Louisiana powerhouse Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue painted MontBleu Mardi Gras purple, green and gold Saturday night with a massive party that shook the sold-out crowd to its core.
Hailing from the Treme section of New Orleans, Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) has literally made a name for himself blowing away crowds with his trombone virtuosity since he was just 6-years-old, when he first became a bandleader. Yes, you read that right— a 6-year-old bandleader. The 30-year-old multi-instrumentalist and bandleader has now toured across the globe multiple times, performed at the White House and Grammy Awards and has been one of the great ambassadors to NOLA music over the last decade. Taking into account the unrelenting way he’s gone about bringing his music to the masses, it was probably his plan the whole time.
What Andrews and company unleashed on the hundreds packed into MontBleu Theatre on Saturday night was a hurricane-force party that did not let up for an hour-and-a-half. The band has been opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ latest tour and gave Tahoe a little taste of what it has been serving to stadiums across the country. Orleans Avenue’s Pete Murano (guitar), Michael Ballard (bass), Dan Oestreicher (baritone sax), BK Jackson (tenor sax) and Joey Peebles (drums) introduced themselves first with some thunderous opening riffs before Andrews walked out triumphantly in a black-leather jacket and stunner shades and added his trombone bravado to a sizzling “Backatown.”
Andrews kept the opening momentum going with the crunchy funk of Lenny Kravitz’ “Sistamamalover” and showcased his polished pair of pipes in the flirty verses while Murano stoked the band’s fire with some tantalizing licks down the neck of his guitar. Andrews actually went on his first big international tour in 2005 at the age of 19 as a part of Lenny Kravitz’ horn section and the song was certainly a little something he picked up along the way, Andrews adding some grit to Kravitz’ intergalactic rock.
What became clear as the band whirled through its hyped-up set list is that Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue don’t pander to second-line enthusiasts. Andrews and the rest of Orleans Avenue are surely steeped in one of New Orleans’ most sacred musical traditions and while that may speak to a small part of their musical identity, it certainly does not define them. The band blows out the speakers more like a supercharged funk act with a rock and roll backbone, with blasts of soul and hip-hop for good measure.
The band’s new single, “Here Comes The Girls,” showed how well that dynamic works with a second-line-meets-hip-hop march that quickly got the bustling crowd breaking down to the infectious rhythm. Later, their bright lights special “Lose My Mind” was a whirlwind of New Orleans music. It opened with a greasy soul explosion that Murano and Peebles’ furious work eventually turned into a trap hip-hop breakdown as all the horns bobbed and grooved across the stage in unison with the enthralled crowd. At the drop, of a hat the band then roared back into show-stopping soul revue that went out in a flame of fiery guitar and horns. And if that wasn’t enough, the band busted out an instrumental one-two punch of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade,” proving you can find the funk in anything.
Andrews was definitely the charismatic bandleader out at the front of the stage, keeping the music flowing and the people smiling, but he was never leading alone. In fact, his willingness to cede the power and spotlight to Orleans Avenue was probably the best part of the show.
Murano was a musical chameleon as he shredded spitfire solos and Peebles kept the band sounding tight and heavy with his drumming. Ballard and Johnson were de-facto hype men as they tenaciously bounded and sprinted across the stage, Johnson providing a number of ferocious solos that took the band to new heights. Weighed down by his baritone sax, Oestreicher couldn’t match the visual spectacle of his bandmates but he was grooving just as hard as everyone else and was just plain dirty in holding those low funk blasts and keeping the band in the pocket.
After the tempestuous funk of “Hurricane Season” blew off the doors of the venue, it seemed like the group had left everything they had on the stage. But after a rapturous response from the room they kept the party going for one more song. They lined up at the front of the stage — with Peebles and Ballard donning snare drums and cymbals — and toasted the crowd with a jubilant “Go To The Mardi Gras/ When The Saints Go Marching” medley that got everyone shaking their tail feathers one more time.
The full musical force of New Orleans was packed into Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue Saturday night and it left everyone’s mind, body and soul tingling with energy.