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Mudcat at Northside Tavern, Judi Chicago at 529
January 2009

Text and photos by Frederick Noble

It was one of those weekends with so much to chose from I honestly considered flipping a coin. I knew I'd enjoy the resulting selection, regardless. But EM had never seen Mudcat or seen his natural habitat, Northside Tavern, so we trekked over to my old neighborhood. The first order of business was food. So many new things were happening over there the last time I visited I wasn't sure what our choices would be. The upscale pizza joint across from Northside is long gone, but Chow Baby was so packed we couldn't get in the door. So we walked over the hill to the new branch of Six Feet Under, only to find it, too, with a 45 minute waiting list for a table. We opted to sit at the bar instead and had some decent food, but slightly overpriced and surrounded by televisions showing college basketball and the fans such things draw, like bugs to a light. We finished our meals and split rather than linger listening to the fratty guys next to us continue to talk about how hot the girl behind the bar was.

When I used to frequent Northside with any regularity, I found it to be a wonderful dive bar during the week, but weekends had gotten intolerably crowded with a large percentage of difficult-to-tolerate crowd, a mix of Georgia Tech students, blue collar workers from the industrial sites around the neighborhood, wankers who couldn't get in at the silly dance club Compound up the street, and older rich suburbanites slumming after a night at one of the new upscale restaurants in the neighborhood. I was sad to see this mix had changed drastically. Gone were any traces of students or blue collar workers, and the neighborhood has gotten so gentrified the clientele at Northside now wear jewelry worth more than I make in a year.

I was glad to see the joint itself hasn't changed a bit, however. The same peeling paint, same portraits of local blues singers, heck, even the same off-duty cop working the door and the same guys slinging drinks behind the bar, so I might return during the week some night and see if it is still a worthwhile dive, akin to the Dixie Tavern in Buckhead - the only joint in the neighborhood I will willingly step foot in.

But hell, it's Mudcat on stage, and how could you not have a good time with such a band performing a few feet away? Mudcat = joy.

The irony of this struck me for a moment when I realized there were only one or two black folk in the entire room. This music was invented by a people perhaps as a form of relief from their oppression, now turned into music of celebration for the very folk who are their modern day versions of their oppressors. White folk didn't steal the blues, black folks abandoned it - for jazz, R&B, soul, funk, and so on, each of which they abandoned as they invented new forms. White folks are still trying to catch up. (And yes, I realize this is an over-simplified, somewhat racist argument.)
But again the music overcame my distraction, lifted my spirits as readily as my hand lifted spirits of a different sort - or perhaps not so different, as they are equally intoxicating.

People started dancing and the place started to fill up, everyone smiling and swaying. But we had arrived too early to stick it out for the better part of the show, after midnight when things get sweaty and everyone has had enough to drink to really let it all hang out. So we waved goodbye to Danny and headed east to 529 where the opening act was still on stage, allowing us to settle in for drinks and conversation. One of the openers was generic electropoppy stuff and EM commented that if I liked Judi Chicago I should like them too. But there was something lacking in the opening act, something I can't identify easily but EM described as "balls."

Some crazy laser/LED lights lit up the side room and Judi Chicago came on, already bouncing around like lunatics. Their music has a chaotic flair to it, something hard to believe with such reliance on computers and electronics.

Sure, they throw in a few live instruments, from guitar to saxophone to tambourine, but even when it's just them singing along with computers the groove they build is undeniable, as is evidenced by the crowd dancing along with them.

Not to mention they're obviously having a great time making the music in the first place, sweating and stripping and hopping off stage to play in the crowd.

It's exactly like Mudcat, just with more gear.

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