Big Wu satisfy fans with SF visit

Michelle Herrick

Michelle Herrick

When Minneapolis jam band Big Wu first started playing, their biggest goal was to headline downtown at First Avenue. Now that they’ve been the main act there a dozen times, they’re just working on playing music.

“Like a relationship, the goals are a part of the process, once you reach them you can’t just stop,” bassist Andy Miller said. “What I discovered is that I can actually make a living playing music.”

About 100 people braved the cold and paid the hefty $20 cover charge to hear them make their living Friday night at the Sioux Falls Brewing Co.

A crowd of mostly 20-somethings gathered at this hip downtown venue, some fans hailing from as far away as Minnesota. Others just came to hear a good show.

The Smokin’ Jays, a local band, started the night off.

The Big Wu, along with bands like The String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic and OM Trio make up the popular jam genre. It’s considered to be the new age in hippy rock.

They lived up to their jam band reputation with long instrumental sequences that featured few lyrics–think psychedelic. When they did sing, it came out in a blast of muttered phrases certainly philosophical.

The crowd enjoyed it. The dance floor was crowded with dread locked heads, beaded hemp jewelry and colorful skirts. Nearly everyone there could keep beat with the music that the Big Wu was putting out.

“The way I see it is our songs say things to certain people,” drummer Terry VanDeWalker said. “They’ve heard the melody before so it provides a sort of comfort or familiarity.”

The list of some of the band’s self-described musical influences includes Led Zeppelin, Hank Williams, Steely Dan and Neil Diamond.

“We each bring something special to the table, from rock to instrumental stuff by Joni Mitchell to Christian music,” keyboardist Al Oikari said.

With their origins in Minnesota, the band started in 1992 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. And up until the day before their first act, they still hadn’t chosen a name.

It all stems from a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie called Joe Versus the Volcano in which the volcano’s name is the Big Wu.

“All of a sudden it was on a poster, people witnessed it so there was no changing,” VanDeWalker said.

“I’m glad we didn’t choose something serious and philosophical. It’s just fun, like us.”

The Big Wu released their first album Tracking Buffalo through the Bathtub in 1998. They’ve put out three more since then and their latest called Spring Reverb was released last year.

Hard core fan Thomas Dittmar, a 29-year-old furniture liquidator from Mankato, Minn., has seen the Big Wu perform over 150 times.

“I love the music these guys play,” Dittmar said. “I give out bootleg albums at family reunions and Christmas.”

If you missed the show in Sioux Falls, have no fear–these guys are always on tour. The Big Wu play 200 gigs a year all over the country, but always come back to the Midwest.

#1.887549:1871964307.jpg:wu.jpg::Michelle Herrick