It's hard to think about Cajun music without thinking of food.
Go ahead. Try. See?
It certainly wasn't possible Friday at Club Lingerie, where a colorful banner proclaimed that the headlining Buckwheat Zydeco is sponsored by Tabasco-brand hot sauce, the stage was strung with red chili pepper Christmas lights and songs were sung in tribute to a Lafayette, La., gumbo parlor and to hot-tamale babies.
Maybe they should have renamed the club "Buckwheat's Place."
But where Cajun food is fading from trend consciousness, Cajun music is just starting to take hold, with performers like Paul Simon and Los Lobos and movies like "The Big Easy" spreading its irresistible rhythms to the masses.
And Friday's menu, er, lineup , proved mouthwatering enough to attract diners, um, listeners , ranging from roots-rocker Dave Alvin (whose "Marie Marie" was Buckwheat's energetic encore) to Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell, and from tony couples ready for a night at Vertigo to a guy in a Spinal Tap T-shirt.
The only shadow that threatened the upbeat mood at the Lingerie was the ghost of Clifton Chenier, the acknowledged king of zydeco, who died Dec. 12. But when Chenier's name was invoked several times by the three opening acts (actually variations on the same lineup of Austin-based musicians featuring accordionist Ponty Bone), it was with the joyous spirit of a New Orleans jazz funeral.
Still, mentions of Chenier raised the specter of the void Bob Marley left in reggae music when he died in 1980. That hole has yet to be filled, and reggae has stagnated as a result. Will the same happen in Cajun/zydeco in the wake of Chenier's passing?
Not if Stanley (Buckwheat) Dural has anything to say about it.
While not quite a pioneer like Chenier, who brought white Cajun folk and country and black R&B and blues into his distinctive zydeco mix, singer-accordionist Dural (who apprenticed with Chenier in the late '70s) and his Ils Sont Partis Band did display a few promising innovations Friday. (Confusingly, it seems to be the combination of Dural and the band that is called Buckwheat Zydeco, though Dural goes by the name himself.)
The highlight was a version of Lee Dorsey's chestnut "Ya Ya" that sported percolating ska/R&B rhythms and a rich horn arrangement that could have been lifted from Van Morrison. The 70-minute set also encompassed material ranging from Bob Dylan ("On a Night Like This," the title song of the band's current album), to more traditional New Orleans fare--some sung in Cajun French--like Professor Longhair's "Ti Na Na." Adding yet another exciting dimension were guitarist Melvin Veazie's screaming rock leads.
And if the uptown slick presentation of the band seemed to owe more to B. B. King and James Brown than to Chenier (bassist Lee Allen Zeno's prolonged introduction of Dural borrowed heavily from the classic "it's star time" intro of Brown), the music was definitely downtown gritty. The only reason no one was doing the two-step was that the dance floor was too crowded.