By: Nathan Rodriguez
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue :: 08.07.09 :: Larimer Lounge :: Denver, CO
It's a little past 5 p.m. on Friday in Denver, and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews is leading his seven-piece band, Orleans Avenue through soundcheck. The Larimer Lounge, located on the fringe of downtown in the city's infamous Five Points neighborhood, is a classic dirt-under-the-nails dive bar. The ornate faux bronze ceiling tiles in the entry have begun to chip away and crumbling exposed brick is reinforced by recent construction. Stickers litter the patchwork wainscoting, promoting underground radio stations and bands like Lyin' Bitch & the Restraining Orders and Whore Grinder. Ms. Pac-Man is set up in the corner, offering 25-cents a play as the four patrons in the bar nurse pints. An occasional breeze pushes the 93-degree air through the door, and it's a low-key afternoon for most but not Shorty.
A few things aren't sounding right in the other room, from distortion spitting through the speakers to the band failing to pick up the pace, and Andrews isn't shy about getting it right. They run through portions of half a dozen songs over the course of about 40 minutes and reach a point where everyone's happy. One by one, they unstrap guitars, pack up the brass and exit the stage, everyone except Shorty.
After the bartenders flip the sound back over to the jukebox and everyone goes on with their business, Andrews lingers at the side of the darkened stage, faces the wall and softly plays the trumpet to himself.
Pre-Show Porch Chat
"It's been tough on me with the altitude," Andrews said, as he casually flung his arm over a nearby chair, propping up his foot on another. The band was in the middle of its second week in Colorado before jetting to Montana the next day. "I get out of breath really fast, especially playing as hard as I do. I'm not complaining though. It's a challenge," he said, seemingly relieved by a chance to sit down.
It's evident - and a bit refreshing - that it seems to be all about the music for Andrews. His meticulous soundcheck and impromptu private practice session are symptomatic of larger forces at work.
While Andrews has always had the musical talent, he's been honing his on stage ability as a performer. "Well that's tougher than playing the horn," he said. "If you don't do it right, the crowd will let you know. They'll just stand there, looking at you."
Andrews claimed to have "stolen a bunch of things" from his older brother, while watching old footage of James Brown to fill the gaps.
"Michael Jackson has always been one of my biggest influences because I always wanted to have that kind of effect on people through music," he said. "I can't dance like that, though, I've got too much to do – I've got to play the horn, sing, direct the band – but his showmanship and how tight his band was are the main things for me. I think I have about 450 of his songs on my iPod. He's just a wonderful performer on every level."
As dynamic as Andrews is on stage, he's remarkably disarming off stage, heaping blame on his multi-color high-tops for derailing his attempts at Jackson's Moonwalk. And even though he has a few plans for the future, including recording an album (produced by Galactic's Ben Ellman), and a potential friendly battle with Rebirth Brass Band, Andrews is taking his progress in stride, focusing on the present more than the past or future.
"I don't really like listening to myself. I'll look at my stuff on YouTube or after I do an interview, and that freaks me out," he said with a laugh. "I haven't heard myself on record in a long time."
(For a podcast of JamBase's full interview with Trombone Shorty, click here.)
Orleans Avenue assembled on the stage shortly after 11 p.m. The main room of the Larimer Lounge, painted entirely black, is a no frills set-up. Three stationary off-red lights and a single backlight illuminate the performance. The side walls are festooned with cheap concert fliers, speakers are slung from chain links and the exposed wooden beams of the low ceiling made it feel a bit like throwing a concert in a friend's basement. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd jacked up the temperature inside a good 10 degrees on an otherwise cool night.
|Trombone Shorty by Josh Miller|
The band kicked things off with an Eastern beat, and Dan Oestreicher (baritone sax) and Clarence "Trixzéy" Slaughter (tenor sax) quickly locked into place. Drummer Joey Peebles hastened the pace and anticipation built as Andrews took the stage. He seamlessly entered the fold, adding just a few notes before turning guitarist Pete Murano loose for a frenzied solo. Andrews held back before finally finding the right spot to hoist up the trombone and take control. The audience was primed for action by the time he let loose, belting out thoughtful flutters with a sense of urgency.
The roar of the crowd was still healthy as the band slid into The Guess Who's "American Woman." Andrews has quite a bit of experience with the tune, having been a featured player in the horn section for Lenny Kravitz. This time, Slaughter stepped up as Andrews egged him on from close range, knees half-bent and head bobbing.
"You Got the Same Thing On" had Andrews singing falsetto while Michael Ballard stumbled into a nice "Inspector Gadget Theme" run on bass. Andrews gave a nod to James Brown, starting a "Shake Your Money Maker" chant that broke down to a nice horns/percussion duel before bringing back the full band for one last romp through the chorus.
Midway through the show, a dance circle had formed to the right of the stage, with most of those jumping in possessing more liquid courage than raw talent. However, the band was impressive, moving as a cohesive unit for the full show. Each member got his chance to shine at some point, and Oestreicher seemed like the only one who didn't take full advantage, accidentally painting himself into a corner during his solo, repeating a few uninspired notes over and over before Murano bailed him out. During other songs, he stood slumped against a sidewall – maybe it can be chalked up to altitude sickness.
"Y'all ready to go old school?" Andrews asked the crowd, as the band broke into Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." He let the audience sing the first few verses before setting the song straight with the right balance of fragility and power. Without warning, the band slammed into the unmistakable intro of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," with Andrews' impressive vocals stealing the show.
The band closed with a "When The Saints Go Marching In" medley that showcased their range. A frazzled ragtime theme kicked things off, with the instruments lazily weaving together and lending it a lofting quality. Andrews and Orleans Avenue then broke it down and marched single file through the audience before circling back to the stage and leaping back to the song with gusto.
Always returning to the "Saints Go Marching In" riffs, the band dabbled in hip-hop - "Ain't No Party Like a Shorty Party, 'Cause a Shorty Party Don't Stop" – and even found room for some Violent Femmes material with a "Blister In the Sun" jam that worked remarkably well.
As the medley finally wound down, the band assembled at the lip of the stage with hand-held percussion and huddled toward the hushed crowd, playing lighter and more loosely as they ventured back into the ragtime theme. It was then, in those few final stripped down minutes, after the hip-hop and raging funk-rock of the previous two hours had passed, that the humble spirit and pure intent of the New Orleans street corner felt alive and well.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are on tour now; dates available here.
JamBase | Bon Temps
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