Just a few weeks after Glen Campbell played his last Los Angeles show, there was another hail and farewell moment at the Hollywood Bowl when the four Neville Brothers of New Orleans — Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril — played what was billed as their final L.A. appearance as a group Wednesday night. It certainly looked like a farewell at the close of their mostly rousing, grooving 70-minute set, ending with a round of handshakes among the brothers, their sons and their musicians. But one voice could be heard over the din, intoning, “Never say never!”
The Neville dynasty has come to symbolize New Orleans funk in general, but the brothers only came together as a group relatively late in the game, organizing in 1977 after nearly a quarter-century of performing solo, leading their own bands (particularly Art’s legendary groovemeisters, the Meters), or guesting in each other’s ventures. The Nevilles also spread their nets further than their hometown funk, incorporating various trends and styles of the pop world on their albums.
Art, Charles and Aaron are now in their 70s, with Cyril a mere “baby” at 63, and at times near the beginning of the set as they trotted out the Nevilles-Meters standards “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire on the Bayou,” some fatigue could be felt. But the spirit soon took hold on a calypso-like “Meet De Boys,” a percolating “Tipitina” and especially “Indians Got That Fire” with percussionist Cyril’s infectious second-line call-and-response vocals. Aaron eloquently reaffirmed his sweet-voiced way with a ballad on “Wildflower” (he’ll headline a Christmas show at Disney Hall in December); Charles kept his R&B-jazz chops together on sax; and Art was the anchor on Hammond B3. It was ultimately a heartwarming set, with the siblings’ varying personal styles held together by a family feeling and a fine funky rhythm section.
As a representative of another generation on a New Orleans-themed program, Trombone Shorty — roughly one-third the age of Art Neville — brought his band and his charisma (one woman screamed when he reappeared after the concert to sign autographs) back to the Bowl for an opening set. Shorty does a lot of things well — he plays sizzling trombone, bebop trumpet, sings and does some James Brown dance steps — none of them new, but all of them combined in new ways. Unfortunately, his band was mostly locked into a generic, ear-splitting hard rock mode; only when they took it “old school” (as he put it) into “I Got a Woman” and some J.B.’s-style funk did the band generate a good, heavy groove. Shorty also joined the Nevilles on trombone in their last two numbers, ebulliently mixing it up.
Before that, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars became looser and more appealing the deeper they delved into the hardcore zydeco beat toward the end of their opening set.