Although they’ve shied away from the jam-band tag off and on over the years, the Big Wu’s members won’t be able to hide their true tie-dyed colors when they mark their 25th anniversary at First Avenue on Friday night.
Not only will the band’s two resident guitarists be doing their usual thing — co-leader Chris Castino and “new guy” Mark Joseph, who joined in 2010 — so will their old guitarist, Jason Fladager (opening with his band God Johnson). So will local guitar guru Dean Magraw, a longtime Wu mentor/collaborator. And so will out-of-town guests Peter Rowan (also opening with his bluegrass band), Bill Cutler (a Grateful Dead associate) and Warren Boes (All-Mighty Senators), also all guitarists.
“I just saw the stage plot list for the show, and there’s barely any room for me,” quipped the band’s bassist, Andy “Padre Pienbique” Miller, who still remembered how big a deal it was the first time his band took the big stage in the First Ave main room: They played a HORDE Tour contest sponsored by Kool cigarettes. So it went in 1998.
“This is everything we’ve ever wanted!” Miller recalls saying as the screen went up that first time.
Never a trendy band to begin with (one of its many assets), the Big Wu has outlived a lot of fads, phases and stages in a quarter-century to retain a sizable and familial fan base. More than just resiliency, Miller said the group — also including drummer/singer Terry VanDeWalker and keyboardist Al Oikari — has rediscovered the love of playing together in recent years, which it somewhat lost before an extended hiatus in the late-’00s.
A new documentary telling that story, “The Big Wu Way,” is being released in conjunction with the anniversary. The quintet has also spent the past two months recording a new album, its first since 2004 (!). They hope to have it out around the time of the annual Big Wu Family Reunion festival, moving to Colorado for the first time June 16-17.
“It’s an exciting time in the band,” Miller confirmed. “We’re trying new things and having a lot of fun, which probably not a lot of bands can say after 25 years.”
Sounds like they got more than they wanted, then.
Another anniversary for a trend-defying band: Hard-rock revivalist Brynn Arens and Flipp will mark their 20th year on Friday at the Ballentine VFW in Uptown (9 p.m., $15-$20), also a release show for Rocksteady Records’ reissue of their 1997 debut. The “platinum edition” features new bonus tracks, including a less-than-devout cover of “Let It Be.” …
After our story about Jonatha Brooke moving to Minneapolis (online at star tribune.com), here’s another priced-out New York transplant we’ll gladly take: Kevin Calaba, former leader of the Stars of Track & Field, who now records as AirLands with his wife, Marlena Calaba. They are celebrating their second album, “So Much to Keep,” at Icehouse on Friday with a new local lineup featuring Sarah Perbix and Daniel Zamzow of Cloud Cult (10:30 p.m., $10). Produced by Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” engineer Marcus Paquin, the dramatic, atmospheric record offers traces of Peter Gabriel and U2. …
Speaking of Cloud Cult, the band finally has another local show booked June 9 at Northrop Auditorium, and it’s a special one: They will perform last year’s underrated album “The Seeker” in sync with the accompanying movie of the same name, which has been making the rounds at indie film fests ($30-$40, northrop.umn.edu). … Let It Be Records’ Ryan Cameron’s ongoing Tunes Trivia night at the Turf Club — grand prize: a First Ave ticket pack — culminates April 23 with yours truly in the hot seat and musical clues by Reina del Cid (6 p.m., free). …
Old-school R&B, blues and soul fans are mourning the announced closing of Arnellia’s in St. Paul this week. Owner Arnellia Allen, who endured more in her 25 years at the bar than the characters on the soap operas she often watched there, is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and needs to sell the place. Her staff hopes to throw a big farewell weekend with music and more April 27-30. … That’s a good reminder that another St. Paul institution, Wilebski’s Blues Saloon, is still up and rocking in its North End location and will host Willie Walker on Friday (9 p.m.).
Rootsy singer/songwriter John Louis, equal parts John Prine and Robert Earl Keen, will tout his new album “Drift” next Thursday at — where else? — the Warming House, of which he’s one of the proprietors. His record includes vocals by the Cactus Blossoms, Ben Kyle and his venue partner Brianna Lane. … Thursday is also April 20, aka 4/20, a holiday of sorts that will be celebrated appropriately enough by Mo Bluntz with Minnie Blanco at Icehouse to celebrate their new album “Gone Plutonium” (10 p.m., $8). There are probably more 4/20 parties, but the “organizers” predictably didn’t send or post any info.