I’ve tried on many occasions to describe a Jean-Eric performance with the words afforded me by the English language. Each time I’ve failed, not just to scratch the surface of what makes Jean-Eric so intriguing, but to even come up with anything better than “You’ve just got to see it for yourself” in a frustrated attempt to faithfully convey the unbridled energy that springs out of the group’s three fronting members during live shows.
When taken in the context of a city that is the birthplace of the similarly nonsensical but equally incendiary sub-genre of hip hop known as bounce rap, Jean Eric’s aesthetic starts to make a whole lot of sense. But the appeal is far from provincial, as I don’t trust anyone anywhere could resist joining in on the indulgent, writhing dance party that erupts every time Jean-Eric breaks into their catalog of self-described “lounge-crunk” bangers.
There in an abundance of style in a Jean-Eric live performance (and where the priorities of the group lay when it comes to form v. function is hard to discern) but there is plenty of substance as well, more than enough to make the common practice of dismissing Jean-Eric as a novelty act – an awesome novelty act, but a novelty act nonetheless – substantially inaccurate.
Co-lead singer Frank Jones has an sneakily impressive voice that effortlessly holds up the the strains of belting out refrains while crowd surfing or rolling around the stage. His female counterpart, Karen Wallace, is also blessed with some killer pipes, not to mention a magnetic strut and alluring, breathy vocal gait that comes out when she raps her parts on songs like “Better Than Good” through a devilish pout.
On Friday night, the group’s live drummer, Brad Davis, was joined by Kyle Riche and Trey Cloutier from up-and-coming psychedelic rock outfit King Rey to form a bonafied backing band for the evening. The live bass and keys softened the sometimes rough edges of the GarageBand styled backing tracks booming through the speakers and added a hefty weight and counterbalance to the gloriously deranged stage show.
Lyrics like “I don’t like my shit fucked up, girl” don’t exactly beg for scholarly re-examination, but something about Jean-Eric’s music and the spectacle of their performance conveys the unshakable feeling that they’ve got a finger on some weird permutation of the pulse of the New Orleans zeitgeist.
If I’ve once again failed to do a Jean-Eric live show justice, I apologize. I guess you just have to see it for yourself.