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The New Orleans Suspects Celebrate Mardi Gras at Bunkers

New Orleans Suspects
Photo: neworleanssuspects.com

By virtue of being a large metropolitan area, there isn’t much the Twin Cities lack. Of course, we all have our wish lists, and no town is perfect, but most would agree that the Cities are pretty rad. One thing we definitely don’t have, for better or (mostly) worse, is Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras, wonderful as it is, is a uniquely New Orleans experience. Some would say it’s kind of their thing. On Saturday night, however, a red-hot band from the Big Easy brought their Mardi Gras celebration to the other end of the Mississippi. The New Orleans Suspects, a ‘supergroup’ of sorts, brought the music of their city and more to Bunker’s Music Bar for the second in a two-night run. Over the course of two sets, the talented group blended rock, funk, and a little bit of psychedelia, making for a show that kept gaining steam as it went along, winning over the audience in the process.

Local soul act Jaedyn James and the Hunger opened the show. Though the bar wasn’t all that full for a large portion of the set, the band did their best, impressing those who were there. Led by singer Jaedyn James (who would later join the Suspects onstage for a few songs), the band brought a traditionalist spin to soul and rhythm and blues. While they mostly stayed sonically even in tone, there were musical quirks that kept it from being redundant or stale. Specifically, the horn arrangements at times unexpectedly recalled other forms, most often jazz, and occasionally jazz-rock. Their complexity was subtle but added depth to the sound.

James also proved to be a formidable lead singer, adding her own spin on the soul numbers while remaining reverent to the source material. Some of the songs were funky, and some burned slow, but for the most part it was cohesive.

From the start, the Suspects’ performance was funky. Though the first set took a little while to really get going, the funk was there from the beginning. Leaning more toward rock-oriented funk than jazz-oriented funk, the band worked their way through a few originals and several covers.

The covers in the middle of the first set proved to be the set’s high point, and one of the high points of the night. The combination of New Orleans favorites “Smoke My Peace Pipe” (The Wild Magnolias), and “Hey Pocky Way” (The Meters) was spirited and saw the band hit their sweet spot.

The set featured a fair amount of improvisation and even saw a little bit of reggae mixed in. It built momentum as it went along, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

The Suspects’ wasted no time warming up in set two. Opening with an extended (10+ Minutes), hard-hitting instrumental, the band charted a course for the rest of the night. There would be more solos, more funk, and more songs about Mardi Gras. While the covers were strong, the original “Yo Flambeaux” was the standout of the bunch.

Another highlight of the second set was a sit-in by a musician from Minnesota — Demetri Rallis. Rallis, the lead guitarist from Frogleg and current holder of a weekly residency at Bunker’s, played two songs with the band, including a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain.” The Dead influence wasn’t particularly pronounced in the sound of the band but was present in the improvisational spirit of the music.

The main set ended on a high note with a rocking and spirited version of the New Orleans standard “Big Chief.” It’s a song that’s been played by many of the greats, and the Suspect interpretation was just what the doctor ordered, as they say. Minnesota may not have Mardi Gras, but, at least for a night, music was able to fill the void.

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