I hardly ever go anywhere near a dance floor.
It usually takes a good amount of alcohol or a woman I’m trying to impress to get me moving in that way. But I can’t help but dance whenever I watch the Iguanas play live. That’s usually at one of the band’s favorite hometown haunts—Mid City Rock ‘N Bowl in New Orleans.
I can remember one particular New Year’s Eve a few years ago at the music club/bowling alley when the Iguanas and their music actually transcended the evening, the event and the people dancing next to me.
While sweat poured down my face and body, I got lost in the music.
Ask anyone who’s ever witnessed The Iguanas play live and you might get a similar answer.
That’s the band’s greatest strength—the stage and playing live. Unfortunately, that’s why I’m so disappointed with the band’s latest album, Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart. The album is mature and extremely well produced, but unlike previous albums, it doesn’t capture the band’s magic on stage.
Instead, the band’s latest is moody, rootsy, hip background music for parties you wish you were cool enough to be invited to.
The Iguanas is a perfect band to hail from the most un-American of America’s cities, New Orleans. Imagine of a perfect blend of Tex-Mex, Chicano R&B, Latin and Caribbean rhythms, ‘50s-style rock and roll, Cajun zydeco and cocktail jazz and you have a general idea of the sound of the Iguanas. And that sound—which always features the Iguanas’ trademark twin-saxophone groove—moves from subtle melody to blasting garage rock. It’s just about impossible not to move your body when you anywhere in the vicinity of the band’s live playing.
The Iguanas have been playing around New Orleans and all over the country since 1989. That’s when guitarist and accordionist Rod Hodges and saxophonist Joe Cabral formed the band.
The songs of Hodges and Cabral on Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart don’t move fast enough for me.
The music is exotic and the grooves are slow, dark and sultry but you can’t dance to most of it.
It’s more like the music makes you want to sway slowly.
The CD’s opening track, “Yesterday” is propelled by a slinky bass line and a vocal hook in the chorus—“na-na-na-na”. It’s very catchy.
The Spanish singing in “Machete y Maiz” is pretty, but the bass and percussion intro to the song is what’s memorable. That simple percussion—hitting a drumstick on a block of wood—not only opens the song but holds the whole rhythm of the song together. If you take out the block of wood, the whole thing falls apart.
“Mexican Candy” is pure groovin music and “Flame On” happens to be one of the faster songs on the album. That’s a huge plus except while listening to it you can help but think of the Psychedelic Furs and their hit movie theme song, Pretty in Pink.
“Sugar Cane” reminds you that the Iguanas are a band from Louisiana. The accordion in this Cajun ballad is beautiful and the second line drum rhythm provides a pure New Orleans Mardi Gras party beat.
“Zacatecas” is the biggest reminder of The Iguanas on stage. It’s the kind of song that the Iguanas can pull off easily by starting it off as a mid-tempo mood piece but then turning it into a rowdy, dance floor workout.
Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart definitely shows the band maturing and making better sounding records. A song like the album’s finale, “Goodbye Again”, even shows off the lyric ability of the band. But what the Iguanas have always done best is what they do on stage. I can’t think of the Iguanas without thinking of sweat pouring off my brow, bowling balls knocking down pins, a half-filled bottle of lukewarm Dixie beer in my hand and that honking tenor sax that Derek Huston is blowing from somewhere on the stage.
// Notes from the Road
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