Musical Chairs - Sitting In With Big Wu & Wise Monkey

Andy 'AG' Geib of Wise Monkey Orchestra

report filed 10/29/01, 11:41 am pdt - Sparks tend to fly when a skilled musician 'sits in' with another band for some impromptu jamming. The greater the skills, the bigger the sparks. But inspired jamming is not only a function of jaw dropping, technical mastery. It's a communication thing. Interjecting a new musical wavelength into the established intimacy of another group's onstage conversation is all about melodic vocabulary... the ability to spontaneously articulate ideas and concepts musically through any given instrument.

One of the best, and most prolific, 'sit in' artists on the scene these days is Andy 'AG' Geib from Wise Monkey Orchestra. Can't tell ya exactly how many different bands I've seen this guy play with - Deep Banana Blackout, Juggling Suns, Dr. Didg, John Brown's Body, B-Side Players, Tunji, Giant People, and many more. Don't get the wrong idea though, the guy ain't greedy. AG's as quick to invite a fellow player onstage with Wise Monkey as he is to jump onstage with someone else.

And that's what happened on the first night of WMO's current tour, a double bill featuring WMO and Deep Banana up in Santa Cruz. Lots of jammin' goin on there. One minute DBB's Hope Clayburn was getting funky with the monkey, the next, AG was doin' the banana slide with the blackout. Our friends up north tell us that this was an epic groove-a-rama, and based on the number of people recording the show, there should be some tapes floating around soon...

Guest collaborations continued the following night, when WMO's old buddy Dave Ellis sat in for a show in San Francisco. The association between Ellis, who's played with everyone from Charlie Hunter to Ratdog, dates back to one fateful night a few years ago when Wise Monkey happened to be in the Denver area playing at Quixote's on the same night his jazz band was playing nearby at the Blue Bird Theater. The connection was Rich 'The Red Mahaldanado' Maloney, who was working sound for the monkey and also knew Ellis from working on the Furthur Tours.

So anyway, Maloney invited Ellis to the WMO show, and he wound up sitting in... you wanna talk about sparks? The monkey damn near burnt that place down with the blazing jams ignited by Ellis' inspired play. A month or so later, when WMO went into the studio to record their now classic Pathways, Ellis flew out to San Diego to record on many of the tracks. He also appears on WMO's latest release - They Live. Anyhow, it's no surprise that all reports indicate the show in San Francisco was off the hook.

Wise Monkey Orchestra

The third date of the tour was the monkey's triumphant return to Winstons in Ocean Beach after a summer long break, while lead vocalist Alley was out on maternity leave. We're happy to report (as we were in our last update) that Alley gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and after taking some time to prepare for this tour, appeared in top form for the Winstons show. Not only did Alley look fantastic, she sounded great! And so did the rest of the band...

Jason Robinson

Sean Hart and Marty Schwartz

After a high energy opening set with the local power grooves of Spaceman Spiff, Wise Monkey took the stage and rocked the house without a break until the night was over... they just kept blowing it out from one song to the next! I'm not sure who had more fun - the crowd or the band. Playing a wild, five string standup electric bass, Chad Stewart was clearly having a blast, at times dancing ala Fred Astaire to the Ginger Rogers of his spinning bass.

Chad Stewart

Former monkey beat keeper, Ed Fletcher sat in for the entire set on percussion, and also switched places with Bruce 'Studs' Stodola on the drummer's throne for a song or two. Everything just clicked. The band was clearly fired up to be playing again, and the longtime hometown faithful were equally stoked. WMO is currently on the road touring throughout the west - be sure check 'em out if you get the opportunity!

Marty Schwartz and Alley

Big Wu was in town a couple of nights later for a Monday evening show at Winstons. Nice guys. I had the pleasure of interviewing bass player Andy Miller for a recent article and also guitarist Jason Fladager some time ago for a different article. Both are funny, well grounded and thoughtful, particularly when talking about their grass roots approach to the business of being an independent band, as well as the sense of community between the Wu and their fans. And it's not just talk - all that stuff comes out in their music.

There was a good crowd on hand and the Wu's two set show had the joint jumpin' with a satisfying mix of old and new material. It was a particularly fun show for me on a variety of levels. Catching me by surprise, Miller asked during pre-show chat if I would start the show by introducing the band. Sure, I've done a little public speaking over the years, most recently as emcee of the Area 51 Sound Test, so after taking a long gulp of my properly chilled glass of Red Hook ESB, I agreed.

Can't recall exactly what I said, something about the Wu's homeown football team, the Minnesota Vikings whipping their traditional rivals, the Green Bay Packers, the day before. I figured it would give the Minnesota 'friendly' crowd something to get noisy about - and it did! Happy to get a response and quick to clear the stage after a no frills, straight to the point intro, my little corner of the universe was a warm and fuzzy place for the rest of the night...

Jason Fladager and Andy Miller

Following an entertaining first set that was capped by a rousing version of Wu gem 'Silcanturnitova,' and a short break, the band came back for a momentous second set. No sooner were the late night festivities underway when, you guessed it, AG was invited onstage to sit in! Adding the voice-of-fun good time tones of his slide trombone to a spacious treatment of the Wu's 'Oxygen,' AG exchanged licks with guitarist Chris Castino much to the delight of all in attendance.

AG and Chris Castino

From there, the Wu just went off with freewheeling, extended jams in a variety of musical directions. Highlights: a blistering rendition of 'Pinnacle;' super soulful, three part harmonies on a well sung and warmly played version of the Grateful Dead classic, 'Candyman;' and a crazy 'Kangaroo' romp that segued through 'What a Player Needs >> It Takes Two >> Mighty High,' before jumping back into 'Kangaroo' to close the set. Not that they wanted to stop there. Quite the opposite, the band wanted to keep playing, but unfortunately they found themselves being emphatically advised they were out of time.

Chris Castino and Al Oikari

Jason Fladager

Andy Miller

Oh well, the Wu jam packed quite a musical wallop from start to finish, and even if everybody there could've boogied 'til sunrise, it was still a full night of highly enjoyable music... these guys have always been good and somehow they just keep getting better! The Big Wu is also currently on tour - don't miss 'em if they do a show somewhere near you!

Chris Castino

Meanwhile, back at the word factory, we've posted Lo Faber's House Party, a short feature on Lo Faber, the former front man for God Street Wine who recently released Henry's House, a very cool double CD rock opera.

OK amigo - that's it for now. Due technical problems with our scanner, we're unable to post any CD reviews this time out. If all goes well, the scanner will be up and running soon, and we'll catch up on CD reviews, and whatever else is going on, when our adventure in music journalism continues...

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