Concert Review: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Berks Jazz Festival – Reading, PA
Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Review by: Beth Baldino
Photos by: David Simchock / www.DavidSimchock.com
In this age of free music downloads and an endless supply of entertainment options competing for the attention of an economically-insecure consumer market, you have to wonder how young musicians can make a go of it. Anyone who follows new music at all knows that there is no shortage of amazing talent out there. What else does it take to really stand out and attract a serious following?
Last spring, as I was getting ready to head to New Orleans for the 2010 Jazz Festival, my 70-something-year-old Mother, who’s hardly on top of the current music scene, suggested I be sure to see that “shorty-guy” she read about in USA Today. Well “that guy,” known as Trombone Shorty (officially, Troy Andrews), accompanied by his band, Orleans Avenue, seems to have one critical component for success mastered. From Disney films to an HBO series, performances on Good Morning America, Sports Center and an NBA All-Star game, their totally eclectic cross-genre “supafunkrock” has a marketing and public relations organization that has them covering all bases and reaching every corner of America. The diverse crowd who came out to see the group at the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA reflected the kind of exposure and publicity they’ve been getting for the last few years.
The Berks Trombone Shorty show was my fifth in a little less than a year. I’ve actively sought him out with eager anticipation of every concert as if it were my first, knowing that Troy has another key quality essential for stardom; the heart and soul of a true entertainer with a gift for orchestrating a full-fledged multi-dimensional performance. He may begin the evening all smooth and low-key in his signature black shirt and dark glasses, but Troy is a master at building the energy slowly, just “leaning in” to his band-mates to listen appreciatively to their solos during the first few numbers, but ultimately taking on the role of a dynamic conductor of the explosive sounds, and even the stage lights start responding to his directions!
A half hour into the two-hour-plus show, he had stripped down to a sleeveless tee and lost the glasses, and Trombone Shorty was all about the party. When he implored the audience, “you don’t have to sit in your chair now—c’mon, get up and dance,” to various numbers from the new album, Backatown, including “Hurricane Season,” “Suburbia,” “Right to Complain,” and Alan Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down,” the crowd did just that. For the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” he didn’t just sing it — he led the audience in his own down-home rendition of the number, suggesting they shout “like a mashed potato,” and “like a chicken wing.” During “St. James Infirmary,” Troy and his band-mates formed a row and shuffled back and forth line-dance style.
During his encore, promising to “take y’all deep down in New Orleans,” he channeled Louis Armstrong and wowed the crowd with a “deep down Monday night red beans and rice style version” of, “When the Saints Go Marching In” mixed in with a little of Solomon Burke’s classic, “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” And just when I thought he had to be winding down, he broke into some James Brown-style soul, and suddenly, he was moon-walking across the stage. Through all the gyrations and gesticulations, he was still smooth enough to not even break a sweat.
The encore seemed to be over and the crowd had already started to make their way to the exits when Troy rushed back on stage to demonstrate this very point. After a short huddle, all the guys took on a different instrument and did one more number. We already knew Trombone Shorty could have just as accurately been called “Trumpet Shorty” for his skill with this other brass instrument, but at this show we also got a brief glimpse of his drumming ability, while his bass player, Mike Ballard, took over the lead on trumpet. It was a unique and memorable moment to bring closure to a full package of incredible music from a truly full-package entertainer.