Mike Keneally & Beer For Dolphins, Half Alive In Hollywood (CD Review)|
By Karl Coryat
Bass Player Magazine
Published March, 1997
Eighth-note-thumpin' rock 'n' roll got you down? Try a sip of Beer For Dolphins. The trio is the pet project of former Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally; it also features the impressive talents of bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Toss Panos. This two-CD set is an amazing achievement: the first disc was recorded totally live to 2-track in the Musicians Institute studio; the second was recorded the same way a year later at MI's concert venue. If you like your music challenging, rife with odd meters, herky-jerky stops and starts, tuplets up the yin-yang, and - of course - great bass playing, this record is a must-listen. With over 140 minutes of virtuosic playing, the album might make you O.D. on chops, but it's extremely satisfying in small doses.
Berklee-grad Beller is a highly accomplished player, as this no-overdubs recording attests. On Disc One, his funky, ascending chromatics anchor the catchy "My Dilemma"; he takes he takes the motif into the tune's wild improvisatory section, sometimes switching to downward chromatic fills to present a mirror image of his verse work. Bryan's Fender Jazz Deluxe V is super up-front in the mix of "Sort of Performing Miracles"; he throttles the bottom with muscular, scalar quarter-note climbs, mixing in tons of rhythmic variations, upper-register fills, and subterranean B-string descents. "The Unhappy Monologist" has Keneally calling out such commands as "Improvise!" and "Play in 7/16!" as the other two musicians hold on for dear life; except for the previous track (a rehearsal), it's the first and last time the band played the tune. Disc Two standouts include wicked, Zappa'd-out covers of Hendrix's "Power To Love" and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"; if your band plays straightahead covers, these tunes might give you a new perspective on old material. Beller shows off his penchant for bouncy feels on "The Car Song"; the tune gets increasingly wild (with a shred-tainted guitar solo), but most of the piece is refreshingly simple: low on flash and high on groove. And the bonus studio cut "Vent" is an unexplainable, weird delight.
In the tradition of the Beatles' Anthology discs, Half Alive is filled with studio chatter, false starts, and even moments where parts are worked out on the spot. This is interesting the first or second time around, but for repeated listenings, you might want to distill the most tasty, least-wanky performances onto a cassette dub. Either way, I dare you to try playing along - if you can do it, you'll know you've arrived.
Reprinted with permission from the March, 1997 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit http://www.bassplayer.com.