Before it was even 9:30pm, the Black Cat began to fill with guests. The stage was set up and stuffed with various instruments and microphones, banners were hung, and gypsy music bounced from the speakers. Out of nowhere, a procession of dancers and musicians marched into the main area, including trombone player, several people hitting tambourines, and a girl who twirled a glow in the dark hula hoop. From that point on, the entire night become one of infectious, almost loony fun.
This included the traveling freak show known as Muloch’s Midway and Cabinet of Infernal Mysteries that hit the stage and grabbed the attention of every standing individual. Their act included worm-eating, laying down on a bed of nails, and having audience members staple money to one of the performer’s bare chest. Also, the night featured several burlesque dancers from Palace Productions, putting on classic sensual-rather-than-sexual strip teases for everyone to enjoy. These acts were a wild and delightful interlude between the blues and ska music that took the stage, and they got the entire audience anxious to the point where the energy seemed to spill out onto the street.
Norman Rockwell: This was probably the best modern band I’ve seen take on a very classic rock sound. The front man had the perfect shaggy-haired confidence and Tom Petty-esque voice, and his vocals were both strong enough to sail over the instruments and clean and catchy enough to entice everyone closer to the stage. The bass and drums rattled away, keeping the vigor alive while the lead guitarist ripped some truly great, soaring solos. Their last song especially rocked the house.
Black Masala: With a very different change of pace, this group played mostly instrumental ska. The crowd, which had already filled the Black Cat, still found room to dance along with it. The overall sound was manic and giddy enough to perfectly match the Mardi Gras vibe, and halfway through the performance, someone trotted through the crowd and onto the stage wielding the largest tuba I’ve ever seen. There was great energy and a boisterous horn section from this group.
Jonny Grave and The Tombstones: Taking the stage, Jonny Grave and The Tombstones seemed to run out of space almost immediately. They tore it up with their playing, blasting blues rock so fiercely and loudly that their sound seemed to stretch the boundaries of blues into hard rock. The band kept the energy going from start to finish with some nice bass and drum riffs as well.
It was a long show but it certainly didn’t drag at any point. With the chaotic mixture of blues, ska, burlesque, sideshows, great emcee work by host Brandon Wetherbee, and the overall festive vibe, the Black Cat’s Mardi Gras Carnival was everything you would expect from such a title.
Photos by Vanessa Ndege: