It’s a simple musical math equation: When Trombone Shorty is in the house, there will be a party goin’ on. The Shorty party factor was writ larger and wider than usual when he paid his latest visit to S.B. at the Santa Barbara Bowl, not only because he has risen to the level of our city’s largest venue. For this summer’s ambitious Voodoo Threauxdown tour, timed with Shorty’s new album Lifted, he essentially assembled a traveling circus revue of New Orleans Acts; call it a N’Awlins microfest.
Opening in the late afternoon with The Soul Rebels, the program went old school-ish New Orleans style with Dumpstaphunk, featuring soulful veterans George Porter Jr. and Cyril Neville, representing the Royal crescent City Neville clan. More modern N’Awlins sounds came courtesy of the R&B/rap bluster of Tank and the Bangas, featuring special guest Big Freedia. (Bowl goers will recall the sassy twerk-fest of Big Freedia’s debut in this space, opening for the The Postal Service in 2013.)
Given the infectious energy Shorty (a k a Troy Andrews) has always exerted, it’s possible for even more skeptical fans among us to overlook his shortcomings. In the heat of the collective concert experience, we might forgive his limitations as a singer or the simplistic nature of his material. There’s a party going on, after all.
From the moment the tall trombonist emerged on stage, dressed in white in contrast to his black-clad band, the charisma and energy force never stopped until the precise stroke of the 10 p.m. curfew. The 75-minute set, which seemed both free-wheeling and slickly paced, included a crowd-pleasing, crowd-weaving moment when Shorty and three other musicians sashayed out into the house. Shorty stood tall and seized our attention when he hopped up on the wall separating seating areas and blew some choice bone riffs into the Saturday night air.
He later got down to more serious musical business, if only briefly, during a riff-swapping session with bassist Michael Ballard. Shorty’s passages grew gradually more complex and deeper in jazz feeling, reminding us that there is a deeper side to this artist than his intentionally dumbed-down party-meister persona suggests.
Towards show’s end, Shorty checked in with the Crescent City roots business of “When the Saints go Marching In” and “Down by the Riverside,” bringing the party full circle to the cultural soil out of which Shorty has prospered.