March 24, 2016 Cowboy Mouth Spiritual Moving At B.B. King Club, NYC 3-18-16
New Orleans, LA based band known as Cowboy Mouth came together during the heyday of the Grunge movement in the early 1990s when Guitarists John Thomas Griffith and Paul Sanchez, Bassist Paul Clement, and Drummer Fred Leblanc pooled their musical talents to create something much bigger than the sum of its parts. In the early days, the mainstays were Leblanc, Griffith, and Sanchez, augmented by a steady stream of bass players that included Steve Walters, Rob Savoy, Mary Lasseigne, and Sonia Tetlow. The band, whose sound is best described as a musical gumbo mixing gritty Rock, Punk, Blues, New Wave, Swamp Pop, Rockabilly, and a touch of New Orleans Funk, is unique within itself. Releasing a list of albums on a number of independent, minor, and major labels, Mouthing Off Live was put out via Viceroy Records in 1993, and in 1994, the band put out the full-length, non-live album It Means Escape via Monkey Hill/Valley Entertainment. Moving forward, Are You With Me? was the band’s first major label release via MCA Records and garnered, arguably, their best known song, “Jenny Says.”
Going into the new millennium, they continued to release new music before 2006, which began a period of upheaval for the band. At this time, Sanchez departed to pursue his solo career and his seat was filled (albeit for a short time) by Vance DeGeneres, former correspondent of The Daily Show, and brother of Ellen DeGeneres. Jonathan Pretus (currently a member of the Breton Sound) and Regina Zernay filled the rhythm guitar and bass seats from 2007 into 2010. Bringing forth more change, in 2010, Matt Jones (guitar) and Cassandra Falconer (bass) joined the fold, replacing Pretus and Zernay before, four years later, Brian Broussard, formerly of Dash Rip Rock, replaced Falconer on bass. Now, fast-forward to 2016, Cowboy Mouth is still alive and kicking with a lineup of LeBlanc on vocals/drums, Griffith on vocals/lead guitar, Matt Jones on guitar/vocals, and Broussard on bass. Always known as a live band, they continue to tour regularly, and on a warm Friday evening of March 18th, Cowboy Mouth and its legion of faithful, but rabid fans, descended upon Times Square in New York City at B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill. Because Cowboy Mouth fans like to dance and are encouraged to crowd the stage and participate in the show, the intimate underground venue removed the majority of the seating, leaving the dance floor free with tables and booths surrounding the perimeter.
Opening act Omer Netzer, from Israel, played a bluesy set highlighted by an original called “Travel” and a cover of “Hoochie Coochie Man.” On his first trip to New York, his set was simple, basic, and wonderful as he accompanied himself on an electrified acoustic guitar with additional rhythm supplied by a stand-up bassist.
After a twenty minute break, the crowd was primed and Cowboy Mouth took the stage. Hypothetically, if Animal from The Muppet Show and an Evangelist Preacher had a baby, it would be Fred Leblanc – a drum playing madman, a maniac that can command a room while providing all in attendance with a religious transformation. A Cowboy Mouth performance, led by Leblanc, is sort of a baptism by fire, fun, and Rock-n-Roll. Simply put, Leblanc is a marvel. Not many people can front a Rock band, even fewer frontmen are Drummers, thus making Leblanc truly one of a kind. He is definitely outrageous, he is hilariously funny, and his energy knows no bounds. In addition, he is a whirling dervish spinning almost out of control, and his enthusiasm and OCD come to the forefront as the spirit of Rock-n-Roll courses through his veins and, via a telekinesis of sorts, into the bloodstream of the audience members.
With that in mind, during the course of every performance, King Fred (who religiously asks the question, “Are you with me?,” during his speeches to his adoring subjects), gets himself and the fans so riled up and excited that by the end of the concert both he and the fans are spent and soaked in sweat. For those who have not already surmised it, a Cowboy Mouth concert is an audience participation event. The call and response portion of the show features Leblanc yelling, “The name of the band is…” and the audience, in unison, responding by screaming, “Cowboy Mouth!” This is repeated at least four or five times at a shot and done so numerous times during the course of a show. The basic message of a Cowboy Mouth show is simple. It is the life-affirming message that “it’s good to be alive.” As such, it can be said that a Cowboy Mouth show is a happening…sort of a cross between a political rally and a tent show with the barefoot Leblanc as it moderator/master of ceremonies.
On this evening, Leblanc got the audience right into it with “This Little Light Of Mine,” and, from there, it was press the pedal to the metal and off they went. Leblanc announced that it was, “Party time,” and the opening notes of (what many have called the unofficial anthem of the state of Louisiana) “Light It on Fire” blared through the sound system, and the crowd hung on his and the band’s every note, move, and action. The crowd, which seemed to almost immediately get worked-up into a frenzy, fed off the energy as Leblanc implored the crowd to, “Go crazy!” While Rhythm Guitarist Jones kept the beat on the bass drum, and Griffith and Broussard continued to riff on their instruments, the drummer waded through the crowd introducing himself to his public while explaining that, “Tonight we’re gonna have some fun. We’re going to act like a bunch of 5-year-olds on too much sugar!” Now it was time for the first of what seemed to be an endless number of call and response questions – “The name of the band is…” Each time, the audience, in unison, screamed, “Cowboy Mouth!” After working the audience into even more of a sweaty frenzy, Leblanc led the crowd and the band back into “Light It On Fire.”
The set continued with “What’cha Gonna Do?” from Mercyland, “Here I Sit in Prison (Yipee-I-Yay)” from It Means Escape featuring Griffith on vocals, a blisteringly fast version of “Tell Her You’re Sorry,” and “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More.” Prior to “I Believe,” Leblanc again took a few minutes to address the crowd. He said, “Welcome to the Cowboy Mouth Rock ‘N’ Roll Church. When the night is over, your hands are gonna hurt from clapping. Your feet are gonna hurt from dancing. Your voice is gonna be hoarse from screaming, but you’re gonna be glad to be alive!” Then, like the preacher he must have been in a previous existence, he led the band and the crowd through the anthem which features the chorus, “I believe in the spirit of Rock N Roll. In the eternal strength of the immortal soul. Cause sometimes everybody’s gotta let it go. I believe in the power of love.”
Afterwards, band introductions followed, and before the audience knew it, the show was again in full force. “Be My Little Secret,” from their latest album in 2014, Go!, flowed into a snippet of “You Are My Sunshine” and then into “Disconnected.” Somehow it all worked. Leblanc then announced that a member of Cowboy Mouth’s management team had made the trip to New York and that she was pregnant. What followed was a wonderfully zany version of “Belly” with its “I love your belly” lyric.
As the show reached the half-point mark, Leblanc and company proceeded to deliver a kick-ass version of “So Sad About Me” featuring a snippet of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” It was at this point that the other members of Cowboy Mouth were given their opportunities to shine. Broussard put down his bass, picked up a guitar and led the band through a muscular version of ZZ Top’s “Tush.” Jones stepped forward and ably handled the lead vocals on Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Griffith then sang “Everybody Loves Jill,” during which, as per the ritual that has become a major part of a Cowboy Mouth show, audience members threw red spoons at the stage (and for the most-part at Leblanc) during a specific passage of the song.
Leblanc then again grabbed the reins as the band launched into “Heartbreak Hotel” with a nice segue into “Blues At Bay.” While the crowd cheered, Leblanc got the attention of the audience and commanded each and every member to hug (yes hug) the person to his or her right. He then issued the order to hug the person on the left. What followed was an impassioned “New Orleans” with its plaintive lyrics “Take me back to New Orleans. And don’t call me anymore. Cause I might love you yeah. But I love me more.”
The exciting evening came to a close with Griffith leading the band through a fast-paced version of “China,” his 1983 hit with the new wave band Red Rockers. After the applause died down, Leblanc extended an offer to the audience to come by the merchandise table to say hello and shake hands. He explained that the band would be there immediately after the show. “You don’t have to buy anything, though if you do, we’d be thrilled and we’d be happy to sign whatever you buy. Either way, come on over and say ‘hi.’ But before we go, there this.” The evening ended with an amazing extended version of the aforementioned “Jenny Says” from the group’s first studio album, Word Of Mouth.
As the crowd slowly exited the intimate venue, they really appeared to have been at an evangelical religious ceremony. To the members of the audience that were physically drained and sweaty from dancing all evening in the underground temple formerly known as B.B. King’s, it will now forever be rechristened as the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Fred.