My grandmother, The Sainted Christine, was a fine southern woman and a hell of a cook. All I ever wanted was to learn how to made food like hers. Starting from the time I was a child, and well into adulthood, I would watch her as she cooked—always awestruck. She peeled potatoes with amazing speed, she never measured anything, rarely followed a recipe and somehow, every single time, everything was perfect.
When I tried to peel potatoes, I’d cut myself. I’d gather the same ingredients, I’d spread things out and do exactly what she did to a tee, or so I thought. But nothing ever tasted the same. To this day, I still don’t understand it. How can all of the same ingredients result in such different things?
And more to the point, what does this have to do with music?
Well, let me tell you—after last night’s double billing at Red Butte, this is what I know for sure: I am St. Paul and the Broken Bones. And Trombone Shorty is my sainted grandmother.
As I’ve said before, pity the band who opens a double billing at Red Butte, like St. Paul and the Broken Bones did Thursday night. The band, who introduced themselves over and over again as “From Birmingham, Alabama,” I suppose to lend to their credibility, is a southern soul band. Heavy on horns, their lead singer straddles the line between charismatic and too-cool-for-you in his horn-rimmed glasses and gold shoes.
He paced the stage with a golden microphone in a floral jacket and green pants. He played off the crowd and even went into audience at one point, only to lay on the ground, in mock heartbreak.
This is the part of the review where I admit that I was completely unfamiliar with St. Paul and the Broken Bones before they took the stage. However, I’m a fan of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and southern soul in general. And, I hope you’ll understand that St. Paul and the Broken Bones are certainly not that.
Just as it was when I tried to replicate my grandmother’s recipes, all the parts were there—but it just wasn’t right—it’s just too calculated in its delivery. I kept picturing scientists in a lab, staring at data and petri dishes as they formulated the perfect soul band. All the ingredients should work—but it falls flat. And, I think that’s because they forgot the most important element: actual soul.
But, as a study in contrasts—Trombone Shorty proved to be the exact opposite.
As soon as Shorty came onstage and holding his trombone and trumpet in the air with a huge smile on his face, declaring, “Utah, we meet again!” one thing was made immediately clear: He was here to have fun.
Shorty is genre-busting: Think New Orleans jazz, backed by a rock band. He and his band, Orleans Avenue, weave everything from The Rolling Stones to pop songs into their set—creating an exuberant testimony to to the power of all music. Plus, there’s choreography that at one point or another engages every person on the stage—the highlight was a raucous sample/cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away Now,” ending with the band running around the stage wildly and Shorty pretending, for at least a second, that he was going to stage dive.
What’s Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue got that St. Paul and the Broken Bones don’t?
Well, ironically enough—soul. Their genuine stage presence and love of what they’re doing, radiates outward and the result is a connection with the crowd from the first note.
And, as for me and my grandmother, I guess maybe the lesson for me is that she just had more heart than I do—but I already knew that.