If you were looking for a funky good time on Wednesday night, The Dakota was the place to be, where John “Papa” Gros and his killer band put on a two-hour clinic in New Orleans Funk.
The group, led by Gros on Piano, also featured guitar, bass, drums, and brass. In the set, the band tastefully blazed through songs from Gros’ catalog, while also paying tribute to some of the heroes of New Orleans Music.
Though there were selections played from throughout Gros’ career, some of the strongest music of the night came from 2016’s River’s on Fire album. The title track was an upbeat early highlight that gave the audience a good idea of what to expect going forward, while “Her Love Can’t Be Denied” provided a change of pace to the rest of the funk-leaning show. And it was fitting that the high-energy highlight of the late set (a ripping “Cocaine and Chicken Fricassee”) also came from the album.
Gros’ music is firmly rooted in his home of New Orleans, and this was reflected in the rhythms and structure of the band. Drummer Russ Broussard can play with the best, and on this occasion impressed consistently by holding together the distinctive complex NOLA rhythms. The brass added to the New Orleans sound as the tight band delivered a cohesive set.
Gros’ reverence for his hometown was reflected in both the originals and the covers he played. In the middle of the set, the band played an outrageously funky version of the Allen Toussaint classic “Yes We Can Can,” which was an instant hit with the crowd.
Towards the end of the main set, the band paid tribute to Dr. John with two covers from his In the Right Place album, “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night.” All were reverent of the sacred source material, but Gros’ and his band took it and applied their own distinctive touches.
Gros talked briefly about his admiration for and relationship with Dr. John. His sentiments, like his music, reflected a deep appreciation for what came before, filtered through his unique personality and voice.