Gig Review: Soul Rebels Brass Band @ Band On The Wall, Manchester

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Soul Rebels Brass Band have a story. And fuck, the white middle classes who will be fawning over this lot as they make their way around Europe, love a tale of triumph over adversity. Like the blues singers who went blind and lost all their fingers, only to grow more fingers, which they also lost, who made amazing dustbowl tales of misery, SRBB have extreme discomfort and tragedy backing them up.

Basically, all you need to know is that they’re from New Orleans and were punched straight in the gut by The Flood, left to whistle by a slow reacting government and using music to drag them out of one kind of funk and straight into another.

However, to focus on this doesn’t really do the Soul Rebels justice. It wouldn’t matter one jot if these guys just happened to be out of town while misery knocked on the door because, when they strike up their invigorating blend of N’Orleans jazz, Lee Dorsey funk and shameless enthusiasm for a good time, you’re not exactly wringing your hands and thinking of tough times.

Of course, it is pretty trite to sweep the fall out of Hurricane Katrina away like it never happened, but it seems pretty ridiculous to focus on it when the music this outrageously good band make stands up all by itself.

So what’s the deal?

Well, imagine one of those great New Orleans marching bands. You’ve seen those on the TV right? Maybe you’re lucky enough to have seen one in the flesh. Fact is, one of the finest sights in the known universe is New Orleans jazz in full-flow. New Orleans is the forefather of modern music and pretty much invented that ability to be tight-as-a-gnat’s-ass-but-still-loose-as-hell thing that makes your hip drop and your finger snap.

If it wasn’t for the music of ‘the most Northern Caribbean town’, we’d all be stood motionless nodding at violin solos. Blecch.

So where do the Soul Rebels Brass Band fit into all this? Well, they’ve clearly learned everything there is to know about this funky-ass trad. jazz… but mercifully, they’ve decided to update it and interpret it rather than making a mere facsimilie of a music that, in fairness, doesn’t reach our shores nearly enough.

By taking huge slabs of all that’s good about New Orleans music – that hit of brass that pins you to the back of the venue, coupled with a funk that makes you fight the tide and back to the stage to dance like a goon – the Soul Rebels marry their horn section with old-skool rap, cheeky cover-versions (how about a tops-off party mash-up of Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’ and Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ for a closer?) which would make The Roots die with envy.

Because it’s that earthy groove they have which is just so irresistible. They’re not only channelling music from a hundred years ago, but the ghost of The Meters and Dr John sits in the seat, with nods to Doug E. Fresh and Grandmaster Flash and those great horn breaks utilised by Eric B & Rakim.

Yet, as good as these little nods to pop-culture are, the really money lies in the original material. The standout track from their set, from their forthcoming LP (out September 13th as the group liked to holler repeatedly), potentially called ‘I Made It’, saw the skewed funk RnB of Dudley Perkins and the hookiness of ’70s Stevie when he wasn’t horsing around making insipid ballads.

And like all goodtime jazz, this wasn’t an exercise in noodling away on instruments, determined to show off how many notes you can cram into half-a-second (that said, these guys can really fuckin’ blow), rather, it was all about giving the audience a big friendly slap across the chop with those huge brass stabs, before breaking you down into a gibbering wreck… and before you know it, they have the whole room indulging in a dance routine, sliding across the floor, left to right.

The venue itself – one of the coolest venues in the country right now – went from a stance of ‘go on, impress us then’, to wringing with sweat and dancing bodies… it seems that, should they get their arses in gear, the Soul Rebels could just about take over the world, blasting people out of office from the sousaphone, leaving everyone else to march along and have an absolute ball.

If you can imagine the impact Ozomatli had on crowds, double it, square it and you’re in the ballpark of how much fun SRBB are to see. And they’ll be in London and Scotland for the next week (see dates here) and you’re strongly advised to go see them because, basically, they’ll tear your head clean-off and leave your torso twitching on the ground.

There’s no better band on the circuit right now. You’ve been warned.

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