The word "prodigy" comes to mind when describing Andrews' mastery of the trombone, which he's been playing since age six. If that weren't enough, he also plays a mean trumpet and acts as the lead singer of his band, Orleans Avenue. Astoundingly, his vocals are nearly as sharp as his horn playing.
Trombone Shorty brought his distinctively New Orleans sound upriver to St. Louis for a stop at the Old Rock House on Monday night. The venue was packed, upstairs and down, as the members of Orleans Avenue cut their way through the crowd from the back of the house, making their way to the stage with instruments in hand, and started warming up. In dramatic fashion, Trombone Shorty entered from the patio door off the side of the stage, his trombone in one hand and his trumpet in the other, pumping them high in the air as the crowd cheered his arrival.
Looking smooth in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, he poised his instrument and tore into the opening of "Buckjump," a super funky, horn-driven instrumental, assisted by baritone sax player Dan Oestreicher, tenor sax player Tim McFatter, bassist Michael "Bass" Ballard, drummer Joey Peebles (resembling "Animal" from The Muppets with his wide grin and crazy mop of hair), and St. Louis-native guitarist Pete Murano.
Trombone Shorty may front the band, but Murano certainly earned a nearly equal place in the spotlight, ripping off incredible solos during pretty much every song and obliging his city's heritage with a killer blues guitar jam mid-set. The brass may bring the rich, full sound, but Murano's guitar brings a hard rock edginess to the band that sets it apart from others in the genre.
Though New Orleans brass band jazz may be at the root of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue's music, it goes far beyond that -- ranging from straight funk to blues, rock, soul and R&B. At times, the show felt like being in the heart of the Big Easy, and at others, it felt like being on a cool '70s episode of "Soul Train," Trombone Shorty channeling influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to George Clinton to James Brown and Earth, Wind and Fire.
"Suburbia," from his first album, 2010's "Backatown" had him delivering fierce, rapid-fire notes from the trombone, soaring so high and loud that it felt as if the venue's walls and ceiling might literally rip at the seams, as the beats coming from the drums and Ballard's bass tore through the audience like a stampede.
"We're just getting warmed up," Trombone Shorty declared. Indeed, the windows alongside the dance floor began to steam up from the heat and energy of the band and the dancing crowd, even as cold rain and sleet fell on the pavement outside.
Trombone Shorty alternated back and forth from vocals to trombone/trumpet for some of his non-instrumental tunes including "The Craziest Things," the infectious "Mrs. Orleans," "One Night Only," "On Your Way Down" and melodic "Something Beautiful." Though they spanned material from all three of their albums, the band took care to feature some songs from their most recent effort, "Say That to Say This," including "Fire and Brimstone," "Vieux Carre," "Shortyville" and "Long Weekend."
Amidst his own tunes, Trombone Shorty paid tribute to his roots, touching on classics including "St. James Infirmary Blues," blending into a Cab Calloway-style "Hi De Ho Man" sing along, as well as teases of Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown during set-ender "I Like it Like That," a tune by the Rebirth Brass Band (which features Trombone Shorty's cousin, Glen Andrews).
After a brief cool-down on the patio, the band obliged an encore, including sexy rocker "Do to Me," and NoLa staple "Mardi Gras," during which the entire band grabbed drumsticks and played Peebles' drum kit together, each taking a cymbal or drumhead for one spectacular group drum "solo."
If the goal of music is an outpouring of emotion -- to make you feel something -- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue succeed in making you feel everything -- but especially like you need to shake your booty. To quote James Brown, "The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing." Amen, James. And thank you, Trombone Shorty, for a real funky time.