The good times roll with Brother Jocephus

by Ryan Snyder

t’s not unusual for an opening act to outshine a headliner, but for a relatively new band to do so over a veteran act with a collection of mostly cover tunes is quite a noteworthy feat indeed. If the recent Triad run of Brother Jocephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra proved one thing, it’s that sometimes it’s completely above board to get to the show early. While most in the crowd during a recent Friday night at the Blind Tiger came to see Asheville funkateers Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, it was the New York City-based musical love-in who shined the brightest.

Despite hailing from the Big Apple, Brother Jocephus’ funky, free-wheeling unit looks and sounds as if they just stepped off of a Big Easy second line from heaven. If the Polyphonic Spree took a residency at Tipitina’s, they might come out with the kind of soul with which BroJo’s Love Revival drips. The get-ups and arrangement are pretty much the same: a dozen or so instrumentalists and singers donned in flowing white robes preaching a righteous, yet secular kind of gospel. Their live performances are almost more of a stage musical than a simple concert, with the music and spirit of New Orleans at the heart of the matter.

BroJo and his crew entered the Blind Tiger from the back door parade-style, second-lining with horns, drums and parasols bandied about while playing a boisterous New Orleans’ fanfare. They took the stage in a shower of confetti and hullabaloo; three horns, three backup singers, drums, bass, guitar, a pianist and Brother Jocephus himself, all full of le bon temps and just plain happy to be there. Their set opened with the spiritual “A Child Shall Lead” and their own jazzy arrangement of “The Ides of March,” but a run of spicy jambalaya jams soon ensued. The face and spirit of the name was undoubtedly their namesake leader, but the main cog was undoubtedly their musical director and pianist the Right Reverend Dean Dawg (everyone in the band takes on a showy moniker as such). The Reverend generated a sphere of uncontrollable energy as he tickled his electric ivories to the tune of “Bon Temps Roulez,” “Bury Me In New Orleans,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

The bands familial atmosphere extended not only to the crowd, but to each other as well. One of the female backup singers was clearly new to the band and feeling here way around the stage, though the other was quick to offer tips in mid-stride without disrupting the group’s complex arrangements.

Since the exit of frontman Josh Phillips in 2008 and their resultant dedication to pure funk, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band seems to be merely grasping at attaining the electricity they once put out in waves. Nowadays, you often hear whispers at their shows, particularly festival appearances, of “Booty Band? I’ll pass.” I heard it on a few occasions at last summer’s Music on the Mountaintop and their showing at the Blind Tiger served to remind why they simply aren’t the can’t-miss act that they once were. They’re funky without a groove, making their music hard to step to; consistent melodies are few and far between; and the stage presence that Phillips gave them is sorely missed. Bassist Al Al and guitarist JB, the de facto faces of the band, lack the singular charisma the required to keep the audience’s energy at its peak. It was apparent from the crowd’s listless body language and band’s overly-assured bopping that there was stark disconnect between the two parties.

Give them credit though; the Booty Band is relentless on the road, touring nearly constantly, but that may very well be to their detriment. It might even behoove them to take some time off, take a hard look at their stage show and find a way to recapture the energy that earned them a dedicated following in the first place. They might even want to use some of Brother Jocephus’ online videos as a blueprint.

Brother Jocephus hails from New York City but carries a New Orleans vibe. (photo by Ryan Snyder).

Brother Jocephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra will return to the Blind Tiger on Friday, March 12 and appear at Finnegan’s Wake in Winston-Salem the following night.