Clearly, Nigel Hall feels right at home in New Orleans.
Celebrating the release of his debut solo album Ladies & Gentlemen … Nigel Hall (Feel Music/Round Hill) last night, as blustery winter winds and news of one more murderous rampage blew in, Hall’s soulful serenade warmed hearts inside Tipitina’s in a two-hour performance lifted on vibes of triumphant homecoming. Hall told the close-knit, convivial crowd—which still formed dozens deep in line outside four songs into his 10:15-start set, well past Quickie Mart’s opening salvo of rump-shake electronica kicking off school-night prompt at 9—that he wasn’t nervous, as was the case last month at a sold-out Blue Note in New York City for the first of three record-release shows (next: Denver on Dec. 19). Onstage last night, a pianoman in the house of Professor Longhair, he wasn’t nervous. “I’m just chilling with my homies,” Hall explained between songs.
His homies: Eric Vogel (bass), Jamison Ross (drums), Robin Barnes and Vegas Cola (backing vocals), Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Brad Walker (sax), Derwin “Big D” Perkins (guitar) and Bill Summers (percussion). Hall introduced Summers by declaring he had “the most cold-blooded resumé” before they launched into a jam that delicately teased “Watermelon Man” (nod to Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, the gold star on Summer’s resumé) then “Yes We Can Can” (nod to Allen Toussaint) for a few phrases before launching into the rousing “Lay Away,” an Isley Brothers cover appearing on Ladies & Gentlemen … Nigel Hall with contributions from Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Ivan Neville. “Lay Away” is one of a sprinkling of covers on the album, a stirring 10 tracks of vintage soul music with jazz, gospel and funk flourishes that provided the material for the Tip’s show. Hall’s original “I Just Wanna Love You” early in the set introduced a heartfelt lovers theme for the newly married man. A cover of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” set the crowd to spin cycle, hitting a fevered pitch while all-consuming horn blasts from Bloom and Walker propelled a blistering jam leading out of “Try, Try, Try” (written by Roy Ayers).
Thanking “the city of New Orleans for welcoming me into your family,” Hall (a D.C. native who later had to dismiss drunken banter from some dude in the front row calling him Neal, apparently) closed the set with “Never Gonna Let You Go,” showcasing his sweeping vocal range and prowess. This love theme carried over into the encore, with Hall, alone onstage, easing into soothing organ waves before ending the night with his “Baby, I Do Love You,” dedicated, of course, to his wife, front and center in the audience, his wails, words and key strokes bearing the soul of a musician writing and performing soul music in its finest form.