By Dan Cava
September 22, 2018
Brass band concerts aren’t experienced in songs, they’re experienced in waves. Walls of sonic energy crash into the audience over and over, wearing away your stodginess, forcing you to submit to the movement and the joy. Rebirth Brass Band, the legendary crew out of New Orleans, stopped by Neighborhood Theatre to give a small but appreciative crowd a chance to lay their burdens down by letting the good times roll.
Rebirth is an American icon, a Grammy award-winning act with an amazing 30 year history. Their sound is part of what defined the The Crescent City’s post-Katrina revitalization and part of what made the N’awlins-based HBO series Treme the (underappreciated) masterpiece that it is. Rebirth’s standing Tuesday night gig at The Maple Leaf in New Orleans is legendary enough that President Obama famously suggested it as one of the things he wanted to do after leaving office. Folks, if it’s good enough for Barack’s down time, it’s good enough for ours. Frankly, there weren’t enough people there on Friday night. Perhaps 125 Charlotteans showed up, but a band of this caliber deserves a lot more.
Still, despite the relatively light attendance, the band and the faithful few made the best of it. After a killer opening set by DC funk band Aztec Sun, Rebirth stepped onto the small stage at Neighborhood and started to blow. There’s a real-dealness about these guys. No fancy suits, no light show– just T-shirts, jeans, some Nike’s, and some beat up lookin’ marching band drums and brass instruments. Rebirth doesn’t need to keep it real; they are real.
I’ve seen RBB twice now in Charlotte, once at the Rabbit Hole a few years back and last night at Neighborhood, and both times the effect on the crowd was the same, something we might call The Three Stages of Rebirth. First is “contractions.” This is where the uninitiated in the audience physically contract into themselves as they adjust to the half concert/half party atmosphere. The music seems to demand immediate participation, but the risk of standing out still feels high. Hands go in pockets, heads swivel around as groups of friends gauge what everyone else is doing. A diverse crush of people up front and a couple of free-spirited elderly African-American ladies off to the side seem to be having the time of their lives.
The band plays on. They’ve started at full steam and haven’t let up. There are no slow songs, just the relentless hypnosis of that big four marching beat. The second stage, “transition,” begins. People around the venue start to loosen up. Heads no longer swivel, they bob to the music and toes tap. As band members cycle through their solos, a dozen extra voices have joined the front-dancers in their supportive hollering. The alcohol isn’t hurting, but most of the intoxication in the room comes from the music itself. Could it be that the best way to disappear into this room is not standing still but…dancing?
And at long last, about halfway through the show “rebirth” itself occurs, that glorious emergence into the moment. The third and final stage of brass bandom finds the entire crowd in blissful submission to the beat. Sitting down is now a wasteful, silly option. We stand, we rock, we march in place. The back of the room is for squares only; the whole crowd has moved forward towards the stage. We’re all friends now. The band says “hey,” we say “hey.” When a singer croons, “I used to love her, but that’s all over now,” it seems, as does everything else happening at that moment, a reason for celebration and dancing. When the end draws near, we yell it away with a happy demand for an encore. The band complies, and we stave off our troubles in the outside world with one more song, one more song.
The lights must ultimately come up and we accept it. The band is tired, we’re tired. Maybe not tired so much as wrung out, baptized in music, and cleansed. The Rebirth Brass Band exits the Neighborhood Theatre stage and starts packing up, while a hundred or so Charlotte citizens file out into the night, exhausted, beaming, and reborn.
Check out the remaining 2018 tour dates for Rebirth Brass Band.