Trombone Shorty with Los Amigos Invisibles | S.F. | Review
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue with Los Amigos Invisibles :: 02.11.11 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Walking down Geary towards The Fillmore the gaps in the sounds of the traffic zooming by on the boulevard were filled by a familiar yet seemingly out-of-place refrain, the source of which became clearer the closer I got to the venue. As I crossed Steiner St. and made my final approach to the venue, the now recognizable sound of New Orleans brass band music rose above the street noise and seemed to beckon us into the venue for a night of familiar yet exotic musical delights. No, it wasn't Trombone Shorty playing an impromptu set out in front of the venue, but a group of local musicians apparently inspired by the nearby presence of one of New Orleans' finest. Or maybe they were auditioning. Whatever the case, it was a great way to get in the mood and transition from San Francisco to New Orleans and beyond.
Once inside The Fillmore, after making the obligatory perambulation past the walls of posters and up and down the stairs under Jerry's benevolent gaze, I settled in up front just in time to see the Latin-disco funkateers Los Amigos Invisibles hit the stage. Los Amigos are celebrating their 20th year together, their talented and amiable frontman Julio Brice"o announced to the cheering crowd as they took the stage. While I had heard of them, I had never seen or heard them live, but as soon as they got started I knew we were all in for a treat.
The six members of Los Amigos spread out across the stage and opened with a bouncy, synth heavy, conga backed jam. I speak a little Spanish, but couldn't decipher many of the lyrics other than, something, something, Sexy." And that's the way it was for much of their set. The words were often obscure to the mostly gringo audience, but in any language their music was fun, funky and sexy.
Out in front on stage right was the Lat-fro'd guitarist Jose Luis Pardo, whose towering curls were almost as impressive as his varied and vigorous playing. Over the course of the set Pardo switched from playing fast percussive rhythms on his cream colored Strat to picking out contrapuntal lines in call-and-response to the keyboard to strumming in a laid back style reminiscent of a Latin-inflected Steely Dan.
Opposite Pardo on stage left, Jose Rafael Torres sported a super low-slung black and white fender bass and boogied in place while playing in a thumping, bootie shaking, disco-y rhythm that got heads bobbing in unison and soon turned the floor of the Fillmore into one big, happy dance party. Shirtless and excitable, keyboard player Armando Figueredo kept it funky throughout, sometimes playing effects-laden synth and other times coaxing a jazzy organ-like tone out of his two keyboard setup. In the back on separate risers, drummer Juan Manuel Roura and conga master/percussionist Mauricio Arcas tied it all together and made moving your feet a commandment not a choice.
Among the highlights of Los Amigos' set were Mentiras," the opener, Sexy," and another composition that included an Afro-Caribbean inflected jam reminiscent of The Talking Heads' (Nothing But) Flowers." And this linkage was not surprising—Los Amigos got their first big break when they were signed by David Byrne's Luaka Bop label back in 1996. The rest of their set was fun and wide-ranging with songs that had the floor of the Fillmore flexing like a trampoline under the weight of the bouncing crowd, as well as some quieter, more ambient and jazzy numbers. Over the course of their 65 minute set, Los Amigos also playfully mixed in a few familiar and comical covers including The Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited," I Like To Move It" by Reel Too Real (of course!), and the Jock Jams classic Ya'll Ready for This." Los Amigos definitely opened a lot of eyes with their excellent debut set at the Fillmore and I even overheard some folks wondering whether Trombone Shorty would be up to the challenge.
No worries there. Troy Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue are one of the hottest acts around and their entrance was met by huge cheers from the well-lubricated audience. Andrews comes from one of New Orleans' many musical dynasties—he is the younger brother of trumpeter and bandleader James Andrews and the grandson of singer/songwriter Jessie Hill (he of Ooh Poo Pah Doo")—but his talent speaks for itself. From the time he was old enough to lift a trombone, Andrews has been making a name for himself on the instrument and was playing in and leading bands at an age when most of us were just starting to read and write.
Andrews has a name for the kind of music he plays—Supafunkrock—and he wasted no time getting into this genre-blending, diversely influenced but unmistakably funky groove in front of an appreciative Fillmore crowd. Stating his intentions right off the bat, Shorty and the band opened with I Feel Like Funkin' It Up," and guitarist Pete Murano, playing a cherry red Les Paul, immediately backed up that assertion with a rocking solo and then followed along with Shorty as he led the band into a heavy minor chord jam to close out the tune.
Touring in support of their highly acclaimed 2010 release Backatown Shorty and his band played a number of tunes off the album including: 6th Ward," an ode to the famously musical Treme neighborhood where he was raised; On Your Way Down," a cover of the Allen Toussaint classic, reworked here with a funky hip-hop edge; and Something Beautiful," a slow and dreamy soul piece that features Lenny Kravitz on the album, but which here showcased Andrews' own considerable vocal chops.
Throughout the night, Andrews not only sang, but switched effortlessly between trombone and trumpet, showing everyone in the house what a special talent he is. Mixing old school brass band standards with his own originals and fresh takes on the classics, Shorty played a set that was by turns funky, rocking, soulful and traditional—and sometimes all of these in the course of one song. He paid homage to his Crescent City roots with a Louis Armstrong style trumpet in one song, then showed off some nasty licks on the next, cutting heads with the guitarist on a blistering back-and-forth jam. Andrews' take on Satchmo's famous St. James Infirmary" blended Basin Street blues with Dirty South hip-hop and included a mournful trumpet solo that conjured up images of Congo Square, second line funeral processions and lurid scenes of Katrina victims suffering outside the Superdome. But the general mood whenever Shorty plays is one of joyous, foot-stomping, ass-shaking good times. And this night at The Fillmore, where musicians always seem to elevate their game, people were feeling the love.
Shorty and his band don't play down to their audience but instead elevate the basic assumptions of what good-time music can be. Orleans Avenue is a collection of virtuosos and prodigies in their own rights with none of them looking a day over 25 (well, maybe 30). In addition to Andrews and Murano, the band consists of Michael Ballard on bass, Dan Oestreicher on baritone sax, Joey Peebles on drums, Dwayne Williams on percussion and Tim McFatter on tenor sax.
After a generous and celebratory performance, Trombone Shorty closed the show with an epic When the Saints Go Marching In," and before walking off stage professed his love for San Francisco and promised that he would be back soon. I know I want to be in that number when he does.