Wednesday Night Live - Very, Very Extended Liner Notes|
Bryan here. Thanks for stopping by. If you're reading this page, it's very likely you already own the Wednesday Night Live CD. (If you don't, this is a little cart-before-the-horse, but you can easily rectify that bit of backwardsness by clicking here.) This page is meant for the folks that want to go deeper into the background of the record - and the tour that spawned it - than the space in the 6-page booklet will allow. Are you one of those people? Can you endure the following mountain of text? There's only one way to find out...
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1. Tour Planning
2. The "They're Both The Same Band" Northeast Tour 2010
3. West Coast Wednesday
4. Making The Record
5. In Closing/Extended Thanks
1. Tour Planning
One thing I'd resolved to myself after releasing Thanks In Advance was that I wanted to do live shows in places other than Los Angeles. Living in Nashville posed some special challenges to this idea, because I couldn't afford to fly my first-call band of Joe Travers, Griff Peters, Rick Musallam and Mike Keneally all over the country.
So I did what many composers have done - I wrote charts for everything I wanted to have played and started doing gigs with pickup bands. I did a couple in Nashville, one in Cleveland, and one in Chicago. Along the way I got to play with some great players - Marcus Finnie, Chris Cottros, Jody Nardone and Pat Bergeson in Nashville; Chris Ceja, Rock Werhmann and Tony Pulizzi in Cleveland; and Eric Byous and Leandro Lopez Varady in Chicago...along with Rick Musallam, who gamely came out for the Cleveland and Chicago shows. They were hard work but great fun, and I learned a lot about my music and myself in the process of working up a new band from scratch in one rehearsal for each of these gigs.
But what it really did was whet my appetite for at least trying to figure out a way to bring the L.A. band on tour for real. How could I pull off something resembling an honest-to-goodness tour without having to sell all of my earthly possessions? Fortunately, my years as a corporate hotshot at SWR left me with mad accounting and Excel skills, and I began working up scenarios in which I could do the most dates in the strongest markets in the shortest period of time.
I figured that the tour should be limited to a week, because if for some reason my projections were off, at least the hit wouldn't be as bad as a three-week commitment would be. I also needed short driving distances, to save on gas and wear-and-tear on the band. I wanted a Saturday night in a big city. New York City qualified for that. I quickly realized that I was headed for the Northeast. But even under the rosiest scenarios, the numbers were still pretty brutal.
Then it hit me. Mike Keneally hadn't toured the Northeast in five years, and he had a new album coming out, Scambot 1. He was going to be in the band anyway. What if my chosen band could be his band as well, and I'd open for him, using the same band? It was just the Guitar Therapy Live band plus Griff Peters anyway, right? I've always thought that Griff is a special player and that his tonal palette, combined with Rick's, would make Keneally's music really shine. And this way I'd have my ideal band on the road, for a real tour.
I pitched it to Mike and his manager, Scott Chatfield, in early 2010. It took several conversations and lots of number-crunching, but we all soon realized that it might just work, and that with the cost sharing involved, we could afford to experiment for at least a week. Fortunately for Mike and I, Joe, Rick and Griff were all super excited about it and were very generous with us. (In other words, they made it possible for us to afford them!)
We planned for 3 days of late April 2010 rehearsals in Southern California at Griff's place (those of you who've watched the To Nothing DVD know what a magic place this is - and by the way did you know there's less than 100 of these DVD's left?). I flew out and watched in amazement as a five-piece arrangement of "Love Terror Adrenaline" came together in remarkably short order. Other than that wild tune, I chose a pretty conservative set, stocked with songs that I thought would go over well live and that the band already knew. Since we only had five dates booked, I thought I'd keep it the same every night and try to achieve that special kind of "touring vibe" a band gets when they're familiar with the pacing of the set. Usually that takes five shows, but we only had five shows, so I was hoping for the pace to be accelerated a bit. It turned out to be a good thing I played it a little safe, because Mike's set list was filled with intense back-catalog challenges and new Scambot material, and required a lot of attention.
We were very lucky to get Johnny Meyer to be our one and only tech. Meyer was our frontline tech on the Dethklok tour, and he's one of those guys who was born to be a first-class roadie, right down to the fact that he looked far more like a rock star than any of us. With three guitarists and several alternate tunings, plus a bassist carrying three axes, he was quite busy but more than up to the task. The original plan was to have him tour manage as well, but as the technical demands on his time became apparent, I ended up just doing it myself. It was hard work, getting the books and the itineraries together and all that, but the little drill sergeant organizer in me actually enjoyed it in a perverse kind of way.
One thing we knew was that we didn't want to abuse our 40-something bodies any more than we needed to, but we couldn't afford a real road crew. So we crowdsourced loaders for each of the five gigs, and bribed them with free tickets to the show. It worked splendidly! I will now call the roll of the people who saved our bodies from potential ruin:
Greg Hamby (and his two friends)
Thank you all!
Finally, rounding out the touring entourage was Alec Tervinsky and J.D. Mack, who took time on their own dime and drove along with us to help us sell merch. They absolutely kicked butt and made a big difference in what we were able to sell to help pay for the tour.
So, five band guys, a tech, and two merch crew, plus 15 or so crowdsourced loaders. Not bad for a first time out, I thought. Now all I needed to do was get my minivan from Nashville up to Philly, because it was going to be the main tour passenger vehicle. That, plus a cargo van, would do it.
I didn't count on the biggest rainfall in Nashville's history to come three hours before I was supposed to start driving. We're talking a torrential, non-stop subtropical downpour that lasted two full days and catastrophically flooded many parts of the city. I loaded the van in a full rainsuit and left Nashville at around noon on May 1. If I had just left three hours later, I would not have been able to leave the city until May 3 or 4, and the tour would have been screwed. Close call. My poor wife Kira had to ride out the storm by herself. At least we lived on a hilltop - others weren't so lucky.
2. The "They're Both The Same Band" Northeast Tour 2010
The dates were:
Tuesday 5/4 - Philly PA, World Cafe Live
Wednesday 5/5 - New Haven CT, Lily's Pad at Toad's Place
Friday 5/7 - Boston/Cambridge MA, The RegattaBar At The Charles Hotel
Saturday 5/8 - NYC, Hiro Ballroom
Sunday 5/9 - Baltimore, Orion Sound Studios
The first show was at a really nice venue, World Cafe Live. Huge stage, great vibe, everything you could ever want. Not a bad place to have the first show of your first real tour ever. The sound onstage was OK, not great, and we had that slightly nervous first-show energy, but overall it was pretty good. Bassist Liam Wilson from The Dillinger Escape Plan came out for the show, which was fun - very cool dude. John and Paula Wehmiller (Wes' parents) were also there, which was spiritually appropriate, I thought. Also, photographer Matt Urban was at this show, and his pictures ended up being the ones we used for the CD cover and booklet, because the lighting at the Potato just didn't lend itself to great shots. Matt's shots were awesome. Check out the full collection right here.
We had a good deal of fun (that's one way to put it) trying to get everything into the cargo van after the gig. It was the first time we'd tried it, and it almost didn't work. It took four tries. Not sure what we would have left behind, but we were contemplating all sorts of unpleasant scenarios I'm glad we didn't have to execute.
Next up was New Haven, the last of the dates we booked. Toad's Place is a famous rock club, and Lily's Pad was the small room for private parties and smaller gigs upstairs. Up a very long, very steep flight of stairs. Thank God we had loaders for this one, because it was brutal. The shape and size of the room was also pretty awkward, as was the placement of the main PA speakers. Griff and I were actually standing right in front of the left one. The sound onstage in there was, in a word, awful. But it had that small, sweaty vibe to it, and a little road grease went a long way in making this show musical. I hope.
Thursday 5/6 was a day off, and also happened to be my 39th birthday. Kira flew into Boston and we celebrated by hitting some old Berklee-era haunts, including the Pour House on Boylston Street, a restaurant/bar in the Back Bay around the corner from our old dorms. Hard to believe that Joe, Griff, Kira and I were all running around that neighborhood 20 years ago, but it's true, we were. And we saw plenty of 19-year-old current Berklee students buzzing around, which made us feel...mature.
Friday 5/7 was the first date of our primetime weekend, the reason we chose the Northeast in the first place. It would be Boston and NYC back to back. Our Boston gig was in Cambridge, at The RegattaBar, a famous jazz/fusion room. This was the night that, for me, the music finally clicked and we felt like a band up there. I thought it was the best Beller set of the tour, frankly. Again, the onstage sound was weird due to incredibly low ceilings and weird speaker placement for the PA, but somehow it worked anyway. I also had the pleasure of meeting bassist Mike Ball and drummer Shawn Crowder, a couple of Berklee students who told me that they were going to be performing "Love Terror Adrenaline" and "Greasy Wheel" at a Berklee show in the near future. I have to say, as a Berklee grad, it's just about the most rewarding thing you can imagine to know that your music is being learned and performed by the next generation of Berklee students. I was humbled.
And then...Saturday 5/8 in New. York. City. It doesn't matter how big or small the touring outfit happens to be, there's always a charge when you're headed to NYC for a gig. This particular gig was supposed to be at the Highland Ballroom, but got moved to the Hiro Ballroom because trip-hop artist Tricky needed to do the Highland for some reason (whatevs). It worked out fine, as the Hiro was just the right combination of hipster and intimate and big-time. New York turned out in force, and the largest crowd of the tour saw both the Beller and Keneally sets get ever closer to the greased-up state of a real touring outfit. The sound onstage was really great - at last! I thought we played a little better in Boston, but it was a great show nonetheless. Plus my parents were there, which is always nice. For the record, the shot of me grimacing while wearing the "Heavy MTL" shirt was taken by Frank Teger at this show. I promptly lost the shirt (my favorite, arrgh!) when the show was done.
New York being what it is, we all somehow managed to meet in the financial district at an amazing open-late restaurant at around 1AM and celebrate our taking of New York in style. The numbers were working out fairly well, everyone was in good spirits, and it all just felt right. I was relieved.
Finally, there was Baltimore on Sunday 5/9. I won't lie: we were tired coming into this one. New York will do that to you. We were also recording this show, mainly because Orion Sound Studios had the capability and we said, sure, why not? Orion's an unusual venue because it's in an industrial park, in a hippied-out space that's difficult to describe. It does have the mojo somehow. Unfortunately, any mojo I had on this night was lost when I was stung by a hornet right on my right ring finger during soundcheck. Anyone who's seen me play knows that this is one of my two main fingers (I alternate index and ring more often than middle and ring), and it swelled up like a sausage and was quite painful. I did the best I could in the show, but the sting definitely impacted my playing. I remember the audience being thrilled with the show, which is really all that counts, but I didn't think the recording was anything magic, and listening back to it later confirmed my suspicion. We just sounded a little tired. Understandably so.
And that was it. We were pretty shocked when we loaded out and got back to the Baltimore Airport Hilton that night and realized that the tour was over just as it was getting started. It was designed that way, of course, but it still somehow took us - and me - by surprise. We all hugged and said that we needed to do it again. Mike and I agreed wholeheartedly.
The best news for me was that not only was it a musical and promotional success, but financially it made sense as well. It cost a little money, but nothing like it would have if either Keneally or I had gone it alone. From where I stood, it was absolutely worth it, and that's thanks to everyone who came out, bought tickets and supported the tour. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!
3. West Coast Wednesday
The plans for a Fall 2010 West Coast tour began almost immediately after the May tour was over. We were looking at September or October. But a few things came up that made it difficult to nail down right out of the box. Rick Musallam was going to be in Lebanon in most of August and early September. Then Joe Travers got his Zappa Plays Zappa touring schedule, and he was booked from the end of September on. Finally, Mike Keneally got asked to join Joe Satriani's band for an album session and a tour, which made him unavailable from around 9/27 through the end of the year. Add it all up, and the idea of doing a tour on the west coast was suddenly over before it started.
I then proposed that we do one show, at The Baked Potato, to keep the spirit of the "Same Band" touring outfit alive in the second half of 2010. Mike liked it, and we booked Saturday 9/18 for the one-and-only show. But then Joe had something come up late - the dedication of a Frank Zappa statue in Baltimore, to which Zappa Plays Zappa had been invited to play on the weekend of the 18th. With Rick's Lebanon window on the front end and Joe's Zappa thing on the back, there was literally only one day that would work: Wednesday, 9/15. Having the only west coast show on a Wednesday night wasn't ideal, but it was better than not doing it.
So there you have it. Wednesday Night Live.
I love The Baked Potato. Talk about a room that has the mojo - that room is made of mojo. I thought, why aren't we taping this one? Who knows when we'll be able to do this again? And wasn't Keneally's Guitar Therapy Live CD done the same way, after a tour was over and the band had a chance to rest and regroup? After another powwow with Keneally and Chatfield, and a very nice conversation with Potato proprietor Justin Randi (thank you Justin!), we decided to make it so.
Show day: Veteran live recording engineer Tim Pinch brought his mobile rig, and Dave Foster's video crew of longtime Keneally tapers descended on the Potato early. Everything was in place, including a very robust crowd for a Wednesday night. And we played pretty damned well, I thought. To be honest, I wasn't as loose and didn't play as well as I thought I could have. There were a few "holy crap" moments, like when we started "Love Terror Adrenaline" and Mike's guitar amp volume had accidentally been knocked up, making him unbelievably loud onstage and resulting in some very challenging conditions in which to nail fretless bass intonation. But overall, the show had that magic energy that the Baltimore recording lacked. It wasn't as tight overall, but it had the live edge that I was looking for. The renditions of "Seven Percent Grade" and "Greasy Wheel" in particular, I felt, were what I'd always hoped they would be in a live setting. The guys in the band seemed pretty happy with it too.
When I finally got the multi-tracks and listened to the show from top to bottom, I knew there was a record in there. I'd only half-thought that making a live album was even possible from the outset, but there it was, waiting to be made.
4. Making The Record
I've never really gone into detail about what a gut-wrenching process it was making Thanks In Advance. It was tough, tough, tough. The material was intensely emotional for me, and I was extremely particular about the way it sounded and the way it was mixed. (It didn't help that I was trying to do it while planning a wedding, and that the manufacturing process stopped and started several times.) I've gotten lots of compliments on the way it sounds and I appreciate them a lot, but honestly I thought it could have been a little less midrangy, and could have been a little louder overall. It was a big improvement over View, though, a record which I'm slowly revisiting, track by track, and remixing. (Four of those remixes will end up as bonus audio on the Wednesday Night Live DVD.)
One thing I didn't do when mixing and mastering Thanks In Advance was check the overall sound of the record against other albums I thought sounded good. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But I was so tunnel-visioned on the individual songs and the cohesion of the album itself that I feel I lost perspective somewhere along the way.
Everything that was difficult about Thanks In Advance ended up being easy with Wednesday Night Live. The former was recorded in six different studios with five different drummers; the latter was done on one stage, two if you count the bonus tracks - and all with one drummer. That counts for a lot in terms of getting an overall EQ palette that works and doesn't take forever to generate from song to song. Engineer Mark Niemiec just gets better and better, and together we were able to, in my view, create a sonic template that sounds like the way I'd always wanted my music to sound. Listening back to parts of "Love Terror Adrenaline" gave me back chills and goose bumps, the way my favorite music used to do when I was younger. I took that as a good sign.
The set was 45 minutes long, as follows:
Get Things Done
Thanks In Advance
Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through
Seven Percent Grade
It was actually 50 minutes if you included the talking between songs, but we trimmed out the talking for the most part, knowing that it would be included on the eventual DVD. I also wanted to include two bonus tracks. One would be "View", from the WesFest 2 benefit concert. Full disclosure: I'd already included it as a bonus audio track on the To Nothing DVD, but not everybody has that product, and we remixed it again to more closely match the Wednesday Night Live sound. Plus I thought it would be nice to have it in official audio form - iTunes and all that.
The other bonus track is "Cave Dweller", and it's from the Thanks In Advance record release party gig in January of 2009. It's not a multi-track recording - it's just audio that Dave Foster captured in the room, and there's something about its troglodytic girth and utter rawness that I felt was worth sharing. It was just sloppy and dirty enough to be dangerous. It was also a double-homage to Michael Laundau, the first being the writing of the song itself, and the second being the emulation of how he finished the sequence of his album Live 2000 - with a live-in-the-room recording of his tune "Big Bulge". (If you don't have this record, you must stop what you're doing and get it right effin' now.)
I could hardly believe how fast it all came together. The show happened on September 15, 2010. The final master was approved on February 2, 2011. Less than six months! And Kira and I were on the road for six weeks of that time. Plus there were the holidays. Really, it was miraculous, and I'm very grateful for how unstressful the whole process was.
Oh, and I don't want to forget Mike Mesker in all of this. His artwork and cover concepts are nothing short of genius. All I told him was that I wanted it to be lively and somehow electric in that LIVE SHOW! kind of way, but also warm and inviting, so as to convey the camaraderie we enjoyed as both band members and close friends. He nailed it.
Everyone nailed it: Mike Keneally, Griff Peters, Rick Musallam, Joe Travers, John Meyer, J.D. Mack, Alec Tervenski, Mark Niemiec, Mike Mesker, Tim Pinch, Dave Foster...and the bonus track musicians as well (Pete Griffin and Kira Small - aka wyfe - on "View"). Thank you all for nailing it like people who nail things for a living nail things. Nailed.
5. In Closing/Extended Thanks
If I could leave you with one thing from all of this, it's for the composers and songwriters out there: Go out and play live and record your shows! Of course it's important to have studio albums, but if you're already gigging and have a couple of albums under your belt, it really doesn't cost that much in this digital day and age to have a mobile engineer come out and multi-track record your set. Don't wait for the perfect moment. The perfect moment never comes.
Of course, you might get stung by a hornet before the show, but you might also play the best show of your life. You never know.
Now that I have unlimited space to do so, I would like to thank the following people for helping to make Wednesday Night Live a reality:
* JUSTIN RANDI OF THE BAKED POTATO!! I am just realizing as I type this that I forgot to thank him in the actual printed liner notes. BAD ARTIST! BAD MUSICIAN! BAD RECORD LABEL! Please everyone go to the Baked Potato and eat many potatoes to make up for my transgression against basic human decency. (I hope he lets me back in the place. Oy vey.)
* My wife Kira Small, for holding down the homestead while Nashville flooded and I was off gallivanting around the Northeast - love you, baby
* My parents and family, for understanding and tolerating their nomad ne'er-do-well namesake
* Mike Lull and Paul Schuster at Mike Lull Custom Basses, for making the best basses in the world and being awesome guys to boot
* Hugh Gilmartin at D'addario Strings, for being supercool about everything, and for being so damned handsome
* Tony Franklin and SWR Amplification, for the live tone that's defined me for 21 years
* Darryl Anders and John Ferrante at Dunlop, for the great Bass Wah pedal, for the M-80 distortion, and for being cool
* Once again, the guys in the band and crew for signing on for this not-exactly-lucrative-but-hopefully-fun adventure
* Mike Keneally and Scott Chatfield, for their trust and partnership
* The "Same Band" tour street team for invaluable promotional help: Jane Kubel, Deani Weitzel, David Brady, Jesse Brady, John Willcoxon, Alexander Hallenbeck and Steve Durgin
* Howie Schnee, our booking agent - nice job dude!
* Wes Wehmiller, and the Wehmiller family - I am continually inspired by knowing you
* Everyone who follows me on Facebook and Twitter, and who reads this website, and especially those who subscribe to my e-mail newsletter BellerBytes, for their willingness to allow me to constantly remind them where I'm going and what I'm up to
* Everyone who's bought Wednesday Night Live, or any Beller album...I'm honored to be a part of what you listen to.
I'm sure I've forgotten to thank all sorts of people, maybe even you (and if I have, just let me know and I'll add you here!). But that's why I love webpages - you can update them, unlike CD booklets when you forget to thank the person who let you record a live album in his venue. Oh well. I'll get it right next time.
In the meantime, I really hope you enjoy this record, and I'll do my best to make more of them, and bring the live band to more places in the years ahead.
P.S. Don't forget to check out Matt Urban's excellent collection of photos from the Philly show - click here to see them all.