Mike Keneally has been a fixture of the San Diego music scene since the mid-80’s, and eventually earned his claim to fame after becoming a member of Frank Zappa’s last touring band in 1988. His mastery of Zappa’s vast and nearly impossible-to-play catalog made him a cult hero in certain guitar circles, and also helped him score other prestigious gigs such as pulling guitar and keyboard duties in Steve Vai’s band.
Keneally has released over a dozen solo albums since his 1992 debut, hat., including a few under the name Beer For Dolphins, and several more as The Mike Keneally Band. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous names to many of Keneally’s songs to realize that you are in store for some pretty eclectic stuff from this former Zappa protege. As eccentric as some of Keneally’s music can be, though, it is also immensely listenable thanks to his mastery of gorgeous melodies.
bakin’ @ the potato features an intimate yet dazzling live set from the Mike Keneally Band, recorded September 15th, 2010 at the Baked Potato nightclub in Los Angeles, the same night that the opening Bryan Beller Band recorded their recently released Wednesday Night Live DVD. Beller is Keneally’s long-time bassist, and vice versa, and these two bands were one-in-the-same this night. The other musicians performing in this/these band(s) were Rick Musallam on guitar, Griff Peters on guitar, and Joe Travers on drums.
The set kicks off impressively with “Kedgeree,” one of the standout tracks from Keneally’s 2000 Beer For Dolphins release, Dancing. At one point in the song, Keneally plays an amazing guitar-keyboard unison run—by himself! One hand on the fretboard, one hand on the keyboard. Give me a freakin’ break! From there, Keneally weaves an astonishing tapestry of sounds via songs from several different albums, most notably 1995’s Boil That Dust Speck, which features six of the tracks played, and 2009’s Scambot 1, which yields four.
The style of songs you will ingest during this amazing performance range from jazzy piano ballads, like “Blameless,” and “Hallmark,” to the Larry Carlton-ish vibe of “Chee,” the King Crimson-esque prog of “Tomorrow,” and some just flat-out heavy shit like “Bully’s” and “Scotch.” The entire performance is so consistently delectable that it is difficult to really highlight anything in particular, but the finale of “Chatfield Manor” and “Potato,” from his 1998 Beer for Dolphins, Sluggo! album, and “Career Politicians,” from the one-off, self-titled album he did with The Mistakes in 1996 certainly got me grinning from ear-to-ear.
bakin’ @ the potato comes as a two-disc set that includes the concert DVD and an 80-minute CD of highlights. I’d only expected the DVD production quality to be mediocre at best, but it’s most impressive. Included are DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and Stereo audio tracks that all sound superb. The mixes are all perfectly balanced and crystal clear. The excellent widescreen picture appears to have been filmed by about three different cameras, one front-left, one front-right, and one stage-left, and they make you feel like you are sitting in the front row of this intimate club. There are plenty of perfectly timed close-ups, too, and none of the rapid-fire editing we’ve come to expect from concert videos these days. Very nicely done. Two different commentary tracks, featuring all of the players, are also included.
Having only been a casual Mike Keneally fan up until watching this DVD, bakin’ @ the potato has really opened up my eyes and ears as to just what this amazing musician has to offer. This CD/DVD combo is the perfect place to start for those of you unfamiliar with the man, and an absolute must buy for all hardcore fans.
03. Blameless (The Floating Face)
04. Life’s Too Small
07. My Dilemma Boil
09. Them Dolphins Is Smart
10. 1988 Was A Million Years Ago
11. Yep, Them Dolphins Is Smart, Alright
12. Bullys (sic)
13. Pretty Enough For Girls
18. Natty Trousers
19. Chatfield Manor
20. Career Politicians
Performance – 8/10
Production – 8/10