STROUDSBURG, PA—Troy Andrews, 31, better known as Trombone Shorty, brought his power-packed show to the Poconos and blew everyone away with a dramatic combination of soul-man strut, jazz-man chops, hard rock vengeance and the kind of inundating light show that dazzled, dizzied and drenched the dancing crowd in a veritable rainbow of color. You couldn’t take your eyes off the stage. Every member of his exquisite sextet was a character-on-parade with choreographed sequences that approximated the essence of Mardi Gras in their New Orleans hometown.
They’ve picked up some new fans opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers this year. But it’s their 90+ minute headlining set that one must experience. Starting out with two tremendously energetic tunes from his 2009 Backatown major label debut, he started playing the new ones early with no less than five songs off his current (and best) CD, Parking Lot Symphony. That said, he still hasn’t made a great album yet. Maybe his party aesthetic just can’t be captured on CD.
The man’s an entertainer. He does James Brown better than Prince did (and that’s saying something). The cover of JB’s 1968 “I Got The Feeling” showed a Shorty side newly mastered. (It should be written in stone that every band who considers itself funky must interpret JB.)
Switching between trumpet and trombone, he carried his horns like a gunslinger, swiveling his hips like Elvis and dancing like the aforementioned purple king. He’s left his jazz in a cloud of dust but reserved a section at the end for those long-time fans who remember when jazz was a major component of his presentation. To that end, he did the tunes he did when he was a child prodigy, those that are in the tradition like “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Then, and only then, does one realize that his trajectory follows a long line of great trombone players like JJ Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Jack Teagarden, Kid Ory and others who perfected the art of that “big long sliding thing” as Dinah Washington once called it. Those who know Troy personally know he’s a student of his culture, soaking up books right and left about his Crescent City heroes. One would think after he tires of being a rock star, oh, say, in about another 30 years, he’ll settle in to be another Louis Armstrong. That’s how good he is on trumpet too.
The band is totally bad-ass. Lead guitarist Pete Murano shines on the hard rockers. Mike Bailey is the best damn funk bassist since Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone. Baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher is a funny white guy who can belt out a Beastie Boy cover and dance his own special crazy-leg hop. His tone on the big bari sax is oh-so-low, pungent and guttural. Drummer Joey Peebles is of the eight-armed octopus style, dreadlocks flying. But it’s the phenomenal BK Jackson on tenor sax that almost steals the show. This cat rocks, and when the three-man front-line starts swaying and pumping, bolstering the sound with their physicality, moving and grooving to the beat while flouting convention by using tried-and-true Louisiana blues tricks but in a new setting of Funk Rock, all hell breaks loose. So much so that, admittedly, after internalizing the set with decorous amazement, this reporter, upon the multi-song orgasmic encore, just had to run like a moth to the flame, sidestepping revelers like OJ Simpson in the open field, to embrace the lip of the stage and give the band some love.
Troy brought his French Quarter friends from Bourbon Street—New Breed Brass Band—to open the show. It was a perfect pick. Their brand of jazz, rap, funk, soul and march filled the hall with the kind of joyous—and nervous—vibe that you see when you watch HBO’s Treme, the brilliant drama about post-Katrina New Orleans musicians that lasted four seasons. All those great club scenes had all those people rollicking like the world would end tomorrow. It’s New Orleans, man.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will be performing at The Fillmore in Philadelphia on October 11 as well as at Terminal 5 in Manhattan on October 13 and 14.