Thursday, June 11
It is 12:15 p.m., ominous and overcast, and the emcee is stalling by announcing that he’s stalling, complaining about the Mets, complaining about his pants. New Orleans r&b legend Allen Toussaint will be out shortly. A crowd of quiet, seemingly disinterested folks in lunchtime mode loiter about in the MetroTech square/park/commons, lounging in green patio chairs, dreading the imminent threat of rain and/or the end of their lunch hour. It is uncertain if this show has brought them here. Tough room. But Allen saunters out, slides into his piano seat, commands his 80 percent smooth/20 percent funky backing band, and plays it. “There’s a party going on right now,” he sings, and over the next hour and a half this will seem less and less delusional.
This here is part of BAM’s excellent R&B Festival, a noon occurrence every Thursday, spots from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Rebirth Brass Band, and Rokia Traoré upcoming. Toussaint is a little more elegant and stately, but after a few tunes he warms up, conjures just a touch of grit/sass, rattling off a raucous medley of his various ribald misadventures — “A Certain Girl,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Fortune Teller” (not their version), “Working in a Coal Mine” (not their version).
In fact, everyone having more success with his songs than he does becomes a running joke. “I spent my life writing songs for other people,” he says, preparing to launch into “What Is Success.” “This one I wrote for myself. It sold five records. Then Bonnie Raitt did it, and it sold a whole bunch of records. That’s what the royalty statement says. I love Bonnie Raitt.” Later, he does a beautiful, mournful solo version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” stealing someone else’s song and dominating it for a change: “Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day/And I’m trying to get some rest.” There’s always lunchtime.