Walk into the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans, and the first thing you recognize is the ass. Not the sight or smell of one, mind you. But the sweat.
Cram that many hot, dancing people in a slightly wide NOLA shotgun building, with the French Colonial balcony, wood trim and peeling paint—not to mention the streetside barbecue and open-air drinking—and you’re bound to discern some sweaty ass.
But it’s Tuesday night, which means Rebirth is playing. Which means you’re dancing.
Since before Katrina washed over the city, Rebirth Brass Band has been holding down a Tuesday night residency at the famed and fabled Leaf. They’re far from the only ones carrying on the tradition of funky, jazzy, soulful brass bands uplifting the populace in New Orleans; a walk on any given evening through Jackson Square down Frenchmen Street or even a random episode of Treme will introduce novices to the bleating horns, the plangent bones and the joyous second line, that beautiful New Orleans tradition of walking through town with a brass band as they play—see: weddings, funerals, Thursdays, etc. But with increased national recognition (they’ve toured the country many times over), accolades (this year, they won their first Grammy) and supreme chops, Rebirth Brass Band has become the de facto standard bearer for the Crescent City sound.
Also, because they’re damn fun.
Any given set can swing from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson and back again, with 300-pound men pumping their trombones with vigor and more character than you ever expected coming out of a simple washboard. Much of the sound’s essence emanates from the giant sousaphone looming in the back, playing the part of the bass better than any stringed instrument ever could.
Though I’ve sweated down at the Maple Leaf before, the last time I saw Rebirth in New Orleans was in the Marigny (pronounced MARE-ih-nee) neighborhood, where the band shouted and stomped through an hours-long set highlighted by a romping version of Armstrong’s “My Monday Date,” which would’ve had Satchmo dancing as wildly as the mismatched-age pairs covering the floor. My co-workers later said they felt inducted into a club. The next week, Rebirth was nominated for a Grammy.
It’s a little tough to imagine a second line halting traffic on boulevard-wide 38th Street just off Penn’s campus, but if anyone can pull it off, Rebirth will this week. The band comes to town for a one-nighter at the Blockley. It’s their second time in Philly this year, after warming up Union Transfer back in February.
Both venues might have a newer sheen right now, but by the end of the week, you can bet the Blockey, too, will have that nice ass essence. And it’ll be totally worth it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thursday night's show at the Blockley was postponed until December. Rebirth Brass Band is unable to travel from New Orleans due to Hurricane Isaac.