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Feeling board? Get on your feet with Wendy Woo’s funky beat

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Ever play “Scattergories”? It’s a game where everyone has to use one letter and come up with a word that starts with that letter for each category on a list. You get points for each category you can think of a word for, unless you have an answer like “Jesse James” which would render a double score. The game can get ridiculous, especially when you’re constantly thinking of names and things that use the same letter twice, like “Calvin Coolidge,” “olive oil” or “beach ball,” like I have all week.

So now, even though I could tell you about the versatile musician, the talented song-writer and the reportedly excellent live act that is Wendy Woo, I’m going to preface it by saying that “Wendy Woo” makes for a great answer when you’re playing “Scattergories.”

But if you’re still reading this, you obviously want to hear more about Woo (and you need more than a stupid word game to float your boat). So let me say this: Woo is coming to town with a hell of band, a reputation for a great live show, and a fine new album to peddle. You’d have to be some kind of board-game dork to miss this show.

Woo studied classical guitar and musical theory at the universities of New Mexico and Colorado, and got down with the likes of blues guitarist Robben Ford and Sweet Honey in the Rock vocalist Ysaye Barnswell. While logging so many hours in the serious study of music, Woo began to play at the Fox Theater in Boulder.

“I started meeting a lot of musicians and started taking nights that they would give me to perform and started playing with different people,” she told Boulder Weekly. “So, for the first, maybe five years of playing out, I was hiring people.”

During this time she hooked up with keyboardist Paul Armstrong and, bolstered by his songwriting skills and musical chops, eventually worked up her first album, Angels in the Crowd. It was a highly regarded in the folk/acoustic world, and placed Woo and Armstrong squarely in the singer/songwriter tradition.

But new directions were in store for the duo. As Woo said, “Paul is much more of jazz, acid jazz, Cuban style, rhythmic player, so we started developing in this other direction and landed a solid band. ... We took what were like these folk/acoustic tunes and molded them as a group into more funky, upbeat Cuban jazz, stuff like that.”

Now, bolstered by the addition of Edwin Hurwitz on bass, who’s worked with String Cheese Incident and Phish, and Chris Misner who’s one of Boulder’s most popular and skilled drummers, the Wendy Woo Band are touring in support of the new record, Wide Awake and Dreaming.

Still present are Woo’s commanding melodies, but the cross-pollination of genres created by Woo and her bandmates will undoubtedly make for a superior live performance. And given the elastic rhythms of the Wendy Woo Band, surely the performance will be more aerobic than a night of “Scattergories”.

Wendy Woo plays the Ritz next Thursday, Jan. 20. Admission is FREE.

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