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Review: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne

Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen brought a generous pot of New Orleans spice to Sydney Road last night in an inspirational performance to a packed house at the Brunswick Ballroom.

From the get-go, Cleary on keys, Cornell Williams on bass, Pedro Segundo on percussion and AJ Hall on drums locked into a channel and never let go. For the most part, the appeal of The Monster Gentlemen is their instinctual musicianship. They watch each other intently, waiting for the slightest hint of a cue, then change tempo on a dime, sometimes playing ridiculously complex time signatures. It’s one part the result of extreme improvisational skills and one part the culmination of hundreds of stage hours together.

From the infectious groove of ‘Cheatin’ On You’, a track recorded by Taj Mahal, the band then transitioned into the moody ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, demonstrating their ability to take us on an emotional musical ride through the many facets of the blues, soul and funk.

Cleary used an Earl King track ‘Those Lonely, Lonely Nights’ to show us “how they used to play ‘em” back in New Orleans and proceeded to tinkle the ivories in a fashion Fats Domino would be proud of.

Continuing to pay homage to the greats of New Orleans, Jon explained that the old guard such as Jack Dupree and Professor Longhair would all have their versions of a traditional track called ’Junker’s Blues’. Longhair called his ‘Tipitina’ and in the spirit of handing down the history, Jon and The Absolute Monster Gentlemen further finessed the track into their own ‘Professor Longhair’s Blue Lagoon’. The tune gave percussive wizards Pedro Segundo and AJ Hall the opportunity to duke it out. Their dual percussive power was invigorating.

Watching Pedro present his extensive array of percussive toys is mesmerising, from chimes, washboards, vibraslaps, guiros, beads and springs … if it makes a noise, he uses it to add flavour to the musical feast. I’m not sure how many in the audience have ever witnessed a triangle solo but later in the evening, Pedro provided an exceptionally good one.

After a hot hour of compelling rhythms the band could easily have called it quits and enjoyed a standing ovation, yet to the delight of the crowd, their exit was only an intermission.

Upon return they powered straight into action with an uplifting latin infused percussive tune, I guess you’d it call a mambo or rumba. Whatever it was, I’d defy anyone to stand still while they played. Knowing a thing or two about show dynamics and reading the room vibe perfectly, Cleary launched immediately into an upbeat gospel beat, also known as a ‘Shout’.

Continuing to deliver the full spread of roots rhythms, a heavy funk number followed showcasing the tremendous bass skills and feel of Cornell Williams. Cleary then took time to acknowledge his bass mate, asking the audience if they’d seen Cornell in the fabulous TV series Treme, about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They then played ‘Frenchman Street Blues’, a beautiful Cleary-penned song which appeared in the soundtrack of the TV show.

‘When You Get Back’, a joyous soul/pop song from the band’s 2002 self-titled album was yet another show highlight, revealing a gorgeous vocal harmony aspect to the band.

Offering a taste of their next record with ‘Uptown, Downtown’ and ‘Zulu Coconuts’, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen proved they’ve still got plenty more in the tank and promised they’ll be back to see us soon.

Finishing up with Dr John’s ‘Such A Night’ and Allen Toussaint’s ‘What Do You Want A Girl To Do’, Cleary and the Gentlemen once again directed respect to the feted ghosts of New Orleans

This is what real music, created by talented musicians is all about. Unscripted, unexpected, passionately played music aimed at your soul and leaving you with a smile. AI and autotune begone, you have no place in our world. You can’t recreate a collective, authentic human experience like this and never will.


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