The Cistern got supafunky Thursday night thanks to Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. The New Orleans-based tromonist strutted onto the stage wearing sunglasses and a black polo shirt (both of which he later shed) and the band immediately lit into a jam session that had the audience grooving in their seats.
Shorty, a.k.a. Troy Andrews, led his six-piece motley crew like a mad maestro, playing a mix of songs from their new album Backatown, older hits, and a handful of covers, all with a good dose of jazzy improvisation. Shorty switched between singing and playing the trombone and trumpet, displaying a mastery of all three instruments. His voice is smooth and reminiscent of classic soul singers (and a little like Lenny Kravitz), while he plays the trombone and trumpet with such expressive skill you forget you're listening to a purely instrumental song. He had a solid rapport with the crowd, remembering past shows at the Pour House and encouraging everyone to get loose. There was still a glimmer of the small boy playing a too-big trombone on the streets of New Orleans as he ran around the stage, yet he had the swagger and skills uncommon of a man in his early 20s. Although he seemed to be plagued with technical issues throughout the show — he kept fiddling with his in-ear monitor — he kept his cool and sounded spot-on all night.
Shorty and his band maintained a high level of energy throughout the nearly two-hour show, staying steady despite switching between a range of styles, from straight-up funk (James Brown) to rock ("American Woman") to their own version of funky jazz ("Show Me Something Beautiful," which closed out the show).
Most of the songs either started with or featured a solo from at least one of the band members, all of whom are highly skilled in their own right. Michael Ballard slapped and slipped around his Steinberger (no headstock) bass and "Freaky Pete" Murano experimented with a range of playful effects on his guitar. Saxophonists Tim McFatter and Dan "Uncle Potato Chip" Oestreicher added a good dose of soul and swing along with some cute coordinated dance steps. Sporting a floppy 'fro, Joey Peebles pounded the drums, while Dwayne Williams filled in the blanks with everything from the cowbell to the congas.
The Cistern is always a challenge for dancing, because no one wants to be that person who stands up and blocks everyone else's view. But when Shorty instructed the crowd to dance, most jumped up like they'd been waiting for the invitation all along. "Can we get extremely funky right now?" he asked, and the area in front of the stage and the center aisle was flooded with people of all ages for the last few songs. We hear Friday's show has limited availability, but you can still stand outside the gates and dance in the street. Considering his humble New Orleans roots, we think Trombone Shorty would approve.