Thursday
Oct272011

« The Show I Waited A Decade To See »

In 1995-2000, Mike Keneally's music was not unlike the air I breathed. The hottest period was during late 1996 and then again during much of 1998, but for several years, my Keneally fascination was parallel and maybe even the spark for a creative spell of my own. In some ways, I feel that I patterned my own efforts on some vicarious fanboy imagination of some of the aspects of his life and career. It seems silly to say so, but that's pretty much what I decided was going on with me.

I came into Keneallydom by a few different doors during 1993/94. In some ways, that makes me rather old school Keneally (at least as far as his solo work is concerned). In some ways, I was a bit late. I never saw Drop Control, and he had started and ended his Frank Zappa career years before I arrived at a Boil That Dust Speck CD release party (or an early show following that album) in late 1994. But I go back some way, and over time, our paths have been intertwined at a few points. I've been a drooling fan boy listener. I've provided him studio space. I've worked on one of his tours. I've done other local work for him. I've been a rather savage critic of his product and lifestyle. I've gone into musical hiding for much of a decade now. Long story.

I used to get to most of the San Diego shows he put on, and when that wasn't enough, some LA/Hollywood/Orange County shows too, including most of the shows during the 1999 Baked Potato summer series. About 2002/3, I fell out of love and probably didn't see any shows till mid 2007 when I somehow got into the Birch Theater to see his trio with Doug Lunn and Marco Minnemann. I enjoyed that show and got a chance to talk to Mike and in a subsequent email, to apologize for some bad behavior. He's always been gracious to me. I wish things had never gotten that way. I was in a bad place of sorting out life in a big way, and somehow it seemed okay to trash him in public. It was sort of like a love gone bad for me. 

I check in on things now and then. See the stuff on his site, but never really bought anything. Odd, but you realize that I've paid to see probably no more than four shows in the years I've followed him. Either I've been part of the official crew, or have had a sustained "bro deal" in the aftermath of that work, or was somehow of some assistance, or just downright patient and persistent to get my "miracle" entry. But I can only think of a couple shows where I was a paying audience member. I've bought some albums, but others have been comped for being an assistant (or, like Nonkertompf, a credited recording location), or for swaps with fellow fans who wanted to trade to get some of my DAT recordings from some memorable shows. It may come as no coincidence, but while on tour, Toss called me "Eddie Freeloader" (named after a famous Miles Davis track, "Freddie Freeloader"). At that point, it was for other reasons than my paying or not at a box office or record store, but there it was, even in 1996!

My main beef that set off so many people was that I longed for a time when the MK band would play some of the composed stuff with some integrity: rehearsed and refined. This was coming after watching the band do more jam band sounding stuff that was neat at first but tired me out. I wanted the good stuff. Similar complaint about the album Dancing. I said it would be a kick ass 55 minute album so why did it have to be 80 minutes with what I called filler? Why not just release a steamroller of an album at about an hour? It certainly had that much material that kicked ass. I said he should have a producer with a more objective opinion. That got me in trouble. Sure, MK is good, but seriously...does every album have to be packed to the gills and turned into a double album, and then have another disk featuring alt mixes and stuff?

It has been over four years since I saw the band last. Time flies, I swear. Then this summer I found that he has a five piece band with two dedicated guitar players and MK on guitar and keys. One video was all it took for me to get that shit-eating grin from the old days. The song Kedgeree benefits greatly from a rich arrangement of sounds. When the band came to town during their west coast tour, I was sure to go, even though Todd Larowe was not able to go, and no one else seemed interested. I got to Winston's just in time to say hi to Mike (which he enhanced with a big bear hug), and a couple others, including Merrily, a quite devoted young lady who was around back in the Dancing days, once as a girlfriend of Brandon Arnieri's. (We had met some times around 2001-2002 when Brandon was playing guitar at Hog Heaven. Probably the last time I saw Merrily was at the end of 2002 when Brandon got to be incredibly difficult at one of our rehearsal/jams with Paul Horn. I wrote this post about that disaster of a session and my rather regrettable way of dealing with that fact.) Merrily pulled me out of the crowd and offered that she knew me. At this time, with her short blonde hair, I didn't recognize her till she named herself and then it was no matter recalling she had the long dark hair and had been to my 29th birthday party, a couple shows or parties, and other interactions back in the day.

For the duration of the show, I didn't really see anyone else that I knew, or that I felt close enough to want to talk to, but at the bar, I found that I took a liking to a Karl Strauss Red Trolley ale (even at $6/pint!). It was silky smooth and pleasant. The band went on and with that, the stress of the week before started to melt away. Merrily and I kept swapping comments as we sat at the bar and had our ears pressed back plenty even at that distance. From the start, the band sounded fuller and richer than I have heard except in the case of the 8-piece band or maybe the one-off sextet with Bob Tedde and Mark DeCerbo in 1998. Three guitars is truly an impressive thing for this music because so much of MK's sound is layered and harmonized. It's a no brainer that three guitars is what should be up there at all times.

I delighted in air drumming. Merrily wasn't too bad herself, considering she's more of a guitarist if anything. It isn't quite like being at a Rush show where everyone drums in unison, but with MK's music being so rich in shifting meters and feels, it has its own kind of air drumming identity. Considering some of this material I have not heard in years, or certainly not on stage, it was like I had never left. I found the first beer was done in no time. Time for another, this time a Yellowtail. Some favorite songs played in a way that totally delivered the goods: Cause of Breakfast, Kedgeree, Tranquillado, Skunk, Own, Click. Some others that aren't quite faves but delighted in a big way with their powerful attack: Of Knife and Drum, Top of Stove Melting, Frozen Beef, Life's Too Small. Funny, with as much volume as there was, I didn't mind air drumming and giving it my best at belting out the words too. I recall getting some harmony part right enough that a guy sitting on the table some several feet away, looked back with an approving grin and brighter eyes, as if to say I nailed it. Time for a third beer, this time a return to the Red Trolley. Who knew that Eddie Freeloader would drop $18 on three beers after sinking $20 into admission???

It was a couple hours of pure living again. Not only had I not seen Keneally in a few years, the times when I am at live concerts now has dropped off in a huge way. I barely see anything if it isn't at church or related settings. So this had some visceral power for me. The beer didn't hurt. Finding one friendly face to talk to, not just as a fellow fan, but as someone who also had some knowledge of the conflicted state of things, and was willing to hear how I'd come around to seeing things another way. (We also talked Kevin Gilbert, which was good for the soul too. She sent me a couple KG albums I did not have, and has triggered a huge week of listening to his stuff.)

After the show, I got a chance to say hi to Joe Travers—drummer in the band, but also the main Zappa Vaultmeister, but even more so, the first Keneally bandmember I gave my tape One Twisted Individual to, back when it was new in 1995! (That was rather brazen but well received since it was also a gift upon a gift of racing back home to get my hi hat cymbals so Joe could play the show at the gallery that August 1995 day. Joe has always been a delight to chat with at shows since then.) I talked to Bryan Beller for a bit, and after several years, it was more graceful. We had our differences before, some related to the tour, and some for, well I really don't know why. But I told him that I really enjoyed the show in a way I hadn't in a decade or so. After scoping out the last of the people in the room, I walked Merrily to her car and traded some more stories about things that have gone down since we met up last. Then I walked clear the other direction for a few blocks and sat in my truck for a bit near the pier and the pounding surf at the end of Newport. With all the cops around, there was no sense in risking drawing attention, and beside, the night was one worth reflecting on before going home.

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