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The Circus Comes to Town PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 22 October 2002 18:00
Minnesota-based WookieFoot might be the greatest party band in the world – a high-energy mix of a stunning yet accessible musical mishmash and a stage presentation that looks to be as much circus as concert. The band will be making its first visit to the Quad Cities on Friday at RIBCO, and be prepared to be wowed by the showmanship. The group promises costumes, 3D black-light art, stilt walkers, fire spinners, hair shaped into horns, and magic tricks. That variety is a good indicator of the multitude of musical styles that the band throws into its reggae- and hip-hop-based stew, and the best thing of all is that the music stands on its own.

As its name suggests, WookieFoot might just be from another planet. Its press materials pledge that “WookieFoot is not simply a band, but also a show, a philosophy, and a feeling.” This group is its own little Lollapalooza, a freak festival and proud of it. Its Minneapolis home is a known as the “WookieFoot Playhouse,” a turn-of-the-century mansion with purple shag carpet, mirrored ceilings, and a recording studio.

The band was formed by high-school friends Mark Murphy (guitar, keyboards, and vocals) and JoJo Lash (vocals), who claim they were “shipwrecked on the frozen tundra of Minneapolis” after a long journey via sailboat and school bus. The group’s Web site suggests a few members of the nine-member troupe aren’t exactly clear what their roles are.

WookieFoot’s aggressively out-there elements threaten to obscure its musical prowess, though. Here is a band that seems to have consumed musical styles like most people eat breakfast, yet with as much genre-hopping as WookieFoot does, the band retains its consistency and identity amazingly well. It starts with funk, R&B, reggae, and hip hop and then throws in samples, electronic elements, industrial-metal guitars, World Beat rhythms, and a party vibe that won’t be denied.

WookieFoot’s latest record, 2001’s Make Belief, is a powerhouse showcase for a band that seems comfortable in virtually any element. The album, the group’s second, is filled with an hour of strong material, and it earns its self-indulgence.

The band’s first love is clearly reggae, but WookieFoot is at its least interesting when mining that territory. There’s nothing wrong with island-sound tracks such as “Overboard” and “Nod My Head,” but compared to everything else on the record, they seem relatively flat. The reggae of “Enough” gets a punch from some hard-edged guitars, but it still sells the band short.

The album kicks off with the beat-and-bass funk of “All You Can Eat,” a mocking screed against American consumption that’s highlighted by warbling horns. The playful hip-hop of “Make Believe” – the album’s fourth track – gives the first hints of the band’s scope. The horns, bass, and layers of male and female rapping blend seamlessly to get the bodies moving. “High Is High” pumps up the tempo and puts layers of sonic texture underneath the fast-moving hip-hop – a subdued sax, percussion, and samples – before a digression of acoustic guitar.

While WookieFoot’s sonic textures are frequently amazing, the lyrics aren’t. The worst offender is the recycled children’s rhyme of “All the King’s Horses,” yet the vocals are nearly superfluous, with beats that sound like they came from submarines and guitars borrowed from Ministry, with a soaring flute that comes out of nowhere to rescue the song. The angry “Not Sees,” on the other hand, doesn’t offer much beyond clichés.

But those tracks are rare exceptions on the 15-track platter.

“Falling Down Trying” is a combination of day-camp tongue-twister and Irish drinking song over a backdrop from both the Emerald Isle and fuzzed-out metal school. With its big beats and dominant bass, “John Henry” starts as if it comes from the songbook of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, except that those elements give way to electronic soundscapes and gospel harmonizing for a big chunk of the song. The ska-flavored “Out of My Way” starts with a turntabled vocal flourish that might have been borrowed from Portishead. “Roommate” is another ska ditty, informed by heavy guitars.

Nothing is sacred for WookieFoot, it seems, except a good time. The band’s appearance on Friday at RIBCO is a don’t-miss show.

For more information about WookieFoot, visit (http://www.wookiefoot.com). WookieFoot will be performing Friday night at RIBCO starting at 10 p.m. Cover is $5.
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