Right around sunset on Thursday night of the Festival International Nuits D’Afrique, the somewhat scattered but engaged crowd at the Loto-Québec stage got a jolt of hard-hitting funk that did not let up for over an hour. The set played by the Stooges Brass Band was varied, containing original songs, jazz, and a few New Orleans standards. The band was tight, harmonies were surprisingly lush, and the solos ranged from screaming with energy to nuanced statements with complex jazz language. By the end of the show, people filled the square and the New Orleans natives made us all feel like we were in the Big Easy.
When your band has been together since 1996, toured the world, and has included New Orleans stars such as Trombone Shorty and Big Sam in its time, I think you are allowed to call it an institution. The Stooges Brass Band performed with a confidence and swagger that reflected their years of experience. At one point in the show the trombone player and MC Walter Ramsey mentioned that they had been playing for 30 minutes, but it felt like they had just started.
The show had a bit of everything. There was singing, rapping, calling and responding, dance lessons, audience participation (and competition), and smiles all around. The set kicked off like gangbusters with a few originals such as “Wind it Up.” Anyone craving some explosive brass band funk was immediately nourished. At the end of just the first song, I was already wondering how the horn players could possibly maintain their chops through an entire set playing in such a brash style. They did not disappoint.
Despite the physical feat this band achieves, one can wonder if their skills translate outside of the brass band genre. After an arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Spain” that led directly in to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” there were no doubts that this band had the technical chops to back up that soul. The latter was tastefully reharmonized and voiced for the horns in a way that paid tribute to the original while still sounding fresh.
It was at this point in the show that we were treated to a real taste of New Orleans. The band took a few pages from the New Orleans songbook with a medley of Rebirth Brass Band’s “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up,” “Do Whatcha Wanna,” and John Boutté’s “Treme Song.” Even if they have played these songs hundreds of times, they performed them as if it was their first time and they needed the world to hear.
I cannot imagine how anyone in the audience could have stood still through the Stooges Brass Band set. They played with an undeniable sense of urgency, even if that urgency was for you to get down. The grooves were deep, the ensemble playing was crisp, and the party vibe was infectious. They only stopped between songs once during the show, and the rest of the time was full-out energy. Montreal was lucky that these guys made the trip up north from the Crescent City. Hopefully with exposure like this the band will become more of a household name as they so truly deserve.
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Photos by Evan Crandell. Check out our album on Facebook for more.