December 06, 2004
Charmaine Neville put on a great show at Snug Harbor Monday night. She was a seasoned performer that engaged the audience with agreeable banter, jokes, and dance moves that would have made Cassius Clay proud. For a grandmother, she stutter-stepped and high-kicked like nobody's business. She was also a great actress. She brought the appropriate facial expressions and gestures to each song. Normally that meant a vibrant smile and a welcoming movement with her arms. She certainly knew how to work the crowd. Judging by the large amount of people that participated in her call and response, they were eating it up.
Her band was excellent. Her pianist, saxophonist(father Charles Neville), drummer, bassist, and guitarist stopped on a dime with every one of her lounge singer arm punctuations. Before Charmaine hit the stage, the band played two enjoyable songs. The first was a Latin-tinged Jazz number with a moderate, easy groove. The song gave the crowd a taste of what was to come. The second number was "Lonesome Me," a depressing, straightforward ballad sung by drummer Gerald French. French was the MVP of the band. He held back even when he impressed. Neville should had given him more solo time to attack the drumset.
Neville began her vocal performance with a Jazz-influenced cover of The Beatles "Fool On the Hill." She swung it. Halfway into a verse, the song moved into a snappy swing before it went seamlessly back into 4/4 meter. The band changed meters and genres like this all night. They played a variety of traditional African rhythms, free Jazz, and tight, nasty, and Funky dance numbers. Along with a so-good-it-was-scary Louis Armstrong impression, Neville attacked the cowbell with fervor. She got many different tones out of it.
Did she have to use the cowbell every song? During instrumental sections her playing overshadowed the band and stole their spot in the Sun.
Does the Louisiana Office of Tourism give her under the table money for her act? Forty minutes into the set, she spoke about Louisiana's givings and misgivings as her band played along. Mostly givings--the food, the hospitality. And, yes, it's hot in the city(revelation), but she was just feeding stereotypes about New Orleans: "At 6 a.m., it's 108 degrees outside." I was born here, so this part of the show was boring and annoying as all hell. Even worse--it stained my ability to enjoy the rest of her performance. She just seemed fake from that point on. She catered to the tourists so well, it was kinda sickening. But, I understand. Why else would Snug Harbor be full on a Monday night if tourists couldn't grasp onto the Neville name and tell all their friends back home? From her first second onstage, she trained the audience to say "N'Awlinz" after she said it. She used a nationally known mispronunciation(how many people here do you know that actually say N'Awlinz?) to make her connection with the audience easier. At the expense of New Orleans as a whole. A Neville told you, so it must be true, right? Lord help us.