Iguanas Invade New Haven’s Natural Habitat

Blue and yellow stage light raked over Joe Cabral’s face as he stepped up to the microphone, his saxophone hanging from his neck like a great, symbolic pendant.

“Every time we take a drink, y’all take a drink!” he announced, lifting a shot of tequila into the air to raucous applause and cheers from a sweaty audience, gathered at the base of the stage like devotees to a prophet.

Lucy Gellman PhotoFour prophets, in fact, bringing the bayou straight to New Haven. The four, who hold a bluesy, soulful bag of tricks, make up the New Orleans-based Iguanas, and appeared at Cafe 9 on Friday night to a packed house.

Performing old hits (see video) as well as new ones from its most recent album Juarez, the band (Joe Cabral, guitar and saxophone; Rod Hodges, guitar and accordion; René Coman, guitar; Doug Garrison, drums) did something that Cafe 9 artists are particularly good at: putting anyone on the top 40 to shame as they spin complex worlds in their voice boxes.

In this case, worlds south and west of the Mississippi. Pieces had a deliciously southern twang, but did not stop there, lest they – and the group – leave out a greater heritage. In “Boom boom boom,” dominated by Cabral’s full-bellied and occasionally throaty saxophone, a whisper of French Creole mingled with Brazilian Samba rhythms, New Orleans jazz and something wholly of Hodges’ nasally creation, the streets of Paris or even Algiers not far from his tongue as he crooned.

“Love, Sucker” and other pieces off Juarez – which has nothing do with the music of Juarez, Mexico – were knee-deep in jazz and R&B, rock-and-roll, and what has been called “garage Latin.”

Whatever their mysterious and magical concoction for music, the audience, nearly every member of which had brought their dancing shoes, was excited to receive it. As the band played a nearly two-hour set – yes, the group is that indefatigable – grinning couples took the small dance floor whirling, salsaing, and swaying hip-to-hip in a manner that seemed timeless, as if they had listened to the Iguanas’ standards a hundred times before.

Many of them have. Throughout the show, band members Hodges and Coman remarked several times on the number of familiar faces in the audience, coming down to mingle after they had finished and played an encore.

Even in their celebration of old friends and old songs, though, they suggested they had ample room for new. Indeed, “Love, Sucker” made it abundantly clear: the Iguanas are far from done, and luckily, their audiences are too.

For more information about upcoming concerts, workshops and events at Cafe 9, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

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