Like a scene out of Stranger Things 2, Jon Cleary turned from a chilled out soulman into a funk monster during his two-hour show at Lizotte’s on Thursday night.
It was not just Jon: the intensity was magnified by his band, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, with vocalist and keys player Nigel Hall showing teasing glimpses of his greatness as he powered through the set, for the most part shadowing Cleary’s fast and devastating rhythms.
Songs from Cleary’s Grammy-winning 2016 album, GoGo Juice, set the benchmark for highlights, with Getcha GoGo Juice dropped in early in the night, proceeded by Beg Steal or Borrow. Later we got Brother I’m Hungry, pushing on the edge of soul. The finale, Pump It Up, also from GoGo Juice, was truly an absolute monster of funk.
For those who may think funk was a music trend from an earlier world, you haven’t been paying attention to New Orleans music, certainly not the way it’s preached by Cleary.
As Cleary told me earlier this week: “If you’re a good musician then you find yourself in this funny situation, where the more you learn about music the more you become painfully aware of how little you know.. A lifelong journey that never ends. If you devote the time, you do get better. The wavelength you broadcast on gets stronger.”
There was a lot of playing and not much talking, like the spaceship broke through gravity and kept you circling the room on a layer of soul, blues and funk. The detours weren’t far from the main game – like Taj Mahal (and Cleary’s) 21st Century Gypsy Singin Lovin Man, exploring the edges of soul; and Cleary’s own version of Junker’s Blues, going way down that funky alleyway; and Don’t Play No Frenchman Street Blues, a softer approach.
No one left early. It didn’t even feel like bedtime.