Through a dramatic turn of events, I found myself visiting the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul for the first time in my life over the last weekend of April. I was enjoying myself checking out the cities and generally being a tourist. The weather was unseasonably warm and the cities were lively and fun to explore. On Saturday morning, I decided to check the web for possible shows happening in Minneapolis on Saturday night. I was hoping that maybe God Johnson, Jason Fladagers band after leaving the Big Wu, was slated to play a show in town since Id heard of them but had never actually heard them. When I checked jambands.com to see what was happening in the jam world that fine Saturday, I was pleasantly surprised. There on the monitor screen was news that the original line-up of The Big Wu, complete with Jason Fladager on guitar and vocals, was going to play a one-off reunion type show at The Cabooze in Minneapolis that very night.
The last time I had seen even the four-piece Wu live had been years before, so to say I was excited for a full on Big Wu show live at their home turf of The Cabooze was a bit of an understatement. I was totally pumped! What a coincidence! I just happen to randomly be in the town of Minneapolis for the first time ever and the Big Wu just happens to reunite and play a one off show at their old stomping ground The Cabooze. I quickly rearranged all plans so nothing would interfere with my ability to get over to The Cabooze that night nice and early. I did not want to be late for this special occasion. I also had never seen the band in their home town, so I didnt know if the show would sell out, especially since this was a reunion show.
When I got to the venue about 15 minutes before the doors opened, I realized I could have come a little later. The Cabooze is located right next to some biker bars, so I gazed at the line of choppers before heading into the bar next to The Cabooze to grab a whiskey beverage. The time flew by and the next thing I knew the doors to the Cabooze were open and I was inside the venue sitting at a table near the stage. The bar was a little slow to fill up, but as it got closer and closer to show time it became pretty full. There was a palpable sense of excitement as many folks were visibly excited about the surprise reunion Wu show they were about to see.
The band took the stage and eased into one of my personal favorites, Break of Day. In typical Wu fashion, they took a little time to get things going and Break of Day served more of a warm-up than anything else. The crowd seemed to really enjoy singing along to the familiar chorus. Next up was Dogs Dead sung by Terry VanDeWalker, a solid version of this interesting song about a beloved pets demise. The next tune was significant in that it was the only Jason Fladager penned Wu-tune to be performed that evening. Understandably, this version of Two-Person Chair was a little shaky. Obviously, it had been quite some time since the boys had played this one together and it showed during the composed sections of the tune. The jam, however, hit some definite high points as both guitarists took their turns jamming things out a bit.
This is the point of the show where the band began to hit their stride. Next up was a pretty blistering version of Rhode Island Red. They really flushed out some interesting jams on this tune and kept the momentum up by delving right into Red Sky next. This Big Wu classic was enthusiastically received by the crowd and Chris Castino was all smiles as he belted out the lyrics. As Red Sky segued into the Allman Brothers’ Blue Sky, things got more interesting as the jamming got very intense. Jason and Chris played off one another while Andy laid down the foundation and Al peppered the jams with keyboard flourishes. The band closed up this hefty jam by heading back into and closing out Red Sky. Terry sang Rock-n-Roll Band next and Jason left the stage only to return a little bit later with acoustic guitar in hand as the band went into a reggae groove which quickly became a nice, lilting version of Wild World by Cat Stevens.
Kensington Manor, one of my absolute favorites, was up next. Chris belted out the lyrics of this interesting story-song and Al Oikari really went off on an impressive keyboard solo. Not to be outdone, Castino worked the guitar jam section into an energetic frenzy, as well. The band closed out the lengthy first set with authority by playing Save Our Ship into Zeppelins Kashmir jam, and then back into Save Our Ship. This was yet another impressive grouping of tunes where the band was really firing on all cylinders. While the band was obviously rusty on some of the composed sections of tunes they had probably not played together in quite some time, overall the set was very solid. The jams and communication on stage was solid to above average from Rhode Island Red through to the end of the set. I was excited to see what they would have in store for us in the second set.
They kicked things off with a track off of their Tool for the Evening album, Makebelievers. While I like this song and it was fun to hear, it was a standard version. After quickly running though the tune Gibson Girl, the band paid homage to their Deadhead roots by performing a fun China Cat Sunflower. The song, while not heavily jammed out, was great to hear and it flowed effortlessly into another Wu favorite, Bloodhound. The band was obviously having fun on stage, but this set was much looser than most of the first set. A trio of songs highlighting guest vocalists was next. Not being from Minnesota myself, I did not recognize the guest vocalists, but Im sure many in attendance did. Scott Roerick came up on stage and sang the lyrics to a nice rendition of the Stones Loving Cup. Then Tom Collins took over vocal duties for two tunes, Dead Flowers and Sweet Jane. The band was all smiles and the guests were really enjoying themselves up there.
Black Rain, another Castino song, followed. The song has a beautiful melody and a slower, more deliberate pace. The jam was more of a layered effort that gently ebbed and flowed. Bassist Andy Padre Miller was up next and he belted out one of his signature tunes, Dancing With Lula. Andys always interesting stage presence and banter entertained the festive crowd. And festive is a very accurate way to describe the crowd. People were smiling, singing along, hollering, and dancing like crazy during the second set. The vibe was more like a private party than a club show and the band loved it. The Wu closed out the set appropriately with a well-received version of Minnesota Moon as the crowd heartily sang along. For the encore, we took another trip down memory lane to when the Wu were a Grateful Dead cover band by performing Scarlet Begonias to close out the show. Smiles filled the room as everyone in attendance sang along yet again.
While this show was not ground-breaking, it sure was a heck of a lot of fun. It was wonderful to see the old line up playing together on stage and obviously having a ball doing so. Hearing Jason play with the Big Wu was a Big Treat. And while the show was a little shaky, overall the playing was excellent. The musical highlight of the show was definitely the first set. Once they were heated up, the guys really dug in and jammed out for most of the set. While the second set was a little looser and less intense musically, the fun levels were off the chart. Everyone on stage and in the crowd was celebrating this special night with reckless abandon. As the crowd shuffled out of The Cabooze around 2:00am, most knew it would be quite a long time, if ever, before they would see this band with this line-up again. But somehow it didnt matter. The vibe, music, and fun were very high for that night and thats all that really mattered.