Trombone Shorty in a nutshell: some of the best live music I’ve heard and most awkward old-white-people dancing I’ve ever seen, all under the same roof.
It was the type of show that made me wish I’d been born cooler and taken saxophone lessons as a rugrat so I might have had a shot at growing up to play in Trombone Shorty’s band, which looked like the most fun any human could ever have. Those guys danced and laughed and pulled off the fedora-and-sunglasses-inside look like there was no tomorrow — and on top of all that, they sounded phenomenal.
But first, let’s back up: The Record Company — a Los Angeles-based, blues-rock three-piece — opened up Shorty’s Friday night show at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center. They churned out a half-hour’s worth of Muddy Waters-inspired tunes — great for a road trip, but not so much for pumping up an auditorium full of people waiting for Trombone Shorty’s funky New Orleans jazz.
The band included a bassist, drummer and guitarist, who also picked up the occasional slide or harmonica to spice things up. The Record Company was tight but seemed to cheat its audience out of the keys and horns its genre so desperately called for.
Nonetheless, the crowd loved them, dancing through all their songs and whistling energetically between them. Their excited anticipation was palpable.
The opening set ended and the house lights came up, revealing Shorty’s audience. Cal Poly Arts director Steve Lerian had told me prior to the concert that Trombone Shorty attracted fans from all demographics, and looking around, it was evident he was right. There were kids, college students, elderly folks, women dressed up in heels and guys sporting messy hair and old jeans, and they were all equally stoked.
As intermission ended and the lights dimmed, the older woman sitting to my left asked me if I wanted any earplugs, proceeding thereafter to ignore my polite decline.
“Trombone Shorty can get a little loud,” she said, handing me her extra pair.
I shoved the earplugs in my pocket as the band entered the stage to a roar of applause. An alto saxophone, tenor sax, bass, drums and guitar filed onstage and vamped in preparation for Trombone Shorty’s entrance.
He arrived, trombone in one hand and trumpet in the other, meeting a new wave of screams from his audience with a beaming smile.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue then launched into an hour-long set of loud, funky and jazzy New Orleans music. He rotated through his talents, sometimes taking up the trombone, trumpet and microphone in the course of only one song, busting out the occasional moonwalk to boot.
Shorty certainly had his fair share of center stage, but he made sure each band member had a chance in the spotlight as well. Every person on stage contributed some improvisation to the mix, each showing off their unique take on New Orleans jazz.
But the most unforgettable solo had only one note. Shorty picked up his trumpet and showed off his circular breathing skills, holding the same note for so long I lost count of how many choruses the band vamped through.
Graphic communication seniors Korinn Kunert and Mikkel Sandberg estimated the note lasted for five minutes and said it was the show’s coolest moment.
Sandberg, a trombone player himself, called it the “stupid-long” note.
“I’d only heard of this concept of circular breathing,” he said, “but had never seen it before. It was truly impressive. Overall, I give Trombone Shorty an 11 out of 10.”
Neither he nor Kunert had seen Shorty before.
“I was along for the ride,” Kunert said. “Had never really listened to them. I enjoyed the show. They were great musicians and looked like they were having a blast.”
And they weren’t the only ones.
As the show progressed, audience members rose from their seats, many lining the aisles to dance. I joined them, in part because I thought I could get better photos from that angle but also because I didn’t have room in my assigned seat to boogie down properly.
I found myself ducking under wild dancers’ elbows, some thrown from where an old couple attempted some awkward variation of a swing dance, others from a line of college-aged kids grinding. But Shorty didn’t leave out his seated audience, repeatedly asking them to dance and engage in call-and-response riffs.
When the band ended its official set and left the stage, the audience simply wouldn’t have it. They cheered for an encore for several minutes and eventually got their way.
Trombone Shorty and New Orleans Avenue re-emerged for one more tune in which each band member took his last solo.
In the end, they left their microphones behind and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder at the front of the stage, dancing to an unplugged but undeniably funky rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was unique, personal and packed with talent.
Afterward, they took their final bow and left the audience cheering itself hoarse. Trombone Shorty was a success.