September 15, 2018
My handy wiktionary tells me “throw down” is “to accomplish or produce something in a grand, respectable, or successful manner; to “represent””. Well, when it comes to the travelling New Orleans road show billed as Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown, to say that the four acts crossing the country this summer just represented, is like saying we live in uneventful times. Uh, yeah, they represented, alright. This had to be one of the best shows of the season.
This threauxdown was as close as Jazz Fest gets on the road. New Breed Brass, Pres Hall, Galactic and Shorty would be a great day on any Fest stage. That they’ve been at mid-size venues from coast-to-coast and back again is like musical room service for those with a taste for New Orleans.
When New Breed kicked off at 7, for a brief (20ish minutes), but very punchy set, the Greek was looking a little sparse. That wouldn’t last long. No breaks for this brass, they had their foot on it for the full 20.
By the time Pres Hall picked it up at 7:30, the sun was down and seats were filling in. Striding on stage to playback of Aretha’s “Natural Woman”, Ben Jaffe got the crowd to sing along before anyone even picked up an instrument. It was actually a pretty sweet moment.
Now, some lament what my ears love from Pres Hall these days – a break from brass band tradition with Walter Harris behind a full trap kit. The ensuing locomotion of “Santiago” and “La Malanga” from 2017’s Cuban infused “So It Is”, had many on their feet early, and a guest appearance by Kermit Ruffins brought a little Louis Armstrong into the room with “It’s a Wonderful World”. And then Dave Grohl showed up to go all old school, duetting with 86-year old Charlie Gabriel on “Come With Me”, a love letter to the Crescent City (“Come with me to New Orleans/I will show you a great time/All your dreams will come true/A’ With me by your side”). I mean, totally charming, right? Grohl ain’t no different than many of us who’ve fallen under the city’s spell (see Episode 6 of 2014’s Grohl’s HBO series, Sonic Highways, and as he told Rolling Stone, “I fucking went through withdrawl after I left” – err of beignets, jazz and hurricanes). Hoping to see Grohl pick up the sticks, he got into it with Harris and I was lovin’ every beat. The night was rolling.
Galactic hit at 8:30 and their set compressed 20+ years with staples like “Dolla Diva” and “Heart of Steel” (upside of shorter sets from acts that usually headline, they don’t have to work up to the good stuff). And, it has to be said, vocalist Erica Falls (octave jumps and all) just lights a place up these days. Shamarr Allen showed off his lungs and pocket trumpet chops with some circular breathing. Oh, and the band busted out “Like a Rolling Stone”, which has appeared for some dates, and, I was, well, happy. The funk-jam-stew of Ellman, Moore, Mercurio, Raines and Vogel, are as on their game as ever. Walter “Wolfman” Washington and that honest red Epiphone joined Galactic for the last few songs to wrap up their set.
But the last word belonged to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the 11 pieces (including two vocalists, two guitars, two drummers and two saxes) that are collectively Orleans Avenue. Shorty (so named since he was 4 when he took up the trombone) is one of those musicians whose stage energy and expressiveness make any photographer’s job easy, and knows how to make an entrance, horns all aloft and with a tribal roar. It’s a familiar Shorty pose that starts and ends many a set, but one that seems genuinely heartfelt each and every time.
The band started their 75 minute set around 9:45 with the thumping brass funk of “Buckjump” from 2012’s “For True” and their sassy uptempo take on Allen Toussaint’s “On the Way Down” was totally fresh. But, when Dave Grohl returned and took Joey Peebles seat for Nirvana’s “In Bloom” (only the second time he’s performed the tune since Cobain’s been gone), it got a little crazy (and my jonesing to hear Grohl really mash the skins was quenched). BK Jackson on tenor and Dan Ostreicher on baritone stomping around with Shorty like some horn driven Crazy Horse was quite the sight. Cyril Neville joined in towards the end of the set for “No More Okeedokee” and a taste of “Fiyo on the Bayou” before the band snaked a second line through the whole lower level and closed with the anthemic “Do To Me”.
There’s something to that straight line across the south from N.O./L.A. I’m with Grohl. This Angelino goes through withdrawal every time I leave New Orleans. But, for a night, Shorty’s threauxdown brought the city a whole lot closer.