Dr. John and Cyndi Lauper do not form a natural music union. During their shared show Sunday at the House of Blues, all you had to do was compare his teary “Life’’ to her glossy “Lyfe’’ to see the limits of their common ground.
The concert was not a flop, but it wasn’t smooth, either. Lauper most recently released “Memphis Blues,’’ a credible dip into classic blues numbers. She took credit for packaging this “Americana’’ road show with Dr. John and used some terrific blues and soul musicians in her five-piece band. But Lauper’s natural flamboyance didn’t always jell with the subtleties of her blues material, and the trim band backing her wasn’t the sort to bang out full-tilt rock and pop arrangements when Lauper dove into her back catalog.
The only wince-inducing moment came when Lauper joined Dr. John during his set for a duet on the Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf tune “Wang Dang Doodle.’’ Even with a cheat sheet on a music stand in front of her, Lauper flubbed her way through the tune, marring what was otherwise a stellar performance by Dr. John and his Lower 911 band.
Lauper began her set with “Just Your Fool’’ and “Shattered Dreams’’ from her new record. Her vocal range and strength seemed even greater than they were in her 1980s heyday. Guitarist Michael Toles, keyboard player Archie Turner, and drummer Steve Potts were the veteran blues and soul musicians shaping Lauper’s sound alongside her more common collaborators, bassist William Wittman and keyboardist Steve Gaboury.
The pop-and-blues crossovers were at times tenuous (the world doesn’t need a “She Bop’’ blues mix). But Lauper was deeply in the groove for a double shot of Bobby “Blue’’ Bland, first doing the ballad “Lead Me On’’ and then the rollicking “Don’t Cy No More.’’ And Toles added rich guitar work to Lauper’s “Change of Heart.’’
Turner put a gospel frosting on “Time After Time,’’ and Lauper broke down “True Colors’’ to its barest bones. Lauper’s 75-minute set certainly had memorable moments, but it was not smoothly designed.
Dr. John, on the other hand, was the epitome of smooth. The man known as Mac Rebennack before transforming himself into Dr. John sat between a piano and organ as he forged a foundation of funk upon which he balanced jazz, rock, and New Orleans tradition.
Trombonist Sarah Morrow bolstered the 911 combo of guitar, drums, and bass. She sounded at home on the doctor’s experimental turf, particularly when she applied trippy wah-wah effects to her solos in the jazz standard “Caravan.’’
Dr. John swung from New Orleans parade music (“My Indian Red’’) to his patented funkified originals (“Right Place, Wrong Time’’), with his band stretching out on whatever was played.Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com.