Scene 1 of Tennessee Williams’ magnum opus A Streetcar Named Desire opens with an introduction to the New Orleans neighborhood where the play unfolds. Williams lovingly illuminates the city's beautiful decay, omnipresent river and music around every corner. “The section is poor," he writes, "but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm. The houses are mostly white frame, weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs and galleries and quaintly ornamented gables."
Following the river southwest away from the French Quarter, toward the Lower Ninth Ward and into St. Bernard Parish, is St. Claude Avenue. Not far from the Quarter (and Elysian Fields, where the play takes place) it passes through a neighborhood known as the Bywater. While the culture has naturally metamorphosed over the more than 60 years since Williams' description, the aesthetic and "spirit of life" in this part of New Orleans is unchanged.
Residences and businesses intermingle, and music venues (such as the Hi-Ho Lounge and Saturn Bar) populate the stretch. Secluded within it is an underwater-themed speakeasy known as the Spellcaster Lodge. Events there do not happen all the time, but when they do, they’re something special. Famous New Orleans musicians, touring indie hipster bands and bounce rappers all perform there. Witnessing one of the shows—amid bubbling portholes, vibrating "subwoofer seats" and music history happening before you—is otherworldly.
The masterminds behind Spellcaster are organist inventor Quintron and his wife, puppeteer musician Miss Pussycat. Aside from operating the lodge, as an artistic team the duo tours the world with a show unlike any other. Miss Pussycat orchestrates elaborate puppet performances. Quintron, creator of a rotating photoelectric drum machine known as Drum Buddy, plays swamp tech music—a combination of rock and roll sub-genre swamp pop, and the uptempo booty beat known as ghettotech. On the last leg of a tour that began in late March and took them across Canada (and before embarking on a European tour this fall), they stop in Albuquerque on Sunday.
The tour follows Goner Records’ release of a truly fine piece of audio recording: the King Lee “Tire Shop” 45 featuring Quintron. Lee was a frequenter of the Spellcaster and an employee at the St. Claude Tire Shop down the street (the only Orleans Parish business to remain open throughout the "you-know-what"). The two-part slow jam is a late-night recording of Lee ridiculing his co-workers and relatives over a bed of beats and tire shop sounds. "This 45 is truly the sound of the streets without drama and gunfire—a tire shop army of love and beer and tires and air compressors and echo and organs and tires!" Quintron says. Weird and indicative of the city's endemic humor, you might call the recording raffishly charming.
Learn more by reading interviews with Quintron and Miss Pussycat, conducted over the horn last summer, here.