Though it would probably be overstepping to grant Morphine the kind of singular distinction usually thrown at the likes of jazz fusion pioneer Miles Davis or Barryfest-endorsed darkly sarcastic American duo Steely Dan, it would be incredibly disingenuous not to acknowledge that this Boston-bred oddball of the 1990s – adept at melting fiery blues and avant-garde jazz into an alternative rock foundation – was simply the most unique group of musicians from that decade. Known as much for their almost universal aversion to electric guitars and strange, delicate use of traditional instruments (heavily effect-laden saxophone and slide bass guitar were practically their cornerstone) as they are for lead songwriter Mark Sandman’s on-stage heart attack death in 1999, it would have seemed near impossible, after the band’s subsequent disbandment, that they’d ever have a chance of continuing, restarting, or even replicating Morphine’s inimitable charm.
Enter revered New Orleans busker-turned-nightclub mainstay Jeremy Lyons, who – together with Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Jerome Deupree under the moniker “Members of Morphine and Jeremy Lyons” – not only respected the band’s legacy on the Le Flambeau Preservation Hall stage at the Voodoo Music Experience, but may have found the perfect use of the Morphine formula for a huge, low-end and ironically low-key live experience unlike any other of the day. With a minimalist stage set up consisting of nothing more than a handful of traditional jazz instruments, this trio managed to unload a gigantic set of shattering percussion; roaring, distorted, rock n’ roll guitar solos played through baritone sax; and muffed-out, overdriven two-string slide bass guitar. If audience members even had a clue about what they were in for, they were altogether blown away by the perfectly-executed expansiveness of one of the more unique live performances they’d ever witnessed.
The only equivalent on Voodoo day 1 came from Los Angeles-based band Fitz and The Tantrums, whose feel-good blend of funk and neo-soul blew the roof off the Le Carnival Bingo! Parlor stage as the sun had just set. After appearing at Voodoo last year and helping the Eagles of Death Metal jam pack One Eyed Jacks that same weekend, Fitz & Co. are essentially New Orleans touring veterans – a fact which proved heavily apparent tonight.
Aside from the astonishing virtuosity of bassist Joseph Karnes and bass saxophonist James King’s rumbling, low-end double team as well as the heavy, rocking solos of keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, front man Michael Fitzpatrick crooned over the band’s best tracks (and a cover of The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes”) and controlled the stage with a David Byrne-esque mechanical, yet rhythmic, swagger while singer Noelle Scaggs – with some of the best pipes active in music today – undeniably stole the show with an infectiously energy that all but compelled crowd participation. After Fitz and The Tantrums’ set concluded, there was only one question to ponder: “Who had more fun at this show, the audience or Fitz and The Tantrums?”