The bearded Matt White and Fight the Big Bull take it to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with a plethora of acoustical instruments.
Want to make your Halloween rock? Get ready to thank Fight the Big Bull. This Wednesday (October 31st), the Richmond-based eight piece experimental jazz ensemble will rock Michael Jackson’s Thriller album in a way it’s never been rocked before — orchestrally. Adding horns and woodwinds to the M.J.’s booty-shakin beats, the octet will perform the world’s best selling album of all time cover to cover in hopes of inspiring the same level of moonwalk enthusiasm as the King of Pop himself.
“Thriller is like a dance album for life,” says Matt White, guitarist/founder of Fight the Big Bull. “If everyone knew those words and sang along it would be great. It would mean a lot to me if everyone danced, especially if they knew the sweet Thriller moves.”
Dubbed the Fight the Big Bull Dance Party, the event will feature synthesizer-free, ensemble-friendly renditions of quintessential 80’s pop hits like P.Y.T., Wanna Be Startin Somethin, Beat It, and Billie Jean. While attendees will get a healthy dose of good old fashioned dance pop, White says not to expect a note-by-note replica of the original album.
“One thing that’s really interesting is that when you take away all of the synths and you put in acoustic instruments, where it’s just the instruments in their natural sound, you really get to the roots of the music. It sounds like James Brown or Parliament,” White says. “You really get to hear what the music is made of and not just what it superficially appears to be.”
This isn’t the first time Fight the Big Bull has taken popular music into their own hands. Back in March the group hosted a full-on musical singalong to Weezer’s Blue Album, an event that was met with what White describes as “raging success.” Since then the group has been searching for ways to up the auditory ante. White says they settled on Thriller not only for it’s undeniably catchy tracks but also because of its technical richness.
“Quincy Jones arranged the album. He’s known as a 50’s, Count Basie, big band arranger. That’s what he’s famous for and so there’s also this historical element present in the album,” White says. “As opposed to some other dance albums, there’s a lot more musical depth. Thriller isn’t just looping a beat.”
There’s also a lot more to Fight the Big Bull than just covers. After recording their first original jazz album last year, the group is currently in the midst of touring, rehearsing, producing new work, and negotiating a potential record deal with an unnamed Portuguese jazz label. In March FTBB will head to Chicago to play a series of gigs with jazz legend Ken Vandermark, a former recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant.
“He’s as big a deal as you can get in the jazz world in the avant field that we are in,” White says. “You don’t really get the opportunity to come up there and rehearse and just be there with him, so we’re really excited.”
From there White hopes to one day hit the European jazz circuit then later the global jazz circuit. For now, he’ll stick to charming ghoulish leg-kicking, crotch-thrusting moves out of Jacksonian followers everywhere. After all, no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller.
Fight the Big Bull performs Thriller at Cous Cous (900 West Franklin Street) starting at 10PM. Admission is $5 and doors open at 8. The group also performs their own fabulous music at Cous Cous every other Wednesday at 8PM.
Christina Couch is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia and Chicago, Illinois. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Jake Lyell