Over the weekend my wife and I were back in Charlotte at the Neighborhood Theatre to hear the subdudes. It was my first time hearing them live after owning all of their albums since they formed in 1987. Maybe it was the Low Country Shrimp and Grits at Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen next door before the concert - or the beer - but I would rank their performance last Saturday night in my personal all-time top 10. And I have heard a lot of live music over the years. Damn, they were good.
I know this is beginning to sound like a broken record. (does anyone reading this have any idea what a broken record might sound like?) Like most of my favorites, the subdudes don't sound like anyone else. With a core instrumentation of guitar, accordion and tambourine, years of living and playing in the New Orleans area, and a sitting on the front porch Sunday afternoon sensibility - subdued - their music defies a clear label. All I know is I love it.
It sounds like an old story. A group of veteran musicians gets together for a one-night jam almost on a whim. Something clicks; they like it. They play some more, take a name and build a following. They tour, make CDs and tour some more. But critical praise and a small but loyal fan base barely pays the bills. And the road weary band plays a farewell gig ten years later where they started. The place? The legendary Tipitina's in N.O. The band? Our subdudes.
But wait, there is more. The musicians continue to work. Five years later two ex-subdudes invite another ex-subdude up on stage for a song or two. The crowd goes wild. Discussions are held, bands merge. The 'dudes (three of four) are back - older, wiser, and with more musical ideas to share. Life is good.
That was 2001. Fast forward to August 2005. Hurricane Katrina hits southeastern Louisiana, hard. The homes of the guitar and bass player are severely damaged. They and their families evacuate before the storm and are safe, but now live with family and friends. Several gigs are cancelled or rescheduled but they come to Charlotte October first and just play their asses off. The photo below from the show does not begin to capture the energy.
Very few musicians live well. Even the very best, the most dedicated at their craft and to the enjoyment of their audiences, frequently have trouble making ends meet. Sometimes they are their own worst enemy. Other times the guys with the suits rob them blind. In any case it does not take much sometimes to tip them over the financial edge. For many musicians Katrina was sufficient.
Along with the usual messages in the forum section of the subdudes' website recently was a post from the band's management forthrightly acknowledging that the band and its members and families are hurting financially. They are now considering playing at private parties as part of their touring. For musicians of this quality to be willing to play in living rooms says a great deal to me about their dedication and their need. They have gone so far as to establish a relief fund so their fans have a way to help out. And they are far from alone. A quick look at the Tipitina's Foundation website paints the larger picture.
So if you have the opportunity and connections, inquire about bringing the subdudes to a venue near you. Contribute what you can in relief of all the musicians who bring so much happiness to the world. Support live music, as I will be doing this weekend.
And check out the subdudes. What the Neighborhood Theatre wrote on its poster might be true, quite possibly the best band, ever.