Concert review: The Victor Wooten Band delivers virtuoso set at the Old Rock House, Thursday, July 5
Victor Wooten assembled a squad of some of his favorite musicians and brought his new line-up to an eager St. Louis crowd, bristling with excitement over a night that featured new music with a dash of past favorites.
The Old Rock House was packed early, and patrons began to vie for angle at the stage or simply settle for a good view of the closed-circuit televisions as even the standing room had evaporated before the first note.
Music lovers often find themselves in debates as they try to rank their favorites at each instrument, and Wooten often causes a stir. Considered the greatest bassist by a small but loyal minority, Victor Wooten is held in regard with some of the other greats of jazz and beyond. While initially recognized as a founding member of Béla Fleck’s supergroup, the Flecktones, the ambitious bassist has proved his significance with five studio albums of his own and a number of collaborations, including S.M.V., a group that united him with fellow bass deities, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. Wooten is currently touring to promote a double-release, due out in the fall, featuring “Words & Tones,” mixing his compositions with a choice selection of female vocalists, and its counterpart, “Sword & Stone,” which adapts the songs with fully-instrumental versions.
The music started before the band made its entrance, as the soft sounds of orchestral strings quieted the bustling crowd. After a few serene, mood-setting minutes of a recorded composition, reminiscent of a lighthearted film score, Wooten lead his troop to the stage, and hushed the uproar of applause by picking up a bow to join in. Layers of contemplative, spoken-word sound clips danced in the air, stirring the attentions and thoughts of the fans below, slowly building in crescendo until broken by the soft, jazz-filled voice of Krystal Peterson.
Peterson, a young, petite blonde with sizable tattoos peeking out the shoulders of her black dress, handled the vocals for many of the new songs, and highlighted a group of veteran talent. From the first number, the arrangement garnered special attention in composition alone. The stage featured two drum sets at either end, facing each other, and a line of four bassists, including Wooten, but the back of the stage had instruments scattered around like a dumped toy chest.
The frontman handled a variety of basses, electric and stand-up, with a cello mixed in late in the show, while the rest of the band proved to be just as versatile. The drums at the far left were manned by J.D. Blair, who added vocals and even played some bass himself in the show, and is promoting a new album of his own. The line of other bassists included Anthony Wellington, who added guitar in the rare instances it was used, Dave Welsch, who also manned the laptop and played a stunning trumpet, and Steve Bailey, department head at Berklee School of Music, who threw in a dash of trombone as well. The final spot on stage went to drummer Derico Watson, a skilled stickman with quick feet on the pedals.
While the crowd came to see Wooten, it was Krystal Peterson that was the real treat of the night. She proved to be a true performer and vocalist of the highest caliber, drawing the majority of the attention as she sang parts that ranged from the soft, whispery sounds of jazz, to the power and passion of soul. Peterson had perfect execution, never seeming to struggle to hit or sustain a note. She truly shined in the second set, when given a soft song to serenade the crowd, accompanied lightly by Wooten on cello and Watson playing softly with padded mallets. Her piece was given a well deserved, mid-set standing ovation.
However, it was Wooten’s show after-all, which he immediately reasserted after Peterson’s feature. He regained the focus with the slap-bass funk of “What Did He Say?” and the crowd danced off the goose bumps from the previous song. He even invited Beatle Bob on stage to get down like only Beatle Bob can, and gave him a bit of respect for being original and true to who he was.
The late set highlighted Wooten’s skills at all ends of the spectrum, including a long, slow solo that featured a delicate touch and a variety of effects and pedals, and his 1995 classic slap piece, “Me and My Bass Guitar.” After a few soul style grooves, the band closed the night with a new song called “Heaven,” which paid tribute to the loss of friends and family as we get older. While somber in theme, the song itself was fairly joyful, and left the crowd feeling thankful for what they have, and for the incredible night of music. The band left the stage after a theatre-styled group bow, and the crowd spilled onto the streets, filling the night air with chatter and grins of contentment.