Last week, Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and Derico Watson wrapped up their Bass Extremes Tour with a four night blow out in the Centennial State. Landing everywhere but the southwest and west coast in a 21-night-in-27-days run from October into November, the trio hit Fort Collins, Manitou Springs, Denver, and finally Boulder in consecutive performances to close it all out. Promoting their latest endeavor and their first in two decades, their seemingly paradoxical titled creation S’low Down showed audiences through these four sold out performances that they were all but following this direction. Dazzling and bewildering, their 90-minute sets once again concluded that these gentlemen deserve the seats they have earned in the pantheon of top-tier musicians on a global level.
Derico Watson plays with a passion, speed, and a locked-in timing that his voice in this project seems not only perfect, but more so created by the universe itself specifically for this seat, drum throne if you will, that no one else could fill. Steve Bailey with his fingers for Miles stretches the extent of the seemingly impossible dynamics of the six-string fretless while playing in symmetry, parallel, perpendicular, and often times opposite to his counterparts, making his contribution not only a fit of precision, but also at times, otherworldly. After decades of awe-inspiring performances on the terrestrial road, Victor Wooten continues to dazzle with the “how” factor, surpassing the wow and kept the audiences of the Rockies scratching their heads with his impossibility. Alone, each of these giants stand apart from many of their contemporaries, but as a group, this trifecta of effect-a had eyes glued, mouths shut, and ears wide open, while the heart and soul of listeners were leveled for a ticket price that in the aftermath seemed much, much to low for the end result.
Thursday night, Fort Collins served as ground zero for the Colorado run. The evening began with a darkened room, an empty stage and a piped-in conversation between Bailey and Wooten with accents and remarks from Bootsy Collins. As the piped in preamble concluded, Watson took the stage and laid the beat, unaccompanied, solid and smooth, until finally the other two entered from opposite sides of the stage from behind the audience.
Bailey jumped in, contributing to Watson’s groundwork, getting things started with “Home Bass”. Followed shortly by Wooten, who was visually ready to kick off a great night, smiling and making eye contact with the front rows, but instead was immediately stopped in the track, the sound wrought with uninvited distortion and technical difficulties, ending the first piece before it got started. Getting a little help from Johnathan, one of their traveling techs, the band was back on the road, leaving “Home Bass” in the rearview. The three headed monster moved into a short clinic on chromatic scale before setting off into the entertainingly odd “The Chrome Addict”. Constructed with a sweet melody at its core and adorned with a strange fringe, the outcome of this one left any memory of technical difficulty by the wayside as the audience soaked it all in. If there was an alternate title to this one it could have been “Kitchen Sink” because this one’s had everything.
“Not at Three” off of the Bass Extremes 2002 release Cookbook, was introduced with banter and comedy between Wooten and Bailey, fueling the funny bone of the audience. Wooten took the time to introduce his string compatriot as “being able to do on the six string fretless bass what only three people in the world have ever been able to do. One of them was deported, the other spontaneously combusted, and the third is the great Steve Bailey.”
Derico Watson got a little time in the sun, shaking a short but meteoric drum solo that had the crowd calling out for more. With a final apical build, the resolution turned toward a steady groove and served as the perfect launchpad for multiple minutes of exchange between Vic and Steve. The jam that ensued eventually gave way to a medley that consisted of Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird”, The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and “Come Together” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black”, before dissolving into various forms of discord, eventually running through several measures of searing bass lines that left even the performers laughing along with the audience.
Introduced as the outcome of independent challenges both Vic and Steve left each other in the absence of the other while working in Steve's studio in South Carolina, “Patchwork” sounded just like what the title implied: an amalgam of personality stitched together with compositional cooperation. Detailed as attempting to one up each other in difficulty, the end result was an auditory adventure that boggled the eye and spun the ear.
“Patchwork” saw the departure of Steve and Derico and left Vic alone to toy with the sensibilities of the audience on his own. His bass solo started off with the easily identified and spirit lifting “Big Country”, filling the belly with soul with its embracing vibe. Derico was the first to return to the stage and took the tempo up considerably. Vic followed suit and started laying out the funk. This eventually morphed into a comical call and response of performance prowess, where Vic would call odd times for the drummer extraordinaire, prompting Derico to snap down the beat appropriate. These calls made by Vic even included fractions, such as “on the two and a quarter”, to which Derico was happy to oblige, nailing each one in perfection.
The title track from the touring album was up next and gave the jazz lovers in the room access to the standard side of things, devoid of shtick or comedic reference. The room swelled with this one and showed that with this latest creative endeavor, the writing team of Wooten and Bailey still had plenty in them from the creative department. With a brief break, the show closed with Derico leading the way with an extended and bone rattling drum solo before he took the opportunity to serenade the crowd into the wintery night with Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”, showing Watson's talent doesn’t end with kick drum and snare.
Listening back to the recording, writing a review of performances like these is almost an act of ridiculousness as there is no true way to capture in words everything that goes on between these performers. In the end, what has to be established is that the proof is in the pudding and oh how sweet it is. The fulfilling calories of this cosmic goodness not only left many wanting more, but also scratching their heads why there are such huge gaps in Vic and Steve getting on the road together. For anyone who caught shows that dotted the calendar in 2022, consider yourselves lucky because who knows when and where we will have the opportunity to catch this greatness again.
Thank you again to the staff and management of The Armory for not only allowing Grateful Web access, but for continuing to bring great music and artists to Northern Colorado. Without the creative direction of people like you, this life and landscape would be a little dimmer. Long live the community of the Bohemian Foundation that is demonstrated every night in the hearts of her people, including Greta, Erin, Ruby, Kevin, Chris, Andrew, Jen and all the others who help in making the magic happen.