Review: Terry Bozzio displays a mastery of percussion at WOW Hall

Some might see Terry Bozzio’s enormous drum kit and assume he is compensating for something. The musician’s 38-drum setup, known simply as “The Big Kit,” took up the entire stage at WOW Hall on Thursday night during a solo show — but nothing was excessive or even gimmicky. Throughout his intimate performance, Bozzio demonstrated a complete mastery of percussion as well as a deep love for music in general.

Bozzio first made a name for himself in the 1970s as a member of Frank Zappa’s backing band — a notable feat on its own — playing live and in studio for a number of classic Zappa records such as “Sheik Yerbouti” and “Zoot Allures.” During the 1980s, he went on to co-found the new wave band Missing Persons with a few other Zappa veterans.

For his show in Eugene, however, which came near the end of his 2018 “Reality Tour,” Bozzio kept to his own solo musical ventures. Over the course of two sets, he played a number of tight and dynamic pieces, which felt less like self-indulgent drum solos and more like fleshed-out musical compositions.

Compared to most other drummers, Bozzio’s style is unique. His setup includes over two octaves worth of tuned drums, which allow for a precise and melodic sound.

For most of the show, Bozzio sat encapsulated in the middle of everything. A myriad of cymbals stretched out above his head on a complex racking system. He also controlled eight different kick drums, among other things, with a multitude of foot pedals.

His performance was technical, but also captivating and accessible for its listeners. The titles for each of his pieces were simple, usually meant to describe a musical style or structure. On a piece entitled “Africa,” Bozzio played around with complicated African-inspired polyrhythms. On “5=7,” he paired together two unusual time signatures to create an incredibly intricate drum solo that was difficult to even tap along to.

At various times during the set, Bozzio would emerge out from behind his insane contraption to play a number of more modest percussive instruments, including tongue drums, shakers and a cajón. Even with these seemingly novice instruments, he was able to achieve impressive and complex rhythmic patterns.

It was during these moments that Bozzio would address the crowd, fostering an intimate environment. He shared stories about Frank Zappa, detailed some of his DIY instruments and explained his idea of music as a metaphor for the universe — framing musical tempos and frequencies within a scientific context.

Throughout all of this, Bozzio remained humble, thanking the crowd numerous times while also expressing love for his two tourmates: his drum tech and his wife.

Bozzio finished off the night with an intense drum solo that utilized extended drum rolls and complex fills. He attacked the cymbals above him with a fierce yet precise velocity. As he concluded, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. His performance not only satisfied the large number of music nerds in the audience, but also justified his use of a comically large drum set.

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