Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Off-beat bassist impresses audience

The Soul Circus concert at the Barrymore last Friday featured Victor Wooten's most obvious traits — prodigious bass playing, great showmanship and a cheesy sense of humor.

It was definitely the strangest concert I've ever seen, except "concert" is the wrong word for what happened Friday. Wooten's current tour, as the name implies, is more of a circus act. Whether wowing the audience with bass-playing pyrotechnics or climbing on top of the amps with six fake arms strapped to his back, Wooten seemed bent on putting on a great show.

The stage was decorated with circus posters depicting scenes that included a bass that could play itself. The band didn't even take the stage at first, opening the show with a video of a redneck bow-hunter describing an eight-armed creature he encountered in the woods. The idea was to show that Wooten could play the bass like a man with eight hands, a theme that would recur throughout the night. Also included was footage of Wooten's toddler son warbling a song of his own creation, which might have been considered cute if anybody in the audience gave a sh*t.

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The opening song revealed that Wooten writes even worse lyrics than his son. "Victa" featured lines like "My name is Victa, and I'm a winner and I know what I'm talkin' about / and just 'cause I came out on top don't mean I'm leaving you out." Excruciatingly bad lyrics permeated the night's set list on songs such as "Bass Tribute" and "Higher Law."

But nobody really came for the lyrics. Although the first few minutes of the show bordered on blatant self-promotion, Wooten soon won the audience over with his sheer musical chops. Wooten's style of bass playing sounds like an entire band — an impossibly rhythmic attack combined with funky phrasing. Once everyone got over the fact that Wooten was singing a song praising his own skills, the audience couldn't help but get down.

Wooten's back-up band played with this in mind. Even though there were often three bass guitars playing at the same time, Wooten's counterparts left him enough space to work. The band romped through a set of soul-infused funk jams that focused on material off of Wooten's new album, also titled Soul Circus.

But the real highlight of the night was the solos showcasing each member of the band. After the opening numbers, the band left the stage, letting drummer Derico Watson show off his skills. The solo he performed kept the audience in mind, shying away from the self-indulgent overkill that ruins so many drum jams. Watson kept it short and sweet, content to simply warm up the audience for the next soloist.

Not that Victor's brother Regi needed anyone's help to get the audience pumped-up. His guitar solo section was one of the high points of the set.

The band introduced Regi as "The Teacher," since he taught younger brothers Victor and Joseph (the band's keyboard player) how to play their instruments. But for the first half of the concert, Regi's playing was completely inconspicuous, mostly just adding to the '80s-style keyboard fills.

As a result, the crowd was taken completely off-guard when he began to play an incredibly fast solo guitar run reminiscent of Randy Rhoads. Through a wall of distortion, Regi used both hands to hammer-on flurries of notes in succession, causing every jaw in the house to drop. He kept up this frenetic pace for several minutes, all while maintaining a bemused smile that looked totally relaxed.

After Regi walked off to raucous cheers from the excited crowd, Joseph took the stage to showcase his keyboard talents. To no one's surprise, Joseph was also in complete control of his instrument, executing perfectly timed, jazzy keyboard flourishes. But Joseph's solo was much more melodic than Regi's, featuring several moodier synthesizer sections.

By the end of Joseph's solo, the crowd was more than ready to hear the man himself. The noise level increased several notches as Victor took the stage. But instead of answering the crowd's chant for his trademark "Amazing Grace" solo, he launched into a pulsing jam based on the use of a loop pedal. Using this pedal to record and endlessly replay each bass lick, Victor soon was soloing over a self-made groove. The jam with himself gave Victor plenty of opportunities to create musical ideas on the spot, showcasing his extreme musical creativity.

Victor brought the loop section to a close by playing the opening notes to "Amazing Grace," spurring an immediate reaction from the audience. His trademark solo started off with the melody played through use of harmonics along the bass neck, causing the crowd to quickly become quiet in awe. Not a word was spoken as Victor enhanced the song with delicate counter-melodies before breaking into the funky middle section.

This rendition of "Amazing Grace" surprised no Wooten fans in the crowd, but Victor still kept things fresh by adding other ideas to the general flow.

The band closed the show up by returning to "Victa," bringing the Soul Circus to its wailing climax. After the final notes, Victor, Regi and Joseph stayed on to shake hands with any audience members who were in reach of the stage.

There was a weak cry for an encore, but most of the audience was brain-fried, having just witnessed the power of the most talented bass player out there today — the man with eight arms, Mr. Victor Wooten.

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