Frenchmen Street in summary
THE DRINKS: Not the cheapest, but who cares? There’s no cover.

By Molly Reid

In New Orleans, some things — many things — just don’t change. That sounds like a cliche, because it is, but it’s also one of the best things about living in New Orleans: The cliches are real.

I’m with several friends. We’ve just had a Mosca’s feast, and we’re all bloated and fighting the sedated stupor that assaults one’s senses after sampling the entire menu. We’re determined not to let Chicken a la Grande have the last word for our Friday night, sending us home to slowly digest before 10 o’clock. We head to that bastion of easy entertainment and post-meal promenading, Frenchmen Street.

We start at the top, near Dragon’s Den, and slowly make our way down. The street is just starting to fill up, with a bachelorette party here and a volunteer group there, and the usual assortment of locals coloring it all in. The bohemians have set up shop: A poet-for-hire is AWOL from his or her post, the sign and typewriter unmolested by some honor code, and a trio of gutter punks are preparing to play farther down in front of Cafe Rose Nicaud.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen some hot live trad jazz, so we know where to go. As usual, there’s a small crowd hanging outside the Spotted Cat as the Cottonmouth Kings finish setting up. As usual, there’s no cover. The place is filling up, and since all the chairs have been claimed by tourists or serious fans, we find elbow room at the bar, for we are in need of leaning.

The Spotted Cat is a synecdoche of Frenchmen Street, blending visitors and regulars with booze and good New Orleans music devoid of pretension. It’s the perfect way to warm up a Friday night, whether you’re in it specifically for the band or because it’s free or because you saw it on “Treme.”

The band is a six-piece ensemble tonight, and I pick out John Rodli on guitar, as well as Bonerama trombonist Craig Klein, who must be sitting in. The band members take their seats and go into the first number. One couple starts dancing immediately. They’ve been waiting patiently near the front of the crowd, and they know they’re adding to the scene but aren’t self-conscious about becoming part of the show. They’re casual; it’s all a gas, just like the music. Two more swing-dancing couples join in.

The rest of the crowd is watchful if not particularly active. Is everyone dealing with an excess of salt and butter in their GI tracts like we are, or are people still just warming up?

In any case, people are chattering loudly over their drinks, so much so that I can’t make out the names of any of the songs anytime the band pauses to announce them. Like Frenchmen Street, the show is both a spectacle in its own right and window dressing to peoples’ nights out.

One of my friends points out that the stage used to be against a different wall, before it briefly closed down and changed owners. I remember it before the change, and frankly I don’t think it matters one lick.

Just as Mosca’s is still blissing people out with butter and garlic, despite its updated interior post-Katrina, the Spotted Cat is still the comfortable hub of Frenchmen Street. The Cottonmouth Kings are fairly new, having drawn its members mainly from the now-defunct New Orleans Jazz Vipers and still-active Palmetto Bug Stompers, but their sound captures the same Old New Orleans charm that’s been keeping people interested in our fair city for decades.

Like I said, some things in New Orleans just don’t change, and as far as it relates to this kind of music, you won’t find me complaining.


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