The Big Wu, Roseland Theater, Portland, OR- 2/11
The Big Wu returned to Portland in grand style after being absent for close to a year, although the experience has changed slightly from past shows. Jason Fladager has left the band and the Big Wu definitely sounded different as a four piece. This was not a bad thing, however, just different. While there were noticeable peaks and valleys throughout the evening, overall it was a fine show. I could hear the band struggling to redefine old songs at times while other times they seemed to effortlessly spin new twists on old favorites. The scaled down set-up throws everyone into the spotlight a bit more. The newest song the band played, Low Down, was written for the new configuration which was easy to feel. Although it is a relatively new tune, it felt more complete than some of the older tunes that seemed to be missing something without that extra guitar line.
It was a warm and dry Tuesday evening in Portland. The Roseland is not one of my favorite venues, but I figured it would be fine to see the Big Wu there since the place wouldn't be packed to its thousand plus capacity. The balcony, the only place one could acquire an alcoholic beverage at this all ages show, was jammed full with more people than the floor before the start of the set. But by the time the band took the stage, everyone eagerly came down from above to dance on the roomy floor. The venue wasn't even close to full capacity, which was a real treat. Everyone had more than enough room to dance, check out different perspectives, or even hang out in the front row. Very chill, yet pretty good attendance and energy for a Tuesday night in Portland.
They started things off with and old Wu song, Silcanturnitova. The funky song had some strong organ work by Al to kick things off, but guitarist Chris Castino never really took a big solo, mostly providing the rhythm for Al's leads. At the end of the tune some guy in the balcony screamed "SARAH!!!!" at the top of his lungs. Bassist Andy "Padre" Miller ran with it and said, "Sarah, what he's trying to say is that he's so sorry he cheated on you with all those other women and…." It was pretty funny and everyone chuckled at Padre's quick wit. The guy in the balcony then yelled down, "THE BIG WU RULES!!!!" and everyone cheered and clapped. It was a nice little tension breaker to loosen things up early on. After a solid version of the tune SPMC sung by Terry, the band started one of my personal favorites, Kensington Manor. The first jam was a fairly short and sweet organ build up, while the second extended jam got a little weirder. Al was playing all sorts of high synthesizer sounds and getting things pretty tripped out. Chris never really had a full on solo and he played a rhythm/lead mix, ripping off a few lead notes then playing some rhythm strums intermittently.
Next was Texas Fireball and it smoked. They broke the jam down and built it way up until it was slamming away over the familiar twangy chords. Chris began to take a nice solo here but it never developed into anything substantial. Andy on bass and Terry on drums were chugging away on all cylinders and generating some serious energy. They followed it up with a solid Tangled Up in Blue with Terry doing a nice job on the vocals. The tune blossomed into a beautiful thing with Al taking a soothing keyboard jam followed by some great organ work. Next the band played the song Oxygen. I love the groove and lyrics of this one. Andy kept it fresh with a nice little bass solo while Al added a brief solo on the lap-slide guitar. Then the jam really began to build up some organ tension with Chris bending notes and making the guitar whine and howl over top until it all became quite sinister and gritty. The entire thing eventually broke down into a loud chaos and slammed right into the song Elani, Queen of Afghanistan. Chris started to play hard at this point and traded some ferocious licks with Al. Jazz 88 was the next song and it felt a little bit different with the scaled back band as the familiar hook riffs were not as emphasized as with the five piece band. The jam exploded, though. Chris was wailing as the rest of the band thundered around him. They finished the set up with a tight, fairly sped up version of the song Puerto Rico.
After a set break that lasted longer than Padre's promised fifteen minutes, the band came back out on stage. Makebelievers is a relatively new song and it was brimming with power to kick off the set. Both Chris and Al built up the energy. Then Terry broke into Big Love and everyone in the audience was grooving down to the nice vocals and another great guitar solo. Shoot the Moon was the next song and it went into some interesting spaces. The jam was slow and spacey and gelled more over time until it morphed into an airy reggae groove powered by Al's nice minimalist keyboard accents. After some more soloing, the groove broke down into some disjointed walking bass lines by Padre that built into something funkier before heading back into the last verse and more bass to end the tune. Next was a cover I had yet to hear the band play, We Can Work it Out, by the Beatles. Terry eagerly handled the vocals and I liked the instrumental vamp and funky breakdown arrangement they used before heading back into the final verse.
Things were really cooking in the second set and the band didn't let up as they kicked into their high energy foot-stomper, House of Wu. The song was punctuated by a sustained and energetic high-intensity jam. Chris took up vocals duty next as the band played a very solid version of the old favorite Red Sneakers. Then Andy stepped up to the mic to belt out the tune King of Bass. This hyper tune finds Padre rapping out and slamming down the super fast and funky groove. At the end of the tune he let us know that he was just trying to give us, "a little bit of Friday on a Tuesday!" A cover of the Dead classic Casey Jones was next and it really rocked. The end part build up so much that everyone seemingly forgot to keep singing the refrain and then Chris started soloing over top of it all, eventually ending the song in abrupt instrumental squawk. A few moments later, just as I asked my friend if he thought they would actually finish the song, they sang the familiar final line, "And you know that notion just crossed my mind." Next was the newer tune Low Down which had a slow, ballad-like, one-two-three feel to it. The slow jam unfolded very elegantly and Al was adding squishy, watery sounds to the audio tapestry. As the familiar strains of Red Sky came cascading through the speakers, I gazed on stage to see that Chris had put on some big goggles. He must have been preparing to take off because the jam twisted itself into an arrhythmic, disjointed, psychedelic journey. There was no encore but everyone seemed very satisfied with the lengthy Tuesday night show just the same. The Northwest's Big Wu jones had finally been fed.