The Rebirth Brass Band has a new cd coming out on Tuesday called the “Rebirth of New Orleans.” You can listen to the album, minus one tune with explicit lyrics, on SoundCloud. I find it a very nice mix that represents Rebirth’s range quite well. With a driving rhythm section guiding the sound throughout, they go through standards (“Exactly Like You”), New Orleans Saints fight songs (“Do It Again”), and raunchy anthems that would have found a place in Storyville (“I Like it Like That”) with a funkified enthusiasm all their own. If you like Rebirth, you’ll love it.
And better than SoundCloud or even the best of recordings, just last night Seacoast New Hampshire got to hear them live. As part of a short, east coast tour, they came to the Music Hall in Portsmouth. Dover-based Gnarlemagne opened the festivities with its horn-driven funk and blues sound. It was tight, well-received, and got the winter-weary crowd warmed up for the main act. I was interested to see how it was all going to come together: Rebirth had ridden up from Brooklyn and arrived just before the show; the crowd was a typical Music Hall crowd of mostly middle-aged white folk; and we were all sitting in numbered seats. And in my memory, I can’t recall watching a New Orleans brass band while seated. I shouldn’t have worried.
After very limited set-up and sound checks Rebirth let it be known right away that they were in the house. They opened gently, for them, with a marvelous version of “Exactly Like You” from their new album. They then launched into a nice mix of tunes, old and new, including a great cover of Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman.” They then closed with a flourish of greatest hits, including “Just the Two of Us,” “Cassanova,” and “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up.” They encored with brief, yet spirited version of “The Saints.”
I’m increasingly aware that recordings, copies, and facsimiles of things are seldom as good as the originals, something we need to remember in this “let’s digitize everything” world. A photo really can’t capture the glory that is a flower and a cd can’t bottle up the spirit and enthusiasm that I saw at the Music Hall last night. Soon into the set, many in the audience came to the front of the stage and filled the aisles to dance and sing along with the band. And the energy of the musicians rose accordingly. A recording can’t capture that energy, the non-verbal cues, the joy, and the interaction between band and audience. Live music in front of an unfettered crowd; you can’t record it and you can’t beat it.
Afterwards I had the chance to meet and talk with members of Rebirth. And even after a long day and nearly two-hour set, they were a gracious and engaged bunch. I especially wanted to meet drummer Derrick Tabb and thank him for the work his done with his organization, Roots of Music, which he established to get middle school-age, at-risk New Orleans kids into an organized music program. And every moment they are doing homework, practicing, or marching is a moment they are not on the street. And it was certainly a pleasure to meet Keith and Phil Frazier, who along with Kermit Ruffins, founded Rebirth back in 1983.
So, recordings are not as good as a concert. And the Music Hall, however spirited, is not Frenchmen Street or the Maple Leaf. But life is short and we have to get out there and enjoy what we can get. So buy Rebirth’s new cd and listen, but more than anything else, get out there and enjoy some live local music, where ever you are.