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The Only Bands That Mattered–For A Day Anyway

I can pretty much guarantee that this is only time you'll read a comparison between Vancouver punk rock upstarts Japandroids and New Orleans R&B producer-arranger Wardell Quezergue.

Bear with me.

Last Saturday I witnessed a searing set from Vancouver's Japandroids at the Siren music festival at Coney Island in New York City. The band, whose galvanizing Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar) is out tomorrow, combines anthemic, almost arena-rock arrangements--full of pounding drum fills and chunky guitar riffs--with a scrappy, punkish energy reminiscent of countless great bands who would never dream of playing anything bigger than a dive bar. But when guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse storm into the ragged picaresque of a song like "Young Hearts Spark Fire," which they did with an unbelievable amount of soul on a sun-scorched day by the beach, they made that hoary cliché come true: They felt like the only band that mattered.

Soul of a more traditional type was on display Sunday night at Lincoln Center, where New Orleans musical legends like Dr. John, drummer Ziggy Modeliste of the Meters, and singers Robert Parker, the Dixie Cups, Dorothy Moore, Tammy Lynn and others revisited '60s and '70s classics produced or arranged by Quezergue (e.g., "Mr. Big Stuff," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Groove Me"). There's always the danger that career retrospectives will end up boringly tasteful. Not on this night. The inventiveness and wit of Quezergue's music make it impervious to fossilization. On the uptempo numbers, the jittery horns and bass played whack-a-mole with the melodies, popping up just long enough to excite, then darting away. On the slow-burners (especially "Misty Blue," performed by Moore and whose title is as good a description of Quezergue's ballads as any), the lush beauty transformed melancholy into something redemptive and beautiful. In their own way, the songs were as powerful and stirring as the ones bashed out by the Japandroids the night before. There's nowhere I would have rather been.

I think it was Duke Ellington who said that there were two kinds of music: good music and the other kind. He likely never heard of Quezergue, and I don't know what he would've thought of the Japandroids (I can guess, and it's not pretty), but this past weekend in New York City, I sure as heck knew what he meant.

But enough from me. What have you heard lately that made your heart leap? Let me know in the comments section.

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