LIVE REVIEW: Jon Batiste in Boston, MA (03.16.22)

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LIVE REVIEW: Jon Batiste in Boston, MA (03.16.22)

The sold-out crowd immediately got to their feet as soon as Jon Batiste took the stage and mostly remained standing for the rest of the 100 minute set. Batiste exudes infectious positivity and energy. He’s sunshine and rainbows and it’s impossible not to feel in a good mood listening to his music and watching him perform. He’s the mayor of ebullience. The ambassador of charm.  He’s a national treasure.

Batiste has plenty to be happy about: he’s talented, successful, handsome. Most people know Jon Batiste from his years as band leader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from 2015-2022. The talented musician and Julliard graduate earned an Oscar for co-composing (with Atticus Finch and Trent Reznor) the score for the Pixar animated film Soul. He’s won five Grammy awards including Album of the Year for 2021’s We Are. Batiste is the subject of last year’s documentary American Symphony, which movingly chronicles his efforts to write his first symphony while supporting his wife’s struggle with cancer.

The evening opened with “I’m from Kenner,” a horn heavy song where Batiste sings: “I feel good/ I feel free/ I feel fine just being me/ I feel good today.” Batiste said, “Sing this when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.” It’s a fabulous mantra. The evening was filled with sing-a-longs, dancing, clapping and general revelry. “Freedom” started gently with just Batiste slowly singing then joined by his back-up singer in a higher octave. The upright bass kicked in and boom there’s that infectious groove and magnificent song. He did note, “In NOLA when we play this type of music they aren’t as still as you are now”– a familiar observation many performers have expressed about Boston audiences. For Boston, this audience was enthusiastic and energetic. On their feet almost the entire night at the Orpheum!

Batiste’s music combines classical, jazz, pop, R&B and world beat.  That attracts an audience of all ages and races. Several times he mentioned that making music is a spiritual process for him and his band. He often held up the hand signal for “I Love You.” Ever the bandleader, he used his hands to guide the audience through a quickening chorus or softening “All I Am.” One of his slower, more serious songs, the Oscar-nominated “Butterfly” is a gorgeous song that he wrote based on a lullaby he composed for his wife Suleika Jaouad when she was in the hospital. He encouraged the audience to hold up their phones with flashlights illuminated. He said, “Always keep the light on. That’s your inner light and you can go back to it.” He added, “I know that the light that is in us can beat the darkness. We can win.” I found myself compelled to turn on my flashlight, something I’ve never done for another musician. On the jazzy, ebullient “I Need You” he sings, “In this world with a lot of problems/ All we need is a little loving.” Definitely an anthemic song and seemingly Batiste’s purpose as an entertaining. He’s embracing and supporting the audience through the music.

Batiste lovingly transports New Orleans  to the stage with his performance. It’s what I imagine it’s like to walk the streets of New Orleans. I’ve seen it on the show Treme.  That explosion of sound and emotion allowing us to forget our troubles and enjoy the moment. His touring band includes two saxophone players, a drummer, a harmonica player, bass player, guitar player. The combination of a back-up singer, dancers, varied instrumentation and orchestration makes it a big party. I’m envious of the people who’ll see Batiste perform at Tanglewood with a full orchestra this summer. That’ll be spectacular.

While he mostly played his favorite melodica, the music virtuoso switched to different instruments. On “Tell the Truth” he plays electric guitar. On “Night Time is the Right Time” he’s on saxophone. While on stage alone later in the set, he plays a lovely piano medley of “Blueberry Hill,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home,” Taylor Swift’s “Sweet Nothing” and the Willy Wonka theme “Pure Imagination.” At the end of the set, he jumped on drums for an exuberant “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He does the maximum and makes it look easy and effortless.

Batiste noted the curfew and said that they’d keep playing until told to stop. “It’s very spiritual.  It’s not just playing music for us. I love you even though I don’t know you. Thanks for coming.” He then led his band off-stage playing melodica and weaving through the crowd all the way up to the balcony to close-out the show. I became so enthralled and enarmored that I high-fived him when he came by my row. What a magical and memorable evening.

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