Words by: Anni M. Svilar | Images by: Logan Barrier
Rebirth Brass Band & Mama's Cookin' :: 06.13.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
The fact that colossal bands have been born and bred in New Orleans is no secret, but those that have stayed after Hurricane Katrina aren't as common. It's a city built under sea level with streets full of charm, gravesites above ground and "Fishwater" dumping through sloshing gutters. But, it is also a city of devastation that has displaced many musicians. One band that has stayed pre, post and in the face of more potential hurricanes is Rebirth Brass Band. In essence, Rebirth represents what New Orleans was, and what she is now. They deserve credit when you hear big horns and think of New Orleans.
At the root, Rebirth is a classic brass band. What that means is that they are a group consisting of all brass instruments and usually a percussion section. Rebirth is comprised of Phil Frazier (tuba), Keith Frazier (bass drum), Derrick Shezbie (trumpet), Glen Andrews (trumpet), Stafford Agee (trombone), Corey Henry (trombone), Derrick Tabb (snare drum), Vincent Broussard (saxophone) and Byron "FLEE" Bernard (saxophone). Classic brass bands emerged in New Orleans in the late 19th century. Rebirth emerged while still in high school and too young to play in bars, so instead they played for tips on the streets of New Orleans. Since then they have taken their music to Africa, Europe, Japan and, lucky for us, San Francisco.
Tuba Phil, the man who took the lead in forming Rebirth 25 years ago, says that instead of preparing a setlist, the band "performs by feeling." Judging by the packed audience with their hands in the air, that feeling is something similar to a hot, humid, bouncing New Orleans party.
Rebirth's token thing is to take a brass band and add funky modern songs to the repertoire. Songs played this Friday night included "Here to Stay," "Remember When," "Rebirth Go Fire," "Mercy Mercy" and "Do Whatcha Wanna" as the booming, tuba led closer. They've got a lot of covers but that adds to what makes them interesting. A typical concert audience is used to hearing a lead guitar, keys, bass and drums. When you listen to Rebirth Brass Band you hear something classic but not something you are necessarily used to. When you recognize the covers, they are funky and danceable, and it brings the brass closer to home. This night, Rebirth Brass Band brought the party to us.
|Rebirth Brass Band :: 06.13 :: SF, CA|
It's rare to spend too much time writing about the opening band but when the opener includes special guest Bernie Worrell all bets are off. You've probably heard of Bernie Worrell before or even danced to "Red Hot Mama" a time or two. However, what you may not know about Worrell is that he was a child prodigy. Worrell first started playing piano at age three and wrote his first concerto by age eight. I started to play the piano at age seven and I can tell you that my childhood hands couldn't even reach an octave at that age.
Of course, it's what Bernie Worrell has done in adulthood that got him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, most notably his contributions to Parliament Funkadelic and the Talking Heads. His keyboard contributions on the live albums The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads and Stop Making Sense are as unique and recognizable as The Doors' organ sound.
|Bernie Worell w/ Mama's Cookin'|
06.13 :: SF, CA
Bernie Worrell was Mama's Cookin' special guest. The Cookin' boys - Zebuel Early (guitar, vocals), Steven LaBella (bass) and Mike Adamo (drums, samples) - are originally a Colorado band that made a name for themselves in the mountains before moving to California. Recently, Mama's Cookin's founding member and keyboardist, Todd Holloway, left the band. Since then, Mama's Cookin' has been moving as a three-piece with special guests sitting in on keys.
Bands come and go but I'm always fascinated with the ones that keep on truckin' after a core member leaves. What happens then? Some band members can be replaced but it's never easy. Prime example is Mike Houser of Widespread Panic. Even if the next guitarist had been Jimmy Herring right from the start, the crowd would still have had a tough time accepting the inevitable differences. In my opinion, a band has two choices. The new member has to be outstandingly better than the original, or the remaining band has to be able to stand on its own so replacements or special guests are treats rather than someone who the band is dependent on. I think Mama's Cookin' falls into the second of my two theories.
Mama's Cookin' opened the show as a three-piece. The recognizable sound of a slide on the guitar on "What I Am" filled up the space. In a world that now emphasizes the digital and leans towards the electronic, hearing a slide on a guitar is like hearing birds chirp outside your window in the city. I think there is nothing sexier than a slide moving along guitar strings and Early is a master with that tiny tube of glass.
After three songs, they brought out Bernie Worrell on "Sanctified." A legend young and now a legend old, there is a certain grace that Worrell has acquired with age. A well-established concert promoter and festival head once told me, "Anni, the only musicians with egos are the ones who haven't made it yet. The ones who have made it have been beaten down so many times they know better than to be cocky." Bernie Worrell is the Beethoven, the college professor, the genius homeless man, the cowboy and the urban magician all tucked into one '80s Esquire suit. And that suit still fits in well with a band touring in the 21st century.
|Ann Svilar (our writer) & Nora with Mama's Cookin'|
06.13 :: SF, CA
Highlighting the best of Worrell, Mama's Cookin' closed out their set with "Burning Down The House." The trio wanted female back-up singers for the song, so my friend Nora and I got the rare opportunity to take center stage and croon into the mic with old friends and a legend. For a girl who is usually playing observer in this mystical, musical world, I can truly say it was a personal highlight beyond words.
As we move into the new century, as we age, as we recover from natural disasters, we ask questions about the future of our economy, the future of our friends, and as a musician or fan, the future of the music industry, entertainment and art. A band from New Orleans that can pack a house after 25 years is a good sign. So is Bernie Worrell still rocking it, and the fresh blood of Mama's Cookin' bodes well, too. It is a hopeful world after all.
Rebirth Brass Band :: 06.13 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
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