Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue / Rubblebucket - Live 2011.10.18 Old Rock House, St. Louis, Missouri

Another recommendation from a bandmate.

Artist: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Venue: Old Rock House
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 18 October 2011
Opening Act: Rubblebucket

Going into the performance knowing next to nothing about the opening act or the headliner, I figured it was best to be open-minded. When Rubblebucket climbed on stage, the eight members looked half-stoned, very young, mildly hipster, and surprisingly confident. With two percussionists, three brass players, a bassist, a guitarist, and a keyboardist, they did their best to fill up the venue with sound. They played a sort of dub/funk fusion, more in the line of jazz than rock or pop. Some of the spacier songs, particularly due to the vocals, reminded me of Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine.

The single female member split her time between a saxophone and ethereal singing. Unfortunately, in both cases, her output was drowned in the mix of tones, especially by the other brass players. I believe she was singing lyrics, but it sounded nearly wordless. Only when other musicians offered harmonies could I hear and appreciate her contributions. Most of the other instruments fit together fine, but I couldn't help feeling like the whole thing was overkill. The music was actually fairly good, but it was unfocused. Despite fairly good performances, the songs were scattered and there was no guiding light to offer direction for their motives. The set seemed to drag on endlessly, even though it was just an hour long.

Due to the venue's relatively small size, there is no real backstage, so the stage had to be entirely reconfigured for Trombone Shorty. Furthermore, the band had to wait in their tour bus until show time, at which point they poured through the doors, climbed on stage, and jumped right into a song. Shorty was backed by Orleans Avenue, who consisted of two percussionists, two saxophonists, a bassist, and a guitarist. (Sound familiar?)

Thankfully, Shorty got right to the point. He started strong on his trombone and led the band through a non-stop deluge of songs. Hardly pausing for breath between his intense solos, he also picked up a trumpet and took the mic to sing on a few songs. His own musicianship was matched by his band, particularly the guitarist and bassist. The guitarist had several incredible solos during the show, and while the bassist only took one, he also had the most consistently vibrant riffs of anyone in the band.

After about an hour of intense, high-quality jazz, the mood began to change. The jams and solos kept getting longer, Shorty spent more and more time at the mic than on his instruments, and the music loosened up a bit. The energy didn't fade, but the originality of the first hour began to recede, and the banality of most of Shorty's lyrics started to grate on me. Ultimately, it would seem that the more time he spends with his trombone, the better the quality of the material. Despite his reasonably good voice, his energy is much better spent as an instrumentalist.

Beyond that, the environment of the show just kept amping up. The main floor was packed with unselfconscious dancing, the music was violently loud (my ear plugs saved me from extensive auditory damage), and it became increasingly difficult to focus on the music with the encroaching claustrophobia. After over two hours, the band still did an encore, but I had to take a step back. By that point, the music had taken a turn for the decidedly funky. Not only did the beats get dancier, but the band even did a James Brown cover. At the very end, the musicians traded instruments for a final jam.

Unquestionably, all seven musicians are top tier performers, but at two and a half hours, it was hard to keep my attention in line. The music started out fantastically, but as Trombone began singing more and more, the quality went down and the drive began to waver. Although Shorty and his band were clearly a level above Rubblebucket, both needed to learn their strengths and focus their energy a bit. Nonetheless, I wish I hadn't been so distracted by the invasive environment, because Trombone Shorty's music was high quality, especially in his strong opening stretch.

Rubblebucket: B-
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue: B+

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