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MUSIC REVIEW

Wesley Willis Live

The Man Who Cut the Mullet Plays Middle East

By Brian Loux
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Wesley Willis, The Shazaam

T.T. The Bear’s

Friday, September 14, 2001

The chants of “Wesley!” began even before The Shazaam left the stage. A few minutes later, an obese and apparently dirty man shuffled onto the stage. On his tired face one could see the brown, self-inflicted forehead bump. To some, he seemed more suited to perform on the streets outside the club. But the man’s appearance was deceptive. He was full of energy, cheerful, and ready to entertain the sold-out crowd packed tightly into T.T the Bear’s in Cambridge.

“Everybody say rock!” the man cried.

“Rock!” they screamed.

“Everybody say roll!”

“Roll!”

This continued for a good minute, until the man finally said, “Ok, let’s rock this thing like a Motherfucking Jackass.” Wesley Willis was set to perform. To those who have not heard him perform, Willis is almost impossible to describe. Those who have heard him either love him or find him inane. Willis is a diagnosed schizophrenic who claims that a demon exists in his head. His exceptional memory and handwriting lead some doctors to label him a savant.

Take an electronic keyboard and press one of the “rhythm” buttons and you have Willis’s musical accompaniment. What makes his songs special are the quasi-spoken lyrics that make you laugh or shake your head. Each song follows the same format: two verses with a refrain, a long musical interlude where Will carefully changes the key of the music, and the final verse, his now famous tagline: “Rock over London, rock on Chicago,” and then an advertisement slogan. While on tour, Willis changes the last line to the appropriate city, and he drew a great reaction from the audience each time he said “Rock on, Boston, Massachusetts!”

Willis has released over 14 albums, and toured the country with a band entitled The Wesley Willis Fiasco. The Fiasco crumbled under the tensions of life on the road. During Friday’s performance, he stated, “Man, that Fiasco band sucked my ass,” and the crowd laughed along with him. However, his apparent misstep hasn’t stopped other bands from courting his talent: Willis currently plays with two other bands back in his hometown of Chicago.

Seeing him perform live is the experience of a lifetime. Hearing him perform his lyrics almost ad-lib multiplies by ten the enjoyment one derives from his music. Some aspects of the performance were less than perfect, including his consistent use of a Rite-Aid slogan for his commercial tagline. In concert, the musical interlude portion of each song can seem to drag on as long as “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” but alternatively one can lose oneself in focusing on Willis’ intense concentration on changing keys with one finger.

Willis performed a few songs dedicated to the demons in his head such as “Suck a Palomino’s Dick” and “Suck a Monkey’s Booty.” Despite the many chants of “USA!” by the crowd, he didn’t sing about the recent terrorist attacks. He did oblige the crowd with some of his more famous hits, such as “Cut the Mullet,” “I Whupped Batman’s Ass,” and “Rock N’ Roll McDonalds.” He even played a number called “Wasted Youth” about kids going to see a Wesley Willis concert.

Willis maintained the show’s momentum by keeping the talk between musical numbers to a minimum. After finishing each song, he promptly went onto the song with no other introduction than "And now, this next song will be..." To some fans, this was a disappointment, as they consider consider the hilarity of his speeches to exceed that of his music. Others disagreed, finding his offbeat songs were superior to his stage talk, and loved the continual pace of the concert.

Willis jokingly announced four separate times throughout the night that the next song would be his last, keeping the entire crowd on edge. At one point he seemed to receive a signal from backstage that his hit "I Whupped Batman's Ass" would be his last song, to which he responded by slowly leaning into the microphone and softly whispering, "And now ... for my last song." As the crowd laughed, you could see the grin on Willis’ face, one of that night’s rare displays of emotion. It was obvious then that this man was not a lunatic who crowned himself a rock star, but a true performer who loves to entertain.

Willis stayed well over 45 minutes to meet and speak with fans. Willis greeted people by bumping foreheads, a common practice of his. When asked why, he replied “to get rid of my schizophrenia.” He asked for the phone numbers of some of his fans so that he could visit them when he returns to the Boston area. Fans were happy to oblige.

After much of the crowd had dispersed and I had shared several head-butts with Willis, I finally managed to net a brief interview. He believes that rock and roll music is the greatest “because it is the one that puts you on a joy ride. It keeps you off of the hell ride. It sets you on the right path.” He then changed the topic completely, asking about various modes of public transportation in Boston, and whether or not they were hell rides.

Willis said he would return to the Boston area next October, but for now, he is heading to the New York area. While some critics say that Willis is a novelty act bound to die out, an 8-year career and last night’s concert prove otherwise. Willis’s fans agreed with him when he said, “It was a great show. I rocked it out good.”