We’ve known for a while now that the inaugural balls welcoming President Donald Trump to Washington were going to be sparse in terms of big-name talent. Trump has done his best to make a virtue of his widespread rejection by the “elitists” who serve up America’s most popular music and dance, positing his celebrations as a tribute to the regular Americans whose hat purchases and votes got him elected. And yet, those low expectations were still clearly off-kilter, because ladies and gentlemen: It got goofy tonight.
A brief caveat, first: We here at The A.V. Club are all a bunch of asthmatic, four-eyed dorks whose only musical talents come from the click-clacking of our keyboards, and who only venture out into the real world on our occasional attempts to kill ourselves with food. So the intent here is not to mock the specific performers who played tonight’s balls—especially the young ones, who naturally leapt at the chance to perform on a national stage, and who may or may not have looked incredibly slick in their bright purple shiny suits while doing so. The goal here is to simply point out and bask in a few of the more surreal moments of this internationally viewed event, as a shared antidote to any dread that might be lurking in our hearts as Donald Trump steps into office.
Because who can be scared when Pelican 212 is in the house? Hailing from New Orleans, the family band of buskers—who gained national attention on NBC’s Big Little Shots—is fronted by twin trump players Max and Kolbe Rees, they of the aforementioned shiny suits. Tonight, they played at the Liberty Ball (one of three official balls on the books tonight), rocking out to James Brown the way only 12-year-old kids in American flag sunglasses can. Again, we’re not making fun: the goofiness of a trumpet-playing child band entertaining the entire nation exists side-by-side with the kids’ obvious skill and enjoyment at the gig. (Later, they even got to play “Soul Man” with Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, who also appeared at the pre-inauguration concert last night).
Honestly, it was enough to make most of the rest of the evening seem kind of tame: A ton of Frank Sinatra covers (courtesy of Frontmen Of Country member Tim Rushlow and his swing band), YouTube’s The Piano Guys, and the sight of our new president dance-lumbering around the stage with his newly minted First Lady. Things didn’t get beautifully strange (as opposed to cover band strange) again until Trump bid his final farewells for the night, because that’s when The Silhouettes—veterans of America’s Got Talent and at least one major commercial campaign—took the stage.
To be clear, just one final time: The Silhouettes, many of whom appear to be teenagers or dedicated professional dancers, are clearly very good at what they do. It’s just that “what they do” involves creating elaborate shadow-puppet dioramas with their bodies, spelling out words like “Trump,” and “#MAGA,” jazzily depicting tableaus like wounded warriors weeping over their fallen comrades, and even recreating the New York skyline for a 9/11 memorial. It was a very strange foot to put forward for America Version 45.0, and one that suggests that, even if Trump breaks (inevitably, frequently, repeatedly) his promise to make American great again, at least he’ll make it weird as hell in the process.
The New York Times has a full video of the day’s inaugural events available; the inaugural balls footage starts around the 10:40:00 mark.