Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Concert Review: Victor Wooten Band at The State Room

Posted By on February 13, 2013, 12:00 PM

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At one point during an extended solo (solo doesn’t exactly do it justice, though … how about epic-low-end-can-do-no-wrong-jaw-dropper?) delivered from Victor Wooten during the beginning of his first set Monday night, I asked myself, “Can I handle this much awesome tonight?”---

It wasn’t necessarily the “solo” or the fact that there were also two other bass players simultaneously droppin’ both rhythm and melody; rather, it was the overall feel: a band of the highest caliber musicians -- seven in total -- led by possibly the greatest living bassist and definitely a national musical treasure, Victor Wooten, on one stage, all the while grinning widely and making music magic happen.

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I walked in as Wooten’s band was a song or two deep into the set, and they were jamming out “My Life.” Two things were quickly apparent at this sold-out show: 1. The band members were having side conversations and making jokes with each other (and with the audience), and 2. I needed ear plugs, for this evening’s bass-licking was a mighty thing indeed.

After the five-time Grammy-award-winning musician—best known for holding down the low end with Béla Fleck & the Flecktones -- sang the verse, “Gonna make me a record and fill it all up with bass/ I can add a little keyboard if I want to but I don't,” he then proceeded to thump, whack, pluck, smash, riff and cavort his bass in ways that I have only seen about six other times -- and every other time, it was also Wooten. The man has the uncanny ability to turn any erred note into something graceful or supremely awesome.

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About three minutes into the solo, I realized that my mouth was open, my tongue was out (I’m not exaggerating or being cliche, either) and I might not have been breathing. Was I alone? I looked around and the folks who didn’t have their head down and dancing had the same facial expression.

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Wooten isn’t all about showboating, though. Peppered throughout the evening were tunes from Wooten’s recent two releases. Words & Tones features a bevy of female vocalists crooning over Wooten’s original compositions, while Sword & Stone offers up many of the same tracks but in instrumental versions, showcasing new interpretations and guest musicians. This night was filled with exaggerated and awe-inspiring solos, but, moreso, there was an emphasis on composition.

After “My Life,” he took a minute to introduce his all-star band; see, Wooten isn’t the only virtuoso in the group -- they all are. The merrymaking J.D. Blair was holding down one half of the percussion, then there were multi-instrumentalists Anthony Wellington and Dave Welsch, sassy vocalist Krystal Peterson and the head chair of the bass department at Berklee College of Music, Steve Bailey.

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As Bailey took center stage for the next song, he played a six-string fretless bass. Several times during the tune, Wooten exclaimed, “That’s impossible!” Peterson saddled up to the mic to sing “Imagine This” with a teaser of “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” to send the crowd spinning before set break.

The band came out with the appearance of having gotten into a fight or something backstage -- or maybe it was past their bedtime -- and it took a song to warm back up. After the set opener, Pederson wowed the crowd with a reworking of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.”

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Another second-set highlight was seeing Wooten play upright bass (above) and cello -- the guy cannot be stopped!

After a riveting drum solo, Wooten drew a name out of a box for a raffle. Brian Hodson (pictured below) won Wooten’s used bass strings, an autographed photo of the band and, for the benefit of everyone in the audience, a song of his own choosing. After thoroughly melting faces with reckless abandon during a duet with drummer Blair, Wooten said that he hadn’t played “Me and My Bass Guitar” in a “really, really long time.” The set was rounded out with Wooten taking the stage solo for “Amazing Grace,” followed by a full-band jam on “Sword and Stone.” The Victor Wooten Band came out to catcalls and shouting that stood in juxtaposition to the mostly hushed-throughout-the-night attendees to encore with … actually, I don’t remember, because I was so dizzy from the musicianship already performed and was dancing. That’s either a testament to the show or to my failing memory.

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Best overheard quote: “Every time I see Vic Wooten, I think to myself, ‘That guy needs to go home and practice.’”

Number of basses on stage: 12 (plus an electric cello)

Number of “sweaty” bass strings given to one fan, drawn at random: 4

Unusable excerpt from reporter’s notebook: “This is the best show I have ever seen … Wait, I say that at least once every two weeks ... is that a good or bad statement to use frequently?

All photos by Dom Darling

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