Trombone Shorty

 Since when is the opening act supposed to play longer than the headliner?
That’s what happened Thursday at the Minnesota Zoo when Louisiana luminaries Tab Benoit and Trombone Shorty shared a bill. I’m not sure that that was the plan.
Blues guitar star Benoit, who headlined at the zoo in 1995 when Shorty was all of 9, played a smokin’ 83 minutes of the blues. The highlight was Bernard Allison sitting in on a pair of tunes, carrying on an alluring guitar conversation with Benoit, especially on Albert Collins’ “Too Many Dirty Dishes.”
The lowlight was Benoit getting on his soapbox talking about the BP oil spill problems and going into detail how to contact your Congress reps and President Obama to encourage action and reform.
It’s easy to understand how this crisis is a pressing issue for a Gulf resident like Benoit. But 90 seconds would have sufficed in this concert setting; it felt like he lectured for 10 minutes. For a guy who joked that when he was at the zoo last time people called him Larry Ben-oyt, this time at the zoo he should have been dubbed Bono Ben-wah.
As for Trombone Shorty’s 79 minutes onstage, it just wasn’t enough. When you get a mere five-minute encore rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” from Shorty (complete with a little Satchmo vocal impression and a horn line from the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”), you feel shortchanged. He didn’t even have the opportunity to pull out the umbrellas and parade through the capacity crowd like he did at the Minnesota State Fair last year.
If the fair was a fantastic party, the zoo performance only hinted at Trombone Shorty’s many charms and possibilities. The 24-year-old singer/trombonist/trumpeter was a charismatic showman, an instinctive bandleader and such an in-the-moment, likable spirit that a Vikings fan could easily overlook his T-shirt decorated with Saints-evoking fleur de lis.
His young, six-member backup band (the oldest member is 27) was tight, versatile and spontaneous. Offering a mix of funk, jazz, soul, rock, pop and blues (often in the same song), these guys were a dynamic, groovy, funky party machine.  Big D on congas and manic-looking Joey Peebles on drums propelled the party with festive Latin rhythms.
Shorty, a gifted instrumentalist and an effective but inconsistent singer, seduced with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (with a fonky New Orleans remix section) and pumped it up with Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started.” He offered a few tunes from this year’s Verve release “Backatown” (including the rather flat “Something Beautiful” that seemed to go nowhere without guest Lenny Kravitz, who played on the record).
The highlight was when the band found an unstoppably funky James Brown groove and Shorty did his own version of JB’s dancing, complete with a little Michael Jackson moonwalking. After the crowd went wild, Trombone Shorty reprised the chorus and then launched into “Shout” and, suddenly, it was “Animal House” at the zoo.

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