The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at The Rhythm Room Last Night

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

The Rhythm Room

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Maybe I don't get out that much, but I can count on my hand the number of times I've seen a sousaphone played live in concert -- especially at the Rhythm Room. Such was the case with last night's The Dirty Dozen Brass Band show. The revered New Orleans brass band institution played to a rather large Wednesday night crowd, giving Phoenix a taste of what it's like to catch a show in the Big Easy. That sousaphone was joined by trumpets (both pocket and regular), tenor and baritone saxophones, a trombone, and even a flugelhorn. While the Dirty Dozen currently features seven members, I could count as many as eleven people onstage at any given point last night.

The Dirty Dozen got their start in 1977 from the remnants of the then Tornado Brass Band -- which was previously known as the Hurricane Brass Band before being known as Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. The band released their first album, My Feet Can't Fail Me Now, in 1984 after years of playing gigs in New Orleans, as well as some abroad. Over a dozen albums and numerous lineup shifts later, The Dirty Dozen are still gigging rather regularly in 2011 -- as they should be. The Dirty Dozen are one of the most influential brass bands to emerge from New Orleans, being one of the first brass bands to incorporate elements of funk, R&B and bebop with the traditional New Orleans style.

That traditional style was in full effect last night. There's just no escaping the allure of a brass band -- especially here in the desert. It's simply not everyday a band like the Dirty Dozen comes to town with their rambunctious style -- a mixture of modern funk and R&B with the more traditional New Orleans style. It did my heart some good to see a few hankies being waved when the band tore into more traditional numbers such as the New Orleans standard "When The Saints Go Marching In." 

I should disclose that I have always had a special place in my heart for New Orleans, as my parents used to live there. I grew up with an appreciation for the city and its most beloved sports team, the New Orleans Saints -- hell, as I write this I am drinking out of a 2010 NFC Championship Game souvenir cup. I wrote my Master's on President Bush and Hurricane Katrina. You can go ahead and assume I have an inclination towards all things New Orleans, its music being chief amongst that.

The crowd last night was treated to a rather unique show and, therefore, was unique in of itself -- at least by Rhythm Room standards. The median age of the crowd had to be in the mid-40's to early 50's, and this meant that chairs were placed all throughout the main floor area for people to sit and enjoy the music. However, brass band music -- especially that by The Dirty Dozen -- isn't necessarily music that is best enjoyed while sitting. There were more than a few times that trumpeters Efrem Towns and Gregory Davis had to implore the crowd to get on their feet, something that their music more than does for itself. Yet the chairs were out, and the crowd was -- for the most part -- relaxed and in their seats. However, my hat is off to those select few people near the sides and the front of the stage who stayed standing and dancing the entire show.

Songs like The Meters classic "Fire on the Bayou" and the band's own classic "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now" were transformed into expansive, elaborate 8-minute versions, perfect for the night's live setting. At one point, The Dirty Dozen invited some members from the night's opener, Phoenix's own Bad Cactus Brass Band, onstage during the aforementioned "When The Saints Go Marching In." That brought the total number of musicians playing onstage to eleven, which was quite a spectacle to see. Bad Cactus' own James Williams did a rather spot-on impersonation of Satchmo himself while singing the song's famous lyrics. It was a unique night that had plenty of memorable moments from a band that is now in its fifth decade of existence. What more could you ask for?

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at The Rhythm Room

Personal Bias: I think the Rebirth Brass Band's "I Feel Like Funkin' It Up" is the most important song ever recorded by a New Orleans band. I spend a lot of time listening to all kinds of New Orleans music, past and present. My impersonation of Dr. John is pretty spot-on.

The Crowd: A few people in their late 20s, yet the night was dominated by the over-45 crowd.

Random Notebook Dump: The drummer looks like he is having perhaps the least fun of anyone onstage right now. Everyone else gets to take a break or two during a song -- not him. Ever. Also, is that a mini-trumpet? (Yes, it was a pocket trumpet).

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