Posted Tuesday, Jan. 9, 8:48 p.m.
An eclectic mix of funk, R&B, gospel, soul, and jazz, packed the walls of the 9:30 club on Friday night as Victor Wooten’s solo show came to town promoting his latest album, “Soul Circus.” Usually a member of the bluegrass/jazz jam band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Victor Wooten has released five solo albums, and continues to tour with his solo group, amazing audiences all over the country, and letting them know exactly why he is considered arguably the best thing that happened to the bass guitar since its invention. His entire two-hour set was like a lesson on how to make the funkiest, dance-inspiring musical sounds possible with an instrument.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take away from that, but one thing was clear: I left the show feeling a little less white than I did when I came in. The first thing I thought when the opening band came on stage was “Wow…it’s gotta be tough being the bass player in the opening band at a show featuring the best bassist in the world.” But to be fair, the opening act, The Deanna Bogart Band, held their own. All four musicians were extremely talented, especially the guitarist, and their unique blend of swing and 30’s-style piano-based blues held everyone’s attention in a way that many openers fail to do.
Then I almost laughed when Victor and his band came out, as I remembered my thoughts about the bassist in the opening band, and I immediately amended my definition of tough after considering the position of the Victor Wooten’s backup bassist. That’s right, two basses. The act should have really been called ‘The Victor Wooten Family Band’, as his older brothers Regi (I knew this guy was money as soon as he walked on stage, playing a cheap Fender Squier guitar usually meant for beginners and wearing a hat big enough to hold his dreads and perhaps even a small third-world country) and Joseph (the keyboardist, who looked like he stole his outfit from the “Sprockets” sketch on Saturday Night Live during the 1990s) were also members of the band.
Victor, playing what I would imagine to be ‘lead bass’ led the show off with a funky blues jam, and then went into a song off of his new album called “Victa,” a tune featuring Jimi Hendrix-like musical ability and Will Smith-like lyrics. With its chorus “My name is Victor/And I play it like a playa plays,” I couldn’t tell if the song was a joke or not until I went home and looked at the discography of Soul Circus and saw that it was a feature track.
Aside from the cheesy lyrics which slightly cheapened almost every song, Victor’s hyperkinetic slap-and-pop technique and amazing speed kept everyone on edge, and throughout the show, my friends and I were sharing looks that we all understood to mean “Holy crap, did he really just do that?”
About halfway through the show, Victor kicked off a medley which was a peek into a time vault of funk music, featuring “Love Roller Coaster” by the Ohio Players, “Sex Machine” by James Brown, “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix, and then a funked-out version of “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. Although I thought it was cool that Victor was acknowledging the roots of the type of music he played, I felt a little bit insulted. I felt as if he didn’t think the crowd understood funk music enough to appreciate his act, so he had to ‘dumb it down’ for us by playing popular funk songs that us ‘rhythmically challenged’ folk could appreciate.
After an amazing but amazingly long solo by Victor’s brother Regi, referred to as
‘The Teacher’, as well as a keyboard solo by his brother Joseph, Victor closed his set with one of his signature “oooooh” songs, his slap-bass rendition of Amazing Grace that ends with a progression of harmonics that would have bass guitar legend Jaco Pastorius shivering in his grave. After his encore, Victor broke out into one last refrain of “My name is Victor”, at which point I think everyone in the audience rolled their eyes and laughed. All-in-all I’d give the show an ‘A’, but please, Victor…hire a lyricist.