Saturday, August 14, 2010

‘Don’t You Know How Sweet and Wonderful Life Can Be?’: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Live at the 9:30 Club

It takes guts to cover Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It takes even more to do it in his hometown. It’s downright superhuman to attempt the song … on trumpet.

But after spending more than two hours with Trombone Shorty and his outstanding Orleans Avenue band last night at the 9:30 Club, superhuman is just about right.

“Let’s Get It On” was the highlight of a spectacular, rambunctious, infectiously fun set. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has a stage presence that belies his mere 24 years of age—that goes for the rest of the six-piece Orleans Avenue backing band, too, the oldest of whom is a mere 27. Andrews is a dynamo, effortlessly flowing between the trombone, trumpet, vocals, and directing the band—in constant motion, he even dances and plays a little drums. Another unforgettable moment was when he and drummer Joey Peebles took turns riffing on the same kit.

As a trombone player myself, I was most captivated by Andrews’ turns on the slide. He wields the instrument like a weapon—feet spread wide apart, head up, shoulders thrown back. And, wow, can he play. It’s not just the volume or clarity of his sound (he mostly stays right in the instrument’s medium/high range sweet spot), but his tongue technique. Forget double- or triple-tonguing, this guy is doing, like, quintuple inside that mouthpiece (watch below).

Much like his new album, “Backatown,” the concert’s best moments were instrumentals. He opened with the rock-heavy punch of “Suburbia” (my favorite song off the CD) to get the crowd immediately jumping, and played through many of that collection’s best tracks. The vocal performances were more like interludes; if the whole show had just been instrumentals, they wouldn’t have stood out nearly as much.

Andrews prides himself on combining a number of different styles, notably rock, jazz, funk, soul, and R&B. Some songs focus on one (“Orleans and Clairborn” could’ve been on the “Shaft” soundtrack, for instance), but others combine or vamp between genres as this supple band can sound like Us3 one minute, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones the next. Orleans Avenue—which includes two sax players, two guitar players, and two percussionists—are incredible. They must be attuned to Andrews’ every move, as he seemingly directed them more with his entire body than just his hands. There were several conferences at the drumkit, too, as they decided which direction to veer into next. When Andrews is on the trombone and the rest of the band is at full tilt, they can bring a joyful noise that compels you to start dancing.

For the most part Andrews kept the show upbeat and bouncing, with a persona that reminded me a little of Bruce Springsteen’s rock-and-roll revivalist routine. A New Orleans native, he constantly referenced the Crescent City and chants of “Who Dat!” rang out from the crowd throughout the night. The only moment that dragged was following “Let’s Get It On” with his single “Something Beautiful,” whose unceasingly repetitive chorus wore on the crowd (and me—it’s the only bad song on the album, Lenny Kravitz or not (or maybe because of …)). Andrews ended the show on a magnificent high note, though, as the 15-minute encore consisted of just one song: “When the Saints Go Marching In” that bobbed and weaved like a New Orleans Saints running back (at one point in a trumpet solo he even dropped in a bar or two of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”).

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue is everything that can be right, wonderful, uplifting, and inspiring about live music. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the sold-out with anything but a huge smile on their face. Friday night at the 9:30 Club was utterly exhilarating, and it cemented “Backatown” as one of my favorite albums of the year.

‘Backatown,’ Trombone Shorty (2010)

Grade: A-

Favorite Track: “Suburbia”

Least Favorite Track: “Something Beautiful”

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue


9:30 Club

Washington, D.C.

Show Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

(I wish I had a setlist for this show, but I don’t know the CD quite well enough yet, and he played some songs off older releases that aren’t even available to buy anywhere … yet!)

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