Ferocious and magic Mike Keneally Band exceeds all boundaries at Paradox

Mike Keneally Band with support of TheGodsticks and Koh-i-Noor played at Paradox in Tilburg. Review by Frank Hurkmans, photography by Hen Metsemakers.

We are visiting Paradox this evening for -hopefully- an unforgettable performance. At least, that is how it has been announced in the press. On the program are the famous and indefinable Mike Keneally Band supported by a very promising young Welsh band called The Godsticks. But additionally, a real world premiere is scheduled as well. We are referring towards a by the Dutch Radio and Television NTR/NPS commissioned work from Mike Keneally. And the whole happening will be professionally recorded for broadcast on the Dutch radio show Co Live! later this year. We feel honoured we can be part of this happening.  The Paradox venue is a unique and real cosy stage (max 200 seats) in the Dutch town Tilburg. Paradox serves almost on a daily basis a great variety of contemporary and improvised music hardly being subsidized. An example: recently, a whole range of artists related to the German top label ECM records were programmed. On a regular basis also world music, jazz, fusion based artists are showing their arts to the public. So if you are visiting coincidentally Tilburg you won’t be surprized to see some real world known artists on the program: John Scofield, Tribal Tech, Allan Holdsworth, Eivind Aarset, Eric Truffaz to name a few randomly. Due to some fire alarm in the parking garage we arrive with a little delay at Paradox. Approximately 150 music lovers are present in the room were the concerts are going to be conducted. Interesting detail: the audience varies from young people in their twenties till people at age (60+). So the music tonight is from and for all ages.
The Godsticks: an unpolished gem
In preparation of the concert we digged into the Godsticks’ history and music. We never heard of them until we saw the concert announcement a few The Godsticksmonths ago. The Godsticks is a trio founded in 2006. They developed their own style which includes progressive rock, jazz and a broad pop idiom. In recent years, the appreciation, and understanding of their music is growing and expanding. In 2012 they had a UK tour with The Aristocrats. On the Keneally tour, The Godsticks hope to get attention from a wider audience. The performance in Paradox is their first ever in The Netherlands. After the end of the Aristocrats tour they entered the study to record their second full CD called ‘The Envisage Conundrum’. This album we listened to in preparation for the evening and consists of solid, varied guitar based music, typical singing and unusual rhythm patterns with lots of syncopation. The whole album comes across as an ambitious and intelligent record. This is meant as a compliment. The question is whether the music can appeal to a wider audience, because to dig this music concentration and focus to the music is a pre requisite. Conscious listening is needed here in order not get lost. A proof this music has intrinsic qualities to offer is a connaisseur like Mike Keneally invited The Godsticks to support him for his European tour. The comparison with an authority like Keneally is an easy one here: he is also difficult to categorize. We expect at least a solid support program with a variety of prog rock, jazz rock fusion based music with The Godsticks. Translating an album into a live performance is always a challenge.  Music producer, NTR radio maker and creative catalyst Co de Kloet opens the program and announces The Godsticks as a hot newcomer on the international stage and advises to get asap a copy of the new CD ´The Envisage Conundrum’.
The set opens with ´Convergence´, which is also the opener of their latest CD. This sferical song transforms into ‘Caught In A Bind’. Additional to the live performance recorded keyboard accompanies the music. This sounds ok. Darran Charles owes a very bariton like voice and sings constant high vocals. It’s an acquired taste. He uses heavily effects on his guitar playing. Some parts remind me of Phil Manzanera’s work in his Quiet Sun period. Drummer Steve Roberts plays varied chops and syncopated rhythms supported by Dan Nelson on bass. A bit of a pity is the overall sound; that could have been better. Some musical parts were enriched with keyboard arpeggios we heard often in Steely Dan songs. The Godsticks create an interesting breed of music.  This young trio is also not afraid of taking risks. I read from their performances in the UK they also perform Frank Zappa songs. So the question was: which Zappa song is on the list here in Tilburg? Surprisingly the choice was Echidna’s Arf (Of You), a rhytmically very complex song from the famous ‘Roxy & Elsewhere’ album. The first part showed a free jazz approach, the musicians lacked a bit the mutual connection. The second part of the song was more coherent in its performance. To play this complex song in a trio form deserves compliments. The set ended with three additional songs from the latest CD. All the songs contained heavy music with an overall intelligent flavour.  Dan Nelson’s played the last song on Bryan Beller’s bass because his own bass wasn’t functioning properly.  To be honest: for me the recorded music sounded better then on the live performance. Main cause was the sound quality. The Godsticks are a band with huge potential and can play with fierce guts. A very typical new voice in the musical arena and they have the potential to gain a place in the European club circuit. Hopefully, being Mike Keneally’s support act gives them a well-deserved boost of publicity. Highly recommended for the connoisseurs.

The Godsticks

The Mike Keneally show: world premiere of ‘Metrolinofenagea’
After the support act finished their set the stage was made ready for a real world premiere. The highly acclaimed Dutch saxophone quartet Koh-I-Noor prepared them for the official premiere of a great and complex piece of music. Co de Kloet explained the background and where it started. Five years ago NTR commissioned Steve Vai and Mike Keneally to compose a piece for saxophone quartet. Co de Kloet is well known for his intrinsic abilities to challenge the best contemporary composers to come straight out their comfort zone and deliver something completely new to the curious part of the world. In 2002 Mike Keneally was already challenged by the Metropole Orchestra to come up with a program for guitar and orchestra and the result was resumed on the masterpiece ‘The Universe Will Provide’ (2004). Mike Keneally composed the work for tonight on keyboard: ‘Co de Kloet managed to get me again out of my comfort zone. I never did something like this before and never heard the result being performed by human beings until now’ he explained in a modest gesture to the audience. The ‘Metrolinofenagea’ composition was performed acoustic and looking at the face from the quarter not an easy piece to digest and reproduce. However, this 9 minute long piece came across as coherent. Some parts brought back the memories to ‘Little House I Used To Live In’. Mike Keneally was listening besides the stage standing and nodding his head with eyes closed. You could see the proudness on his face. Chapeau for this gentle genius!
Mike Keneally Band
The Mike Keneally Band
Co de Kloet announces the Mike Keneally Band as one of the best bands in the World and expects the audience is going to experience the same energy from these musicians as on their latest live CD ‘Bakin’ @ The Potato’. That was a visionary statement of Mr. de Kloet.  The band enters the stage in a very relaxed and positive mood. Bryan Beller looks a bit like ‘Zlatan’ the Swedish soccer player, Rick Mussalam has a bit of a stoical and independent look including a nice black hat, Joe Travers is grinning behind his kit and Mike Keneally looks like the friendly and gentle giant.  After some Mike Keneally Bandstruggle with tuning the guitar and bass concert starts with ‘Frozen Beef’. Tour organizer, instant roadie and Godsticks guitar player Darren Charles lends a helping hand to get all fixed and back in order.  After the band sets in with ‘Backwards Dev’ it becomes very prominent Musalam is a perfect accompanying guitar player and the band is master over this complex material. The musicianship between these four virtuosi is almost telepathically. Keneally shows an aspect of his diversity: playing keyboard and guitar at the same time and singing too.  Another aspect from the versatile Keneally is shown in ‘Hallmark’; ‘We are going to take full control over the things right here’ says Keneally before he starts with the lyrics. This is a humoristic song with spurs of influences from The Beatles and Randy Newman and develops in a rapid piece of music with great arrangements.
The pieces played during this more than 2 hours concert are a variation between rock / metal, pure song writing, Mike the multi- instrumentalist, the guitar hero and jazz /modern classics. All played by an organic team of musicians who mastered the material and still have such fun in sharing this versatile repertoire with the audience.
Mike Keneally BandTake for example the idiosyncratic ‘Hum’; a 14 year old gem from ‘Nonkertomf’. This performance starts with Jan Akkerman like guitar during the build-up of the song, accompanied by such brilliant development of the drum, bass and rhythm guitar support. Then Mike soloing on both the keyboard and his axe. Next stage of is a teasing guitar duel between the magnificent mister Musalam and Keneally building into a crescendo climax. And at this point we are only 4 songs for in the program! And such a relaxed and dedicated performance so far.
The concert covers as expected several songs from the latest CD ‘Wing Beat Fantastic’. Mike introduces his admiration for Andy Partridge with whom he wrote the majority of the material says ’Andy Partridge is one of my song writing heroes’. The CD contains intriguing songs with sometimes very symbolical lyrics like in ‘I Am Raining Here Inside’ and often unusual arrangements. All champion league quality pop songs in our opinion. ‘You Kill Me’ is interwoven with very unusual triplets and sextuplets creating a much tensed atmosphere. Before ‘Bobeau’ starts Keneally is joking with Musalam who he assumes is almost dreaming away. This song immediately shines through ultimate high school drum shuffles by drum master Travers. This must have been a fantastic clinic for the present drummers in the audience. The climax of this song is a splashing duel between both guitar players and slamming bass.
‘Quimby / Top Of Stove Melting’ from ‘Guitar Therapy Live’ starts razorsharp in all its complexity. No single note is played wrong here. It is totally Mike Keneally Bandamazing what is happening here. Sucking guitar support by Musalam brings Keneally again in a position to shine as one of the best guitar player around. And that is what he does: often nodding his head to process all impressions in his head into his musical performance in the spur of the moment. We have hardly seen a musician on this level who integrates with his instrument like Mike Keneally did here during this whole concert.  Bryan Beller is playing the comedian, sales person and entertainer before his song ‘Seven Percent Grade’ starts of. A very percussive tune pushed forward by drums and bass patterns. This tune really rocks. And it was a great opportunity for Rick Musalam to show some very lyrical guitar playing. What an underrated player is that shy man who stands the whole concert in one square meter. Hats off for mr. Musalam and Keneally (piano) for their solo play!
Before starting ‘Dolphins’ Keneally plays the melody from King Crimson’s Elephant Talk… Another example of the pleasure and humour this band brings on stage when they are in the mood. Here every one goes totally loose in all its variations. All tempo and style variations are played without any mistake. Really awesome what was shown here.
‘Lightnin’Roy’ makes the audience singing the lyrics together with band. Part of this tune was a manic guitar solo by Mike Keneally. It felt like we were all part of persiflage cowboy movie; a hilarious moment. The band finished this inspired, extremely well performance with ‘Day Of The Cow’ and ‘Cause Of Breakfast’. The audience saw evidence that this Mike Keneally Band is indeed one of the best bands on earth. The telepathic play, energy and creativity show here at The Paradox was sure a one of the best performances we are saw in our live. One of a kind …We are looking forward to the radio broadcast on June 2nd so we can relive this memorable event.

Mike Keneally Band

Setlist Godsticks
Caught In A bind
Echidna’s Arf Of You (Frank Zappa)
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing (Frank Zappa)
A Brief Foray
Borderstomp part 1
Borderstomp part 2
The Godsticks are Darran Charles (vocals, guitar, keys), Steve Roberts (drums, keys) and Dan Nelson (bass).

Koh-I-Noor saxofoonquartet
Setlist Mike Keneally band
Frozen Beef
Backward’s Deb
I’m Raining Here
Choosing To Drown
You Kill Me
Quimby >
Seven Percent
Your House
Dolphins >

Mike Keneally Band are Mike Keneally (vocals, guitar and keyboard), Rick Mussalam (guitar and vocals), Bryan Beller (Bass and backing vocals) and Joe Travers (Drums).

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