The Soul Rebels, straight out of the musical heart of New Orleans, graced the Crystal Bay Club Crown Room last night, to a small but dedicated crowd of aficionados and new converts to the power and majesty of New Orleans sound.
Normally, Thursday night shows at CBC fill the house – and a shame it was for the Soul Rebels that our local presence and flare didn’t offer a more sympathetic response to their energetic, soulful playing and singing. Nonetheless, the small crowd that could in the little club that does gave it all they were worth, shouting and rocking and dancing until the very last clear, brass note.
With no fanfare or introduction, the band dove in right on time at 10 p.m. – New Orleans in the house tonight! A short, tight flurry of traditional Second Line horn arrangements, spiced up with a modern key and chord progressions, and everyone was warmed up and thirsty for more. “Is everybody ready to party tonight? Is everybody ready to PARTY tonight? HANDS IN THE AIR!” Erion Williams, dedicated frontman and saxophonist for the band called, and the small circle of faithful responded in turn. A solid beat built off the hand clapping led into the band’s second number, brass notes moving around the edges of the melodic content in a harmony that supports and moves the melody along, in a tight, well-crafted progression laced with a fine funk and hip-hop flair.
The band’s relaxed and easy lineup at the front of the stage included trumpeters Julian Gosin and Marcus Hubbard, sax-man Williams, and the two trombone players, Corey Peyton (the silent one with the sassy flair) and Paul Robertson; behind them, make room for Edward Lee, Jr. on sousaphone, and drummers Lumar LeBlanc on snare and cymbals, and Derrick Moss on bass drum and percussion from wood blocks, tambourine and cymbals. Erion played a call-and-response game with the intimate crowd – somebody give me a rhythm, and, “Everybody having a good TIME???”
A short drum solo transitioned into the night’s third song, a brassy, funky cover of Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.” Working crowd – trying to draw them closer to stage – the front line stepped into a quick hip-hop choreography of horn section hits: slide back, sashay, slowly circle your hips, and bam, another forward slide of the trombone – a sassy overhead wave of the arms, horns in hand – bam, back into the melody line, rhythmically tight and on time. Grins abounded on stage and off, as the band slid into a long extended jam. You could really hear the extensions, each horn reaching out into its own harmonic exploration, buoying the melody of the whole. At one point, hints of Rare Earth’s “Get Ready” had this writer fooled, until they slipped back into “Sweet Dreams,” in an earnest display of lifelong dedication to the jazz.
Highlights were some one-handed trumpet flourishes from Marcus, and Julian – so young, so skillful, so at home in the breath of that horn! When he soloed, the fastest flurry of trumpeted notes I’ve ever heard – a flourish of chirrups, taps, running riffs of clear, well-pronounced notes – breath of life, alive and well in the throat of a young kid from New Orleans and his trumpet. Keep an eye on this one, the angel of New Orleans. Marcus, with his Grace Jones style coiffed hair and classy, red, white, and subtle polka dot pattered shirt, was a perfect sideman for the young up and coming prodigy of humble Julian.
“Lake Tahoe in the House – We partying tonight – Soul Rebels – Come On!” Erion’s solo rap led the charge, wondering aloud: Why were a few people still sitting down?!? As if on cue, the horns cut into an instantly funky version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” more fluid than the traditional reggae, and finally, people in the crowd started to sway and dance, in couples and pods: young folks, older folks, visitors for the snow and slots and locals alike. Erion’s lamented that the remaining seated ones were now “breaking his heart,” and those of us who were dancing were feeling his pain: that’s just not how our brothers and sisters roll in NOLA, people. So we tried to shout a little louder and make up for the small house.
Bow to the shimmering sleek smooth god of the saxophone: after a pause – we thought the song was over – the band dropped back into a wonderful little “break” on the end of the song, circling in with a few staccato cords, then winding down an unexpectedly lyrical reflection. Sweet. A complicated interweaving of melodic streams, each its own sub-melody to the overall harmonic surge, fill out the bubbling jam, and then slowly, the bass sounds of the sousaphone take the lead; two trombones slide in, then the music morphs and changes (I have no idea what song we’re even in, by now), and we’re back on the streets of New Orleans with these guys, New York City, or Crystal Bay, Nevada, rocking the house New Orleans style with Soul Rebels’ funked-out, hip-hop, turned-up traditional second line stylings.
Though a small crowd had pulled tight to the stage, finally Erion finally commanded, “EVERYONE ON THE DANCE FLOOR,” and (amazingly) the languishers sitting in the back in booths or at the bar complied, moving forward toward the stage. Turns out Erion had a plan: showing us the simple back and forth steps, the band slid into the Beatles’ “Come Together,” a slinky, sly version, sashaying in time with the crowd in step. Into a fluid, textured jam, and Marcus took front man for a time, singing and urging the crowd, “Take it up, take it down again!” sharing dance moves and keeping les bon temps roulé! with a funky blend of jazz, fusion, crisp, inventive melodies, making every note in a complex and complicated brew count.
Drummers Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss, founding members of Soul Rebels and expert rhythm devils, kept a steady, relaxed, back beat all night, while driving a charge of subtle rhythm changes and polyrhythmic overtones. The longer the band played, the tighter they got, notes seamlessly stitched together, one to the other in a blistering white heat of blue light, the sassy second line alarm sounding: get on the dance floor, people, Soul Rebels are in the house! Towards the end of the night, folks went nuts when they heard the familiar notes of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” shimmying and sliding onto the dance floor (where had they been all night? NOT sitting down, we hope), giving it up with the moves for Soul Rebels and their blistering, righteous notes of glory.
Too soon, it was our last chance to dance, Erion announced to the lucky little crowd that had faithfully gathered. With their choreographed harmonies (and little dance steps and horn movements worked in), they got the crowd hopping (literally) for the old classic “Get On Up!” The swirl of dancers, predictably, complied, with all the soulfulness that a 90-minute set of straight up New Orleans funk, jazz, and rhythmic praise could muster. Even after that warning, the band still rewarded us with an encore, winding down into the midnight hour with a satisfied body and soul.
Like a shiny brass symphony, the majesty of a line of horns (and drummers) assembled to make a joyful noise and celebrate life, reflecting city shine and the grit of the streets, bluesy and soulful, cheerful yet ringing still with all the grief of the world that needs be praised. Shine on, New Orleans, and thanks for dropping by Tahoe on your way to San Francisco for two nights, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 29-30, at The Independent on Divisadero Street. Check them out if you didn’t get enough, and tell all your friends in the Bay Area so they can not miss out on this rare opportunity to really shake it down with authentic NOLA Second Line vibrations.
It isn’t every day a veritable New Orleans tradition and rarified Second Line band turns up out West Coast to share their truly unique and infectious style of brotherhood and love, but it’s a certainly a fine day, one of the best days, any day of the week. Thank you, Soul Rebels, for stopping off in Tahoe; THANK YOU, Crystal Bay Club, for consistently hosting such top-notch, high quality cutting edge and up-and-coming musical talent from around the globe! The little club that could, I always say, and Lake Tahoe’s hidden North Shore gem. Come visit some night – it’s worth the drive! And – hidden gem No. 2 – the after hours shows in the Red Room offer a wealth of local, regional and national talent. Come on down!