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New Orleans jams trump
seasonal sleepiness

Harry Connick Jr.
Chicago Theatre
Chicago, IL
Dec. 10, 2008
Harry Connick Jr. Harry Connick Jr. Harry Connick Jr.

Story by Andy Argyrakis
Publicity photos

For a guy who's as varied as Harry Connick Jr., staging a show exclusively around holiday material would be a gross understatement of his talent. Sure, the singer/songwriter/pianist sells a boatload of all his Yuletide discs (this season's being What a Night! A Christmas Album), but the material is somewhat stodgy and stale compared to his more daring big band, funk and New Orleans-inspired non-holiday material. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if this entertainer was aware of that very observation considering at least half the set was steeped in Crescent City reflections, even if Christmas is right around the corner.

The first half of the sold out evening did include a swingin' version of "Blue Christmas," but it also lacked pep in plenty of places. "The Happy Elf" was a goofy original, a jazz trio take on another self-penned tune called "Christmas Day" fell flat, while the familiar "Sleigh Bells" earned a cheesy treatment that didn't color very far outside the lines previously painted by countless other acts who've since run that track into the ground.

Even Connick Jr. seemed a bit bored, proclaiming at one point that while he liked the holidays, a constant barrage of themed selections was "too syrupy" and needed to be split up. Thankfully, the break included presentations from 2007's much more immediate Oh, My NOLA and others that maintained Mardi Gras flavoring. Sometimes he dug deep in the Delta blues, other moments were wrapped around boogie-woogie piano pounding, while the singer also took some time to let his Hammond B3 skills shine.

That segment's main highlight was hands down "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)," which was a robust gumbo of brass and bass that encapsulated the region's ultimate street beats. Given those remarkably diverse walks through Dixieland, a return to the mundane in comparison "It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas" and "Please Come Home For Christmas" were disappointing dips in the action. Yet the headliner did provide one instance of flawless merging his roots with the holidays, transforming the generally disposable "Frosty the Snowman" into an unexpected potpourri of sass and spice.

The encore also maintained that celebratory sprit, with Connick Jr. vibrantly chanting "If You Go To New Orleans" over some care free dance steps and a grand finale moment on the grand piano where he kicked the stool over in vintage Jerry Lee Lewis style. It was yet another example of that classic spirit coming to life, which was much more effectively executed on improvisational terrain than within the constraints of Christmas covers.

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