| Image by City Paper Digi-Cam
began more than a decade ago as a kind of low-key offshoot of Lake Trout, a chance for three of the band's five members to do small club gigs of groove-based improvisation. Over the last year or two, though, it's become a more consistently active live act than the band it spun off from, and in many ways an interesting entity unto itself. Big In Japan's guest-heavy Sunday residency at the Windup Space throughout August felt like a culmination of that, particularly with this week's fifth and final show.
The three core members of Big In Japan, including Ed Harris now on bass in the spot formerly occupied by James Griffith, as was the case in April at the
, were joined by a large supporting cast for the first of their two sets on Sunday. At any given point there were usually seven or eight people onstage, and the beefed-up lineup usually included two guitarists and three percussionists. Mike Lowry, a drummer capable of busy polyrhythms but also in possession of zen-like restraint, held back enough to let shakers and tambourines fill in the empty space of every beat. Each of the five songs in the first set was an epic improv running upward of 10 minutes, usually gradually building from some opening element like a bassline, or a bluesy lick from guest guitarist Dave Heumann of Arbouretum, to a big ecstatic climax.
Woody Ranere, the one member of Lake Trout that's never been a part of Big In Japan's regular lineup, came onstage for the last couple songs of the first set to play slide guitar. Further blurring the line between the two bands, the second set opened with Ranere singing a rendition of "What You Need," the only new song Lake Trout has released a studio recording of in the last few years. After a piano-driven instrumental, Katrina Ford of Celebration, who was one of the auxiliary percussionists earlier in the night, rejoined the band to sing three songs, all of which sounded so great that one can only hope she and Big In Japan have plans to record some collaborations in the future.
Then, the big surprise finale that'd been promised turned out to be a big singalong of "We Are The World," featuring about a dozen musicians and singers, including someone wearing a chicken suit. It was a weird, tongue-in-cheek moment, and if the point on some level was to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, or make a statement of Baltimore music scene unity, there are a ton of better songs they could've played. But as an absurd cap to a night of great music, it was an entertaining spectacle.