all words: Colin Wilhelm
When Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews came on stage he held a trombone and trumpet in each hand overhead, like a prizefighter headed into the ring for a championship bout. “My name is Trombone Shorty, from the great city of New Orleans”, he introduced himself, as if anyone didn’t already know that. Over nearly the next three hours he and his band Orleans Avenue did their best to transform the 9:30 Club into Tipitina’s through the alchemical powers of a wind section.
Photo by Nick.Allen of Flickr
Much of Trombone Shorty’s music featured a mashup (or jambalya, if you want to run the Cajun/New Orleans theme into the ground) of two different NOLA styles: jazz and funk rock. Much of the rock elements—the guitar, the bass, drums—was standard hard rock, somewhat proggy, but otherwise not terribly unique. No, the real power of the performance came from the wind instrument section, featuring (as one would expect) one-man brass section Trombone Shorty in addition to tenor and bass saxophones. Most of their set featured steady riffs designed to allow him and the saxes explore the musical space within each song, primarily putting T.S.’ tremendous set of lungs on display. He showed off especially on one early song, holding a note for what seemed like minutes by the virtue of circular breathing.
A brief aside: it’s been noted many times before, but concert-goers, D.C. crowds in particular, seem particularly hellbent on not dancing to music. As a native I’ve expected it, perhaps become complacent to it, and find it almost trite when people complain about this–but that desire, subconscious or conscious, not to conform to the beats of music was imminently apparent during Fort Knox Five’s set1 and the opening of Trombone Shorty’s. Like a teenager whose parents don’t understand something, I felt kind of embarrassed at first. But as the set went on Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans swagger and enthusiasm seemed to infect the crowd, culminating in the entire ground floor of the club crouching low and springing up during a late set rendition of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”. It was in that latter part of the set, the last hour really, that Thursday’s concert became more of a party and T.S. and Orleans Ave hit their stride.
Throughout the show Trombone Shorty came across as a contemporary bandleader in the same spirit as Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, though he has a lot to prove before attaining their level. He seemed to enjoy sharing the spotlight, letting each member solo (and switch instruments on the last encore). His singing and lyrics didn’t inspire as much as his brass playing (another singer, maybe a woman with some decent pipes, could take some of their songs to another level), but it didn’t matter as much when he transitioned away from sometimes uneven or undercooked original material to more traditional NOLA-style music. This included the show’s highlight, a march through the sold out 9:30 Club’s main floor, during which they played one of several (ecstatically welcomed) renditions of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”2; previously they’d introduced it and then transitioned to the “Treme Song”, an ode to New Orleans’ most musical neighborhood, Trombone Shorty’s home, and the HBO show of the same name (which he has appeared in several times).3
Photo by rossmckillop of Flickr
Like Orleans Ave., Fort Knox Five sounded as though they could be from New Orleans–along with several other places–during their chameleonic but lively set. That chameleonic nature shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Fort Knox Five has collaborated, as a group and individually, with musicians as disparate as Gwen Stefani, Afrika Bambaataa, Thievery Corporation, and Ian Svenonius. Live, this meant a lot of danceworthy funk riffs with active MCing from Asheru, the highlight of which was a live cover of his theme to The Boondocks.
Still, most of this concert could be demarcated as before or after the beginning of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.’s last hour, around the time he led a danceoff amongst members of his band. That moment seemed to fully melt the crowd down from self-awareness to as much dancing as the packed 9:30 Club would allow, much of it resembling a more aggressive version of Charlie Brown’s feet-shuffling and head nodding.
For their last song, Orleans Avenue showed off their multiple musical talents, as each member played a completely different instrument—well. An apt ending to a concert by a band strongly associated with the city most known for churning out professional musicians. Trombone Shorty exited the way he came on–with brass instruments triumphantly raised.
1. Local rapper Asheru commented on this, sort of, through the telling of a hipster joke. “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb,” he asked. “What you don’t know?”
2. Trombone Shorty should release a “Variations on The Saints” album. They performed enough to make one.
3. Other crowd pleasers they touched upon: “Down by the Riverside”, a prolonged musical chant of “Who Dat” (the Saints’ rallying cry), brass band staple “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”, the aforementioned “Shout”, Violent Femme’s “Blister in the Sun” (with trombone replacing the signature guitar line), and Jake and Elwood Blues’ favorite “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”.
Photo by rossmckillop of Flickr