Photo: © Dave Stotts

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue + Galactic

New Orleans musicians rarely disappoint. They come from a world where music is practically akin to religion, and they always seem to know how to rise to the occasion.

It was a gorgeous night for live music by the San Diego Bay (aka, “The Whales Vagina”), making a perfect setting for some Friday night funk. The balmy breezes blowing past the palm trees surrounding Humphreys seemed heavenly as Galactic hit the stage promptly at 7 pm for this co-headlining show of musical titans from the Big Easy. The venue even removed the annoying seats that usually take up most of the space, opening things up for the crowd to get down.

This was a welcome change from most shows at Humphreys, where the rows of white plastic chairs are clumped so close together that patrons are made to feel like sardines with little in the way of elbow room. The Ratdog show in July certainly would have benefitted from such a set-up, and many fans here were expressing gratitude to whoever made the call to ditch the infernal seats. New Orleans music tends to be about getting a groove on and this was made possible thanks to the brilliant decision to open up a dance floor.

It made for a wide open space where the sizeable crowd was free to let it all hang out. It also provided a pleasant contrast to Galactic’s usual cramped gig at the Belly Up Tavern up the coast in Solana Beach, where the tiny dance floor is too small to accommodate the quantity of funkateers that always show up to see the band.

It was easy to see the group was digging the breezy Southern California vibe and this was reflected in the groovy set. New vocalist Maggie Koerner has been winning hearts and minds throughout the year and so it was at Humphreys. Her spirited performance confirmed her yet again as a perfect fit for the band, not that anyone who saw Galactic at Jazz Fest in New Orleans this past spring would have any doubts left.

“Higher and Higher” lit a fuse, with drummer Stanton Moore laying down a hot syncopation for Koerner’s sassy vocals. Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio threw down a wicked groove on a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”, igniting a full on dance party. The band made it feel like the song was made for Koerner, who owned the tune with her powerful voice and charismatic vibe.

Saxophonist Ben Ellman and trombonist Corey Henry were really dialed in here with tight horn blasts to elevate the song to a transcendent level. Koerner also starred on the bluesy “It Doesn’t Make a Difference”, with the band showing their cathartic gospel side.

Guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel powered “Hey Na Na”, with psychedelic organ and sizzling riffage as the band delivered another blast of New Orleans funk that seemed tailor made for Koerner’s gritty blues power. A big drum solo by Moore impressed the crowd as few other drummers can, before the band returned for a smoking take on their rip-rocking new tune “Dolly Diva”.

Koerner owned it again with her stylish vocals on the dirty groove and fans can only hope the band keeps her around for the next album. Galactic wrapped up with a triumphant cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, closing out their 90-minute set in uplifting style and setting a high bar for Orleans Avenue to match.

Some fans might question whether Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews) should be headlining over Galactic, but there’s no doubt about the ace trombone player’s musical credibility or rising popularity. Nor is there any question about the comradeship between the bands. Galactic’s Ellman produced Shorty’s 2010 Backatown and 2011 For True albums and Shorty has guested with Galactic on numerous occasions.

Andrews has been a working musician practically all his life and his band mixes the New Orleans jazzy funk with a dynamic rock swagger that makes for broad appeal. The band’s dazzling performance at this year’s NBA Allstar game left no doubt that they’re ready for prime time.

The group does perform a more choreographed show than a band like Galactic, though, who are known for their improv jams and varying setlists. Seeing the two bands back to back highlights the difference in this dynamic, especially for those who might already have seen Trombone Shorty earlier this year. But Shorty and company kept things rocking with their own high energy set that saw the feel good music continue to flow. “Fire and Brimstone” was an early highlight, with Shorty delivering a compelling vocal about transcending broken dreams before adding a hot horn solo.

The band’s edgy cover of “On Your Way Down”, Allen Toussaint’s classic warning against music biz hubris, is a winner every time. Guitarist Pete Murano threw down some melty hot wah-wah licks on his gleaming wine and gold Les Paul to charge the vibe, but the jam where each player took short rote solos fizzled (falling well far short of what the band did with the tune at the DC Jazzfest earlier this summer.) It was only a momentary lapse though as the band quickly rebounded. “Something Beautiful” was a gem, with Andrews showing a deeper rhythm and blues side on the tune he recorded with Lenny Kravitz.

The big question was whether or not members of Galactic would make a much desired guest appearance. This seemed all but mandated by New Orleans tradition, especially since it was the last show of the bands’ run together. But as the set neared 90 minutes, a collaboration started to seem doubtful.

Then the band launched into “Mardis Gras”, which seemed a cue as Moore, Henry and Mercurio all returned to join the festivities. Moore took over the drum kit while Henry joined Andrews for a triumphant dual horn solo, followed by a multi-percussion mayhem jam where everyone seemed to be having a blast.

It would have been a bit of a letdown if such a collaboration had not taken place, but New Orleans musicians rarely disappoint. They come from a world where music is practically akin to religion, and they always seem to know how to rise to the occasion.

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Above photo, Trombone Shorty and Corey Henry during the jam at the end, courtesy of © Dave Stotts