Superman’s weakness was kryptonite. For the super group Dragon Smoke, it’s driving in winter conditions to Lake Tahoe.
“Every time we go up there, it’s just hilarious,” guitarist Eric Lindell said. “I get nervous in the snow. Coming up that mountain, everybody’s a little on edge. The guys are all from pretty flat ground.”
The band is comprised of Lindell, keyboardist Ivan Neville and Galactic’s rhythm section, bassist Robert Mercurio and Stanton Moore. It only plays a few shows each year outside of New Orleans, coming to the West Coast in early winter. Despite the band members’ trepidation about driving over the Donner Pass, Dragon Smoke will make its third Crystal Bay Casino appearance on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
“I’m excited to be back; I just hope for no snow,” Mercurio said. “The harrowing part of getting up there is the white-knuckle driving to make it in up to the mountains.”
The good news for Dragon Smoke is that there as only been trace amounts of snowfall at lake level so far this season. Snow showers are predicted on Monday, but everything is expected to be clear by Wednesday.
Dragon Smoke began as an informal jam during the 2003 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the Dragon’s Den, which Lindell said holds about 60 people. Jon Cleary was the original keyboard player. Neville joined the second year. The quartet began playing a handful of shows each year outside of New Orleans about 2010.
“At first, we just winged it and did whatever the hell, but then we started getting some tunes together. Over the last seven eight years and we feel like we really started getting it to sound really good,” Lindell said. “We actually rehearse and use a set list now.”
Lindell said he’d never made a set list, but it’s necessary with Dragon Smoke because he and Neville take turns as lead vocalist.
Although it recorded a song earlier this year, Dragon Smoke has yet to release an album.
“It’s hard to round up everybody,” Lindell said, “because everybody’s busy, especially Stanton. He’s got books and DVDs and all kinds of crap. One day were going to (make an album) it and it’s going to be fun.”
With New Orleans being the birthplace of jazz and perhaps the nation’s greatest music hub, it’s not that rare to have bands created at Jazz Fest. Dragon Smoke is one of three for Mercurio, whose main band, of course, is Galactic. He also plays with the M&M’s – Mercurio, Moore, John Medeski and Papa Mali – and Frequinox, with Moore, Robert Walter, Will Bernard and Donald Harrison Jr.
Mercurio said that he and Moore both find playing with Dragon Smoke is a “refreshing change” from the Galactic sound.
“Especially on the Eric Lindell stuff,” Mercurio said. “He really likes this 16th note drum pattern and his songs are a little more singer-songwriter. It’s a little less set by a definitive groove, which is fun for me to do. It’s fun to move through chord changes to try to figure out interesting ways to do that.
“And then Ivan’s stuff also has a little different feel than maybe a Galactic feel so you know but it’s closer. Ivan picks some choice covers to reinterpret, so it definitely pushes me outside of my Galactic world. But it’s all still within the same wheelhouse, generally.”
Ivan Neville is the son of Aaron Neville and nephew of Art “Papa Funk” Neville of The Meters. His primary band is Dumpstphunk, but he’s involved in numerous recording projects.
“Yeah, he’s alright; he needs to practice a little bit,” Lindell joked. “Are you kidding me? I love playing with Ivan. He’s one of my favorite musicians in the city. He’s incredible. He’s such a musical guy. He can play the drums, bass, guitar, any damn thing — the music just comes out of him.”
The rhythm section from Galactic is out of this world, too.
“It’s incredible,” Lindell said. “I mean, Robert such a great bass player. He has a great understanding of the instrument. He’s a bass guy. He’s not a guitar player playing bass. He’s a bass player.
“And Stanton, he’s got so much talent and accessibility. He can do anything on the drums. It really is a great group to play with. Those guys create such an incredible foundation and Ivan’s playing chordal stuff on the organ.
“A lot of songs that Ivan wrote, that’s what he wants. I can fill in here and there, I can do a lot of single-note stuff. Playing guitar, you don’t have to be chunking the chords a whole lot when you have a great keyboard player like that. It really creates an elasticity to the music.”
- Dragon Smoke
Robert Mercurio, Stanton Moore, Eric Lindell and Ivan Neville
Opener: Jelly Bread
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $23 in advance or $25 on the day of the show