Ramblers Bring The Bayou Back To New Haven
Just moments into a mashup of “O Marie” and “Kalenda,” Louis Michot started laying down a fiddle loop that echoed through the room. A thrumming, heartbeat-like drum came in from the stage up through the floor. Andre Michot pulled his lapsteel from its case, and adjusted a knob.
Near the middle of the bar, a couple that had been two-stepping looked up and waited to see what the song might become. Louis Michot looked out into the audience, beads of sweat dripping from his brow onto his cheeks.
Il y a quelqu’un qui appelle mon nom
Il y a quelqu’un qui appelle mon nom
On travaille aujourd’hui, on travaille sous la pluie
On travaille au tabac, astie
Saturday night, The Lost Bayou Ramblers returned to Cafe Nine for a foot-stomping, sweat-soaked performance, unspooling centuries of Cajun music with works from their 19-year career and latest release, Kalenda. Playing for two hours straight, the group packed the bar, attendees dancing hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder as the night wore right into the wee hours of the morning.
The cacophonous brainchild of brothers Louis and Andre Michot, The Lost Bayou Ramblers was born in 1999, and has been releasing albums nearly annually since 2011. Their discography is a low country boil of a thing, a spicy, glistening stew of collective musical memory and constant experiment. It’s as deep as it is sonically dense, criss-crossing centuries and often genres in any small sampling of songs.
One one tapping foot, the band pulls heavily from decades of nineteenth and twentieth century Cajun music, paying homage to Les Frères Balfa, Canray Fontenot, Nathan Abshire, Daniel Lanois and countless others. There are benevolent ghosts all around them, ready with their spectral fiddles and dancing shoes and esoteric knowledge of Spanish moss. They are always welcome, slipping in and out of Louis Michot’s French Creole yawp and fast fingering, or Andre’s dizzying accordion as it stretches the length of his wingspan, and keeps going.
But on the other, the Ramblers are shape shifters, hopping from rich, heady history to electric present. At moments, Saturday's small stage turned them balletic, drummers Eric Heigle and Kirkland Middleton orbiting each other like polite, sweaty planets as they switched instruments between pieces. From the side of the stage, Johnny Campos rocked back and forth with the music, shaking his head as the tempo became faster, then slowed down again.
At other moments, it made them fancy-footed and unstoppable. Channeling an old timey jam they’d had at a crawfish boil earlier that day, the group morphed into a jumping, jittery sort of engine. As Andre traded lapsteel for accordion, Louis bounced from foot to foot, almost going airborne. Several times during the evening, the band invited up Davenport College Dean Ryan Brasseaux (or for the purposes of the show, “Mr. Dr. B”), an old friend and musician who turned a triangle rhapsodic.
So too with works from Kalenda, released last September. Named after a dance that originated in the Caribbean—like Creole language and culture, it came to the U.S. largely as an import of colonialism and slavery—the album engages traditional rhythm and lyrics in brilliant, looping technicolor, drenched in loops, pedals and reverb. It’s a wild new celebration of a heralded old culture, ripping the capital H from the history that hangs heavy between the two. With “Granny Smith,” the crowd burst into ecstatic movement, some attended rocking back and forth to a screeching, breathy fiddle while others abandoned rhythm entirely.
There’s a new urgency to it, too. In January, the band announced that it will be taking its first hiatus in almost two decades later this year, after wrapping up a summer tour. It will be leaving fans with “Kalenda” as a sort of parting gift. For a while.
"Well, we've never done it before," said Michot of the decision after the show. "We'll see how it goes."
Maybe it’s why “Kalenda,” the title track off the album, brought on something both subdued and transfixing, audience members falling into a sort of trance as “O Marie” gave way to the pleading, steady beat of the song. Under Michot’s vocals and an ominous, echoing fiddle, a pulsing drum began to build, the sound of sticks and synth layered on top of it. Later in the evening, he would say simply “Well, we’ve never tried it before,” when asked about why the group chose to take a break. For that moment, it seemed he too was transfixed by the sound.
Dansez Kalenda, G’doum G’doum
Dansez Kalenda, G’doum G’doum.
Louis Michot was half-singing, half-wailing from the stage, something breathy and new rising up in his chest. Musical, hurricane-force winds picked up around him, instruments shrieking as they collided with each other mid-note.
Dans son grand bureau
Comme un vieux crapeau
Dans un baille de l’eau.
From the front of the stage, the Michot brothers looked to one another and grinned. The band jammed behind them. The audience jammed before them. There were home, wherever that was supposed to be.