Saturday, September 1, 2012

Another live music highlight of Spring 2012 was Rebirth Brass Band playing Union Transfer in Philly. UT is a newish venue opened by the Bowery Presents folks outta NYC (carpetbaggers) and a local promoter. It was once a train station and more recently was home to a Spaghetti Factory (a chain family restaurant). In its new incarnation, the building has been tricked out nicely - meant to look a bit lived in and post-industrial (which fits right in with a significant portion of Philly) but also nicely stylized. Mainly a standing venue but with strategically located bleachers scattered about so that the frail of limb can take the occasional break.

Opening act was a a special gathering of several Philly based brass bands (never even knew there were such beasts! stupid me!) who gave spirited readings of various soul and pop standards. All very rousing but with so many players blowing at once (about 20) it was hard for melodies and riffs to really cut through and be clearly audible, let alone punchy. But it was sweet that instead of just one of the Philly outfits getting the spotlight that a bunch got invited to share it.

I should point out that UT was FULL - so about 1500 in attendance - a hell of a lot more than I expected to show up for a brass band from New Orleans in Philly! So, clearly a lot more folks hep to this music 'round here than I ever imagined or maybe just a lot of "Treme" addicts? Either way -- very cool

Rebirth came on to tumultuous applause and fair amount of Mardi Gras umbrellas (this show came at the opening of carnival season) and got down to business. Immediately the difference between earnest amateurs and seasoned pros was apparent - the tunes and beats came through loud, clear and ever so funky. The sound was sophisticated, complex yet focused and never became cluttered or murky. The interplay between robust horn arrangements, propulsive second line rhythms and lusty group chanting was intoxicating and seductive. Even up in the balcony where we retreated to (to have ready access to bleacher seating) it was impossible not to start dancing.

After the show we went down to buy a CD off one of the junior members who's drawn merch duty. Cost about $6 than buying it online. OY! That's what the heat of the moment will do to ya! Having gotten "Rebirth of New Orleans" home I have to say that while there's a lot of great playing here and some memorable tunes that compared to their earliest recordings -- featuring Kermit Ruffins, one of the founders of the group -- it's a little slick, a little pat and has more of a serious jazz feel, less rawness, funk and Mardi Gras Indian style percussive derring do. Compared to Coldplay of course this is the mother-of-all-stinky-butt nastiness -- but compared to their back catalogue...they've cleaned up their act a tad.

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