The Apple Barrel
January 24, 2004
Why was Coco Robicheaux playing for tips on a Saturday night? I guess that’s like asking why there’s injustice in the world. Robicheaux provided a shock to my soul Friday night at The Apple Barrel. Robicheaux was accompanied by all-star lap steel guitarist Dave Easley, an electric guitarist, and a percussionist on the congas and chimes.
Robicheaux stuck to an amplified acoustic guitar for his Blues covers, which ranged from jumpers and depressors to slow dancers. The sadder songs were beautiful. It seemed that the middle-aged musicians’ life experiences gave extra life to the music, which dropped my stomach in emotion a few times.
After dragging off a cigar, Robicheaux started the set with an energetic yet pensive Mel Torme cover in which Easley produced a Doors-like organ sound. Easley dove from major to minor chords, and Robicheaux’s eyes-shut, tortured vocals gave his material weight. Robicheaux's strained face made it look a family member had just died. Too bad half of the crowd was talking.
The next song was a simmering number in which the percussionist created a wall of rhythm with his light touch. He moved swiftly from one conga to another. Easley produced a heavenly solo, followed by a solo from the electric guitarist that seemed more in sync with the style of the song. This song progression was the blueprint for the night. The diversity of guitar sounds kept things interesting.
With patient note placement reminiscent of Hendrix, Easley was the band’s MVP.
Coco played an Earl King cover. It was a ballad--a slow dancer that was lovelorn but hopeful. It was the sound of hearts mending or breaking—somewhere in between. The song made me think of lost love. A Robicheaux show would be a perfect setting for a first date. Can’t go wrong.
The second to last song was a slow burning delta Blues tribute that had Robicheaux playing nasty slide guitar licks. The last was a fast foot stomping blast off tune.
With his congenial nature and local aphorisms, Robicheaux was the picture of New Orleans on this night. Then there’s the actual image. Robicheaux had leathery skin and braided hair down to his waist. He was dressed in an alligator cowboy hat, feather earrings, a flame emblazoned shirt, leather pants and boots.
The crowd and applause grew as the night went on, and the band had a full tip jar by the end of it. Robicheaux’s band were successful live because they made me want to rip out my heart and testify along with them. If you go see him, hold your heart with one hand and fill the tip jar with the other.