For all the fun, feasting, and familial frustration that’s part-and-parcel with Thanksgiving and its All-American sister holidays–Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday–this time of year can be awfully quiet in the music world. Ivan Neville noticed as much about nine years ago, though he can’t recall exactly when. It was then that the legendary New Orleans funk singer, keyboardist, and son of Aaron Neville (as in the Neville Brothers) hit up his friends and fellow members of the supergroup Dragon Smoke—singer/guitarist Eric Lindell, drummer Stanton Moore, and bassist Robert Mercurio, the latter two of whom comprise Galactic’s rhythm section—to see what they were up to.
Turns out, they too were without gigs. So rather than spend the holiday season twiddling their thumbs, the members of Dragon Smoke decided to expand their annual touring repertoire to California with club shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Ivan and his musician friends continued their annual tradition of playing on the first Tuesday of December at The Mint in Los Angeles. For two hours, Dragon Smoke filled a packed house with familiar tunes spanning a broad spectrum of blues, jazz, and funk, with plenty of added jams along the way.
There were some tracks endemic to the band’s constituents, including the Lindell original, “Two-Bit Town”. Songs like “Hercules” and “Sitting in Limbo” might qualify, too, if one counts the Neville Brothers’ creations among Ivan’s personal repertoire. But, by and large, Dragon Smoke’s set consisted of songs pulled from other legends, from Dr. John’s “Quitters Never Win” to Shuggie Otis’ “Me and My Woman”.
At this point, though, Dragon Smoke has been playing together long enough (about 13 years) and often enough (approximately eight times per year) to have assimilated at least a handful of covers as its own standards. Bobby Womack’s “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” certainly fits the bill, as did Dyke and the Blazers’ “Let a Woman Be a Woman”, which this time around included Alex Wasily, Neville’s Dumpstaphunk bandmate, on trombone.
Wasily wasn’t the only special guest in the house, though he was the lone one to get called up twice, including his introduction on King Floyd’s “Groove Me”. Marc Ford from the Black Crowes also made a cameo, assuming his axe while Lindell sang to Buddy Guy’s “Man of Many Words”.
All the while, John Norwood Fisher, the long-time bassist for and founding member of the LA-based funk-rock band Fishbone, watched from the back in his own state of quiet enjoyment. And why wouldn’t he? Like so many musicians, he too was likely looking at a light schedule toward the end of the calendar year. Perhaps come 2020 he’ll follow Ivan’s lead and spend some time during the holidays as a guest performer with Dragon Smoke.
Scroll down for a full gallery of photos from the Los Angeles performance, courtesy of Brandon Weil.