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Festival Review: New Orleans Jazz Fest 2013 – Weekend Two

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nolajazzfest2013 Festival Review: New Orleans Jazz Fest 2013 – Weekend Two

Note: For weekend one’s coverage, which included write ups for Billy Joel, Dr. John, Dave Matthews Band, et al., click here.

With all the great music during New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, it’s important to be reminded that before the Internet, personal computer, television, radio, or even telecommunications as a whole, the city was America’s 19th- and early 20th-century capital for culture. Blues from the rural South funneled into the bustling port city. Improvisation combined with African rhythms and blue notes would turn that blues into jazz.

The zeitgeist would flee to various places and, naturally, musicians would follow to Chicago, L.A., and New York to make distinct styles of jazz or blues which eventually became pop, rock, and the music we know today. But it’s also good to remember: most of American music started in New Orleans.

But that was a century ago and those originators are dead. In New Orleans, however, their legacies live on so strongly, it feels like they’re still alive. It seems morbid for it to come up so often but a lot of times at Jazz Fest, musical nods are made and performances are dedicated to those no longer with us: the untouchable legacies of Louis Armstrong or Mahalia Jackson; the recently deceased country legend George Jones, Uncle Lionel Batiste of the Treme Brass Band; and those tragically lost, victims of disasters recent (Boston) and not-so recent (plenty of artists at Jazz Fest still had Hurricane Katrina on their minds). The list goes on. None of us are long for this world.

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But between then and now, music is here to comfort us. It seems like it would be a bummer or just really heavy with death hanging over so many music performances amongst the festival, but it’s not. It’s really moving and beautiful. New Orleans is a town of musical legacies (the Bouttés, the Marsalises) and though lives may end, legacies continue.

A frequent riff heard in New Orleans music across virtually all genres and artists is the traditional gospel/second-line funeral song “I’ll Fly Away”, heard anywhere from the Gospel Tent to Willie Nelson’s smoked-out set this year. Everyone from Kanye West to Johnny Cash has recorded some version of the song. “Just a few more weary days,” the song’s final verse goes. “and then I’ll fly away / to a land where joy shall never end / I’ll fly away.” From the Boutté Family Gospel to the opening strains of Phoenix’s “Love Like a Sunset”, the music at Jazz Fest feels spiritual — almost as if you could fly away.

Photography by Allyce Andrew

Thursday, May 2nd

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Hot 8 Brass Band – Congo Square Stage - 1:25 p.m.

The idea of a brass band outside New Orleans is generally that of well-dressed horn players on a stand or a uniform marching band. But in New Orleans for young-uns like Hot 8 Brass Band, it might as well be the Cash Money Millionaires, complete with hype men and call and response with the crowd — except it’s rooted in traditional jazz. The arrangements and tones in “Won’t You Let Me Do My Thang” and “That Hot 8 Shit” sounded great, despite the small, die-hard crowd kept away by mud and rain early in the festival day. Still, its bandleader was appreciative, he stated: “Even with the rain fallin’, I still y’all out here still ballin’.”

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Dee-1 – Congo Square Stage - 2:45 p.m.

New Orleans’ rap tradition is storied. But there hasn’t been much mainstream attention on its conscious rap until Dee-1, who’s toured with Macklemore and Killer Mike and worked with top New Orleans producer Mannie Fresh as of late. With a small, weather-stunted crowd and songs like “It’s My Turn”, Dee’s set sounded like “Beautiful Struggle” rap. As his set went on, Dee became more preachy with songs like the set-ending “Jay, 50, and Weezy”, an open letter both criticizing and praising three rappers he idolizes. “I could never be a politician,” he admitted during his set. “All you gotta do is: be real, be righteous, be relevant.” Something the crowd could definitely get behind.

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The Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Acura Stage - 2:50 p.m.

If Hot 8 Brass Band embodies how young New Orleans brass bands are doing it, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band shows how middle-aged brass bands are doing it. The band’s set had an incredible range of sounds beyond brass: funk-bass pockets, sci-fi-sounding keytar synth and free-jazz squeals reminiscent of its work on Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News. At moments, the band sounded so over-the-top virtuosic, it resembled progressive rock as much as it did jazz.

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Patti Smith - Gentilly Stage - 5:40 p.m.

Billy Joel’s headlining performance for weekend one wasn’t the only set to bring some New York love to New Orleans. Patti Smith, another artist whose work is inextricably tied to New York City, ended a festival day marred by shifting weather with gorgeous songs. People use the phrase “swampy” rhetorically but the lawn of the Gentilly stage literally felt and smelled like a Louisiana bayou swamp. Yet Patti was a savior to so many in attendance.

0502PATTISMITH002Perhaps throwing a bone to the unwashed masses in the mud dancing barefoot, Smith and her “personal bar band,” she said, including her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye started with “Dancing Barefoot”. Smith introduced “Distant Fingers” as a song “about all the UFOs that used to hover over CBGBs”, adding: “[Television’s Tom Verlaine and I] used to stand in the alleyway and watch the UFOs hover over our little club.” Uh, sure, Patti.

Still, there’s an undeniably supernatural aura that Smith gives off. She’s alternately playful like a fairy, mysterious like a muse, fierce like a jealous Greek goddess, and so much more song by song. In short, she’s a witch of a performer. When the rip-roaring, mountainous “Fuji-San” came, it shook the muddy ground. Then she dedicated “Ghost Dance” to “all who lost their lives or their homes or were displaced in the floods of Katrina.”

“You are never forgotten,” she said, “and the sun will shine again.” And wouldn’t you know it? By the end of “Ghost Dance”, the first uninterrupted, direct sunlight all day appeared. Absolutely gorgeous. And then, as if that couldn’t be topped, the opening piano part of “Because the Night”, a song Smith co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, shimmered across the field. Smith and her band eventually closed with the rousing “Gloria”, going over their time by 15 minutes. But no one cared. It was a welcome release from a crappy day of rain and mud.

Friday, May 3rd

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Jerry Douglas – Fais Do-Do Stage - 4:25 p.m.

A great thing about Jazz Fest is its willingness to feature instrumental performers in instruments not usually celebrated. Case in point: Jerry Douglas and his Dobro, a sustainer guitar played like a lapsteel with a thumb pick, fundamental to the evolution of bluegrass music. Douglas’ sideman work has been featured by Mumford and Sons, Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss, and many more. But the man got a much-deserved solo billing, a first for Douglas, on a cold, cloudy Friday afternoon at Jazz Fest. Douglas has a devotional ease in his playing, going from jazzy grooves to funky ones to pretty ambient moments (see: Daniel Lanois) to straight string-band pluckin’. If one can “shred” Van Halen-style on the dobro that’s what Douglas did on his cover of Leadbelly’s “On a Monday”, absolutely owning his instrument.

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Maroon 5 - Acura – 5:20 p.m.

Maroon 5 is not good. But that’s not a euphemism. The band is not at all bad, either. From beginning to end, their songs and basic live fundamentals were sound Friday evening. They’re just weren’t extraordinarily great outside of a handful of good songs, most of them well-known hits. The band live, and more so on record, shakes out to a post-Beastie Boys, post-Jamiroquai unformed mass of blue-eyed funk. And, again, it’s really not bad.

But when playing on the same stage that New Orleans funk legend Allen Toussaint (who would’ve politely kicked the band’s shaky background vocals off his stage, by the way) did last week and when scheduled against Willie Nelson, “not bad” starts to veer toward not so good. Even charismatic lead singer Adam Levine, a ball of energy on stage, admitted he would rather be watching Nelson.

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So what was the band doing here, other than drawing one of the biggest crowds of the festival? Where’s the jazz or New Orleans connection? The band’s touring keyboardist, PJ Morton, is a New Orleans native, which Levine pointed out at least twice. Morton and the band’s grooves on “Lucky Strike” spoke for themselves, though, vaguely recalling 2002 dancepunk or ’70s disco. “One More Night” gave a tinge of reggae grooves. There was a short “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” tease before “The Sun”. Live, Maroon 5 mixes in just enough unpredictability to keep things somewhat interesting.

The hits “Makes Me Wonder” and “Harder to Breathe” came early on, evoking shrieks and singalongs from the crowd. The band and its adoring crowd made so much noise, you could hear it from a stage or two over. Levine led the crowd in a mass swaying of arms for “This Love” and by that point, it was hard to deny that Maroon 5 could move any and all with great grooves and hooks. Then came “Moves Like Jagger” and, of course, the crowd exploded. The public had spoken: Maroon 5 are better than “not bad”. Do you, then, Maroon 5, do you.

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Willie Nelson and Family - Gentilly – 5:45 p.m.

It’s not exactly the most fluid of musical transitions to go from Maroon 5 to Willie Nelson, but damned if Jazz Fest isn’t just that kind of festival: one that doesn’t particularly care for a smooth segue, be it trudging across a cold, muddy field from one end of the festival grounds to another or going from poppy funk to venerable country and western.

How venerable are we talking here? Willie Nelson celebrated his 80th birthday last month, as indicated by signs and adoration hoisted from the crowd, some emulating the fashion of Nelson’s signature bandana. Worth filing under “The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same”: younger kids were rockin’ the same look for Frank Ocean the next day. The country legend wandered seamlessly from song to song at first, with “Beer for My Horses”, a song Nelson recorded with Toby Keith, “Good-Hearted Woman” and “Funny How Time Slips Away”. Then came the irresistibly catchy “Crazy”, a song Nelson wrote for Patsy Cline in 1961.

Nelson played his other hits, of course, from “You Were Always on My Mind” to “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” to “Shoeshine Man”. And, naturally, in true Willie Nelson tradition (especially during the chill vibes of “On the Road Again”), plenty of joints were getting fired up right as those songs were. Yes, where else could you find a finer collection of Baby Boomers standing in a cold, muddy field smoking pot?

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And that’s kind of a beautiful thing. Nelson is one of the few remaining solid links to the easygoing subculture of ’60s and ’70s America of any artist left living or active on the touring circuit. And it’s not like Bob Dylan will ever shoot straight with us about anything or play what crowds want to hear live. So among few others, we get Willie to sit us down and show us what it was like back then — and the great songs kept coming. In the middle of his set, Nelson grooved into a quick Hank Williams kick with classics like “Hey Good Lookin'” and “Move It on Over”.

By the time Nelson sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — yes that’s a real song title — the Gentilly Stage was fully smoked out. Also, this was the gospel encore of his set, by the way. But Nelson and his band were over their time. The second-line favorite “I’ll Fly Away” floated through the air, in the smoke, and as the smoke cleared, so did the crowd: a wonderful end to a miserable, cold, and windy Friday.

Saturday, May 4th

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Cowboy Mouth - Acura Stage – 1:15 p.m.

How many bands can get a hungover festival crowd hyped at 1 p.m. on a Saturday? It’s gotta be a short list but, boy, Cowboy Mouth sure can. Songs like “I Believe in the Power of Love” and “Let It Go” got lead singer/drummer Fred LeBlanc worked up into a lather, growling like a shlock-jock, “Morning Zoo” DJ or boxing announcer. He commanded the crowd (and festival camera operators), attempting to achieve “rock ‘n’ roll orgasm”. Uh, ok, dude. If LeBlanc weren’t on stage with a microphone behind a drum set, he would be a crazy person. But on the massive Acura Stage, it worked and the large Acura Stage crowd was fully warmed up. You’re welcome, Fleetwood Mac.

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Galactic - Gentilly Stage – 3:25 p.m.

Galactic’s Saturday afternoon set showed that if you’re trying to understand yesterday and today’s New Orleans music from a modern pop standpoint, the heavy-gigging electro-funk band is your best gateway. And the key switch in that gateway? Drummer Stanton Moore. Moore and Galactic incorporate anything and everything even tangentially New Orleans or in line with their transplanting aesthetic. So why wouldn’t the singer-less instrumental band bring out a rotating cast of singers including Living Colour’s Corey Glover for Jazz Fest? Glover played the roles of soulful belter, gritty rock ‘n’ roll yelper and James Brown-like bandleader for the band Saturday afternoon while David Shaw of New Orleans band The Revivalists came out and did his best Robert Plant falsetto for a killer “When the Levee Breaks”, a particularly menacing groove thankfully met with no actual rain, just a beautiful sunny day.

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Terence Blanchard - Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent – 3:35 p.m.

“Y’all are music FIENDS,” Terence Blanchard said about his audience in the packed Jazz Tent on Saturday. And he’s right. To get a large tent full of people applauding over subdued feature solos and obscure jazz songbook riffs, you gotta be a bit of a fiend. But even a casual jazz observer could love Blanchard’s trumpet tone, a resonant soaring, graceful, sometimes martial one. Blanchard’s horn  is the audible essence of what Janelle Monáe on “Tightrope” called “classy brass.” If you’ve watched a Spike Lee movie over the last 20 years or saw Red Tails, you’ve heard Blanchard’s classy brass. And he’s brewing a legacy of his own, too, bringing out his son Terence Jr. on vocals for “When Will You Come?”.

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Photo by Douglas Mason

Fleetwood Mac - Acura Stage – 4:40 p.m.

DSM23867The entire world showed up for Fleetwood Mac. And by “the entire world”, I mean at least half of Jazz Fest mobbed Acura Stage on the festival’s first actually beautiful day. Fleetwood Mac was all anyone really wanted to see that day, to be quite honest. And Fleetwood was not about to disappoint them. Neither were the festival’s organizers, who moved the band’s set time up 30 minutes so it could play longer. Saturday was all about Fleetwood Mac, undeniably.

The band started with “Second Hand News” and “The Chain” before a proper introduction, with guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham addressing just why everyone was here and why the band keeps coming back together.

“You’d think a band that’s been together as long as us would have nothing new to discover, but there do seem to be a few chapters left in the history of Fleetwood Mac,” Buckingham said, introducing a new song off the band’s Extended Play EP, “Sad Angel”. But why would anyone want new Fleetwood Mac music when there’s already Rumours and Tusk, right? One listen to “Sad Angel” and you can hear that, at least at moments like this one, the band’s still got it. It sounds like something a younger band would make. A band like Stars, for example, who has had its own share of intra-band drama. It goes to show you how far Fleetwood’s legacy and timeless nature reach.

DSM23897Back in the nostalgic present, however, the band played one of its biggest hits, “Dreams”, with its sexy, smoky groove, and Stevie Nicks’ first lead vocal of the band’s set. Given the detachment and distance Nicks and Buckingham have between one another, placed on either side of drummer Mick Fleetwood, “Dreams” worked almost as a word of caution. “Players only love you when they’re playin’,” Nicks sings, as if to say: don’t do what I did, glancing toward Buckingham.

The band then barreled into the percussive trample of “Tusk”, featuring great drum work from Fleetwood behind his large, beautiful kit, followed by the pure ’70s soft rock distillery of the very slinky “Rhiannon”. Leave behind the stylistic trappings of the band and all its baggage and you get the wistful “Landslide” which Nicks and Buckingham did acoustically as a duet. In a sweet little moment, he kissed her hand at the song’s conclusion. You could feel an entire field of people swoon.

The band returned– keyboards, background singers, and all– for “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman”. Nicks said she was fighting a “New Orleans bug” that affected her voice, but you wouldn’t have known it. If anything, Buckingham’s voice was off at moments, but he more than made up for it with an incredible guitar solo in an improvisational moment near the end of the band’s two-hour-plus set while Nicks left the stage to, no lie, change shawls to something more sparkly.

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Upon her return, the band launched into one of her solo cuts, “Stand Back”, and the ferocious Mac hit “Go Your Own Way”. The band inched back for an encore including a drum solo by Fleetwood and the rousing “Don’t Stop” to seal the magic spell the band wrought. Their legacy secured, even redoubled.

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Phoenix - Gentilly Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Some veteran festivalgoers I chatted with at Jazz Fest seemed vexed, even disappointed, with the festival’s headlining sets not taking place at night. And as we saw at Coachella, a Phoenix set at night, in particular, can be dazzling. But you haven’t really heard either part of “Love Like a Sunset” live until you’ve heard it with a setting sun shining on your face.

The band bookended its set, as its been doing, with “Entertainment”, its lead single off Bankrupt! and then filled the middle of its set with nearly every track from its breakthrough 2009 album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The bouncy tom drums and tight rhythm of “Lasso” urged the crowd to dance early into the set, while “Lisztomania” elicited cheers of recognition. When it blended seamlessly into “Long Distance Call”, Phoenix showed that they were just as tight (if not tighter) as many of the New Orleans band they were playing against Saturday but with a reliance on drum-programming precision. The band rode the line live between French-house bass hits with programmed, on-track rhythms and the muscular force of being a rock band, which basically no one else at Jazz Fest was doing. A key element in this balance has to be drummer Thomas Hedlund, who played with incredible force and deftness Saturday.

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“The Real Thing” ramped up the bass and arpeggiating synth, with a breezy funk that sounded like M83 playing the Jam or XTC. And then came “Love Like a Sunset”, which had so many people vibing out to proggy instrumentals, you’d think it was a Rush concert. Hell, singer Thomas Mars was vibing himself, lounged against the monitors for a few minutes while the band did its thing. And he belted out the soaring vocals of part two of “Sunset”, in one of the best, most epic moments of Phoenix’s set.

A career-spanning meld of “Too Young” and “Girlfriend” followed, its snappy shared groove cracking like a whip.  Then came “Armistice” and a tender, understated version of “Countdown (Sick for the Big Sun)” with Mars serenading the Jazz Fest crowd up-close and personal with his seemingly infinite red microphone cord. The band capped it all off with “1901”, providing a much-needed slick, modern antidote to much of the legacy-driven New Orleans tropes found at Jazz Fest. It was a totally different, very welcome kind of groove.

Sunday, May 5th

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Ellis Marsalis  - Gentilly Stage - Zatarian’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent - 1:25 p.m.

As is often the case on stage and in the crowd, Jazz Fest is a family affair. And it wouldn’t be any different for Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the jazz-legacy family. For this early-afternoon set that packed out the Jazz Tent, Ellis’ son Jason sat in on drums. The quartet, rounded out by bassist Jason Stewart and the remarkable saxophonist Derek Douget, played almost wordlessly for close to an hour with Ellis’ tasteful, spare piano licks complementing Douget’s full, virtuosic tenor and soprano sax (yeah, like Kenny G). It was pure, uncut traditional jazz.

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John Boutté - Zatarian’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent – 2:35 p.m.

There aren’t many singers/bandleaders who would call off a setlist to his/her band as they go. John Boutté and his band, however, pulled from the New Orleans songbook and beyond on the fly Sunday afternoon. Louis Armstrong’s “Basin Street Blues” kicked it off, changed up by Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, a World War II-era pop song. From Memphis soul (“Grits Ain’t Groceries”, a Stax single) to heartbreaking musical cuts (“But Not for Me” from the George and Ira Gershwin musical “Girl Crazy”, popularized by Judy Garland), there’s a lively squeak, a boyish blush that Boutté brings to songs, making them his own. He even took the over-covered “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen and made it fresh again, bringing out his kin in the Boutté Family Gospel for harmony vocals. If you want to hear the soulful voice of New Orleans music today, do yourself a favor and look up John Boutté.

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The Black Keys – Acura – 3:40 p.m.

Each year, The Black Keys’ stock shoots higher up, bringing the Ohio duo to arenas and headlining slots at festivals all over. Except, here’s the problem: I’m just not their biggest fan. Sure, The Black Keys are perfectly serviceable blues rock. Patrick Carney is a great drummer (and a really funny guy), who knows how to fill up the spaces that a two-man operation inevitably leaves, while Dan Auerbach is a great guitarist, who got a great tone from his baller-as-hell, gold-plated resonator on “Little Black Submarine”.

Then, how is it that I’m missing the beauty of their understatement? Because, no lie, the two packed the Acura Stage on a perfect, sunny Sunday afternoon, garnering most of the festival’s attendees. So, I can’t help but feel like I’m the problem, like I’ve been missing something about The Keys for years. Unfortunately, this live set did not prove revelatory for me. Don’t mind me, gentlemen. Keep on a-rockin’.

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Daryl Hall and John Oates - Gentilly – 3:45 p.m.

My, how time changes us. How is it that Daryl Hall looks so different from the cheesy yacht-rock videos of his duo’s ’80s heyday and John Oates looks nearly the same, except for a little salt-and-pepper hair and a vague resemblance to Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips? Of course, you linger on what’s changed until you remember what’s stayed the same about the famed blue-eyed soul duo, the writers and arrangers of some of the most catchy tunes of their era: killer songs.

Hall and Oates’ set began its set with “Out of Touch”, an instant reminder that these guys aren’t just a nostalgia act. The number-one single was followed by the lesser hits but no-less-catchy jams “Method of Modern Love”, “Say It Isn’t So”, “How Does It Feel to Be Back?”, and “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)”. But then the biggest of the big hits cascaded one after another, such as “Maneater” and “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”.

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Little snippets of “Private Eyes” (audience claps on chorus and all) and “Kiss on My List” showed up for an encore as did vamped-up versions of “You Make My Dreams” and “Rich Girl”. And as unceremoniously as the duo came out on stage as a kind reminder of its timeless talent, it left just as quickly.

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Photo by Douglas Mason

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue - Acura – 5:35 p.m.

The road to closing out Jazz Fest with a headlining slot on the festival’s biggest stage has been a long one for Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Andrews first played Jazz Fest when he was four years old. Festival attendees and his musician peers have seen him grow up on various stages through the years. Andrews earned the Shorty nickname because he was often shorter than the instrument he was playing. The trombone bell was bigger than his head.

Now at 27, he’s possibly the youngest performer with the youngest band, Orleans Avenue, to close Jazz Fest’s mainstage to date, a spot normally reserved for one or all of the Neville Brothers, a revered family legacy in New Orleans R&B. And Shorty delivered with energy due to the moment.

performs during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2013The former Lenny Kravitz touring sideman came on stage like, well, the rock star he is, brandishing a trombone and trumpet in each hand with the swagger of a WWE wrestler holding two championship belts. Shorty after, he kicked off his set with the hard rock-charged instrumentals “Liar Liar” and “Suburbia”, inserting riffs like Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” and an attack of heavy guitars and drums. At times, he and his band sounded like a funky nu-metal band with an excellent, prominent horn section. He’d pull riffs if not full songs straight from rock radio: Green Day, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and so on.

And it believe it or not, it worked sonically and made a lot of sense for Shorty. Alongside Lil’ Wayne, Trombone Shorty is the one of the most bonafide, modern rock stars New Orleans has produced. And not just in talent but attitude. Basically, he’s the clean-cut Lil’ Wayne of horn players. They’ve both tried their hand at hard rock and they’ve both, to quote Wayne, “been in that water since a youngin / you just shark food.”

Shorty nodded to his youth in the New Orleans tradition with a cover of Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” as the sun set on Jazz Fest 2013. Afterward, Shorty had to show how much of a prodigy he was on trumpet as well, blowing Dizzy Gillespie-like Latin melodies on “For True”. He threw in a little of Cab Calloway’s “hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho” call-and-response chant on  ”St. James Infirmary Blues” for good measure.

performs during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2013

Photo by Douglas Mason

In a final act of audience participation, Shorty had the crowd “get low” for an anticipatory build of horns and jump up at a crescendo. He got a field full of people to do this twice. You’ve probably never seen a brass band do that before. And that’s because Shorty is redefining what the brass band can be and, in some small way, what New Orleans music can accomplish. Not just about the past or family legacies, of which he’s a part, but carrying that legacy into a bright, energetic future. The torch has been passed.

Gallery

Photographer: Allyce Andrew

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