If pressed to name my favorite band, I might namecheck U2 and their three decades of unimpeachable music; I may mention Pearl Jam, who blend visceral emotion and classic rock riffs like few others; or I might name Weezer for sentimental reasons.
Noticeably absent from that list: Rebirth Brass Band. And that’s weird, because I’ve seen Rebirth in concert more than all those bands combined, and it’s not even close. I’ve seen the New Orleans eight-piece at a swanky jazz club in Seattle, a dingy club in Chicago, the tin-roofed Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, and as of last Thursday, the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. The latest show was at least my eighth time seeing Rebirth live—I’ve lost track—and it just might have been the best set yet.
But after the first few notes on Thursday, I’ll admit I was worried. What I love most about Rebirth shows is that the line between spectator and performer is largely nominal. People attend Rebirth shows to dance to an inventive mix of funk, R&B, hip-hop, and brass band elements, not watch passively with a beer in hand. The band, feeding off that energy, seemingly plays louder and faster, which encourages even more dancing.
But through that first song on Thursday, only a handful of heads bobbed, save for the exaggerated flailing of a guy a few steps to my left (while double-fisting drinks, natch).
But, with every passing song, whether due to the energy of the band, the effects of alcohol, or some combination of the two, the 300 Portlanders packing the Doug Fir Lounge slowly but surely shrugged off their winter moss and shook what the good lord gave them. By night’s end, we felt less like concert attendees than delirious guests at the world’s most fun party.
We danced through classic cuts like “Casanova” and “Do Watcha Wanna.” We shook it through new tracks from the band’s forthcoming album. We stopped to catch our breath only between songs—and during Derrick Tabb’s rapid-fire snare drum solo, which lasted longer than most full pop songs. And, during the night’s wildest moment, we screamed along to a joyful version of “It’s All Over Now.” You wouldn’t have heard a dump truck barrel through the Doug Fir as we shouted along to the track that took on an ultimately uplifting note: “My baby used to stay out all night long / Made me cry, she done me wrong / She broke my little heart, but that’s alright / Tables turned and now it’s her turn to cry / Because I used to love her, but it’s all over now.”
On the heels of that track, I got the kind of smile that takes just the right combination to unlock. It wasn’t a reserved smirk or fourth-grade-portraits smile. It was a goofy, unhinged, uninhibited smile that only flashes a few times a year—the kind usually reserved for lovers and last-second Timbers goals. I couldn’t have peeled that smile off my face if I tried, which only made me smile wider. I looked around the room while swinging my head and realized that not a soul remained still. Retirees and 20-something alike danced, bobbed, and moved to the joyful sounds of New Orleans’ preeminent brass band, whose music bounced off the log cabin-like walls and shook my glasses frames more than once. All was right with the world once again.
As my friend and I walked out of the venue and into the cool spring air, I leaned against a bus bench, tried catching my breath, and wondered why I never thought to include Rebirth on that “favorite bands” list. Even four days later, I don’t have an answer.