Where: Foxtel Hub, Melbourne
When: October 17th 2014
This review originally appeared on Tonedeaf.com.au
One of the many positives that stem from the Melbourne Festival each year, is the fact that no matter how broad your musical taste buds are, there will always be more than a few musicians scheduled to play that you will never have heard of. Yet at the same time you cannot help but be intrigued about what these artists bring to the table, once you’ve read their various blurbs in the festival’s program.
In this instance it was the New Orleans based combo Tuba Skinny that jumped out, due to their admiration for combining old school blues and traditional jazz numbers, with a modern day Louisianan twist. The eight piece of – Erika Lewis; Vox/drum bass, Shay Cohn; Cornet, Barnabus Jones; Trombone, Jon Doyle; Clarinet, Westen Boghesi; Banjo, Greg Sherman; Gtr/vox, Todd Burdick; Tuba and Robun Rapuzzi; Washboard – have been together in some shape or form since 2009.
Tuba Skinny rather causally entered the fray, just after 8:30pm on Friday night, where each member proceeded to take their seat, in Lewis’ case that meant on top of her bass drum, in the pre-arranged semi-circle they have become accustomed to when playing live. The venue was 3/4’s full at this point, with the audience, who ranged in age from their early twenties, to those who had reached their more autumnal years, in fervent mood.
It was clear from the get go that Tuba Skinny’s musical style was not directed at people whose sole purpose, when attending gigs, is to bob their head up and down occasionally. On the contrary. Within seconds of third number ‘Climax Rag’, it was evident that dancing, and the crowd’s participation in said action, was going to be a major factor throughout the night.
The musical capacity of all eight members was at times utterly compelling, with a special mention going to Doyle, Jones and Cohn for their solos during new track ‘Willie the Weeper’, in particular. During said track it also seemed as though Boghesi’s banjo and Rapuzzi’s washboard playing were so in unison, they’d stemmed from the same musical umbilical chord!
Lewis’s vocal prowess was a highlight, as her sultry style added extra impetus, to the brass heavy tunes ‘Stavin’ Chain’ and ‘Delta Bound’. While the slower paced ‘Bumble Bee’, which Lewis also took lead on, included a stomping-esque tuba solo from Jones, though there wasn’t a chance of Doyle or Boghesi removing the rather stern look from their faces during the number!
The band then asked the audience to make some room at the front, as a local swing dance troupe made their way through the crowd. The 13 dancers then premiered two highly exhilarating choreographed routines, that worked alongside tracks ‘Gimme Some’ and ‘Dallas Rag’.
Rapuzzi was by far the most animated of the collective for the duration of Tuba Skinny’s set, and was like a man possessed during the highly improvised ‘San’, as his fingertips ran up and down the washboard, with such pace and accuracy, you could imagine he’d be a world champion knitter, if such credentials existed! ‘6 Feet Down’ led to many a holler and a yelp being shouted out from the overly hyper dancers in the audience, who on more than one occasion, caused the floorboards to seemingly bounce in time with the band.
Boghesi’s first extended banjo solo of the night appeared during final number ‘Jazz Battle’, a track which at times led the band down a path where they sounded akin to Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina band, such was the array of sounds that emanated from the eight instruments on show!
The band then tried to bid farewell only to be coerced back on stage within seconds, by the boisterous crowd, who were treated to the calypso laden track ‘Julianne’. Tuba Skinny’s contemporary take on original jazz and blues never sounded so entertaining or fresh.
Set List: ‘Perdido Street Blues’, ‘Stavin’ Chain’, ‘Climax Rag’, ‘Hard Pushin Poppa’, ‘Delta Bound’, ‘Willie the Weeper’, ‘Oh Red’, ‘Bumble Bee’, ‘Gimme Some’, ‘Dallas Rag’, ‘You Got Me Rollin’, ‘San’, ‘Rock Me’, ‘6 Feet Down’ and ‘Jazz Battle’