Hours before taking the stage at the NBA All-Star halftime show, Trombone Shorty told Billboard of the performance, “People will definitely be out of their seats dancing. That’s what our focus is — to have a big party, the way we do here in the Big Easy.” Mission soundly accomplished: Shorty, Janelle Monae, Earth Wind & Fire, Gary Clark Jr. and Dr. John combined for an inspired performance at the New Orleans Arena on Sunday night (Feb. 16) as part of the Entertainment Series presented by Sean John at Macy’s, presenting a throwback yin to the yang of Pharrell Williams’ hits-packed player introductions performance.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue lit the fuse with an opening number that included a three-piece brass band behind Shorty’s own trombone blasts. Dr. John was then introduced on the piano, but unfortunately, the blues giant experienced sound problems, his voice dwarfed by Shorty’s echoing handclaps.
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Luckily, Gary Clark Jr. (who performed the U.S. national anthem on his guitar prior to tip-off) picked up the pace with a snarling rendition of “Bright Lights,” his axe riffs sumptuously supported by a full band onstage. From that moment on, the halftime show became a high-octane soul showcase, as Janelle Monae skipped out and dove into her Trombone Shorty collaboration, “The Electric Lady’s” title track.
After Monae had successfully moonwalked across the stage while dragging the microphone stand with her, the rising R&B star received hugs and high-fives from the members of Earth, Wind & Fire, who ended the set with “Shining Star.” The onlookers on the New Orleans Arena court kept their shoulders percolating as all five artists combined for the finale.
“We love music, we love funk, we love soul, we love to jam,” Monae told Billboard prior to the performance on Sunday. “We didn’t really even have to rehearse [the performance] as many times as we did. Everybody’s fans of each other’s music.”
The New Orleans-influenced funk fusion follows Alicia Key’s performance at NBA All-Star halftime last year, as well as performances from Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Aloe Blacc, Jason Derulo, Mack Wilds and others during the NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Dr. John was among the halftime performers when the All-Star Game was last in New Orleans, in 2008.