Wo Fat, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley: Bringing the Bayou

Posted in On Wax on April 24th, 2015 by JJ Koczan


It seems unlikely that a casual listener or at very least someone who’s not already a fan would chase down an offering like Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, which captures Dallas trio Wo Fat‘s five-song, 40-minute set at the 2014 edition of the German Freak Valley festival, held in Netphen. However, we live in a universe of infinite possibilities, so as a perfunctory notice, I’ll say that like the vast, vast majority of live releases, it’s better appreciated by those with some familiarity to the studio versions of the tracks, and that if you’re hearing Wo Fat for the first time — unless you were at Freak Valley (or somewhere else they played, I suppose), didn’t know the albums, saw them live, were super-into it and want a memento — the place to go is probably to one of their albums before you get back to Live Juju. That’s a condition of live records in general, not necessarily something related to the three-piece’s performance at the fest or anything about the recording, which is released by Fuzz Lab Records and was recorded by Jens Hunecke, but it’s a disclaimer worth putting out there anyway, should anyone happen to be new to the band. For the already-converted, Live Juju is an utter no-brainer. One of US heavy rock’s finest and fuzziest taking the stage at a major Euro fest, a setlist spanning six years in five songs recorded clean and crisp, pressed to thick-stock black LP with cover and inside-liner art by David Paul Seymour, live photos from the fest by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen (first published here) and a download code that includes a bonus 14-minute studio jam called “Dark Snow” that rumbles and grooves like the best of Wo Fat‘s latter-day explorations? If you’re already a fan of Wo Fat, there’s really nothing about Live Juju not to like.

Call it a victory lap. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump (who also mixed at the band’s Crystal Clear Audio in Dallas), bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter first took to European stages in 2012, then supporting their Small Stone label debut and fourth album, The Black Code (vinyl review here, CD review here). Their 2014 return trip, arriving on the heels of their fifth record and finest work to-date, The Conjuring (review here), was dubbed the “Texas Takeover” and Wo Fat were joined by fellow Dallas natives Mothership on their inaugural run. Freak Valley was an earlier stop on the tour, which lasted about two weeks. Not really what you’d call a “touring band,” in the sense of road-dogging their way back and forth from market to market, venue to venue, Wo Fat have nonetheless managed to concoct a formidable stage presence, and at least going by the audio (much as I’d like to, I’ve yet to see Freak Valley in-person), they hit stage in Netphen with no hesitation. Their set boasts highlights going back to their second full-length, 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), tying the material together with a fervent sense of ride-ready groove and weighted tones, Stump opting for a bluesman’s gruffness on “Read the Omens” from The Conjuring, which follows opener “The Black Code.” That song, the title-track of the 2012 album, is nothing if not a landmark hook for the band, and they faithfully give it a rendition north of 10 minutes, their motion no less fluid on stage than in the studio, rolling their way into the faster verses of “Read the Omens” before the chorus opens wide and echoing true to the outdoor space where it was recorded. Side A is just the two songs, and the flip does sort of pull you out of the live experience, but the way I wound up thinking about it was a second to tune ahead of “Bayou Juju” serving as the centerpiece of the set.


Side B is longer, beginning with “Bayou Juju” and rolling through “Enter the Riffian” and closer “Sleep of the Black Lotus” smoothly and with enough rumble in Wilson‘s bass as Stump tears into an extended solo on the first of them that it’s easy to imagine the grasses of Freak Valley vibrating from the low end. By the time they get there, Wo Fat are full on, about halfway through and nailing it. The track, taken from 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), is a highlight, but the shorter “Enter the Riffian” from Psychedelonaut grounds the set and thus the recording with a more straightforward, less jammy movement. Wo Fat may have grown beyond the kind of dead-ahead heavy rock that Psychedelonaut offered — to their credit, keeping a balance of hooks and jams in doing so — but they use the older material well here, and Walter‘s ride-cymbal swing comes through loud and clear on Live Juju behind the winding riff. It’s the only song here under seven minutes long, but lives up to its multifaceted purpose, bleeding directly into “Sleep of the Black Lotus” with a cymbal wash and guitar freakout, Stump seizing an opportunity to tear into an improv-sounding take on the finale’s intro in front of the festival crowd. They telegraph the groove from the start, if only to bring that audience along, and it’s easy to imagine the sea of nodding heads that stood before them, maybe a puff of smoke here or there as the midsection evolves into a churning jam from the earlier verses and choruses, a model that came to light earlier and which The Black Code and The Conjuring continued to grow. Feedback and earned applause ends and the arm returns, but for those listening digitally, the instrumental “Dark Snow” further affirms Wo Fat‘s improvisational sensibilities, building from a creepy backwards-cymbal fade-in to a solo-topped roll that shares in common with its live compatriots on Live Juju just how in their element Wo Fat seem to be. That’s really the story of Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. It’s an act who have cut their teeth and organically developed their sound across five records getting on stage and sharing the fruits of their labor. The short version? They deliver, and prove that sometimes when a band doesn’t tour all the time, nine months out of the year on the road and so on, that only makes it more special when they do. This must have been something to see.

Wo Fat, Live Juju (2015)

Wo Fat on Thee Facebooks

Wo Fat’s website

Freak Valley Festival

Fuzz Lab Records

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Wo Fat’s Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley Available to Preorder

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 4th, 2014 by JJ Koczan


On March 17, Texas riffers Wo Fat will release Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. Their first official live album, it was recorded earlier this year as the name implies at Germany’s Freak Valley festival, which was part of Wo Fat‘s “Texas Takeover” European tour with Mothership, and is available to preorder now through the Dallas trio’s own Fuzz Lab Records in a limited vinyl pressing of 500 copies.

Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump of Wo Fat — who’ve already put out one of 2014’s best records in the form of The Conjuring (review here) on Small Stone — offered this comment on the new release and what was clearly a special performance for the band:

“Freak Valley was one of the highlights of what was a pretty smokin’ European tour that we did last spring. It was a transcendent experience for us to be a part of this amazing event with such a killer lineup of bands and the support of so many great fans. We decided to call the album Live Juju partly to try and convey some of the magic that was in the air that day that started out cold and wet and turned into a beautiful sunny spring day not long before our set.”

Preorders for Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley come with an immediate download of “Read the Omens,” which featured in their 40-minute Freak Valley set from The Conjuring. More info on the release follows here, courtesy of the band:

wo fat live juju wo fat at freak valley

Recorded Live at Freak Valley, Netphen, Germany, May 30, 2014 by Jens Hunecke of Heinen Studios
Mixed By Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound
Mastered by Nolan Brett at Crystal Clear Sound
Released by Fuzz Lab Records

The vinyl will include a download immediately of one song and a download of the entire album on the release date.

Track List:
1. The Black Code
2. Read the Omens
3. Bayou Juju
4. Enter the Riffian
5. Sleep of the Black Lotus

Artwork: David Paul Seymour – http://davidpaulseymour.com/

Recorded Live at Freak Valley, Netphen, Germany, May 30, 2014 by Jens Hunecke of Heinen Studios
Mixed By Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound
Mastered by Nolan Brett at Crystal Clear Sound
Released by Fuzz Lab Records

Pre-sale link: https://wofat.bandcamp.com/album/live-juju-wo-fat-at-freak-valley

Wo Fat, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley (2015)

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