On January 23rd, 2019 I dragged myself out of my hotel room and forced myself to the Maple Leaf Bar to see a band I had never heard of but a band whose name held a lot of promise, a four-piece outfit called Radio Zydeco.
I make it sound like a chore but it wasn’t; the Maple Leaf is one of my favourite dive bars in the world – certainly my favourite in New Orleans – and after almost two weeks in the Big Easy I had yet to make it there for a night of live music (my standard show at the Maple Leaf was to take in the great George Porter Jr. on Monday nights but he had moved on to more lucrative horizons playing the music of the Grateful Dead with a group of other notable hotshot musicians). So despite spending the bulk of a rainy day successfully chipping away at the fortunes of Harrah’s Casino and ending up at Coop’s for dinner where I stuffed myself silly with warm beer and cold food (zydeco beans in bacon sauce and a half-pound burger with blue cheese and grilled jalapeños) I forced myself off of the couch and onto a streetcar.
This was also my first ride along St. Charles of this trip, another of my regular NOLA joys. I can’t help but to marvel at the endless string of mansions that line the busy thoroughfare on both sides; a lot of the houses look even cooler at night, if somewhat haunted with their spider-web trees all lit up and casting the creepiest of shadows onto the grand façades.
The bar was pretty busy when we stepped inside. I ordered a drink or two and stepped over to the music side of the venue where the young rock/zydeco band was just getting started. Turns out they were from Lafayette (I’m starting to think that the real Louisiana music scene might be centred there) and they were testing the waters of a new sound that incorporated age-old crawdad-eatin’ accordion music blended into straight-up, down-home rock and roll.
They were quite great – though I wasn’t crazy about their songwriting – and they kept the party going nonstop for the next two and-a-half hours. The drummer was superb as was the bass player (who took a turn on vocals and guitar and was nothing short of amazing at both). I overheard that this was the bass player’s first show with the band, which was quite surprising. I also heard that he had appeared on one of those music-competition television shows (The Voice), which wasn’t. I mean the dude had a voice that made me reel at the fact that he wasn’t the lead singer. Anyway, the whole night was great. The crowd thinned out a little at the halfway point but we didn’t. M’lady and I held firm throughout and kept the barkeep from growing roots.
We stayed until the very last note, thanked the band and walked to the rails where the all-night trolley pulled up just as we arrived, a merciful happenstance given the overtly chilly evening. We were the only passengers on the streetcar and it never picked up anyone else along the way, so we enjoyed a speedy, private chauffeured ride all the way back to our ‘hood.
We got back to our room shortly after 1am, making it one of the latest nights we endured on that trip to New Orleans. We must be aging. Like fine cheese I hope, or the patina on a lurking gargoyle.