Photo credit: Neubauer Media © Logjam Presents
The outdoor concert season in Montana has been off to a rocky – or at least wet – start this year, with spring rains extending longer than usual into the summer. When Trombone Shorty brought his Voodoo Threauxdown event to the Kettlehouse Amphitheater just outside of Missoula, however, things began to feel like a balmy night in New Orleans. With a lineup structure that feels more like a festival than a headlining act with openers, the concert mixed funk, blues, brass, hip hop and more into a soulful recipe that kept the crowd on their feet for the entire four-hour show.
The first act out the gate, The Soul Rebels, have the configuration of a traditional New Orleans brass band, but their updated sound quickly slips around any old-school confinements. The 8-piece mixture of horns and percussion can blow and beat with the best of them, but when any one of the horn players drops their brass for a mic and delivers a hip hop verse or soulful R&B croon, tradition is quickly transcended. After a few recognizable melody teases like the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” and a sit-in by Tank and the Bangas’ saxophonist Albert Allenback, the audience was visibly primed for the rest of the show.
The next group, Dumpstaphunk, have already proven themselves as a funky powerhouse time and time again,and are no strangers to Montana. When the band was joined by bassist George Porter Jr. and singer Cyril Neville from The Meters, their set became a family affair that payed homage to the roots of bayou funk. Porter Jr. came out after the first song and performed seated, at times playing in tandem with Dumpstaphunk bassist Nick Daniels and other times providing counterpoint melodies and greasy fills as the band worked through Meters tunes like “Just Kissed My Baby” and “People Say.” Then keys player Ivan Neville welcomed his uncle Cyril out and they continued their journey through the past, including a version of the Neville Brothers’ “Fire on the Bayou” more fiery than Louisiana hot sauce.
The party atmosphere inside the amphitheater was maintaining a steady rolling boil by the end of the second act, but the energy began to steadily climb outward from the stage and up the hillside when Tank and the Bangas came on. Their sound is fresh and almost undefinable, with a wide range of dynamics that can veer from brawny rock grooves to sleek hip hop beats at the drop of a drum stick. Tank is a fearless, innovative frontwoman who blends a colorful palette of influences into her distinct delivery, and the larger-than-life onstage persona of guest rapper Big Freedia proved an impressive foil to Tank’s own dynamic when she emerged for their collaboration “Big.” At times the sound got muddled during their set, but the crowd indicated that they heard Tank loud and clear when she jubilantly shouted “Thank you for bringing the live music back!”
For all the talent that graced the stage prior to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, the ten-piece closing act made it clear that they came to steal the show starting with the frontman’s very first guttural horn blast. This band is an impeccable live act, with tightly syncopated horns, overdriven guitar licks and soulful backup singers all threaded together over the incredibly deep pocket laid down by the rhythm section. While the band leader’s chops and showmanship are extensively highlighted, every musician onstage had their time in the spotlight, from tenor saxophonist BK Jackson’s searing solo in “It Ain’t No Use” to the bass and trombone duel leading into “The Craziest Thing.” The group hardly let up for a second, With Trombone Shorty yelling “I’m not ready to be done” before hitting the crowd with the muscular-yet-soulful “Come Back.” Finally, Trombone Shorty invited the Soul Rebels back out for the last number, interpolating the classic “When the Saints go Marching In” for a true New Orleans send-off.