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Published: 2003/10/08
by Eric Leventhal

Victor Wooten Band, Mississippi Nights, St. Louis, MO- 9/30

When David Copperfield captivates a crowd, he does so by bringing about a literal illusion in front of his audience's eyes. The audience is left to wonder how the so-called "trick" was accomplished. Such is the approach that Victor Wooten and bandmates, (brothers Regi on guitar and Joseph on keyboards, and JD Blair on drums) bring to their concerts.

Nearly every song during the 3 hour long show contained some elements of showmanship, whether it be through Wooten's acrobatic Townshend-esque motions with the bass or drummer Blair's repeated semi-aggrandizing appeals for cheers. It all works out magnificently in person, a contrast to the occasional schticky quality that appears on the band's 2001 live album, Live in America. For the most part, the music worked best when Wooten and company dabbled less in R&B and more in funk and jazz influences, as on the bouncy "Hormones in the Headphones" or the intricate "Pentagon Square." As is to be expected, there were jams aplenty, with frequent diversions into both melodic scale work and more nontraditional pick-slaphappy stuff that fans of Wooten's other band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, would recognize.

It seemed Wooten was constantly trying to impress the audience, egging them on for applause on numerous occasions. Wooten often achieved this, picking and smacking at his bass in a percussively rhythmic, stylistic pattern that held this reviewer's mouth agape for moments on end. The sound technician must've been impressed as well, seeing as how the bass volume at Mississippi Nights was borderline excessive. Nonetheless, it was decidedly justified, with Wooten taking another, differently patterned bass solo on nearly every song he was on stage for. The rest of the band, not to be outdone, in addition to their own scattered solo turns throughout the set, each had a 5-10 minute solo section alone on stage. Keyboardist Joseph, introduced as "Explosive Joseph" by brother Victor, used his time in the spotlight to play a stirring, (albeit mildly sappy in terms of the vocals,) version of his "I Dream In Color." Guitarist Regi, dubbed "The Teacher" by both Victor and Joseph, played an entirely instrumental piece, slapping at his guitar in a similar manner to Victor's bass style. The song was impressive, both for its improvisational content and for the way Regi managed to fingertap his fretboard with both hands for lengthy periods of time, creating a sound alternately intriguing and technically proficient. Drummer Blair turned in an equally exceptional performance on the drums, utilizing an impressive kit setup to hold the audience's attention.

A guest appearance by Atlanta rapper Divinity, who also appears on the aforementioned Live disc, proved less noteworthy however. Though Divinity played bass on some of her tracks, proving her proficiency, it seemed to this reviewer that her appearances were somewhat forced. Both lyrically and musically, the music appeared to suffer when she was on stage, though that's saying nothing of her real talent, which was indeed apparent at times. Essentially, though Divinity's songs marked an interesting hip-hop funk fusion, they fell short mostly because of what had preceded and what had followed them.

Tuesday night at Mississippi Nights, Victor Wooten and band turned in an exceptional performance, brimming with confidence and marked by a nearly effortless display of talent. Wooten continually teased familiar melodies, including the themes from the Wizard of Oz, Peter and the Wolf, and countless more that I recognized but just couldn't articulate. As Wooten brought the night to a close with a lengthy solo segment on stage that which concluded with what's become a concert staple of sorts, a harmonic-laden version of the traditional "Amazing Grace," Wooten made a bass disappear from behind a red cloth. The biggest testament to his talent lies in the fact that most of the crowd was less concerned with how he did that than how he'd done whatever it was he had been doing for his other 3 hours on stage. There's no way Copperfield could do that with a bass.

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