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Livewire

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FreeBass
Son of One
Peabody's DownUnder
December 31

As if to let 1998 shrivel up and die alone, FreeBass waited until midnight to begin his New Year's Eve show. Good move. A year when Lucianne Goldberg became a household name is not one that will be remembered for its funky flavor.

Armed with a bass that resembles a punctuation mark from the Prince alphabet, FreeBass let lovers kiss in the new year before thumping through a long, grinding set of synth-bitten funk. He and his sharp band--drums, guitar, keyboards--celebrated repetition. Most songs led off with a hip-shaking riff that seldom changed. FreeBass seems so certain of his flair for smart grooves that he doesn't dress them with abrupt shifts or complicated structures. This is the music of a confident man of funk, and the confidence is deserved.

The similarities between FreeBass and Harold Chichester are so strong, they lead you to wonder if one is pissed at the other for cribbing his act. Each played bass in successful Ohio white funk bands (FreeBass in Shag, Chichester in the Royal Crescent Mob). Each struck out on his own (Chichester put together Howlin' Maggie). Each has a fondness for feather boas. They even look alike: same slim frame, short brown hair, and facial twitches. The music, however, is quite different. FreeBass is staying truer to the spirit of Bootsy Collins (listening to FreeBass pop his bass through effects pedals, the phrase "photon phunk" comes to mind), while Chichester grabbed a guitar and went for rocky pop. Whatever secrets they're sharing (or stealing), the state is lucky to claim them both.

After a slow start (a drum solo in the opening number?), opener Son of One picked up steam as the material improved. Just when the band seemed ready to bust into "1999," it went into a rousing version of "Auld Lang Syne." Fears that the eight-piece's sound should have been fuller were confirmed when FreeBass shook the joint with a band half the size.

--David Martin

Larry McCray
The Sam Getz Band
Wilbert's
January 2

The weather--snow, ice, rain, misery, remember?--may have inspired the blues, but it sure didn't inspire too many people to come out and hear the blues. Only a handful of people stuck around enough for Larry McCray's late show at Wilbert's. A pity, because McCray and his band made braving any mess of slush worthwhile.

McCray led a four-piece that functioned as a deft rhythmic unit. Guitar, organ, bass, and drums each had its own thing to say without compromising an everpresent, compelling shuffle beat. Snap-quick, the players stacked layers upon layers of accents, all dedicated to one noble purpose: vibrating your skullcap at its natural boogaloo frequency. They brought the blues solid like the tree trunk, thick like the meat stew, chewy like the beef jerky.

The rhythm section of five-string bassist Noel Neil and Larry's brother Steve on drums proved especially strong at locating a steady pulse. Even when they played out, they never sounded cluttered and never let the momentum slip. Enter Dave Mathis on keyboard. His sound, atmospheric at times, unifying at others, helped fill in the few spaces in the music. His contributions gave the unit a sound much thicker than you would expect from four guys.

As good as his bandmates were, McCray proved every bit deserving of their company. His vocals were compelling, and his guitar work was always mannered, well-paced, and felicitous. He soloed with the maturity of a man versed in his medium, never forcing the fire, but bringing it when necessary. His guitar was continually building and releasing, pushing to the fore, then receding into the group sound, but always organic to the music. The man obviously knew his fretboard intimately and even sang along with his strings on an especially explosive tune.

The only weak points in the evening came with McCray's few ventures into the Robert Cray land of blues-based R&B and power balladeering. McCray saved his genre-crossing for these tunes--one hinted at country, while another employed a reggae section. But despite the musical cross-pollination, the ballads were rather flavorless and somewhat dull. The group was at its best on the straight-ahead blues tunes, and from this area of expertise it rarely departed.

Opener the Sam Getz Band served mostly as a platform for young Mr. Getz and his Jimi Ray Clapton guitar work. It was a family affair again with Dad, Tom Getz, on drums and vocals. Joe Gambitta filled in on bass. The senior Getz kept a beat but left less than compelling vocals, and Gambitta's bass lines rarely rose above the pedestrian. On their cover-heavy set, they wisely dispensed with the vocals and theme early and set Getz Jr. loose.

Quite early in his musical career, Sam Getz's playing may be derivative. His Texas shuffles and '60s rock-blues leanings (he hit tunes like Hendrix's "Red House" and Santana's "Black Magic Woman") betray many hours spent studying at the digitally remastered feet of the masters. Most impressive however, is how well Getz has internalized the lessons. His fingers were lightning fast, and his solos were at moments genuinely exhilarating. He even displayed an admirable sense of rhythm in his moments of six-string thrash. The guy knows the paradigms up and down--it's all there. Whether he decides to make the next step from emulating to generating, that's up to him.

--Aaron Steinberg

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