Complimented on her bold, beaded headdress, the woman stood tall and claimed with hauteur, “Nobody can wear this like I can, nobody!” Only about 10 percent of those attending Mardi Gras at Proctors dressed for full human-peacock grandeur, but everyone got the spirit.
Pre-show festivities helped. Street-scenes from Bourbon Street in New Orleans on the big GE Theater screen provided a backdrop for a theatrical drag show, campy and fun. Spicy Creole food smells perfumed everything, drumming up business for vending tables in the atrium. Bars were busy, and so were Captain Squeeze and his Zydeco Moshers, rocking on a stage set up past the dessert tables, opposite the Muddy Cup.
When Captain Squeeze, his band and some drag queens paraded down the aisles to the main stage at 8 p.m., scratching a groove and chanting “When the Saints Go Marching In,” they tugged the throng into the party-hearty vibe of headliners Mojo and the Bayou Gypsies.
Possibly the least well known of the many Louisiana bands who have rocked Proctors Mardi Gras, the quintet had a crisp groove and a bar-band’s engaging panache. They also had no guitar, a purist move as accordionist/leader/singer Mojo explained. This placed all the pressure for hot solos on the shoulders of Greg “The Fire” Hirtle. He was ready, and so was the crowd.
When Mojo issued the uptempo invitation, “Allons, Mes Amis,” everyone stood and danced. Mojo and frottoir (rub-board) player Zydeco T. Carrier swapped vocals in the next number, “Gonna Rip It Up,” and when Mojo wanted to draw the crowd into a big chorus later in the show, they followed. Early on, however, he had to work hard to keep everyone on their feet because the other thing they didn’t have was familiar songs. Mojo prides himself on playing only originals, another purist move, that reduced the band’s magnetism through the power of covers. Most fans sat by the uptempo, spunky third number, “Mojo’s In Town,” one of many playfully boastful songs about himself; but his method and mission emerged clearly two songs later when he explained his heritage of playing house dances convinced him every song must have a different beat, to facilitate different dances. People got this message loud and clear, and there was more dancing after that.
Mojo paid tribute to New Orleans giants Professor Longhair and Fats Domino with brief rips through “Going to New Orleans” and “Hello, Josephine,” respectively, in the first set; and to zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier in the second with “Hot Tamale Baby” and “I’m Comin’ Home.” Otherwise, he led the band through mainly party-time originals, although “Moonlight in Your Eyes” paid tender tribute, in tasty waltz-time, to the young daughters he took on gigs from an early age. “Mojo Strut” was closer to George Clinton funk than Clifton Chenier zydeco; and “Ca C’est Bon Zydeco” parodied J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine.” But even at encore time, Mojo resisted requests — for “Jolie Blon,” which he called the “Cajun national anthem,” instead uncorking another rocking two-step. Nobody in the thinning crowd, standing and dancing, seemed disappointed.
While not the equal of Buckwheat Zydeco or Geno Delafose, stars of recent, previous Proctors Mardi Gras celebrations, Mojo and the Bayou Gypsies delivered a good time.