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Trombone Shorty, Janelle Monae restore faith in the halftime show

When it comes to the intersection of pop music and sports, this winter has been an especially cold one. We had Bruno Mars' Super Bowl halftime show -- an able yet professional jukebox-style nod to greater heights achieved by past rhythm-and-blues artists -- and that's essentially been the bar.

Such is especially disappointing because this is the season of the Olympics. Yet the opening ceremony came and went and it provided little more than some pictures of forgotten dance provocateurs t.A.T.u. halfheartedly shared on social networks. Remember them, they had that song where they kissed in the rain in the music video? 

Even our figure skaters, save for the welcome exception of the always-bold Ashley Wagner and her good taste to perform to Pink Floyd, have been relatively predictable. "Riverdance" and Tchaikovsky are fine for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but a little break from tradition will make more stand up and take notice of those triple axels. 

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What a pleasant surprise, then, was Sunday's halftime show at the NBA All-Star Game. Set in New Orleans, the mid-game entertainment distanced itself from recent ho-hum spectacles that have in various years featured the likes of Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Pitbull and instead paid more heed to the sounds of the city.

Anchored by genre-hopping jazz ambassador Trombone Shorty, this was a big-band medley that was brassy and swinging. Trombone Shorty and contemporary bluesman Gary Clark Jr. faced off in a give-and-take guitar vs. trombone duel (since this was in New Orleans, the trombone obviously won), the always-colorful Dr. John led a singalong with Mardi Gras staple "Iko Iko" and Earth, Wind & Fire provided the grand finale with "Shining Star."

All along, Trombone Shorty's Orleans Avenue backing group played the role of house band, providing room for the grooves to stroll or sizzle as needed -- the horn section was an exclamation point to the beat on "Shining Star" and hitched a ride to the keyboard saunter of "Iko Iko."

The show-stealing centerpiece, however, was Janelle Monae, who skipped on stage in a varsity jacket and black tie and moments later moon-walked to uproarious crowd approval to her "Electric Lady." As a vocalist, Monae is transfixingly nimble, as her raps were unyielding and her verses were a funky, elastic call to get moving and stay moving. 

Well-played, NBA


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