On January 26th, 2015 I went to see Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen at the Maple Leaf Bar. It was my first experience with both the band and the bar and I can report that both are exceptional and neither should be missed.
The Maple Leaf Bar has been notorious around New Orleans since it opened in the ’70’s and immediately started hosting high quality live music. Gatemouth Brown used to play there. Springsteen sat in one night. Bonnie Raitt actually sat in with Jon Cleary at the Maple Leaf once. It’s near the end of the St. Charles Street trolley line sitting nondescript among a handful of thrift shops and restaurants along Oak Street.
Inside, the place is obviously a dive and a pretty cool one at that. A long bar greets you though the single bartender probably won’t, and through a hole in the wall you find the short stage in a long rectangular room, the walls and ceiling alike lined with ornamental tin that has been spray-blasted black. The sound guy is on top of things, and when the band started they instantly filled the room with a monstrous vibe.
Jon Cleary is the consummate professional. You can instantly tell that this guy has been doing his thing for a long time. So long that he’s learned how to keep it fresh, and a lot of that leans on the shoulders of his heavyweight-contending band. With the short stroll to the bar unimpeded by the thirty or so people who paid ten bucks to get in the door, the night got louder and blurrier with every song. It wasn’t the deep swampy accordion feel you often get around here, rather it was more of a Dr. John barrelhouse I-IV-V sound and it seemed to go on all night.
Luckily so do the streetcars, with their constant clackity-clack that kept the classic New Orleans rhythm going all the way back to the hotel.