Buffa's Bar & Restaurant On the Border of the Quarter since 1939

Deconstructing Treme: Alex McMurray Fills in Some Episode 3 Holes

From Nola Defender...
by Bernie White

Where the Scenes were a Scene
Alex McMurray
The Saints may take a while before returning to our Sundays, but Treme has come back to fill the void in force. Once again, New Orleanians have an end-of-the-week rite that gives them cause to congregate at local bars.
For the season's third episode, NoDef headed to a packed Buffa's Lounge to take in the scenes with a hundred or so neighbors. In the backroom, the Esplanade Ave. bar is featruing the music of Treme on Sundays, so we were able to catch one of Alex McMurray's sets in the backroom, as well. We took the opportunity to speak with McMurray and some locals about the episode. The inside information served to helped to fill in some holes about some of the unnamed actors populating the show, and the locations at which some of the scenes were shot. Though we should be unsurprised at this point, we once again discovered the people of this city have a serious eye for detail.
The Soul Apostles: When Batiste's band played, the entire viewing crowd began to sway and clap in their chairs. These guys are good. McMurray confirmed the sentiment, "That's a great band," he said. "I don't know if you would get Cornell and Thadeus, and guys like that in your band unless you're a bad motherfucker!" We asked McMurray to explain their bonafides to the uninitiated. "He's the bass player in Batiste's band. I think he got his start in a gospel band, but he got on scene with Jon Cleary, and he's an absolute monster." And a gentleman, we presume. What about Thadeus? "He's real good. I just heard him with Steve Masakowski and Warren Baptiste." Of course, we would be remiss if we neglected to mention the screams of joy that resounded through the crowd whenever Yamaguchi touched a string. Accordingly, the Dumpstaphunk joke was a big hit as well. McMurray also got a kick out of the band's rehearsal venue. "They're practicing at the Union Hall. Union Hall on Esplanade. You sort of need to have been to recognize it. And, you can rehearse there; I have many times."
New Orleans Music: Treme is built around the concept of New Orleans music, a term that makes "post modern" or "irony" look like narrowly defined rhetoric. We could not help but ask McMurray, a practicioner of this mysterious, yet ubiquitous, craft, "What is New Orleans music?" He responded, "I can't explain  It's easy to recognize. There's a certain vocabulary to New Orleans music, the horn stuff and the piano stuff. It's a small town, and the musical community - it's small enough that you can know almost everybody, and then you realize that you don't know anybody. I've been at it for 20 years, and still don't know half of the scene."
Recalling a debate we've recently been having we pushed the limits of generalism even further. "So, do you play jazz?" he asked. The amicable musician just laughed, and said, "I'm just a song and dance man!"
Locations: The crowd's favorite location was the Francis Sylvester Backstreet Cultural Museum. Backstreet is a museum on the 1100 block of St. Claude devoted to Mardi Gras Indians and the surrounding culture, as portrayed in the episode. As Mama, a seven decade resident of the Treme, pointed out, museum founder Francis Sylvester played himself in the episode. The warm audience reaction attested to his popularity.
Alex McMurray enjoyed seeing Mandina's. The Sicilian mainstay was also featured in the opening week, recognizable only by the white tile. This week, the clue was equally as obtuse. McMurray caught it. "I recognized that there was a little scene outside of Mandina's... there was a ramp by the entrance, and unless you knew Mandina's."
McMurray also solved one mystery for the baffled New Yorkers in the bar. The unrecognizable New York bar is actually in New Orleans. He explained, "I know that the bar that the cook is drinking in New York is actually the Kerry Irish Pub on Decatur." 
The Wire: A small but fanatical group of David Simon zealots were tucked into one corner of the bar. After the knee-jerk assertion that Eric Overmeyer lives in the Marigny, the discussion turned to Steve Earle. In Treme, Earle plays Harley, but his collaborations with Simon began with The Wire. Earle played Walon, Bubble's mentor of sorts. Earle performed the theme song for the fifth and final season of Simon's early show, and the closing montage of Season 2. For Treme, he also recorded the song playing during the closing credits of Season 1's finale. Earle is actually a recovering heroin addict, and the choice of his character to play a father figure role to Sonny is not surprising.
As McMurray prepared to load out, we asked him what he thought of the group watch atmosphere inside Buffa's. He needed no thought, responding, "It's exciting to see people excited about the city. It might be a little narcissistic, but its great. Actually, last week was the first time I saw
Treme in a bar. I was with Luke Alllen. I play with him in Happy Talk (Band), and they played our song. Anyway, the place was packed, and everyone was absorbed. I had a few college friends in, and one of them was having trouble following it. I was like, 'Dude, don't talk, just watch and listen and take it in."