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Dr. John is all business at Havana

New Orleans legend plays no-nonsense show in New Hope, Pa.
Dr. John gestures toward the audience during his Oct. 23 show at Havana in New Hope, Pa. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Dr. John gestures toward the audience during his Oct. 23 show at Havana in New Hope, Pa. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

By Chris M. Junior

When Dr. John appears on a concert stage, he does so with a tricked-out walking stick and a very measured stride that’s both cool and refined.

During the course of a concert, Dr. John is just as smooth and elegant, but there’s nothing deliberate about the pace of his show. The Grammy winner and New Orleans R&B legend spends very little time transitioning from tune to tune, and he also keeps his comments to a minimum.

That seemed to go over just fine with the attentive crowd at Havana in New Hope, Pa., where on Oct. 23, Dr. John and his five-piece band performed relatively fresh and very familiar material from his extensive catalog.

The new stuff came early in the set: a one-two punch of “Revolution” and “Big Shot,” which are among the best songs on 2012’s “Locked Down,” a Grammy winner for Best Blues Album. Shortly thereafter, Dr. John hit the familiar crunchy keyboard notes that kick off his biggest chart hit, “Right Place Wrong Time,” with drummer Reggie Jackson providing a slightly slower groove than what’s on the record and trombone player and musical director Sarah Morrow raising her hands and encouraging the audience to help out with the song’s defining, high-register “oohs.”

Like his soft-growl singing style, Dr. John’s choice of words, speaking voice and delivery are unique — like that of a beatnik with a drawl. Breaking his between-song silence, he prefaced “Soulful Warrior” by saying it was “for all the boys that’s fightin’ for us across the pond.” A few songs later, during “Mardi Gras Day,” he took the time to “give props to all the cats” in his band, introducing the musicians one by one and giving each of them a couple of minutes to solo.

For an encore, they played “Such a Night,” after which Dr. John exited with style and with walking stick in hand, but without a verbal goodbye or a thank you. Instead, he acknowledged the crowd with a series of finger-points — yet another distinct move by a very distinct musician.