It was a good time to catch the New Orleans legend, fresh from a comeback album.
It wasn’t the Audubon Zoo he famously sang of in the standard “Iko Iko,” but the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater proved to be an appropriately wilder place for Dr. John to cut loose on Friday night.
The 72-year-old piano-bumping king of New Orleans voodoo-boogie came to the Twin Cities’ swampiest venue on a comeback trail that started with his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2011. Last year’s album, “Locked Down” — produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach with a deliciously stewed sound — won him a Grammy and turned a new era of fans onto his gumbo of R&B, funk and rock.
Friday’s 90-minute set picked up many of the songs and more of the harder-grinding flavor of “Locked Down.” Add the thick air outside and another wow-inducing opening set by guitar wiz Sonny Landreth — one of New Orleans’ lesser-known musical maestros — and the show felt like a true Crescent City fete.
Not seen at our zoo since the early-’00s, the real-life Mac Rebennack hobbled onto the stage with a cane under a feathered fedora and dark shades, but he actually looked healthier than at other recent appearances. He still looked a little scary, too. Two skulls atop his grand piano and the occasional bat flyby adding to the eeriness in the darkly magical mid-set highlights “Witchy Red” and “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya.”
Scariest of all, the doctor’s piano was inaudible for about 15 seconds during the opening tune “Big Chief,” prompting shocked jeers from the crowd. No worries: The piano plunking was front and center and absolutely unmistakable after that, reaching its most glorious heights in a boozy-woozy spin through Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.” Good night, indeed.
The first half-hour of the 90-minute set was stacked with four of the “Locked Down” songs, highlighted by the slow and smoky “Big Shot” and hard-blasting “Revolution.” Fans sparked a stage-front dance party during the latter — just three songs into the set.
Despite their absence on “Locked Down,” the doctor’s five-piece touring band handled the new material like kids devouring freshly greased beignets. Not that there was anything stale about the must-hear oldies, either. Both “Right Place, Wrong Time” and the finale “Such a Night” offered ecstatic proof that a one-of-a-kind American music legend was on display Friday at the zoo.