ulu | 02.19.04 | Baylee's | Blacksburg, VA

A hallowed hall of funk is about to fall. Well, maybe not fall, but certainly stumble. It's been losing balance for a while now, but things appear to be at their worst and we, the faithful funkateers of Blacksburg, can only hope that things are turned around and the town regains its familiar funky strut.

Baylee's, in Blacksburg, Virginia, will close down the stage for an indefinite amount of time as renovations are pending that could forever alter the musical function of the club. Known years ago as the South Main Café, and a historical landmark as the oldest building in Blacksburg (formerly an Episcopal church), this tiny building houses a stage the size of a coffee table, but has carried the weight of some of the most talented musicians of our young generation. Panic, Cheese, and Galactic back in the day. San Francisco funk outfit Vinyl, Robert Walter's 20th Congress accompanied by horn legend Fred Wesley, Giant People Ensemble, Fishbone, and Oteil and the Peacemakers more recently. The list is endless. One band, though, has really come to make a home here at Baylee's in Blacksburg. New York-based ulu has dropped their very own style of jazzy dance funk on this small, Southwest Virginia town for a little over two years. Sound confusing? Hell, I've been trying to figure it out for a while now. A big city band as at home here in the hills as in their hometown? My only conclusion: funk transcends all lines and boundaries.

Scott Chasolen by Joshua Silk
Their stretch in the area began as a botched gig that was supposed to occur on the campus of nearby college, Radford University, but ultimately resulted in a performance in a dark, dank, beer soaked basement and ended with each member of the band being issued a ticket by the local police for noise violations around 2 a.m. This performance occurred out of the goodness of their own hearts, I would like to add, because they had already been paid to play even though the show was cancelled on campus. It almost became legendary in the small town of Radford and helped to build their fan base a few miles down the road in Blacksburg. This was only the beginning of a run of exciting, sweaty shows here in the area. Many gigs later and after a few lineup changes, ulu is better than ever and it was fitting that they play one of the last (?!) shows in this old building.

ulu took the stage around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 19 and were greeted by familiar cheers from an energetic crowd. It took a little while, but soon the front door was swinging wide. If you don't know, we don't really move too quick down here in Southwest Virginia unless we're shaking our ass, so within the hour everyone had gained some momentum and the club was filling up. ulu, on the other hand, has never really needed to gain much momentum and as always they ripped into their performance, setting a raucous vibe that would flow for the remainder of the evening. They played some songs from their recent release Nerve and some old favorites such as Herbie Hancock's "Palm Grease" and David Bowie's "Space Oddity."

ulu creates their own unique sound of ambient jazz grooves and thick, chunky funk. Add a dash--if not a heapin' spoonful--of strangeness and you've got quite a concoction on your hands. Their sound is best characterized by an old favorite, "The Tragic Flight of Sir Donkey Hawk," which sounds somewhat like a gurgled German beer song when chanted in unison between band and audience. With a few shrieks and squeaks from keyboardist Scott Chasolen and distorted effects from the foot pedal of saxophonist Aaron Gardner thrown in, it sounded and felt like psychedelics at Oktoberfest. Bassist Brian Killeen alternated between Pastorius-style harmonic plucking and deep, thumping bass grooves that allowed for some phenomenal keys and sax solos to ebb and flow above. Recent addition at drums Russ has filled the seat behind the kit with ease. Not as heavy a hitter as ulu drummers of the past, he has incredible soloing ability and nailed the groove to the wall. The band showed wonderful chemistry only two shows into their current tour and the crowd responded eagerly, stompin', swingin', and swayin'.

As I mentioned before, the lineup has periodically changed and I've wondered if they could continue their style of burning, churning jazz-funk, but as usual, they delivered. This is by no means the end of ulu or the beginning of the end of ulu. It's the continuance of an infectious groove felt by many, especially here in their second home. I can only hope that this isn't the end of their strange and wonderful relationship with Blacksburg, Virginia.

Rob Bressler
JamBase | Virginia
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[Published on: 2/25/04]

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