Words by: Mark Winston
Photos by: Jerry Friend
2/19/2023 Raleigh North Carolina
The Cory Wong Power Station Tour featuring Victor Wooten and Trousdale was very well received by a standing room only crowd at the Ritz in Raleigh. This act features world class musicians and is difficult to categorize within a single genre. Out on an international tour after a 2021 Grammy Nomination, Guitar technician Cory Wong is a McNally Smith College of Music graduate (Saint Paul MN). Wong and Jon Batiste were nominated for their instrumental collaboration "Meditations." Wong regularly appears on "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" due to his relationship with Batiste. The live performance of this composition didn't disappoint. "Meditations" is just one of several albums Wong put out over the past few years.
Local surprise guest star Eric Gales provided a flattering introduction to many participating Minneapolis area-based musicians. I lived in Minneapolis for one winter and it was really, really cold. Not many realize how vibrant the music scene is in the Twin Cities. Gales reminisced about spending a few years in MN hanging out with a young Cory who was a session musician there. He also provided special recognition to Sonny Thompson (Sonny T) Wong's bass player. Gales told the audience that Sonny T had mentored many others in the Minneapolis music scene over the years, including Prince. Gales also gave a heartfelt acknowledgment to the now all grown up drummer Petar Janjic. Gales performed an amazing expanded guitar solo that seemed to last 5 minutes and was never boring.
Wong is a Consummate Musician. He is known to collaborate with many different artists. Two songs with Trousdale made great use of the opening act's trio of singers. Trousdale is an up-and-coming vocal oriented group out of California. Their song This is It has received some commercial success and they are a band to watch. A five-piece act, founding members Quinn D'Andrea, Georgia Greene and Lauren Jones are USC music program graduates. Their vocal harmonies are quite strong. Unfortunately, their performance was difficult to capture given all the loud yelling around me. Their cover of Neil Young's Old Man was enjoyable.
An excerpt from an article by Andrew O'Brian on liveforlivemusic.com shares how the contact and eventual collaboration with Victor Wooten got started:
Wooten made an impact on Wong long before the two actually met. In a YouTube video posted in early 2021, Wong reacted to an old video of Victor Wooten performing a solo bass rendition of "Amazing Grace" from Bela Fleck & The Flecktones' Live at the Quick. In the clip, Wong explained how this particular live album "gave him permission" to pursue his own unique, "left-of-center" musical ambitions. Victor Wooten later responded to Cory Wong in a post of his own: "Thank you for taking the baton and running with it," he said. "You're the leader now."
This nights music was a showcase of songs from Wong's various collaborations over the years. He also has the ability to make use of his band's instrumentation quite well. Ken Holmen, saxophonist, flutist, and clarinetist was also a member of the The Fearless Flyers with Wong. Their instrumental interpretation of the Elton John classic "Bennie And The Jets" dubbed, "Kenni And The Jets" really is outstanding. Holman's horn covers the vocal lines along with the baritone sax player. The booming nature of the sound at the venue and this reviewer's hearing loss made it impossible to accurately catch the names of many of the artists.
As a guitarist Wong's use of effects pedals stands out. He uses them tastefully. As a highly capable rhythm guitarist, I particularly enjoyed his use of a Wah peddle (think Voodoo Child). While performing with Wooten the two of them would often play the same notes for extended runs. Other sophisticated guitar techniques were constantly on display. His music is so hard to categorize. It is funky, jazzy, inspired and very fresh. He is not just walking down the same old highways. When he does it is generally only for a minute to pay homage to his musical influences.
Wong really stands out as a Consummate Entertainer. At the Ritz, he arrived onstage to the sound of The Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare. If you are unfamiliar, his YouTube variety show Cory & The Wongnotes is very uniquely staged and a pretty brilliant way to market a musical act. In this show, one song started with a comical monologue about the musician's life of trying to take instruments on an airplane. He then goes on to explain how he is always blocking calls from 407 area code. It became a musician's 'Inside joke" for musicians getting calls from their Sweetwater Music account representative. He tells the story of finally returning the call and guessing his rep is just salivating to finally get that order after so much effort. The punchline, "my request is, please find me the smallest instruments available." The band goofs around pulling out a miniature drum kit, horns, etc. and proceed to absolutely tear it up for two songs.
Wong can also be considered a consummate band leader. Complex arrangements, with time signature changes were heard everywhere. 5 horns are arranged in very novel ways. Their final song was particularly amazing in so many ways. Listen for Wong and Wooten trading licks. Next, they are going around the horn with the keyboard player. The horns are then layered in special ways.
Finally to end the show, Wong led a mock press conference, including all the members of The Power Station team which included time for Q&A from the audience after he went over the nights performance comparing it to previous nights shows akin to a post sports game broadcast.
Here is the video of Eric Gales guitar solo from the show
The Power Station band members:
Cory Wong - guitar, vocals
Petar Janjic - drums
Kevin Gastonguay - keys
Sonny Thompson - bass
Eddie Barbash - sax
Jake Botts - sax
Kenni Holmen - sax
Jay Webb - trumpet
Michael Nelson - trombone
The Power Station Set List
Kenni and The Jets
Stomping Grounds (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones cover)