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Pitch That Revival Tent!

With the fast-talking Reverend Billy C. Wirtz presiding over the congregation at the Kuumbwa last Saturday night, it's no surprise that it was an evening full of miracles. The Reverend is an entertainer with a capital X, of the highest caliber and willing to do almost anything for a laugh--or, as he put it, for a "I find him amusing, but he's bringing up a lot of uncomfortable issues" response. Nothing was safe or sacred. He sang songs about his kidney stones (a.k.a. "the Devil's BBs"), erectile difficulties ("What I used to do all night/Now takes me all night to do"), and his first love--the woman on page 63 of the Sears catalog. And then there were the performer tutorials, wherein the Reverend demystified the many facial expressions that piano players have developed over the years to make an audience feel the music: The Badass Lower Lip Jut. The John Tesh Orgasmic Head Whip. The Straining-to-Hold-in-a-Fearsome-Fart Face. Meanwhile, he's got the boogie-woogie blues piano down pat, which he seems to just set on autopilot as he focuses his attention on the audience. He gauged our intelligence and moral sensibilities with each response to a joke, and finally concluded that we were a smart audience, yet thoroughly perverted. It was as if he peered into the depths of our very souls! Indeed, what good is a Reverend who can't feel the vibe of his congregation? And as perverted as that last sentence came out, it was unintentional, and not nearly as clever as the Good Reverend's shameless banter, which got progressively raunchier throughout the evening.

And to think that the show started off so sweetly! The opening act was a saw/piano duo--The Artist Formerly Known As Hedge helped Arlene, a sweet old lady in a flashy sequined jacket, across the stage to the piano, where she played old sing-along songs like "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover." Then Hedge proceeded to balance an amazing array of objects on his nose, starting with pencils and bananas, then moving on to wooden owls, stuffed dogs and a washboard. He walked an adorably beaming Arlene off the stage, and I never would have guessed that the Reverend would bring her back out at the end of his show. By then, he had worked himself up to a fever pitch, and had the audience smacking themselves and their neighbors in the head, dancing in their seats and flipping him the bird. But in what was perhaps the most amazing miracle of the evening, the Reverend had the blessed inspiration to heal all the chronic masturbators in the audience, Hallelujah, amen and praise be to Billy--because, as the Reverend put it, Jesus looked down from heaven and said, "I ain't got nothing to do with this." Then, as Arlene played a duet with his Wirtzness, he leered at her like she was ... well, let's just say the look he gave her was wrong ... so wrong.

The Amazing Victor Wooten

If you think that giving this bonafide bass virtuoso the title "The Amazing ..." is my way of saying that he's so good on the bass that he might as well be a magician, you're only half right. I don't care how good your technique is, or how many times you're heralded as the next Stanley Clarke, no amount of picking, slapping or plucking is going to make you levitate three feet above your stool in the middle of a bass solo. Lightning-fast fingers will not help you make tables float with no strings attached, or bursts of flame appear as if from nowhere. Yet Wooten accomplished these feats, played a mean theremin, and of course he tore up the bass like no other. Understandable that they threw other elements into the show, which was three hours long with no opener and no break, save for the occasional extended drum/bass/guitar/keyboard solo. Many a jaw dropped wide open as Anthony Wellington made a single foot pedal sound like two, brother tapped his way into the outer limits of his guitar and Victor showed us how black magic opens up limitless funky possibilities "yinnin' and yangin'" on a five-string bass. They mixed it up with soulful R&B, funk and hip-hop, with an Ozzy medley thrown in for good measure. Strange, though, that the groove in the air was spotty at best--was the audience simply too awestruck? Or was it the cheesy synth horn section? After giving the matter some Deep Thought, one must conclude that the answer is, of course, 42.

Mike Connor

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From the January 29-February 5, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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