Mike Keneally Band & Godsticks
Thursday, 21st March 2013
Clwb Ifor, Cardiff, the UK
Article and photos By Jez Rowden
A particularly wet and windy night in Cardiff may have kept a few of the potential audience away but they were certainly the unlucky ones
as the extraordinary Mike Keneally band rolled into town for the first time, more than ably supported by Godsticks in support of their latest album,
The Envisage Conundrum,
which is certainly going to be high on my list of albums of the year.
Not long after the projected 8pm start time Godsticks hit the stage to warm applause.
The crowd was a little sparse to start but grew in number throughout the set, many likely delayed slightly due to the appalling driving conditions,
and the band, playing their local show off the tour, were warmly supported throughout.
After the opening soundscape of Convergence (Intro) the first track proper, Caught In A Bind,
was a little too loud and muddy but this was quickly rectified and the levels were right for the rest of the set with a clear sound that was well
able to cope with the intricacies in Godsticks' music.
It has been a number of years since I last saw the band live and they have certainly come on in leaps and bounds,
the numerous shows in between clearly playing their part in building the confidence of the band which came through in their performance tonight.
After two excellent albums to date they more than have the material to excite and the firepower with which to pull it of live.
Once they properly realise how good they are Godsticks could be unstoppable.
Guitarist and singer Darran Charles is an engaging front man, his witty asides and self-deprecating nature doing much to get the waverers
in the audience on side. His voice hit all the right spots for me and his playing was simply superb, pulling off dextrous runs and solos with ease.
Introducing the double punch of Frank Zappa covers, What's New in Baltimore? and Marqueson's Chicken,
he appeared genuinely nervous and concerned about how it was going to go and talking to him afterwards the relief of
having pulled these particularly tricky numbers off was palpable!
I've seen the band perform Zappa songs before and, as usual, they pulled these two off with style and panache,
making Zappa's unruly twists and turns look effortless.
Drummer Steve Roberts is a true powerhouse behind the kit and I have loved his playing every time I've seen him in whatever of
the numerous settings he finds himself, including Magenta as he is Rob Reed's current go-to guy.
Steve is more than capable of delivering in any situation and ranks right up there with any contemporary U.K. drummer
I can think of and tonight's performance was again exhilarating to watch.
Bassist Dan Nelson is growing into his roll and plays well beyond his years,
his obvious shyness makes him appear a little awkward between songs when not playing but this disappears as soon as the music starts.
He had a technical problem tonight which caused his bass to drop out completely during the first part of
Borderstomp giving him obvious nervous concern but the other two got through the song more than successfully causing
Darran to comment to much hilarity that they didn't actually need Dan at all and could carry on as a duo if necessary!
Bass rectified they continued on into the second part but, as Darran knows, Dan adds plenty to the Godsticks sound and has become an integral part.
In fact after the intro to A Brief Foray he took over from Charles on the keys, both playing together at one point,
to allow Darran to play the requisite guitar solos in this particularly keyboard based song.
The band now seem to have all of the bases covered and can pull off the numerous twists and turns in their music in a live setting with style.
The applause at the end of their set said it all and with material seemingly already prepared for the next album I can't wait to see what they do next.
A band to treasure.
Caught In A Bind
Put 7 In Bold
A Brief Foray
What's New in Baltimore?
Borderstomp - Part 1 (Death to Tuesday)
Borderstomp - Part 2 (Blind)
The Envisage Conundrum
Mike Keneally Band
Mike Keneally may have made it across the pond numerous times but this was the first occasion that he has been able to bring
his full band with him from the U.S., plenty of credit for this going to Godsticks' Darran Charles and his partner Rhiannon for handling much
of the organisation.
So, the quartet were here at last and ready to play - and play they did, racking up around two hours of startlingly tight music in numerous styles,
all of which hit the spot.
Having been long familiar with the albums Keneally recorded with Frank Zappa towards the end of his career - particularly
Broadway The Hard Way and The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life -
I am a fairly recent convert to his solo stuff but my lack of in-depth knowledge did not detract in any way from my enjoyment
of the set which ranged far and wide from Keneally's solo debut, Hat - a personal favourite - right through to last year's more
song-based collaboration with XTC's Andy Partridge, Wing Beat Fantastic,
and many points in between.
Speaking of XTC, Dave Gregory, now of Big Big Train, was also in attendance in his capacity of Keneally-friend but did not join in on stage.
The band itself is just stellar; Keneally playing wondrous, jaw-dropping guitar and keys - sometimes at the same time! - and in fine voice,
bassist Bryan Beller (of The Aristocrats where he shares the stage with Marco Minnemann and Guthrie Govan) is a master and brilliant to watch,
drummer Joe Travers has wowed me previously as a key part of the Zappa Plays Zappa project on a large stage and completely delivered tonight
in the cosier environs of Clwb Ifor Bach, with, last but not least, Rick Musallem adding greatly to the sound and supporting well on guitar and vocals.
A detailed breakdown of events would do no one any good, suffice to saw this band is brilliant and turned on a sixpence into
whatever direction Mike desired. The mind-boggling number of styles that were deployed beggared belief and the intricacy
of the material was simply startling. Keneally's guitar style strayed to many points, all accomplished with real class,
including flashes of Zappa as he clearly learnt a lot from the master FZ. We also got a Bryan Beller solo number, Seven Percent Grade,
which rated high on the jazz fusion scale of advanced chops. A high point for me was an impromtu part-rendition of Zappa's The Dangerous Kitchen,
the result of a crowd request while Mike was tuning up. Keneally is a very engaging leader and added greatly to the fun atmosphere and,
as with Godsticks, the set was full of laughs. On a couple of occasions, including the opening Frozen Beef,
a false start ensued with hilarious consequences and pithy comments from Joe Travers.
On one of these events the look of disbelief on Beller's face was priceless and the laughter of the band infectious.
This room at Clwb Ifor Bach is on the third floor up a winding staircase - not ideal for loading equipment in and out -
so Beller's personal plea for any available assistance after the show was well understood by all,
particularly Keneally who insisted that although he'd love to help he'd be otherwise engaged at the merch stand!
The whole band seemed to be having a blast, despite some setbacks on the previous night in London and the current weather situation,
and I hope this tour is a great success for all concerned - it deserves to be, if only so they come back to Europe again soon.
Setlist Mike Keneally Band
Frozen Beef (Come With Me)
I'm Raining Here, Inside
Voyage To Manhood
You Kill Me
Wing Beat Fantastic
Them Dolphins Is Smart
That's Why I Have No Name
Seven Percent Grade
Cause of Breakfast
So, there you have it.
As usual apologies for the crappy photos that accompany this piece, it just ain't my thing and I haven't got the kit to do it properly
(as the bishop said to the leading lady).
Suffice to say that it all looked much better if you were there in person!
Mike Keneally Official Website
DPRP's Review of Mike Keneally's "Wing Beat Fantastic"
Godsticks Official Website
DPRP's Review of Godsticks' "The Envisage Conundrum"