“If. You. Don’t. Funk With. Me. Then I won’t funk with you,” is what four out of seven Rebirth Brass Band gentlemen are singing into their microphones. The remaining three are constrained by the physicality of their instruments; a tuba wraps like a giant anaconda around one, while two drummers keep time side-by-side like Tweedledee and Tweedledum (think of a height difference similar to Danny and Arnie in Twins). The bass drummer and co-founder of this New Orleans group that has endured for 27 years, Keith Frazier, can hardly see over the top of his high hat, all arms and no face. There’s no obvious signs of discomfort though—he’s been doing this since he was 14. At this point vision is probably nice but not entirely necessary.
Brooklyn Bowl has a generous dancefloor that sometimes makes smaller bands nervous to try and fill, but tonight Rebirth has people packed in tight. Arms are up from front to back, clapping on the off-beat. Two trumpets, one sax, one trombone, one tuba, two drums and their respective owners have brought the loose party vibe of NOLA up to New York, which at this point feels restrained in comparison. Friends of the band are occupying one of the bowling lanes, and props have been smuggled in for the occasion; at first count one mini umbrella (is it a parasol?), but at the next glance it’s up to three. There’s a pink glittery top hat, and napkins, usually saved for greasy fried chicken fingers, are being waved like white flags of surrender. A man, oblivious to the Bluetooth in his ear, dances on the stage with a wide-eyed smile.
The direct transfer of Rebirth’s live exuberance from the players to their audience cuts to the group’s importance and role in its hometown. Brass bands play at funerals, weddings, parties. Being a young trombone player doesn’t seem as strange in New Orleans as it does in other places. It’s still a relevant current-day practice (one of Rebirth’s two trumpet players wears a fitted—you can’t ever call that stuffy) because partying, removing yourself from daily headaches and finding some sort of release through music won’t ever get old.