Bryan Beller
Wednesday Night Live

(Onion Boy)

Listening to this album (recorded live, as per its title), and the fact of being "in the know" when it comes to the circumstances that pertain to its birth (they'll be discussed in a short while, below) made me think about the (past) importance of live albums, i.e., albums recorded "in concert".

In the age we call "adult rock era" (meaning: when rock music came of age, i.e., the latter part of the 60s), the "live concert" on stage had to prove two main points: first, that the group could really "cut it", that it could replicate its (by now well-known) studio sound signature; then, that it could also generate (right on that night!) one of those "transcendent moments" when the stage appears to be about to levitate, and the group appears to annihilate, also to make fun of, the laws of physics (and of logic, too).

The ease that today makes it possible for one to access billions of raw, unfiltered, "documents", in both audio and video formats, is inevitably destined to make one question the true value of many "name groups" of the 60s, and for good reason: for the most part, the average listener of today simply ignores the objective conditions (the instruments' tuning problems, the singers' difficulties when it came to intonation, the actual environment where concerts took place, etc.) of music that was really "live"; it has to be said that today, for the most part, groups are a lot more "professional-sounding" than their counterparts in the 60s and 70s, though it's highly unlikely that they'll give birth to many "transcendental moments" (except for those that are so defined in a limited, subjective, sense, by an average listener).

Meanwhile, the Web has abolished all barriers in space and time. Once upon a time, there were even those who released "sound papers" just in order to make people aware of what had happened elsewhere (does anybody remember Eric Burdon, and his songs Monterey and San Franciscan Nights?), today's concerts being uploaded on the Web almost in real time. A fact that, while making it possible for one, even if s/he's not a super-fan, to be "au courant" about the music Group X just played on the other side if the planet, actually deprives musicians of the possibility to experiment with new music without too many ears being there to witness the (potential) failures (just think about all the albums Pink Floyd road-tested and fine-tuned in their live concerts, back in the day).

Last (but not least!, definitely), one has to ponder the monetary factor. On one hand, today the concert scene looks quite healthy - and especially so, when compared to the state of recorded music. But if one thinks about it, with the obvious exception of those "concerts-as-events", those of big names, and Big Festivals (lasting many days, on many stages, they look more and more like the transposition in music of the TV zapping one does in one's living room), things are not so healthy. And while it could be said that, as a rule, those concerts that saw fewer paying customers were once those where the most difficult music was performed, today this appears to be the common condition even for those genres and names that can be filed under "quite accessible".

Which brings us to the "magic formula" that last year made it possible for both The Bryan Beller Band and The Mike Keneally Band to make a short tour of the (US) North-east: They're Both The Same Band! Meaning, five musicians performed twice - playing quite different programs, of course - in the course of the same night.

Wednesday Night Live was recorded live in Los Angeles, at the well-known venue called The Baked Potato. This review pertains to the audio CD, a parallel DVD-V edition being expected to go on sale in a month or so. (The audio and video portions of the concert performed by The Mike Keneally Band are expected to go on sale at about the same time, under the title Bakin' @ The Potato.)

Wednesday Night Live is the first live documentation of the repertory composed by Bryan Beller, which will be familiar to listeners from those studio albums titled View (2003) and Thanks In Advance (2008). I'm pleased I can say that here the performances of those tracks off the first album sound looser and more natural than before. All featured performances are of a very high standard: they're rich in stamina, but also precise, and they mirror the composer's intentions without ever sounding rigid. There's lotsa solos, as it's be to expected, given the genre. (Which is...? Good question! Maybe rock-jazz, just with a pinch of funky and.. metal, in its Prog clothes, anyway it's more rock than jazz, the main exception being Beller's harmonically advanced bass solos, while the guitar amps sound quite red-hot when it comes to valves, speakers being "about to explode"... Well, I'm afraid when it comes to "genre" readers will have to decide for themselves.)

The recorded sound is excellent, loud and clear, detailed and never fatiguing. Musicians appear in the stereo spread as per the CD cover: Rick Musallam is on the left, Griff Peters on the right, Beller and Keneally about in the middle, Joe Travers's drums are recorded "audience perspective" (my favourite way), rolls traveling from right to left. Keneally is mostly on keyboards: he has a guitar concert to play in just a short while! As it's to be expected, Musallam is quite good. Again, for this writer the revelation is Peters. Lotsa different timbres from the guitars, which will give listeners much joy - and reasons to ponder. (Just an educated guess on my part: I'm confident that this album could be held as "a revelation" by those young men with "selective" listening habits.)

A quite "funky" track starring (what to me sounds like a) cowbell, bass, "organ", Musallam, a "Latin"-flavoured theme with a fine "B" section, Greasy Wheel has a good solo by Musallam, humbuckers shooting molten lava, la Zappa; Beller plays a vivacious bass solo with wha-wha, which reminded me more of a synth filter than the usual wha-wha pedal (I checked the liner notes: it's the Dunlop Bass Wha!); fine "organ" solo by Keneally, theme.

Already released in a different studio version, all overdubbed basses played by solo Beller, here Life Story has Beller's bass being gently accompanied by Travers's hi-hat and snare, while the guitars harmonize with feedback-assisted legato, very skillfully controlled (of course).

Get Things Done replicates the sheer exuberance of the studio version, just with more drive and imagination. Once again, Musallam plays that funky figure so reminiscent of steel drums, while Peters is the main instrumentalist - this is the track that always reminds me of Jeff Beck, circa Blow By Blow/Wired. Fine bass solo, the rhythm section reminding me somewhat of the Wilbur Bascomb/Narada Michael Walden axis - check Travers's rolls at the close of the track.

Thanks In Advance has a theme whose melodic invention sounds fresh every time it's played. The theme is performed by Peters with a perfect manipulation of the volume knob. Another fine solo by Beller, all arpeggios and harmonics, then there's an "electric piano" solo by Keneally, theme, close.

Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through is the name of the overdubbed "monstrosity" - Crimson knottiness, Floydian majesty - which already appeared on Thanks In Advance. What we have here is a "simplified" (!) version where Mike Keneally is the featured guitar soloist.

After an intro for guitar, bass, and "piano", Seven Percent Grade has a fine "piano" solo, quite "jazzy"; an "explosive" guitar solo by Musallam; and a fine close for bass, lotsa harmonics.

The concert ends here. Two excellent bonus tracks appear, both with Peters as the featured soloist. Already a bonus (video) track on the DVD-V titled To Nothing, View is performed with great melodic finesse and sharp emotional punch. Cave Dweller is a multi-themed "blues/boogie", to be listened at full volume (the neighbours won't mind).

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2011 | Apr. 26, 2011