with Henry Kaiser’s Palace of Love and Telepathy
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA • October 17, 2002
Sir Millard Mulch
Opening the show was a band called Telepathy. They mostly played funk-like dance-type music and had a great keyboardist. The lead singer wouldn’t stop smiling. They played the Super Mario Bros. theme — I would have been more excited if Mr. Bungle hadn’t already done it, but it was a good rendition nonetheless. Mike Keneally joined them on the final song and did a guitar solo.
Up next was a seven-piece band featuring Michael Manring and Henry Kaiser. They can best be described as playing 20th Century Soundscape Improvisation Music. Some consider that genre to be a limitless medium for profound sonic expressions and some might call it random banging. Best served with wine and cheese, if you know what I mean. Either way you wish to interpret it, these guys are experts. The most memorable thing about their performance was the drummer, stage right, who swung the sticks at twice as many drums and cymbals as he actually hit. 50% of his style was more interpretive dance. Hey, if guitarists can do it, why can’t a drummer? He’d flutter one hand in the air while doing a fill with the other hand. It’s like he was playing a drum set in some other dimension and they were set up similarly in this dimension that night but some pieces were missing. There was another drummer on stage who played more forced drum beats and kept everything together.
Mike Keneally Band’s show is the kind of thing I moved to San Francisco for. I am going to go through it in a non-linear fashion, because that is how I organize it in my mind.
The most amazing thing about the show seemed either to be an inside joke between the band members — or a blatant insult to the rest of humanity. Their set began with Mike Keneally coming out on stage and starting an odd-meter guitar riff. He was joined immediately by Bryan Beller, bassist, who seemed to not at all recognize the riff. He stood there, kinda nervous, seeming to miss notes, doodling, trying to figure out the riff, looking to Mike for encouragement. Mike would nod his head as if saying, “You’ve almost got it.” Brian noodled around for a while, never quite getting it, and nervously looking out at the audience. All at once the band kicked into the riff, playing it dead-on. Bastards.
I would like to point out how they have their own unique spin on the weird progressive rock thing. Mike has this kind of strumming country twang to his sound, with a million weird chords and melodies. Brian has a unique way of playing his bass, and his rhythmic accents are alien. Nick is one of those drummers who just plays every note completely perfect and is a very on-top drummer, propelling the music forward. He takes his times in the spotlight to add his flourishes and lightning-fast tom-fills…but for the most part his drumming is very straightforward and allows room for the guitar and bass to orbit around it. I get the feeling that this guy just channels the music through him in an effortless way, as opposed to when other drummers play. That can be good or bad, but either way he is doing his job extremely well.
Mike also isn’t the kind of guy who comes out on stage with tons of laser beams shooting out all over the place and raining glitter down on the crowd. He is a guy who is there to play music, which is something I respect. When a guitar is out of tune, he stands there and tunes it. This happened numerous times, and I was surprised and refreshed at his openness about it. He hung out in the crowd all night and talked to anyone who wanted to talk. It seemed that no one even really bugged him, except me, who pelted him with CDs the whole night.
Nick D’Virgilio, drummer of Spock’s Beard, was joining the band for the night. Before their set started Nick walked up to his kit with some manuscript paper and shuffled through them for a moment. I know he played in the band before, so he was not going into this completely cold. But the real kicker here was the encore for the show. They came back out and sort of conversed among themselves. Mike asked Nick, “You played this one with us before, right?” Nick answered, looking a little confused, “I think so, wasn’t it kind of a rocker?” and Mike strummed a little bit and said, “You know, kind of a 3 on top of 4 thing.” Bryan seemed to encourage Nick and they decided to try the song. What followed was probably a ten-minute piece of music with the most insane and fast changes played all night, and seemed to not repeat very much — and they made no visible mistakes. They also did it completely dry, as in not laughing. If it was a joke, I dunno how they could do it without cracking up. If they were serious, I don’t know how they played the tunes without making mistakes. Bastards again.
To sum it up, Mike is a witty, unpretentious dude with a guitar and keyboard. He even plays them both at the same time. And his band is good, too. Beat that.