The “Beatles vs. Stones” argument is about as old as music itself. And whether it’s “Ace vs. Player” or “Uncle Tupelo vs. Whiskeytown,” there is something about the human condition that lends itself perfectly to drawing these types of lines in the sand, dichotomies posed to casual acquaintances to see exactly where he or she stands on the continuum of popular culture appreciation. New Orleans has her own version of such a query, and it comes in the form of “Rebirth Brass Band vs. Soul Rebels,” a question that is as ubiquitous as sousaphones and bass drums at a second-line.
The beauty of questions like these in general and this one in particular is that there is rarely an incorrect answer. Easily the two top brass bands in the city, you will never go wrong spending a few hours of your life grooving away to either one. And just as Rebirth has their Tuesday residency at The Maple Leaf Bar, The Soul Rebels play every Thursday night at Le Bon Temp Roule, putting on a spectacle that is almost as noteworthy for the unbridled enthusiasm of the hip-hop dance party that overtakes the swampy back room during set break as it is for the innovative take on New Orleans’ funk brass band tradition that the Soul Rebels offer week in and week out.
But there is more to this “classic New Orleans joint” than the legendary Thursday Soul Rebels House Parties. Some of the largest acts in the region have graced the small, cramped stage in the back room of Le Bon Temps (dubbed “The House of Dues” in reference to the caliber of musicians that have put in some heavy work in the relatively small venue before graduating to bigger and better things). The cover varies from night to night, but it never costs more than a few dollars to see the likes of the Honey Island Swamp Band or perhaps Gal Holiday and The Honky Tonk Revue; well worth it if you consider the street cred you will have when the groups hit it big and you can say you knew them way back when.
One of the greatest draws of Le Bon Temps Roule, however, is surely going to be one of the worst casualties of the BP oil disaster once all the dust settles. On Friday evenings, they host what is easily the greatest happy hour in the city, if not the country or world: the legendary Joe Krown mans the piano while oysters on the half shell are served up free of charge. If the tradition is not extinct by the time this goes to print, it certainly will be before too long. But if I’ve learned one thing about New Orleans, it is that the show must go on. Yes, the Gulf’s salty, luxurious (and all too endangered) bivalves are without rival, but the real draw on Friday nights – as it is every night, and always will be – is the music. And that is one thing that corporate malfeasance or governmental neglect simply can’t touch. They can take our oysters, but they can’t take our culture, a culture that is alive and well at Le Bon Temps Roule.
Le Bon Temps Roule
4801 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Matt Rosenthal // Groovescapes.com