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Musicians: The Mike Keneally Band

Label: Exowax Recordings, LLC

ASIN: B00509BJI8

First, an admission. Unlike many of the reviewers who’ve previously praised this dual release, I was pretty much a novice when the review copy of this Mike Keneally set arrived in my mailbox.  Before this package, I’d heard more about Keneally than listened to him. I knew of his work with the likes of Steve Vai and Prairie Prince, but what I’d heard was just his performances with both Frank and Dweezil Zappa. So, with very few preconceptions, I put in the CD and found myself completely immersed in a musical experience of a kind I thought was no longer happening. Shows what I know.

So I won’t insult the intelligence of Keneally followers who can better put bakin’ @ the Potato! in the context of his career to date. I won’t pretend to compare these live performances with their studio originals. Instead, I’ll make the case that if you’re not familiar with the work of The Mike Keneally Band, this CD/DVD set is apparently a good way to start.

Word has it that Bakin’ is a worthy sequel to another such collection, Guitar Therapy Live that was released five years ago.    Then and now, Mike Keneally is the bandleader playing guitar, keyboards, and lead vocals. Bryan Beller plays bass and was the inspiration for this recording. He proposed two bands play on the same night, he headlining one, Keneally the other, and both with the same line-ups. Add in Rick Musallam (guitar and vocals) and Joe Travers (drums and vocals), and you have the major players of the group, although drummers seem to be interchangeable depending on availability. An important distinction between the September 15, 2010 concert represented here and previous performances was the addition of a third guitarist, Griff Peters. I have to admit, three fret masters able to follow complicated charts, weave in and out of each other’s leads, and each as powerful as the others often makes for daunting listening.   

Keneally and company clearly felt the perfectly recorded concert was something very special indeed, and so released the full concert on both CD and DVD with a choice of mixes. The region-free NTSC features stereo audio,

DTS 5.1 Surround, and Dolby 5.1 Surround. The CD offers 16 tracks, the DVD 22 including the in-between exchanges with the audience. Plus, two commentary tracks that should interest fellow musicians who might want to use this concert as a jazz/rock primer.

So my introduction to Keneally was the first song, “Kedgeree,” and it’s about as strong, dramatic, and dynamic as an opening track can be. Within moments, visions of King Crimson, the Dixie Dregs, and Zappa came dancing in my head. Then I listened to Keneally’s vocals on “Blameless (The Floating Face)” and realized I’d need to play these songs repeatedly just to get at the poetry of the lyrics.”Life's Too Small” demonstrated that this quintet is seriously accomplished, capable of delivering a performance piece with distinct movements and passages of tone and mood. “Click” is another instrumental reminiscent of the best of the psychedelic bands where Keneally’s piano really shines. I wonder if “My Dilemma” is one of the finest guitar duels ever recorded. Whether in surround-sound or stereo, the triple virtuosity of this one will, as we used to say, blow your mind. And if it doesn’t, there’s a ton of material to come that will change your definition of “Guitar God” forever. 

Judging from other reviews, I may be alone wishing Keneally would find another voice for his words. Always intrigued by the surreal lyrics, I was equally grateful when the singing stopped and the playing resumed in earnest. Perhaps that aspect of his art is an acquired taste—and it could be I’ll acquire it. I know full well this is an album akin to Bitches Brew in the sense that it’s challenging listening and it will take time to fairly appreciate what’s going on here. As every selection seems to have come from a previous album, this set is clearly cumulative and something of a “greatest hits,” if such a term can be used for this breed of jazz/rock fusion. Welcome back, cerebral rock.

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