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Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday Night: Big Gigantic and Umphrey's McGee at the Fillmore

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Umphrey's McGee at the Fillmore Saturday night.
  • Umphrey's McGee at the Fillmore Saturday night.
Umphrey's McGee

Big Gigantic

March 12, 2011
@ The Fillmore

Better than: Daylight Savings Time; sleeping.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but Big Gigantic was LOUD Saturday night at the Fillmore. Too loud. One girl told me she had to leave during the set because she thought the booming speakers were damaging her internal organs. Maybe it wasn't just me?

Like so many other opening acts, Colorado's Big Gigantic got the short end of the stick. Umphrey's McGee, of course, got all the perks of headlining -- a great light show and, more importantly, a sound guy who was actually paying attention.

Yes, yes, Umphrey's deserves those things, and its set was mind-bogglingly good. But Big Gigantic is not an opener to scoff at. From the start of its set, though, something was out of whack -- the bass that was so loud it practically shook the building. (Too soon for a tsunami joke? Er ... yes.)

What differentiates Big Gigantic from Pretty Lights -- aside from the fact that Big Gigantic doesn't have its own Wikipedia page yet -- is frontman Dominic Lalli, a jazz saxophonist-turned-DJ who spices up his electronic beats with his horn, all while emphasizing traditional verse-chorus-verse forms and hooky melodies that are less than common for the genre.

Onstage, with Jeremy Salken drumming, Lalli multi-tasks, improvising on his sax and his computer at the same time. True to their roots, Salken and Lalli jam and feed off one another like jazzmen from another planet. Unfortunately, Salken's kick drum and the bass in Lalli's backing tracks overpowered the sax for much of Saturday's set, obscuring part of what makes the group's sound unique.

Big Gigantic
  • Big Gigantic
But in a way, Lalli's saxophone isn't as important as it used to be. Lalli showed Saturday that he's come into his own as a DJ and producer, and his horn took more of an auxiliary role to his beats. Rather than just playing with his samples and backing tracks, Lalli engineered a few well-crafted drops. He showed confidence behind his equipment, rocking out and smiling like a white boy at his first rave.

More than a few songs -- including some new, unreleased tunes -- reeked of dubstep, perhaps a hint of the band's future direction. Altogether, it was just enough to get a few college kids to dance -- albeit at a safe distance from the ponytailed hippies, who found a groove somewhere in their pipes while waiting for Umphrey's.

Despite the technical problems, Big Gigantic was a pleasure to watch. When he let loose on his sax, Lalli was like a man possessed, pouring buckets of sweat, never standing still, and yet always coming back to his computer at the right moment. Live, Big Gigantic's electronica took on a new life, swelling and expanding with the jazz-inflected improvisation of Lalli's saxophone.

The set mostly shied away from the band's first album, 2009's Fire It Up, opening with the deliciously sinister title track from its follow-up EP, Wide Awake. (Somehow, "Light of Day" from the same EP counted as "old school," according to Lalli.) The set also included a few tracks from last year's full-length album, A Place Behind the Moon, such as "Solitude" and "High and Rising."

Big Gigantic
  • Big Gigantic
In the latter half of his set, Lalli hinted at his relatively newfound love for producing by showing off two of his remixes: "I Need a Dollar," by Aloe Blacc and, surprisingly, Steelers anthem "Black and Yellow" by Wiz Khalifa (perhaps for Umphrey's bassist Ryan Stasik, a Pittsburgh native and huge Steelers fan). Lalli gleefully sang along to all of Khalifa's lyrics, but not many members of the audience knew a single line -- probably because 2,500 miles isn't the only thing separating S.F. from Pittsburg. 

Odd covers aside, Big Gigantic came out swinging with confidence and newfangled groove. It's just too bad about the sound guy.

Personal bias: I interviewed Lalli a few years ago when he played at the Key Club in L.A. -- he's a nice guy.

Overheard in the crowd: "I've been jerking myself off to this for, like, six months": Some guy on Umphrey's McGee's live recordings.

Random notebook dump: Umphrey's singer/guitarist Brendan Bayliss asked the crowd if anyone knew some guy named Kirk. A girl near the front said yes. "You're Misty?" he asked. "Kirk wanted me to tell you he loves you very much and wants to know if you'll marry him. Yes? Great, now we can play the next song." After much applause and big smiles onstage, the band launched into a mash-up of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" and Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

Worst joke everyone was thinking but didn't say: Big Gigantic's sound is just getting bigger and bigger.

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Dean Schaffer


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