The funk can be a powerful weapon. Used even by the most amateur musician, it can get a whole room moving, but in the hands of a seasoned master, people can get crazy. Legendary bassist Victor Wooten's show last Tuesday at the Bluebird was like an atom bomb of funk, an improvised and relentlessly groovy set that lit a fire under everyone's feet, turning the Bloomington nightclub into one of the most high-energy, raucous dance parties these eyes have ever seen.
Local openers Coyaba started things off well, playing a stylish and unique blend of dub and reggae. Relaxed but powerful, the five-piece (guitar, bass, drums, sax and a dude on a laptop) did a great job of whetting everyone's appetite for the funk main course. Good reggae is rare these days, especially in central Indiana, so the group's tight, infectious Jamaican rhythms were a welcome and refreshing addition to the night's lineup.
Coyaba brought a sizeable crowd, but by the time Wooten took the stage, the Bluebird was packed. The first show of his current solo tour (dubbed the "Two Minds, One Groove" tour), Wooten, best known for playing with bluegrass/jazz fusion giants Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, performed as a duo with drummer J.D. Blair. The two proudly winged the whole performance, with Wooten looping and layering funky bass on top of more funky bass with Blair's rock-steady beats as a foundation. The format gave Wooten a lot of room to bust out the kind of powerful and melodic playing he's become known for, showing off the kind of virtuosic ability that can only come from a lifetime of dedication.
In between and in the middle of improvised jams, the two would effortlessly (and, it seemed, almost accidentally) segue into jams based around well-known songs and melodies. Over the night, both "Amazing Grace" and "Lowrider" popped up, as did a smooth and relaxed version of "Yesterday" that had the whole audience singing along to the bass's silky notes.
Near the middle of the performance, Wooten invited a friend of his on stage whom he said he met at "bass camp." Apparently, Wooten had grabbed the wrong bass case on his way down to Bloomington, and this guy made the trip, bringing whatever Victor had forgotten with him. Playing one of Wooten's basses along with the duo, he looked like he was having the time of his life, holding down simple but undeniably funky bass grooves that complemented the two well.
Wooten and Blair's performance showcased the incredible skills of both musicians, with Wooten even taking a backseat to Blair's precise drumming at times. A powerful exercise in what two guys as well-versed and experienced as these two can do on stage, it proved to me once again that you can't, won't, and will never be able to stop the funk.