Boulder, Colorado’s Big Gigantic has sold out its own festival at iconic Red Rocks for the last five years. An amped and packed house on Nov. 30 took full advantage of the chance to invest an evening in their big production, high-energy livetronica/hip-hop/jazz show at comparatively intimate Cargo Concert Hall in downtown Reno.
The party started well in advance of Big Gigantic’s appearance, with Brasstracks taking the stage to an already full and buzzing room. The New York duo bills itself as “future brass” on its Facebook page and the combination of Ivan Jackson’s trumpet and audio production, along with Conor Rayne’s power drumming, delivers a similar, if not slightly edgier, sound to the headliner. The charismatic Jackson exhibits some Timberlake-esque flair on stage and he and his bandmate, who won a Grammy last February along with Chance The Rapper, presented a highly entertaining hour. This is definitely a duo to watch.
A crowd in full lather greeted Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, who proceeded to deliver a non-stop rager, as the kids like to say, for the next two hours. Lalli was in perpetual motion as cheerleader and producer of all things electronica. The stage production and lighting are a frenetic feast for the senses in message and intensity.
Salken’s constantly changing rhythms both support and lead Lalli, who simultaneously engages the crowd, goes mad scientist in coordinating various effects from a large table top, and fires off sax riffs in between. I’d love to see his horn playing be featured more prominently. One of the night’s highlights was Jackson and his trumpet joining onstage for a spirited dual horn jam late in the set.
I’ll cop to being old school in questioning anything pre-recorded or not coming from an instrument during a live performance. I confessed as much to a remarkably fresh appearing Jeremy Salken right after the show. He asked: “So did you hate it?” His question gave me pause but the answer was not in the least. While I wouldn’t consider myself an absolute purist, maybe I should just chill on the whole notion that it somehow devalues the authenticity of a musical product.
There’s no denying that the energy and the visuals are exhilarating on their own, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Rocky Mountain duo’s compositions. I wouldn’t last 30 minutes at a straight hip-hop show, but the jazz influences offer multiple elements to focus on and groove to beyond just the beat and some inane lyrics.
Big Gigantic has played some smaller venues and towns on this part of the tour and has upcoming marquee shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Not that it was remotely my impression, but I wondered aloud to Salken if they hold back anything you’d experience at those big city shows. “We never take a night off,” he said. A bigger venue might mean bigger production elements, but based on the crowd’s engagement, and ensuing exhaustion once the house lights came up, Reno gave as much as it had received.