Fans who packed the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on Friday night to see Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with openers Hot 8 Brass Band were veritably bowled over by a pair of sets consisting of a wide range of authentic N’awlins music alongside other contemporary genres. Traditional second-line harmonies from the first act were an appropriately subdued lead-in for the more exuberant headliner, whose brash horns, thick funk bass lines and rock guitar typify the band’s sound, offering a fitting justification for his burgeoning popularity. Toss a few esteemed special guests into the mix and the concert became more than just a fun and social dance party but a showcase for the youthful, thrilling and talented ensemble, one of the best to emerge from The Crescent City in quite some time.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue has made a considerable impact around Los Angeles, as evidenced by the variety of buildings that they have filled in recent years. Since 2008 I’ve seen him at venues ranging from tiny (The Mint) to mid-size (El Rey and Key Club – R.I.P.) to gargantuan (Hollywood Bowl) but this was their first time playing the 1,200 capacity Fonda on Hollywood Blvd. and the group clearly wanted to leave an impression on everyone in attendance, veteran devotees and newcomers alike. Hot 8 Brass Band got the evening started effectively with frequent, well received shout-outs to their hometown and call-and-response dotted throughout the accessible classic New Orleans style-infused songs.
A short setbreak revealed that both floor and balcony were jammed to the gills with an audience ready to be blown away by Trombone Shorty’s instrumental skills and power to unite a crowd, honed through a lifetime of performances that began on Louisiana street corners and has led to worldwide accolades and TV appearances – one of which being a PBS network event at the White House in 2012. Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty’s real name) has clearly made the most of his 28 years thus far with limitless potential to come.
This escalating momentum carried him onto the Fonda’s stage like a whirlwind, blasting through high energy and uptempo tracks as the mass of bodies grooved in unison, sang along and exhorted him to conquer higher musical peaks. A handful of more patient tracks were interspersed which displayed a breadth to the group’s catalog as these forays into soul, R+B and jazz were equally impressive as compared to the louder ones. Cover songs and teases punctuated the setlist as portions or full versions of selections from Rage Against the Machine (“Bulls on Parade”), Allen Toussaint (“On Your Way Down”), Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg (“Fuck Wit’ Dre Day”) and 2Pac/Dr. Dre (“California Love”) were instantly recognizable and boosted the already jubilant mood in the room. Trombone Shorty also clearly demonstrated but one aspect of his overwhelming abilities with a circular breathing trumpet solo that consistently boggles the mind, no matter how many times I’ve seen him do it. Towards the end of their long set, Leo Nocentelli, guitarist from The Meters, was introduced to jam with the band, an excursion that led to a version of “Hey Pocky Way”. It was a choppy rendition as Leo spent part of the song teaching Orleans Avenue the structure, but an enjoyable guest appearance nonetheless, replete with a flourishes of guitar pyrotechnics from the legendary player.
Following that unexpected collaboration, more surprises were still in store as a trio of feather-adorned, costumed vocalists and percussionists sauntered through the audience and made their way to the front of the house. The Wild Magnolias would then lead the assembled musicians in a few numbers, transforming the night into an early Mardi Gras celebration. These guest segments were timed perfectly as the show was now past the witching hour of midnight, but the majority of the crowd remained to see what other exciting occurrences might transpire.
There was one more notably unique, improvised moment during the encore when Trombone Shorty climbed down off the stage and made his way to the center of the floor, surrounded by the sweaty and exhilarated audience that had encouraged him all night long. At that point, the aforementioned dance party reached its apex as Shorty got everyone low to the ground, only to explode skyward multiple times in a frenzy of adulation and appreciation for the music we had all experienced. He and his band are a revelation, an honest and legitimate touring unit that lets their collective sound speak for itself…and what a joyous noise it is that they create!
Orleans Avenue are: Michael Ballard on Bass Guitar, Pete Murano on Guitar, Dan Oestreicher on Baritone Sax, Joey Peebles on Drums and Tim McFatter on Tenor Sax