There’s nothing sub-anything about The Subdudes, an eclectic New Orleans band that’s been around since the mid-80s. After taking a few years off at the turn of the century, the came back just as strong and just a popular. Today, they are touring all over the country, bringing their good-time music to old and new fans.
I caught one of their shows at The Bridge, the new event space at the Santa Fe Brewing Company last weekend. And it was a much needed oasis of music in a very busy and stressful week.
I’d heard about these guys but I’d never really seen them live. They now tour in a trimmed down 4-piece. Tommy Malone continues to be front man and main singer, though these guys spread those duties liberally among the musicians. Malone gives solid lead guitar work to lyrically-rich songs. John Magnie adds the funk and zydeco color with accordion and keyboards, often dropping into some stride piano and honky-tonk. Tim Cook keeps this gumbo stirred with his funky bass, and Steve Amedee is jaw-dropping as he creates a big sound with…well, basically a drum stick and a couple of tambourines. Amedee is a seasoned drummer and percussionist, but I was a bit awe-struck by what he could do with so little in his hands. I had to keep checking to see if somehow I’d missed him dragging on a drumkit, or at least a bass drum, while I was writing notes.
Besides all of the sweet licks happened with these guys’ hands and instruments, there were some extremely tasty vocals. Sometimes, it would just be a lead singer with one of the other guys adding a backup that filled out a chorus. Usually, that was just Malone and Magnie. At other times, there would be three-part and sometimes four-part harmonies.
I was totally blown away with their “Late at Night” with the chorus, “Lord, you gotta help me now.” The were into this upbeat funk and then dropped into an acapella chorus, that not only had four-part harmonies but also had the counter singing I’ve heard in gospel churches. It was funky and robust and full of that NOLA spirit.
Those moments found a welcome audience at The Bridge, where on this warm July night folks, young and old came together as if they were all neighbors at a block party. The mood was friendly and welcoming because they all knew this music, even though an older couple or two seemed to be introducing this vibe to some 20-something counterparts. There was dancing in front of the stage, with a lot of couples in partnered two-step and zydeco. It was a remarkable night.
One older gentleman yelled out, “Talk to me Daddy,” and Malone cut into a well-felt groove, showing off his chops. The instrumental support and vocal backup of that song and others showed me a band that knows its members well. They were able to underline and enhance a lead and follow it wherever it went, even if it tripped out into some unknown place. These musicians listen to each other.
The evening continued with one great tune after another. Then with about a half hour left to play, Malone told the audience that a lot of bands would say, “goodnight,” walk off the stage, wait a minute or two, and then come back on stage for one last song. But they weren’t going to do that. What they did do was go out into the middle of the audience and set up a total unplugged set. Yes, it was a plug for their new CD, which is all unplugged, but it was more than that.
This bold, festival campground move showed the respect the band had for this special audience and theirs in return. People crowded around but very politely. Seriously, it reminded me more of a North Dakota or Minnesota audience that respected the music and never would man handle a musician. They also stopped talking and got very quiet, allowing The Subdudes to do what they do best: make music.
What happened next was magical. The band got the audience to sing the choruses with them, sometimes just allowing their voices to carry. They ended that acoustic set with Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light,” with everybody singing.
The Subdudes were also aware that not everyone could see what they were doing, so they came up on stage for one last song. It was a special night, healing a lot of us from the stresses of the work week.
This is certainly a band I’ll want to see whenever I can.