Whither goeth New Orleans, there goeth the party. And no one better represents New Orleans in the new millennium than Trombone Shorty. Along with his stalwart band Orleans Avenue, the singer/songwriter/horn blower channels his hometown’s legacy of soul, funk, jazz, rock and hip-hop into an irresistibly delicious stew. We drank deeply from that gumbo back in 2010, when Shorty first appeared on the show. For this taping, he brought us something special: the Voodoo Threauxdown, an expanded version of the New Orleans experience that raised having a good time to an art form.
As some pre-taped brass played, Orleans Avenue took the stage and launched into “Buckjump” with their trademark blend of funky N.O. rhythms and rock power chords. Once the groove began cooking, Shorty himself joined in, adding his raucous namesake instrument to the riffs. After that high energy start, the only thing to do was keep it hot, and they did with the rocking “The Craziest Things.” “What’s up, ACL? We meet again!” proclaimed Shorty, leading into the greasy funk of Allen Toussaint’s “On the Way Down,” featuring Peter Murano’s electrifying guitar solo. The horsepower didn’t let up an iota for “Here Come the Girls,” which added some New Orleans Indian second line to the intro, rap on the bridge and call-and-response from the crowd for another inexorable good time. Shorty drove the song home with circular breathing and an almost impossibly sustained trumpet blast, before conducting the band in extended rhythmic improvisation. The crowd went wild like it was the closing number. But the show wasn’t even halfway done.
Most performers would take this time for a breather, maybe a ballad. Not Shorty – while “Long Weekend” had a more relaxed, almost disco groove, the energy was just as relentless as it had been thus far, spiced with some phrases from Dr. John’s “Going Back to New Orleans” and a speed-demon conga solo from percussionist Weedie Braimah. Then the guitars cranked and Shorty got down with the funky rocker “Where It At?” as the bandleader traded licks with guitarist Joshua Connelly. Follow-up “Lose My Mind” accurately described what the audience was doing by that point, especially when the song became a showcase for powerhouse vocalists Tracci Lee and Chrishira Perrier. The group finally laid back – well, almost – with the nearly mid-tempo “Something Beautiful,” allowing the audience to catch its collective breath.
And a good thing, too, as Shorty brought up one of his New Orleans mentors: ACL Hall of Famer Cyril Neville. The nattily-dressed Neville Brother reached back to the Nevilles’ predecessor, though, burning through the legendary Meters’ “No More Okey Doke” and “Fiyo On the Bayou,” a certified New Orleans classic that made every pair of hips in the room move. After a warm embrace that felt like a passing of the torch, Neville left the stage, followed quickly by Shorty and Orleans Avenue. But let’s face it: we all knew it wasn’t really over. Sure enough, the band came back and ripped into first album steamroller “Hurricane Season,” segueing seamlessly into the unconquerable funk of “Do To Me.” Just as a reminder of where this all came from, Shorty and sax players BK Jackson and Dan Oestreicher dropped into “When the Saints Go Marching In” in the brass band tradition, leading the crowd into a giant singalong. Once the tune circled back to “Do To Me,” Shorty joined the audience, turning the room into a massive jumpfest. One band intro and flourish later, the song – and show – was over, band and crowd finally satiated.
If the Neville Brothers were New Orleans’ greatest musical ambassadors in the twentieth century, that honor goes to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue for the twenty-first. You’ll see why when this episode airs early next year on your local PBS station.