Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen – Tuning Fork: May 29, 2024

It was a dark and stormy night…but that didn’t stop Jon Cleary and his band from bringing a taste of New Orleans to Auckland as they closed out their tour with style and funk…lots of funk.

Lawdy, lawdy lawdy, Miss Clawdy, it’s never a good thing when the headlines urge everyone to stay home because of an oncoming storm just as you arrive at a concert venue. But on the up side, where else would you rather be stranded, than with a hot New Orleans band a roomful of like-minded music lovers?

Jon ClearyI did worry that ticket-holders might stay home, but, sure enough, the Tuning Fork started filling up nicely and by 8pm most of the seats were full.

Shortly after 8pm Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen take the stage and I can tell you, the band name does not oversell what we hear.

Jon Cleary is a British-born keyboard player who has been living in New Orleans since 1980 become not just a musical tourist but part of the very fabric of the city’s music scene, eventually working and playing with everyone from Alan Toussaint, Dr John and Bonnie Raitt to the two gentlemen who accompany him tonight, drummer A.J. Hall and bassist Cornell Williams. You may recognise Williams from his appearance in several episodes of the TV series Treme while Hall is one of the city’s premier beat makers.

Jon ClearyThe trio clicks immediately with set one opener Lottie Mo, taken from last year’s So Swell album. (Click here to watch the 13th Floor interview with Cleary).

And off we go!

We get a full and rounded education of that New Orleans sound from songs by Alan Toussaint, Professor Longhair, The Meters, The Nevilles and Cleary’s own originals.

They keep the beat and the mood changing, slowing things down on the soulful Sometimes I wonder (dig those gorgeous harmonies) and picking it back up with the double entendre humour of a new song called Pickle For A Tickle…a highlight of the first set.

Cleary, who sings in a style influenced by Dr John, informs us that, “Eskimos have a hundred words for snow and New Orleans has 100 ways of playing funk before launching into Curly Moore’s 1966 single Get Low Down and then on to Alan Toussaint’s What Do You Want The Girl To Do? As it turns out, Get Low Down was also co-written and produced by Toussaint, proving what a giant he was and how everyone plays with everyone in New Orleans.

We get a masterclass on Professor Longhair’s Tipitina…a song that has its roots back at least into the 1920s, this version featuring jaw dropping and hip-shaking solos from each band member.

Set two is even better!


As the rain comes down outside the temperature rises in the Tuning Fork.

Jon ClearyThe band is sizzling, opening with Mardi Gras Mambo…a classic from ’54…into the gospel flavoured So Damned Good and eventually to a soulful take on Johnnie Taylor’s Last Two Dollars that finds Cornell cuttin’ loose on the bass once more.

The funk continues to rise til we get to show closer Just Kissed My Baby, a Meters tune driven by a Stevie Wonder-like groove.

Yes, we are thousands of miles from Louisiana and the weather is nothing like it is in New Orleans, yet the vibe, the energy and the funk were here to be felt and moved by on this rainy night in Auckland.

Now, where is that Zulu coconut?

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Den O’Keefe:


Set 1:

  1. Lottie Mo
  2. Cheating On You
  3. Sometimes I Wonder
  4. Pickle For A Tickle
  5. Smile In A While
  6. Get Low Down
  7. What To You Want The Girl To Do?
  8. Unnecessary Mercenary
  9. Tipitina

Set 2:

  1. Mardi Gras Mambo
  2. So Damned Good
  3. Dynamite
  4. Last Two Dollars
  5. Zulu Coconuts
  6. Frenchman Street Blues
  7. Bin A Lil Minit
  8. When You Get Back
  9. Just Kissed MY Baby