THE GIG: Glen David Andrews, Mondays at 9 p.m.
THE VENUE: d.b.a., 618 Frenchmen St.
THE DRINKS: Extensive beer, liquor and wine menu, but very little comes cheap
THE SCENE: Many tourists; often crowded; everyone digs the music
If you’ve never seen Glen David Andrews do his thing, whether it’s his speechifying about the importance of music education and culture, leading an impromptu second line down Frenchmen Street with a visiting Punjabi brass band during Jazz Fest, or just at the helm of his Monday night d.b.a gig — I’ve seen all of the above — you’ve missed out on a big chunk of New Orleans magic.
Glen David Andrews is a live wire of New Orleans energy who exudes earnest intensity in even the smallest of gigs. He gives audiences exactly what they want, because he gives his all — or he’s just a magician at seeming so.
Though I’d seen Andrews in a variety of settings, I hadn’t checked out his Monday night gig at that Frenchmen Street favorite, d.b.a. As expected, the main bar was comfortably un-crowded, while the adjacent venue area was completely packed with wide-eyed watchers, many of them doubtless experiencing New Orleans showmanship for the first time.
The show was billed as Andrews’ birthday (more on that later), and he was already in high gear when my friend and I found a spot near the front of the crowd. Andrews put his distinctive, meaty vibrato to operatic effect during a wonderful version of one of my favorite New Orleans songs, John Boutte’s “At the Foot of Canal Street.”
Afterward, a woman from the audience came onstage to sit in on funky tambourine. Next, on another Boutte tune, “Treme Song,” Andrews displayed his penchant for extensive noodling improv and multiple false endings. His is like the Grateful Dead of New Orleans music in that sense. I noticed that the keyboardist, stalwart as he was, seemed kind of annoyed or just bored during the set.
When someone presented a lit birthday cake to Andrews onstage, however, the source of tension was revealed: Though the gig was billed as Andrews’ birthday, and Andrews’ birthday was indeed near, it was the keyboardist’s actual birthday. Mercifully, Andrews ceded some of the spotlight to the young man. (“I think Glen David Andrews has like five birthdays a year anyway,” my friend said.)
Paul Sanchez rolled up and strapped in, and Andrews proceeded to go into full-on trance mode. Andrews regulars know what I’m talking about: Whether hopped up on the music or something else entirely, Andrews can channel a groove more visibly than almost any performer I know of. He descended from the stage and improvised a vocal riff in the middle of the audience, settling on the line, “I’m gonna melt yo’ ass like butter.”
He stayed in that pocket, breaking up the line with improvised verses of his own, until the entire audience was with him, chanting, “I’m gonna melt yo’ ass like butter” over and over like some incantation of funk. It was then, watching the unsettling infectiousness of Andrews’ performance, that I saw him as a kind of shaman — one who taps into the spiritual realm of music more easily and willingly than many of his peers; one who all but forces his viewers to come with him.
The question of whether it’s real or shtick crossed my mind more than once, but in the end, I decided, it doesn’t really matter.