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Concert Review: Big Gigantic shakes up SF’s Fillmore this weekend

By Dean Schaffer | 13 Mar 2011

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Big Gigantic opened for Umphrey’s McGee Saturday night at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. Both bands are back tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available.

Jeremy Salken (left) and Dominic Lalli (right) bring the noise at the Fillmore. (Photo: Dean Schaffer)

Maybe I’m just getting old, but Big Gigantic was LOUD last 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 their set was mind-bogglingly good, but Big Gigantic is not an opener to scoff at. From the start of Big Gigantic’s set, though, something was out of whack — perhaps the bass that was so loud it practically shook the building. (Too soon for a tsunami joke…? Yes.)

What separates Big Gigantic from electronica titan 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 unique electronic beats with his horn, all while emphasizing the more traditional verse-chorus-verse forms and hooky melodies that are less common for the genre.

Onstage, Lalli adds Jeremy Salken on drums and 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 bass drum and the bass in Lalli’s backing tracks overpowered the sax for much of last night’s set, which obscured part of what makes the group’s sound unique.

But in a way, Lalli’s saxophone isn’t as important as it used to be anyway. Lalli showed 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 and showed confidence behind his equipment, rocking out and smiling like a white boy at his first rave.

More than a few songs — including a few unreleased tunes — reeked of dubstep, perhaps a hint of the band’s current direction. Altogether, it was just enough to get a few college kids to dance a safe distance away from the ponytailed hippies who found a nice, danceable groove somewhere in their pipes while they waited patiently for Umphrey’s.

Lalli, shredding as usual. (Photo: Dean Schaffer)

Despite the technical problems, Big Gigantic was a pleasure to watch. When he let loose on his sax, Lalli was like a man possessed, never standing still for more than a second and sweating buckets but somehow 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 their 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,” like “Solitude” and “High and Rising.”

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 SF from Pittsburgh.

Odd covers aside, Big Gigantic came out swinging with confidence and newfangled groove. Be sure to catch them when they open for Umphrey’s again tonight at the Fillmore at 8 pm. Hopefully the sound guy gets my memo.

Most Memorable Moment: This technically happened during Umphrey’s, but it’s too good not to include — 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.”

Photo Gallery: Photos from last night’s concert.

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