Mike Keneally Band
Bakin' @ The Potato!
(DVD-V + CD)

I'm quite aware that describing the attitude of those who on September 15, 2010 impatiently waited for the Mike Keneally Band to go on stage at the world-famous, highly celebrated L.A. club called The Baked Potato as being "less impatient" than the way I felt wouldn't be right. But it has to be noticed that on that night the intermission between the performance by the Bryan Beller Band and the one that was about to follow (by an identical lineup! - albeit with a different name, and a different repertory) was about twenty minutes, not two months! (Which is exactly the time elapsed between the first time I listened to Wednesday Night Live and the day I found the Bakin' @ The Potato! package in my mailbox.)

I've already talked about the practical conditions that convinced those five musicians (Mike Keneally: guitar, keyboard and vocals; Bryan Beller: bass and vocals; Rick Musallam: guitar and vocals; Griff Peters: guitar; Joe Travers: drums and vocals) that going on the road for a short tour with a "twin group" ("They are both the same band") formula was a viable proposition. And while I wrote a very favourable review of the Wednesday Night Live CD, it's only now that I can favourably comment on the DVD-V of the same name, from the same night, by the Bryan Beller Band, which also offers a few extras and fine video interviews with the band members.

Bakin' @ The Potato! features the complete concert, and two items: a CD (80') and a DVD-V (105') featuring stereo audio, DTS 5.1 Surround and Dolby 5.1 Surround. There are also two band commentaries, whose audio layer runs parallel to the video performance.

For this night's concert, Keneally has carefully chosen tracks that appeared on quite disparate albums in his long career, with a strong predilection for an old album such as Boil That Dust Speck (eight tracks: Them Dolphins Is Smart; 1988 Was A Million Years Ago; Yep, Them Dolphins Is Smart, Alright; Bullys (sic); My Dilemma; Blameless (The Floating Face); Scotch; Natty Trousers), and for a very recent one, Scambot 1 (five tracks: Hallmark, Chee, Tomorrow, Cold Hands, Life's Too Small). Rounding the picture, there are also tracks off The Mistakes (Career Politicians); Sluggo! (Potato, Chatfield Manor); Nonkertompf (Click); Dancing (Pretty Enough For Girls, Taster, Kedgeree).

I'll immediately say that both formats are excellent, with a very clear, captivating sound (talking about stereo, the only one I listened to). The video portion is more "entertaining"; those close-ups of fingers and articulations will be of great interest to those who are interested in this stuff, but they won't make the concert a snooze-fest for those who don't share this attitude. The CD is shorter, and it lacks those (vocal) transition moments that in my opinion play a part in making one feel "there"; I don't necessarily agree with a couple of selections, but I have no problem whatsoever admitting that the CD as it is flows a lot better than the one I wish for.

It has to be noted that - though the repertory here is taken from many albums of quite different vintage - the music is definitely "all of a piece", all Keneally, with no song appearing as, say, naive, due to lack of maturity. Keneally is in great vocal form, and here he intelligently features his musicians' prodigious technical skills and uncommon versatility. As per his usual, Beller is the excellent bass player who plays difficult stuff with no sweat, the same being true of drummer Joe Travers, who's always inventive and versatile. On guitar, Musallam has grown in maturity, and he often surprises us with great solos. For the most part, here Griff Peters acts as an ensemble player on both electric and acoustic, but he also has a solo, performed with the usual finesse. On guitars and keyboard, Keneally is... well, Keneally.

To anticipate my conclusion, I'll say this work is perfectly suited to those who are still interested in listening to "rock" as a genre in a guise that's still contemporary, and not as fine ruins. Hoping that, some day, we'll all be given the opportunity to watch this music performed on a stage just in front of us.

As is to be expected, Kedgeree has the flavour (and punch!) of prime-era The Who, with keyboard, excellent bass parts, a great solo by Mike Keneally over an arpeggiated carpet woven by Musallam and Peters.

Blameless (The Floating Face) is a ballad featuring the "Rhodes", Griff Peters on acoustic.

Life's Too Small has a lively start, then an arpeggio and those harmonics by Keneally, a great solo by Rick Musallam, one by Keneally, then those vocal parts " la Gentle Giant" just like the studio version, then the "obsessive" section with three electric guitars and tense vocals.

Click is a fine melodic ballad with an excellent development by Keneally on guitar, and a very expressive final transition for "piano", electric bass, and two guitars.

Hallmark is a ballad sounding not too far from The Beatles with an excellent vocal performance by Keneally, an instrumental coda that gets progressively faster, and "piano".

As per its usual, My Dilemma sounds "funky", joyous, contagious, with fine solos by both Keneally and Musallam and a funky bass solo by Beller with a funny wha-wha.

Originally recorded with the help of some members of the Metropole Orkest, here Chee is successfully arranged for rock group, with a fine melodic solo part by Musallam and a great solo by Keneally, while Griff Peters plays single notes that to me sound like his guitar gets processed through a (synth?) filter.

Then we have a complex, intricate-sounding, "medley". As usual, Them Dolphins Is Smart features the melodic, "swing", theme that's impossible to forget; 1988 Was A Million Years Ago has a knotty development and the very "Zappa-sounding" theme; Yep, Them Dolphins Is Smart, Alright gets back to the theme, and to the "swing", "organ" solo; there's a fine transition by Joe Travers, then it's Bullys (sic), with a gigantic guitar solo by Keneally, who usually plays great on this track.

Pretty Enough For Girls features Griff Peters playing the intro melody, Keneally on piano, a guitar solo by Musallam, then a Keneally solo.

The instrumental Taster intelligently features the different timbres of the three electric guitars, and it's maybe reminiscent of Zoot Allures.

Cold Hands is the c&w ballad we all know and love, Keneally on acoustic, Musallam on bottleneck.

Tomorrow and Scotch are punchy songs featuring more than a pinch of funky-metal (especially the former) and crunchy rock.

Natty Trousers is a "troubled" ballad featuring a fine vocal performance by Keneally and a guitar solo by Musallam, while Peters appears to play a... synth module? a modified echoplex?

The joyous, majestic, Chatfield Manor features Keneally on 12 string electric - with phasing? - three guitars playing harmony, two guitars featuring bottleneck. Here Peters plays the solo, at first bottleneck, for an explosive performance with fine, strong backing by Keneally and Musallam.

Career Politicians is the tense track originally recorded by The Mistakes, with a fantastic guitar-piano unison by Keneally, who then plays an excellent guitar solo.

Potato is (but of course...) the perfect song to wrap up a concert in a club named like that. There's a sing-along la Kinks (!), and a fine coda: first it's a jig with tapping, then a solo, quite "boogie".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2011

CloudsandClocks.net | June 20, 2011