Those are just two unique elements of eccentric pianist Bobby Lounge's rare stage show, which he'll be performing for only the third time in about 20 years this week at the House of Blues, in celebration of Somethin's Wrong, his third studio album. Lounge burst onto the scene (and straight into New Orleans' pantheon of beloved musical oddities) with his 2005 release I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down, followed by a Jazz Fest debut that left New Orleanians, as well as critics from around the country, happily reeling. Rolling Stone compared him to Flannery O'Connor. The New York Times called him 'lethally sardonic." And USA Today commented, 'Jazz Fest rarely serves up anyone as eccentric as Bobby Lounge." In an online review, his stage manager at a SXSW appearance compared him to Randy Newman on crack.
The sexy nurse, the giant squirrel, the iron lung and the imposing Col. Sanders-type 'manager" who is rarely far from the pianist make a live Bobby Lounge show just a little bit more pleasantly surreal, adding an air of vaudeville to the proceedings. But no dog-and-pony show could come close to Lounge's fantastic musical yarn-spinning " barrelhouse blues and boogie-woogie epics topping seven, eight and nine minutes, full of bizarre characters and improbable turns of events that come from some hallucinatory Southern Gothic place. Like Randy Newman, or Tom Waits at his most effusive, Lounge paints vivid portraits of colorful, picaresque, Deep South oddballs. Like the latter artist, he can also digress into impassioned, hilarious rants with positively lunatic charisma. The personalities who populate his breathless, shaggy-dog tales " 10-feet women, Siamese twins, murderous rural matriarchs, homicidal, chicken-loving babies, and Elvis " are so larger-than-life and lovingly imagined that the props and supporting actors that stand onstage as fabulous living non sequiturs seem to have emerged, fully formed, from one of his songs.
In real life, the salacious, outrageous piano pounder is actually a mild-mannered, reclusive Mississippi painter named Dub Brock, whose shyness and battle with chronic fatigue syndrome have kept him out of the spotlight for many years. In the early '80s, Brock-as-Lounge garnered underground fame on a circuit of local house parties, and even played a gig at the Contemporary Arts Center, though health problems precluded any further exposure. Then local writer and fan Ben Sandmel passed a homemade tape of one of Lounge's house-party gigs to Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, and his reputation began to grow. Lounge agreed to play the 2005 fest, and re-recorded a set of his early material, which became I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down. The show was a hit, but in his apparent tradition of stops and starts, high-profile shows that he booked in the wake of the festival triumph were scuttled by Katrina. He wasn't easy to forget, however, and his second release, Ten Foot Woman, earned equal acclaim, plus another Jazz Fest slot and a show at SXSW in 2006, which further fueled the legend, winning more shell-shocked rave reviews from the music press.
With his astonishing storytelling power and biting, sarcastic wit, Lounge is a party act " part Tom Lehrer, part Tom Waits. But his musical chops are another thing altogether; he can bang out Louisiana honky-tonk blues and piano-professor rhythms like an unholy and heavily warped combination of Jerry Lee Lewis and James Booker. When he takes a moment " albeit just a moment " to be serious, as on the powerful gospel cover 'Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior," on Ten Foot Woman, the effect is thrilling.
Frankly, it's been a while since New Orleans " or the immediate area " has produced quite such an original. And even with his stage-shyness, Lounge is quickly carving out his place in the history books. This year, he offered up two releases: Bobby's Back in Town, a live recording from a 2006 Covington show, which features favorites from the two studio albums and several jokes in poor taste (some about chickens) plus the new studio album Something's Wrong, which reveals him in fine, weird form.