The Big Wu, The Cabooze, Minneapolis, MN- 10/1
The Big Wu's October 1 performance at the Cabooze was dubbed "Old School Wednesday Night," harkening to the weekly show the band played from 1996 to 1998 at the Cabooze in Minneapolis. The club was packed with fans, and the anticipation was high for the show which would also serve as a springboard for the Big Wu's upcoming fall tour (with the Recipe) that takes the band to various cities in the Midwest and East. Many fans were expecting a sort of retro-Wu concert, consisting of early tunes and a possible Grateful Dead cover or two. What the Big Wu decided to play, however, had an old school, new school duality. Indeed much loved, established material was played, but the show also featured several brand new compositions, along with a few covers.
A new song written by guitarist Chris Castino opened the first set, a selection which allowed the band to open it up a bit right away. The guitar and keys melodically intertwined and finely meshed with the lilting rhythmic flow while Bass player Andy Miller and drummer Terry Van DeWalker laid a solid foundation for Castino and keyboardist Al Oikari to hover above. Next came a nicely executed Big Wu standard, "Break of Day." Switching gears, the band next launched into a new Terry Van DeWalker song that once more allowed room for improv and exchange. Unfortunately, an inchoate jam was brought to a halt, severing the ideas that were beginning to mature. The band then jumped into a rowdy version of "Rhode Island Red" that redirected the tempo of the concert, but a new song written by Andy Miller brought the emphasis back to the group dynamics. While "Precious Hands" failed to find the right tempo and limped along to the end, the crowd sing-along anthem, "Puerto Rico" provided one of the best readings of an older song of the night. Out of blue, Al Oikari then eased the band into – what would become – a scorching "Sugar Magnolia." By the first jam section, the bass and drums turned the song into a hybrid between "L.A. Women" and "Sugar Magnolia." Keeping with the hypertension, the countrified barnburner "Texas Fireball" sped along. For the set closer Frank Leonovich of the area band Kung Fu Hippies came onstage and added wonderfully played rhythm and lead guitar on "Kensington Manner." The two-guitar approach was a reminder (roughly) of what the Big Wu sounded like with two guitarists, as each was given space to comment on the song and respond with melodic support to the other.
The first two songs of the second set "How Sweet It Is," and "Got to Get Better in a Little While," were hastily played, but the pace changed when the group broke out yet two more new songs – one sung by Castino and the other handled by Terry Van DeWalker. Once more, the new Castino song brought the group into tighter musical formation, where each member carefully listened to the supporting parts. Miller played a delightfully wavering, mid-register bass procession that helped the ideas move around without hesitation. A fine cover of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" nicely setup the rapidly blossoming Big Wu classic, "Low Down." Somber and penitent in timbre, "Low Down" is an example of how the Big Wu contrasts its boisterous rocker side with thought provoking arrangements of despair and failure narrowly averted. Next, sound technician Andy Frey played drums while Terry strapped on Castino's Gibson SG for "Dog's Dead" and "SPMC." Both songs awkwardly punctuated the middle of the set. "SPMC" fell flat and didn't deliver the rushing crescendo that is contained on the band's latest record Spring Reverb. In celebration of the baseball fervor in the state of Minnesota, Chris played the Twins theme song "We're Gonna Win Twins," before tearing into a raucous version of "Mean Spirits." The band confidently closed the inning with another regionally inspired crowd pleaser, "Minnesota Moon." The ensuing encore fell neatly into the structure of the evening, placing new and old songs side-by-side: "Black Rain" as new and "All Good" as the old. Terry's evangelical testifying at the conclusion of "All Good" sent the crowd out in the crisp Minneapolis night believing, indeed, that all was good.
At shows end, a friend commented on the experimental feel of the performance. The evening didn't exactly have an old school feel to it, but the band did give the audience a glimpse of where the song writing is heading. The new pieces contained wonderfully thought out instrumental sections that will only get better with repeated playing, but some of the older material sounded as though it had been played too often, resulting in rushed, indistinctly played versions. In essence, the show was typical Big Wu. Marked by caprice, the band has a penchant, for better or worse, for doing things in the opposite fashion that one would expect. This keeps the fans off balance like a good slider for a pitcher and makes for an interesting show. To be sure, the October 1 performance was a breaking ball.