Sunday, November 20, 2016

Live at the Belly Up: Vaud and the Villains (KPBS, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Once the Soundbreaking “Four on the Floor” episode was over, KPBS ran a local show, Live at the Belly Up, named after the legendary live-music venue in Solana Beach where it’s filmed, a 2015 episode featuring an engaging local band named Vaud and the Villains that seems bent on incorporating every musical style found in New Orleans. They’re billed as a “19-Piece New Orleans Orchestra and Cabaret Show” and they’re a wildly versatile band who aren’t afraid of not only performing different styles of music, but performing different styles within the same song. They began their set with an original introducing themselves and their act, “Play Your Hall,” after which they did a version of “Eyes on the Prize” that’s probably the only version of this old spiritual turned civil-rights anthem that featured corset-clad erotic dancers doing their thing in front of the band. Charles liked that their singers included three large women, one of whom did “Going Back to Louisiana” (a song which explains that she’s going back to Louisiana “to the gal I left behind” — I have no idea whether this is music-publisher genderfuck of the kind common in the 1920’s or we’re really supposed to read her as a Lesbian, but either way it’s fun), after which they did “Eh la Bas,” a New Orleans Cajun song that was Fats Domino’s second record. Next up was “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” with an intro and outro cribbed from “Mr. Sandman” and a vocal by a heavy-set white guy who Charles liked because he scatted in his own fashion instead of trying to sound Black. Then they did “Light Up,” “Slap ’n’ Tickle” (an artful song about erotic spanking that managed to fit in nicely with the old-style good-time groove) and “Take My Hand,” a refreshingly un-sappy original song written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then the band’s leader, Vaud Overstreet, brought out an odd instrument that was the mechanism of a hurdy-gurdy built into the body of an old guitar so he can crank it with one hand and still stand in front of the band instead of being stuck behind a barrel or case, and the song he used it on was an intriguing cover of Bruce Springsteen’s pro-immigrant song “American Land.” Then they did “John Henry” and a song called “Mad, Mad Love” in which their three dancers donned belly-dancing outfits and cavorted in time to a vaguely Middle Eastern rhythm, and they closed with yet another heated-up spiritual, “This Little Light of Mine.” One of the Villains gave an interview during the show in which he said there were two purposes for entertainment — education and fun — and they were strictly about fun. Certainly, judging from the TV appearance here, Vaud and the Villains’ stage act is probably a lot of fun to watch — but their music is also educational in the way that it at once celebrates different genres and breaks down the walls between them!