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Mike Keneally Ripped My Head Off in London

Mike Keneally

April 14, 2013 Blog, Reviews 4 Comments

Mike Keneally

Mike Keneally Band live at the Borderline in Soho, London.

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Bloomsbury, London and it’s the morning after my head was ripped off. Ripped off in the sense that last night I had one of the most profoundly intense musical experiences of my 42 years on planet earth – I saw Mike Keneally Band live at the Borderline in Soho, London. (The “ripped my head off” thing is an old saying describing the effects of attending a Mike Keneally show).

The first time I was exposed to Mike Keneally was when Zappa’s Universe (the celebration of Frank Zappa’s 50th birthday) aired on Swedish television some time around 1991. I had heard Keneally on FZ’s live albums from the 1988 tour, but never really understood his greatness until that evening when I saw him play guitar, keys and sing Zappa’s classic material. I was floored. Not just because his playing was flawless, but he really brought out the essence of the music and performed it with a genuine Frank Zappa attitude. With eyebrows and everything. A year or so later, Keneally’s debut album “Hat” came out and I was hooked. I followed his Guitar Player Column and bought practically everything he released on CD and DVD. So I guess you could say I’m a hardcore Mike Keneally fanboy.

Rick Musallam

Rick Musallam

I have seen Keneally perform as a sideman twice before, the first time was some 20 years ago when he played guitar with Z (Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa) and the second was with Steve Vai in 2000. Both were really good shows, but reading all of the tour diaries at always made me very jealous of all the people in the US who get to see his shows on a regular basis. To my knowledge this was the first time Mr Keneally played a show with his own band in Europe, so the very minute I got the news I grabbed a ticket and booked a flight to London. I believe if you look up the phrase “no-brainer” in a dictionary you will find that exact description, with my face next to it.

So how about the show?

The Borderline is just around the corner from Denmark Street (where all the music shops are situated). And the show was every bit as fantastic as I had expected it to be. Apart from a selection of tracks from Keneally’s latest album Wing Beat Fantastic (more pop-oriented music co-written by Andy Partridge of XTC fame), the setlist featured lots of old songs such as Frozen Beef, Lightning Roy, Tranquillado, Backwards Deb, Dolphins Medley and ended with a hard-hitting version of Cause of Breakfast. Mike Keneally is a fantastic guitarist, and even though the music is mind-bogglingly advanced he’s far from the shredder-type or “guitarist’s guitarist” you’d normally associate with “instrumental rock” or “fusion”. It’s his originality, unexpected harmonic and melodic turns and sense of humor that amazes me the most.

The band consisting of Bryan Beller (bass), Rick Musallam (guitar) and Joe Travers (drums) is world-class, but that didn’t stop them from having fun on stage. Drummer Joe Travers after a (in his opinion) sub-par performance: “For the YouTubers in the audience, that is NOT the one to post, OK?”. So I won’t post that.

I can’t wait until the next time. Mike, please come and play in Sweden, will you?



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Zappa Plays Zappa Review

November 13, 2010 Blog Leave a comment

Dweezil Zappa & Co, Nov 12 Stockholm, Sweden

zappa plays zappa - cosmik debris

Cosmik Debris featuring Frank

This was the fourth time I saw Zappa Plays Zappa, and my expectations were through the roof as the show has gotten even better each time. The first time I saw them Dweezil really impressed me by not simply copying his dad’s solos, and inject his own playing style into Frank’s solos and thereby making sort of a hybrid that really worked. And he seems to have reverse engineered Frank’s sound to get the exactly right authentic tone.

The 2010 version of the Zappa Plays Zappa band consists of  Joe Travers on drums, Pete Griffin on bass, Scheila Gonzalez on sax, key and vocals, Billy Hulting on percussion, Jamie Kime on guitar, Chris Norton on keys/vox and the amazing Ben Thomas on vocals/trumpet. Not too shabby. As for the show, I don’t remember each and every song they played – but here are a couple of highlights:


Awesome rendition of RDNZL featuring trading solos by Scheila Gonzalez (tenor sax), Billy Hulting (vibraphone) and Jamie Kime (guitar). Kime’s solo was among the best I’ve heard in a long time. He looks pretty anonymous and “sideman-like” but during his solo spot he really got to show off his fusion chops – without turning the solo into a shred-fest.

Dumb All Over

When I found out that the concert was set to be in a church (Filadelfiakyrkan in Stockholm) my first very juvenile thought was “I hope they play Dumb All Over… hehe hehe” (in a Beavis & Butthead type voice). Well, they did play Dumb All Over – with none other than Frank on vocals, on film and in perfect sync with the band. Joe Travers had no visible in-ear monitors, but there HAD to be a click track somewhere in the background. Anyway, I digress…

I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth

Again, maybe not the title most commonly played in a church. It’s a stunningly beautiful song though, and the Gonzalez/Thomas horn section did a great job – as did keyboardist Chris Norton who nailed Eddie Jobson’s moog parts with flying colors. Excellent!

Titties & Beer

Guitarist Jamie Kime’s second solo spot, this time playing the part of the devil complete with a horned mask and all. The question on everybody’s minds was: Did the church actually know who they rented the venue to? Too funny!

Pick Me I’m Clean

One of my favorite Zappa songs, with one of the most explosive drum fills ever (originally played by Vinnie Colaiuta). Ben Thomas is a dead ringer for Ike Willis. Wow.

Apostrophe Album

They played the entire Apostrophe album from start to finish with Frank on film singing and playing lead guitar with the band backing to Cosmik Debris. That song may be one of the most worn-out Zappa tunes ever and quite frankly I wouldn’t miss it if they omitted it from the set list, but hearing Frank singing it was very cool. One song from Apostrophe that I never really got before is Excentrifugal Forz, but it kind of took off this time. Maybe it’s the vocals… The title tune was fantabulous too, with Pete Griffin playing Jack Bruce’s parts

Inca Roads

One of the true Zappa classics. But what the hell was Chris Norton doing during the keyboard solo? Frank on guitar. Superb.

zappa plays zappa - dumb all over

Dumb All Over

Zappa Plays Zappa: In Conclusion

In a nutshell: Awesome. But as much as I hate to admit it I’m not entirely as enthusiastic as I was after the Zappa Plays Zappa show last year. First of all the show was only two hours long. Yeah I know – two hours of Frank Zappa’s music is plenty, but the Zappa Plays Zappa gang has gotten us all used to 3-hour shows. So 2 hours felt a little thin. And they could have played another encore. Second, they haven’t played ONE song from Joe’s Garage yet (at least not in Stockholm), and I was hoping to hear at least one or two songs from that album. Keep it Greasy would be nice. Or why not Dong Work for Yuda? Come to think of it, they did play Tush Tush Tush last time which is essentially an instrumental version of A Token of My Extreme. But that doesn’t really count, does it? No Joe’s Garage this time either but I have my hopes up for next time.

Having said that I realize that I probably come of as being negative and disappointed, which of course I am not. How can I possibly be disappointed from seeing and hearing the music of my all-time biggest musical hero played live by a phenomenal band? It’s just that Zappa Plays Zappa over delivered the past three times and my expectations were probably unfairly high. This was probably one of the top 10 shows I have ever seen and the next time I get the chance I WILL see them again.

Thank you Dweezil and Zappa Plays Zappa for keeping Frank’s music alive.

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