On a warm Wednesday evening in the middle of summer at the Bethesda Jazz and Supper Club Greg Boyer clearly knows how to win over a crowd with his trombone and charm. With the help of Pianist Chris Fisher, Bassist Michael Bowie, Drummer Lenny Robinson, and Percussionist Leroy “Boogie” Greer, Boyer’s performance brought the ecstatic audience to its feet.
The concert covered songs from the 1970s to present, and included both original music by Boyer, and covers from artists such as Blondie and Steely Dan. Boyer added his own personal spin to the covers, which made them feel like his own. For example, before playing “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Boyer explained that the song was made famous by the Foreigners, “But we don’t do it like they do.” Audience members responded well to the changes however, and even started dancing along. The music was phenomenal, and each song managed to top the last in energy. The musicians were extremely talented, and Boyer’s ability to play extended notes on his trombone left me speechless. However, what pushed the show over the top was their personality that they infused into the performance.
From the very first number, Boyer created a personal relationship with the audience through providing a backstory for his original song, “Blues for Bad-Ass Kids.” He explained that when he was on a plane, a child sat behind him and would not stop kicking his chair. At the moment Boyer turned around to glare at the kid, he found inspiration for a song, which he used to kick off the concert. The audience broke out in laughter, but the interaction also helped Boyer create a comfortable and friendly relationship with the audience, which continued throughout the evening and made for an enjoyable event.
In addition to jokes, Boyer provided another side to his personality through allowing us to appreciate the band. Boyer had a major part in each song, but when he was not playing the trombone, he often moved to the side of the stage. In doing so, the band was able to showcase their abilities front and center. All of the members played off each other, and it was easy to tell that they were having a blast on stage performing music that they loved. The band members embraced moments of solos, such as that of Robinson’s in “Ghetto Life,” but showcased their passion when playing as a group. Through stepping aside, Boyer emphasized the idea that the concert was an ensemble effort. He needed help from everyone involved in order to make the performance a success, which included the audience.
When Boyer would move to the side of the stage, he would often dance along to the music, and invited the audience to do the same. Towards the beginning of the concert, audience members were hesitant, but Boyer did not stop until he could see that everyone was having as much fun as he was. While only one couple went up to dance for the fourth number of the evening, “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” the dance floor was packed by their rendition of Blondie’s “Call Me.”
However, the audience participation in “Call Me” did not stop at dancing. Boyer cheered on those who decided to step up and showcase dance moves on the dance floor, but even found a way to include those who decided to stay seated. In an effort to create a similar sound to the original, he asked the ladies in the room to shout out “Call Me” in a high-pitched voice during the chorus, and for the men to respond with a low pitched “Call Me.”
I have seen a lot of shows where audience participation didn’t fare so well, but was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone played along. Even the lighting team enhanced the performance through adding blue lights when women were meant to participate, and a red light when the men responded. At the moment Boyer asked the audience to begin clapping along to the beat, he announced, “You all are officially apart of the band,” which resulted in a loud cheer. Rarely do I see a performance in which audience members react so strongly, but Boyer’s encouragement helped the audience have just as much as those performing on stage.
While the upbeat music was a joy to experience, Boyer infused an equal amount of passion into the emotional and slower parts of the evening. Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie,” a ballad that began with a focus on Boyer on trombone and Fisher on the piano, was beautiful and incredible to watch. The song was placed between “Ghetto Life” and “Fantasy,” which were two upbeat songs, but the emotion exhibited through the number appealed to another message that Boyer repeated throughout the evening.
At numerous points, Boyer would mention how he wished to dedicate the performance to his loving wife Donna. He would say, “If you have a good one, keep it,” and the truth of that statement for Boyer seemed to add passion to the performance. For the final number “Lovely Day,” he again mentioned his wife, but also dedicated the piece to his daughter and her new husband. By now, the dance floor was packed with both couples and those who chose to dance solo, but people were evening singing along to the music. Everyone seemed to want to help the show go out with a bang, and they certainly seemed to succeed.
Talented, energetic, and comedic, the performance was a joy from start to finish. I was constantly amazed at Boyer’s talent from the extended notes on the trombone to his incredible singing voice, and the band was just as talented. Boyer infused all of his passion and emotion into this performance, which helped the audience root for his success. Unfortunately the concert was one night only, but if you ever want an evening of fun and amazement, Greg Boyer is a name to keep an eye out for.