By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While session veteran and keyboard/trumpet player Marc Capelle is frequently setting backsides in motion at the helm of his all-star R&B revue Marc & the Casuals, the busy musician has been finding his time taken up with other high-profile projects lately. The versatile player still frequently performs with and leads groups paying tribute to specific bands or songwriters, but his ambitious new ensemble the Red Room Orchestra has become a celebrated attraction thanks to a partnership with SF Sketchfest for number of acclaimed performances.
The all-star aggregation got its start saluting the music of ‘Twin Peaks,’ the surreal television show by iconic director David Lynch that saw a revival with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ on Showtime last year. Lynch’s films have always put music in the spotlight, from the singing Lady in the Radiator from the director’s 1977 debut and the bizarre visage of Dean Stockwell lip syncing to the Roy Orbison hit “In Dreams” in his Oscar-nominated breakthrough Blue Velvet through his use of both ’50s and modern rock in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway during the ’90s.
Starting in the summer of 2017, Capelle has regularly gathered a high-powered group of San Francisco musicians to recreate the music of ‘Twin Peaks’ and more Lynch-related offerings at the music venue, taking the stage with an expanded group in front of a packed house for a transporting night of atmospheric music. Plenty of familiar faces from the Casuals’ stable of regular players performed including Persephone’s Bees guitarist Tom Ayers, drummer Todd Roper (Chuck Prophet, Cake) and saxophonist Tom Griesser, percussionist/drummer Toby Dammit (Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, Swans, Residents) and Dirty Ghosts guitarist Allyson Baker as well frequent guest vocalists Karina Denike (NOFX, Dancehall Crashers) and Karla Milosevich (Helen Lundy Trio).
The musicians would reprise that performance for a SF Sketchfest concert (co-presented by Noise Pop and Jay Siegan Presents) that coincided with a Castro Theatre tribute to ‘Twin Peaks’ last January, sharing the stage with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ cast member and musical collaborator with David Lynch actress/vocalist Chrysta Bell (a stellar singer who, by coincidence, headlines her own show at the Chapel on Monday, July 1), actor Ray Wise –who played Laura Palmer’s father Leland in the original show — and many others as fans dressed in costume and participated in an Audrey Horne dance contest that included actress Sherilyn Fenn as host and judge.
Since then, Capelle and his capable co-conspirators have tackled a variety of soundtracks, performing music from the movies of Wes Anderson and The Big Lebowski at SF Sketchfest events, creating a mix of original music and prepared themes to accompany experimental shorts for the San Francisco Film Festival and providing music cues and songs for live script readings Clusterfest (including the soundtrack to a star-studded reading of Clueless at the third edition of the festival last weekend).
Last summer, Capelle put together a 50th anniversary tribute to one of the most unique psychedelic records of the late 1960s, New Orleans swamp mystic Dr. John’s landmark debut Gris-Gris. An established musical force in the Big Easy starting with production work for Ace Records when he was in his teens, Mac Rebennack was better known for his guitar playing before a gunshot injury left him unable to play. He would switch to piano, patterning his sound after New Orleans legend Professor Longhair when he relocated to Los Angeles in the mid 1960s and became part of famed “Wrecking Crew” stable of session musicians.
Rebennack took on his Dr. John the Night Tripper persona for his first album on Atco Records. Recorded in LA backed by a coterie of fellow New Orleans musicians, Gris-Gris conjured up a heady stew of late-night, psychedelic atmospheres, jangling percussion and quasi-mystical, arcane voodoo lore. Simultaneously earthy and otherworldly, songs like Middle Eastern-tinged groover “Danse Kalinda Boom,” the avant jazz chant of “Croker Courtboullion” and the hypnotic, oft-covered classic “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” transported listeners in a way few records before or since could.
The album was too weird to be much of a hit when released in 1968, but became a cult favorite and earned Dr. John the respect of rock royalty including Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitar hero Eric Clapton (who would both appear on his later effort, Sun Moon and Herbs). Dr. John would have his major commercial breakthrough in 1973 collaborating with producer Allen Toussaint and N.O. funk juggernaut the Meters on the hit album In the Right Place featuring the smash singles “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night.” The like-minded follow-up effort Destitively Bonnaroo would later inspire the name of the famed Tennessee music festival.
He was also one of many high-profile participants in the Band’s cinematic swan song The Last Waltz, cementing his status as one of the premiere ambassadors of New Orleans music that he has enjoyed to this day. While Gris-Gris remained one of his greatest achievements, Dr. John was an active and creative artist well into his 70s, regularly touring and releasing two highly acclaimed albums in the past decade with his stellar Dan Auerbach-produced 2012 album Locked Down and his 2014 tribute to Louis Armstrong, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. When the legendary musician passed away at age 77 earlier this month, he had been diligently recording what will eventually see release as his final posthumous album that he worked on right up until his death.
Last summer, Capelle assembled a stellar cast of musicians and vocalists for two concerts performing Gris-Gris in its entirety. He brings together many of those players to help with this Sunday night tribute to Dr. John at the Chapel. Singers include regular collaborators Paula Frazer (Tarnation), Vetiver leader Andy Cabic, Bob Reed (Overwhelming Colorfast, Titan Ups, Cocker Power), soul singer Allegra Bandy and Lydia Walker (This Train Don’t Stop, Big Blue Soul Review) as well as SF alt-country maverick Stephen Yerkey, who was one of the star attractions of the late July debut performance.
The band features such notable players as local guitar heroes Joe Gore (PJ Harvey, Tom Waits), Steve Gurr (who at one time played with Dr. John) and John Schott (TJ Kirk, John Zorn, Tom Waits), longtime Casuals member Peter Straus (the Dwarves) on bass, Capelle’s own son Evan on percussion and a horn section that features saxophone/flute player Sheldon Brown (Mondo Cane), oboe player Amber Lamprecht (Rodriguez) and tuba player Ed Ivey (Polkacide, Rhythm Pigs, Brass Monkey). The show will feature songs from Gris-Gris and throughout the good Doctor’s illustrious career. Proceeds from the show will benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, an organization that has been helping to keep music alive by sustaining New Orleans musicians & tradition bearers since 1998.
A Tribute to Dr. John
Sunday, June 30, 7 p.m. $17-$20