I first heard the brothers Trongone in my neighbor’s backyard as a semi-impromptu Jazz Fest night show in 2017. Jimmyfest 2. They were an exciting set back then and quickly earned the audience’s attention if only because of the obvious raw talent on stage. Emphasis on raw.
The band has come a long way since then. We watched a three-set Saturday at the Green Parrot in Key West live on the trusty Nebula projector, and while the webcam feed does not offer the same audio quality as a professionally-recorded livestream would, we got the vibe anyhow. What a show (or shows)!
The Green Parrot may be my favorite live music venue. It has an authentic Key West laissez-faire ambiance, and the soundcheck set (4:30pm) serves as a solid advertisement to passers-by of what’s going down that night. Local Key West characters (pirates, mainly) shuffling in from an early afternoon cocktail at Schooner Wharf Bar, a Cuban sandwich/Bucchi from Sandy’s, or stuffing down an entire Hogfish sandwich on Stock Island helps maintain the authenticity of this hallowed venue despite increasing popularity amongst tourists. The stage is small, the crowd is packed in. Acoustics are good enough. Bar is slammed, drinks are cold. What more could you want?
And it’s here where The Trongone Band was in residence last weekend, a fitting venue for an up-and-comer to hone their chops. On Saturday, the band showed how far they’ve come since playing Jimmyfest 2 in 2017, delivering a much more refined presentation with the consistency that is often fleeting for young, promising acts.
The Trongone Band has released one album of original songs, a 9-track LP called Keys to the House (which was produced by former bassist Todd Herrington). The first run of original music is good enough that you can see the future is bright for the 3-member ensemble. Andrew Trongone as a lead vocal is a cross between Chris Robinson and Levon Helm. He hasn’t shown the same range as those 2 seasoned rockers yet, but you know it’s there from listening to just one set. The rest of the band is brother Johnny Trongone, a talented rock drummer, and “Wolfe” (Ben White) who does the rest on the keyboard.
The Trongone Band recently parted ways with bassist Chip Hale, the second in as many years, having yet to find “the guy” to mesh with Johnny in the pocket. Carl Dufresne, formerly with Anders Osborne and current bassist for North Mississippi Allstars, played bass the first time we saw The Trongone Band. Carl noticeably enhanced the rhythm section, especially considering they only played a handful of shows together. A strong addition on bass will eventually take this band’s rhythm section to a different level.
As most young bands do, The Trongone Band is playing a lot of covers, and to their credit, their song selection could not be better. It’s like our own personal Pandora station, a collection of our favorite songs from our favorite artists. The connection to The Band and The Black Crowes is unmistakable, but the Trongones supplement with Dylan, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, and Little Feat.
The Green Parrot crowd responded very similarly to the crowd I remember at the Jimmyfest show 2 years ago: eager and enthusiastic. The Trongone Band can compel a following from the opening song now, and the trio kept throwing one great cover after another into the Key West air, including an energetic version of Atlantic City with Buddy Jake on vocals. These aren’t duplicate songs where the Trongones try to emulate the sound of the predecessor, which is particularly evident on the Tom Petty cover “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. The band sprinkles in a little seedy underbelly of the south bringing this old favorite a new edgy life. These covers are unique and well-arranged, tailored especially for Andrew’s southern rock vocals. Think Tedeschi Trucks cover songs.
Originals of note in Key West were an extended jam version of the ripper-tune Blind, the rock ballad Canyon Road inclusive of a Chopin-esque solo on keys, in which Wolfe subtly opened a window into his virtuoso capability. Our personal favorite was Another Lost Rambler, the tune to this point that best captures what this group can accomplish as a complementary team. A Trongone “gumbo” of sorts: take everything each individual player does well, dump in a blender, and press puree…… Head bobbing sure to follow.
It’s not easy to blow up as a young rock act. The Trongone Band gained name recognition last fall on tour with Umphrey’s McGee and playing the festival circuit. The guys are true road warriors as you have to be at this stage in the life cycle of the band. They did a Europe tour and are hitting the club circuit this spring. The next LP will be a critical one for the band, and you want to see increasing maturity in the sound and the song-writing. Until then, the Trongones seem to be enjoying the road.