Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Best $30 I ever spent (or My New Best Concert Experience!)

This is going to be a long one! Last Wednesday night, I drove to San Francisco to catch the BX3 show at a place called Cafe Du Nord. What is BX3 you may ask? well, it's like the G3 concerts, except that this is with bass players! This show features none other than Jeff Berlin, Stuart Hamm and Billy Sheehan! These guys are three of the top bass players of all time. It was an awesome concert at a great venue and it's probably knocked the 1999 Iced Earth show as My Best Concert Experience! It was a very unexpected thing which almost did not happen for me. Here's my story.

Last Monday night, I managed to get a two-CD set of a BX3 concert that had taken place the previous day in L.A. I'm kind of out of the loop nowadays with concerts, and I didn't know this tour was happening, so after a couple of clicks in Google, I was looking at the official page. I was freaking out because Jeff Berlin was actually part of this! I immediately went and got a ticket to go to the show. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, I was able to listen to the recording I had gotten, and it was awesome! Now, I really, really strongly dislike driving to San Francisco, but this was a special ocassion. I went home after work and spent a few minutes there before heading out. Now, I live near Oakland, but decided not to take the Bay Bridge (it was about 7:20 PM when I left home. The show started at 8:30), so I went south on 880 and took the San Mateo Bridge to 101 North (the toll just went up to $4.00! Yikes!). That worked out just perfectly and the venue was pretty easy to find (for a change!). I had to park really far away as there were no parking garages that I could see... well, there was this one place but they charged $8.00, so I found a spot in the street. Like I said, it was many blocks away, but it looked like a safe neighborhood. I walked what seemed to be a long distance to Market Street where the venue is. It is a very fairly small, but cozy place. I got there at around 8:20 and I noticed there were people standing in front of the stage. I went to the merchandise table and bought Jeff Berlin's Aneurythms CD (buy it!) and an autographed poster, then went to the floor. There were two guys with whom I talked for a little while; two cool dudes from Sacramento who are a couple of concert warhorses, and then the show started at around 8:40...

Before I keep going, let me share with you how I "discovered" these musicians. Also, FYI, I knew by around age 11 that I wanted to be a bass player, initially because Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle, but bass turned out to be my favorite instrument to listen to, and there was something about keeping time that appealed to me.

Even though I was just a kid, the 80's was a great time for me from a music-exploring standpoint. I was constantly discovering and being amazed by all sorts of different styles of music and artists. For quite some time I used to go to a place called The Record Factory a few times a week after school. The Record Factory was this awesome independent store that had lots of import albums and a well-stocked magazine stand. I'd go there and read the Hit Parader and Circus Magazines mostly since, even though I listened to all sorts of stuff, Metal was what I identified with for the most part. I got to know about a lot of bands and musicians that way (good and bad!). Then I would look through the record bins, and since I didn't have money to actually buy any albums, I would instead look at them and read stuff like the credits in the back to see who played, who produced, what year, etc. (weird, huh?) I bought Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force album in '84 I believe, based on the unusual name (he obviously wasn't going for commercialism!) the back cover picture and the fact that he thanked Bach, Paganini and Hendrix in it. The record didn't disappoint of course and I became an Yngwie fan. One day I read an article in a Hit Parader about Yngwie where he raved, in part, about this bass player named Billy Sheehan. I guess they were doing some kind of tour together and jammed at the end of the shows. There was a picture of them where it truly looked like they were jamming, so I looked for his records. The Record Factory had two Talas albums (Sink Your Teeth Into That, and Live Speed On Ice), and ended up buying them. The music was OK, but Billy's playing just blew me away! I played both records a lot, and except for the solos, I tried my best to play along. Before this past Wednesday night, I had seen Billy in concert twice, once with David Lee Roth, and later with Mr. Big. As an aside, let me just mention that the Mr. Big / Winger show was truly awesome and oozed and reeked of musicianship! Billy has remained one of my favorite bass players.

I went from reading Hit Parader to reading Guitar Player and Guitar For The Practicing Musician. Guitar player had this flexi vinyl disc in their issues (that's how I discovered Steve Vai and Tony Macalpine for example!), and one time there was a song by a band named Racer X, with Paul Gilbert on guitar. Seeing as to how I was totally into the Neo-Classical style of guitar playing, hearing this was pretty cool. I read an article (maybe the one in that issue) where Paul Gilbert said he had played in an album by a guy named Jeff Berlin, and how he (Paul) was not terribly familiar with the song Crossroads, which was featured in the album. I found the Pump It! tape and bought it, not knowing who this Jeff Berlin guy was. I wanted to listen to Paul Gilbert in Crossroads, which was the second song on side B, so I fast forwarded the tape to side B and pressed play. Bach was the first song on that side, and Jeff's playing totally slayed me. By the time the tape ended, I was like in a trance. I was pretty disturbed for a while because I couldn't figure out how someone could play a Bach-bass-solo-song and pull it off so beautifully. I played this tape all the time, and bought the Champion LP as well. I also bought Bill Bruford's Master Strokes because I'd seen that he played with him. I decided at that point that Jeff Berlin was the ultimate bass player ever, and still hold that opinion. I could never afford (at that time) to buy his instruccional video tape, so for years and years I never actually saw any footage of him. I enjoyed his columns (and sense of humor) in Guitar Player, and I knew he didn't really tour, focusing instead on teaching and taking care of his sick boy (who has since recovered!), so for me, Jeff Berlin was always one of those musicians that I actually thought I'd never be able to see live. *sniff*

When the David Lee Roth band first came out and Steve Vai and Billy were the hot ticket in the country, they got interviewed by just about every music magazine. In these interviews, Steve would rant and rave about this Joe Satriani guy. Needless to say, the publicity worked wonders when Joe released his Surfing With The Alien album. I went and bought the tape, and also Not Of This Earth, and enjoyed them a lot! I loved Driving At Night off Not Of This Earth. Joe embarked on a tour and when it came to town, I couldn't go because the venue was an over 21 place and I was just a pimply teenager. The day of the show, Joe had a signing session at the Campbell Tower Records (RIP). I took both my tapes and was like tenth in line. By this time I actually had a bass. The cheapest of the cheap, and used, but a real bass nevertheless, and I was proud of being a "bass player"! (I was actually not bad at all!). As Joe signed my tape inserts I made some small conversation with him (Joe was really nice and patient - thank you Joe):

Me: "I'd love to go to your show but I'm not old enough"
Joe: "I'm sorry about that, but we'll probably be coming back in the future".
Me: "Are you going to play "Driving At Night"?"
Joe: (delighted that I liked the song) "It's not in our set list, but might play it in the future"
Me: "Hey, I play bass. If you ever need need a bassist let me know!" (I was kidding ofcourse)
Joe: "Have you heard of Stu Hamm?"
Me: "No"
Joe: "Well, he's really amazing!"

On my way back home, I remembered Stu Hamm's name from the credits in Steve Vai's Flex-Able, so I immediately played it when I got home. The playing is good, but if you've heard the album, Stu doesn't stand out, like soloing or anything, so I had no reason to believe he would be anything out of the ordinary. That night the mighty KOME broadcast the concert (which I taped - and still have the tapes!), and as I listened to Stu's spectacular playing, particularly his unaccompanied solo, couldn't help but feel like an ass for having told Joe Satriani that I played bass when he had Stu Hamm in his band! I have since seen Stu in concert a couple of times with Joe, and have always been amazed at his technique and feeling. Anyway, in a nutshell, that's how I came to know the BX3 musicians. Back to the show...

The stage was pretty small and I immediately recognized Billy's set-up, I also figured the Hartke cabinets were Stu's and by default, the small amps to my left were Jeff's. All three of them came on at around 8:40 and kicked things off with The Star Spangled Banner (Billy on vocals), and then on to Jeff's set. I was in cloud nine not actually believing that after more than 20 years, I was finally seeing Jeff Berlin play, and he was basically in front of me! I was hoping he's play some of the older stuff that I knew, like Dixie, but it didn't matter. The tunes he played were awesome. Actually seeing his rendition of Tears In Heaven being played right in front of me is a highlight of my life! Jeff IS a funny guy and seemed to have a lot of fun playing to a crowd full of musicians (something he acknowledged). After a way-too-short set, he introduced Stu Hamm. I snapped some pictures, and here's one of Jeff. Can you believe I was this close?

The guys used the same guitar player and drummer (Jude and John), who by the way, really impressed me with their versatility and adaptability. There was no waiting between sets, and Stu started his set almost immediately. He played his trademark Moonlight Sonata with a portion of the outro of The Beatles' I Want You (She's So Heavy), which sounded wonderful. His technique is amazing and he was right there in front of me! He's cool for putting together this bill! After another way-too-short set with an awesome set list, he introduced Billy Sheehan. Here's a picture of Stu playing something impossible!

Billy Sheehan didn't mess around. he started playing with a vengeance right from the get-go and never let up! Again, he was right in front of me, and I was thrilled to be able to see up close how he played some of his trademark stuff! The bass was really funky looking, but I was so close, I could not get a picture of the whole bass! (it's not a complaint mind you!). They played the DLR-era version of Shy Boy, which had not been part of the set I had listened to previously. They also jammed to one of my favorite Jeff Beck songs from the Wired album, Led Boots. Here's a really good shot of Billy:

After his set, Jeff and Stu came out to play a few more songs. One of the songs they played was Spinal Tap's Big Bottom! They also played Crossroads with Jeff handling vocal duties and Billy doubling Jeff's bass solo! At the end they all briefly exchanged basses. Billy ended up with Stu's bass and played a funky slap riff, something he would never normally do! Here's the only picture I could get of the three of them together:

After the show, they all went to the merchandise table to greet fans. I think I was one of the first ones to greet Jeff. I was speechless and too nervous to say anything really. I tried to tell him I had waited over 20 years tofinally seeing him play, but I doubt he even heard me! I managed to ask him if he still hung out with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. His eyes lit up and said that he's the best the WWF ever had! He then told me that Roddy has cancer, the same as his son, but that he (Piper) is doing great. He autographed my CD insert and took a picture. He was very gracious and talked to everybody. I also bought Billy's Cosmic Troubadour and Stu's Stu Live X2. Billy had quite a crowd around him, but was also really cool, signed my CD and took a picture. To think of all the things I would have liked to say, and all that came out was thank you! Stu was also very nice, signed the booklet and took a picture as well. I asked him if there was going to be a DVD release, and he said maybe! I say that if something needs to be documented, this tour is it!

This was one of the great experiences of my life. In all honesty, I was there to see Jeff Berlin, but to see the three of them was a privilege and very historic. If you doubt that, look at this picture and tell me how often something like this happens in life!


Anonymous said...

Just checked out this show in Spokane Washington.
Stumbled upon it - $25 cover charge. I said "WTF!" and they told me who it was, so I paid and it was the best $$ spent!

These guys are ASS KICKING! If you are lucky enough to get the chance go see them! The show was exactly as stated in this review - an you WILL get to meet them up close and personal!

Dean said...

Sorry dude,
I am an ass. I posted my comment on the BX3 showm in the wrong place. Check it out there.