Shorty and The Arcade Fire closed at Jazz Fest 2014 in style, and my top shows of the fest.

arcade fire photo by chelsea dunn
Win Butler of The Arcade Fire in the crowd, by Chelsea Dunn

My brain tells me that the two biggest stories in New Orleans music right now are Hurray for the Riff Raff and Trombone Shorty, but in a year when I didn’t see Shorty, I started to wonder if I overrated him. Sunday in his festival-closing set at Jazz Fest, I was more impressed than ever. The show wasn’t ambitious. Shorty didn’t try to cover a lot of musical ground. Instead, he concentrated on simply being remarkably funky. Songs stretched out effortlessly without losing any sense of purpose, letting grooves build, fade, and redouble in intensity. His set was all about showmanship and musicality, and he and Orleans Avenue are thoroughly in control of both. I’d say I could live without the circular breathing stunt, but a few minutes of what is essentially a long, held note built tension so that the crowd jumped when he hit the next groove. 

Shorty’s funk was strong enough that when he played “Do to Me,” which I think is a pretty lightweight song, I found myself getting more involved as he and the band started to find cool things to do inside the song’s changes. It particularly spoke to me in a year when classic New Orleans funk and R&B was in shorter supply than usual. Friends have bemoaned the slow dwindle of the number of players from New Orleans R&B heyday who once gave Jazz Fest its core identity, and this year it seemed like there were fewer still. For Shorty to embrace what is essential in that music and employ it to make music that is about being young and alive today is impressive, and a reminder that the limitation of what Meters-like funk can do in 2014 is in the minds of the music makers.

Elsewhere on Sunday:

- Much of what I have to say about The Arcade Fire’s is in my review for The New Orleans Advocate. In the past, I’ve found the band’s albums a little ponderous, but live the band’s punk rock element kicks in as the video screens reveal the band members making complex songs out of simple parts. In concert, the communal energy and expression of the band’s sound prevents Win Butler’s songs from being relentlessly earnest. Sunday, the material from Reflektor worked particularly as its combination of electronic dance beats, Haitian rhythms and indie sensibility made them even more fun than their previous appearance in 2011.

The show was the end of their tour, and they ended it by joining the Pinettes at the foot of the Acura Stage and heading out into the crowd with them playing the wordless melody from the set-ending “Wake Up.” I was told that they didn’t want any security, but there was a guy or two who helped clear the way. I’m told their goal was to go to the Gospel Tent (“There’s more talent in the Gospel Tent than there is on this entire stage,” Butler said during the set), but based on Chelsea Dunn’s photos, it looks like they were done when they got out of the Acura crowd.

arcade fire photo by chelsea dunnThe Arcade Fire makes it through the crowd, by Chelsea Dunn

- I don't have much to add to my review of The Deslondes that ran in the Advocate.

deslondes photo by Chelsea DunnSam Doores of The Deslondes, by Chelsea Dunn

- I was pleasantly surprised when I thought about my favorite sets from this year’s Jazz Fest and realized how many of them were local. On the simple “What shows stayed with me” scale, my top shows were:

1. The Soul Rebels
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff
3. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
4. Baiana System
5. Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9
6. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
7. Bombino
7. Vampire Weekend
8. The Mavericks
9. Yvette Landry Band
10. The Arcade Fire