A delightful photo of Bryan lounging poolside. It's 'The Life of Bryan!'

 
 
 


Act XXI

The Alternate Reality
Part One: A Day In The Life...

Now I know why Led Zeppelin used to throw televisions out of hotel room windows. BFD tour photo

Don't get all in a tizzy. I'm not going to spend the next 347 pages ranting and raving about what a terrible burden it was to be touring the country with Beer For Dolphins, opening up for Steve Vai, being cheered by loud, friendly and extremely receptive audiences, having a free case of beer to split with only Toss after every show...that sort of bitching and moaning would be an insult to anyone who reads this page and aspires to be a professional musician while holding down a day job at the local slaughterhouse. No, we won't have any of that here. Nevertheless, the distinction must be drawn: This was NOT the blinding euphoria that was the April-May "Thanks, Toss" tour. Buses burned down. Cars were broken into. Merchandise was lost, damaged, or, at times, simply unavailable. And, perhaps most disturbingly, the notion of Beer For Dolphins as a karmically unchallenged band was shaken to its very core.

Somehow, we survived long enough to play 28 cities in 34 days, a grueling schedule for even the most road-rashed, battle-scarred tour veteran. You saw the itinerary...11 days in a row. 16 shows in 17 days. Only 6 days off, three of which were spent driving at least 10 hours. And, to make things even weirder and more difficult, BFD toured without Mike Keneally. Huh? What I mean is, Mike traveled in the Vai tour bus, while me, Toss, and our one-man crew (Ed Lucas, a man you'll meet later on in the show) traveled in BFD's tour bus--er, uh, BFD's tour van--er, uh, BFD's tour car, Keneally's Mitsubishi Expo. Hey, I'm not knocking it, considering our last tour vehicle.

The point is, touring the country without having Keneally along for the ride was pretty strange. A lot of the little weirdnesses that you encounter along the route of a 9,000 mile zig-zag trip across the country were experienced without Mr. K at our side, and in turn, he lived a life with the Vai band that we only heard about from him when we actually saw him, which was at the gigs themselves and only occasionally afterwards for a rare night out together. Mike himself coined the term for the life that BFD was living without him: The Alternate Reality.

And so, The Life Of Bryan is at its most useful. The original mission statement of the LOB, all the way back in Act 1, was as such: "...there should be an alternate viewpoint; a different slant, if you will, on the Mike phenomenon." So let it be written, so let it be done. I brought along an old-fashioned college-ruled spiral notebook (I just had to have a big ol' fucking desktop, didn't I?) in which I wrote down everything and anything that I deemed relevant to telling the tale of the tour. We're talking shows, venues, hotels, quotes, good things, bad things...the whole burrito (I hate enchiladas). We'll meet some of the more colorful characters of the Vai entourage as well, since they ended up being an integral part of the life we led together. Are you ready? Good. What you're about to read is the story of the Half Alive In America Tour, in four parts--first, a day in the life of The Alternate Reality; second, the "Best And Worst" of the tour; third, the Quotes Of Note; fourth, the story in pictures. I ain't gonna apologize for how long this one's gonna be, no siree. I will tell you this, however--this first piece will make the other pieces more rewarding for you, the readers for whom I have endless love and affection. I'll do my best to keep it interesting for y'all. {deep breath} OK, here goes nothing.

As you may or may not know, we had about a week's notice to prepare for this tour. Where do you even begin to plan for such a massive undertaking? Under normal circumstances, once you have a band and the tour is booked, the first thing you do is hire a tour manager. This person is VERY IMPORTANT. He (or, for p.c.'s sake, she) is ultimately responsible for making the trains run on time, no matter what. Here's a short list of the duties of the tour manager: Booking hotels, setting and enforcing the travel schedule, chief financial officer of the tour (getting paid by clubs, paying out per diem, keeping track of expenses), advancing each show, replacing burnt-down buses in less than 24 hours, making sure there are no brown M & M's in the dressing room as per the rider...you get the idea. Tour managers are usually people who've been on the road for years, with a wealth of knowledge and experience. These are people who, no matter what the problem is, no matter what city they happen to be in, no matter what time it is, know someone who can help them solve any crisis that should arise. And well they should; they're responsible for making sure that The Show Goes On. For Steve Vai, the tour manager was a 6'11" Scotsman named Gordon Patterson (aka "Gungi"), a road veteran of almost 20 years. For Beer For Dolphins, the tour manager was...me.

It's very unusual for a band member to be the tour manager, but it had to be. Suzanne Forrest was playing the part of record company and management, and was far too busy to book hotels, let alone find out how to get to all of these wonderful places we were about to play (The Ranch Bowl in Omaha...Birch Hill in NJ...The Diamond Ballroom in fucking Oklahoma City...). Keneally wasn't even going to be traveling with us. We could barely afford the one crew member that we had; hiring an outside guy was financially impossible. Besides, I'd sort of done it on the last tour with Mike...how much harder could it be? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Nevertheless, I picked up a copy of the Vai tourbook/itinerary from Steve's manager, Ruta Sepetys (who I can now proclaim to be one of the most efficient people I've ever met, which is about the highest compliment you could get from an obsessive-compulsive person such as myself). The Vai itinerary was my bible. It contained the addresses and contact numbers of every venue and hotel (for the Vai guys, that is) along the tour, as well as the length of every drive (example: "Leave New Orleans at 6:00 for Omaha--1106 miles, 15 hours). So, armed with this helpful little book, a Rand McNally Atlas of the United States, and Keneally's phone card, I began calling every venue and every hotel I could in the three days I had before we left. Obviously, I couldn't get it all done in that time, and many hotels were booked using pay phones at rest stops along various interstate highways. There I'd be standing, with my long leather jacket, my long hair, my sunglasses perched firmly on the bridge of my oversized nose, and my black briefcase open as I manically wrote down all that we needed to know along the borders of the Vai itinerary. I must have looked like the most unorganized drug dealer in the world.

As the tour began, I had practically no idea of what to say when I would "advance" a show (music biz lingo for "make sure that the club knows that we're coming, who we are, and what we need when we get there"). But, as the tour wore on, I climbed steadily up the learning curve, eventually reaching the point where I'd be able to ask the following few questions without seeming too stupid:

"Hello, this is Bryan from Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins, the opening act for Steve Vai on {date}, just calling for some advance info...did you get the rider?" Sometimes, even though Suzanne Forrest sent each and every venue our "rider" (music biz lingo for "what we need from you people"), sometimes it would mysteriously never get there. If their answer to the above question was yes, then we could expect beer, water and soda, as well as a deli tray, in our dressing room, if we even had one. If their answer was no, then it was time to make nice, apologize, and ask politely for these grocery items for our small entourage of three. Usually, they complied without incident.

"Have you talked to Gungi?" Gungi (pronounced GUN-ji), the 6'11" Scotsman who was Vai's tour manager, often would brief the venue's contact person on the unusual situation of Mike Keneally being in both bands. This wrinkle confused many a venue contact in the Midwest. Now is the time to thank Gungi, my eventual mentor on this tour, for doing a lot of the advance work for me when I still had no fucking idea what I was doing.

"When are the set times? And when are doors?" As you'll eventually read in the Day In The Life Of The Alternate Reality (if I ever get to it), these deadlines meant everything to us. Knowing when the "doors" of the club were set to open to the public was especially important.

"How do you get there?" This one always helped.

"Do you have two sound guys, one for house, one for monitors?" Believe it or not, sometimes the answer was "no, we only have one guy for both", meaning that no one would be manning the monitor board during our set. Once we experienced that magic a few times, I became better at pressing for a different answer than "sorry, only one guy's working that show".

"How many hands you have on that night?" Translation: Do you have stagehands to help us load our equipment off of the stage after we're done so that Mr. Vai can begin his set in a timely fashion?

"Who do I settle with?" Often, the phone contact was not the person from whom money could be extracted at night's end.

But for a few minor variables, that was how it would go. Ask these questions with a proper, authoritative voice, and you wouldn't believe the type of deferential treatment you'd get from some of these folks. Except for a few venues on the East (read: rude, we-hate-you-'cause-we-don't-know-you attitude) Coast, they spoke to me as if I was an important, manager-type person. Little did they know.

BFD tour photo You've almost got enough background information now for the Day In The Life Of. Just a couple of more things--first, there was the matter of our only crew member. Ed Lucas was a San Diego-area Keneally freak, and I'd met him at a couple of BFD shows. He's a drummer, but plays a few other instruments as well, and he records his own material out of his house. I've heard it. It's twisted. He was, by his own definition, a twisted individual. More importantly, however, he could tech drums (tech--v. perform the act of being a technical assistant to a musician) as well as guitars, and had been doing both in the San Diego area for over a year. Only 22 years old, Ed had never tech-ed (sp? teched? tekked? tekt?) on a tour of this level in his life. We needed a drum tech/guitar tech/driver, the tour was due to start in four days, and we didn't have one. Ed was available, Ed got the job. It's not easy being a roadie, I can assure you, but it's fair to say that I wasn't the only one climbing a steep learning curve for the first few days.

Secondly, there was the matter of our gear. Vai had a Ryder truck for all of their gear, and a tour bus for everything else. We had a Mitsubishi Expo. Nothing against the fine folks at Mitsubishi, but our gear simply wouldn't fit in the car along with our luggage and our bodies. Would there possibly be room on Vai's gear truck for just our bass and drum equipment? It was up to Vai's stage manager/guitar tech Roger Bell, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker and veteran road warrior, to either grant us this favor or not. Thankfully, he did, but with one condition--Ed would have to help load the truck at the end of the night. Poor Ed was bartered and he didn't even know it. Before you all accuse us of undue cruelty to Ed, it should be noted that there was hardly anyone on this tour who did only one job. Even Gungi, Vai's tour manager, ran sound for them as well.

So, let me now proclaim the Alternate Reality Hall Of Fame: Ruta Sepetys, Gungi, and Roger Bell. They made our lives easier and they didn't have to. And this concludes our test of the emergency background information system. You now possess all of the information necessary in order to make reading the remainder of this gargantuan Act a more enjoyable experience. Had this been a real emergency, and more background information was required, it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference to me--I'm sure you're just as bored by all of these details as I am at this point. Let's get on with the show, shall we? Moosenet Productions Presents: A Day In The Life Of The BFD Alternate Reality.

The phone rings that weird double-ring that you only hear in hotels. When I'd finally get around to picking it up, the receiver would pump out the shrill tone that meant only one thing: Wake-up call. Mine would come at around 60 to 90 minutes before we needed to leave, thereby securing the first shower slot that I so craved (Every other night, Toss and I would switch off sharing a room with Ed). It also left me time to look over the Atlas and maybe try and figure out where the hell we were going that particular day. Other early morning activities included phone calls to the venues; four weeks into the tour, I still hadn't reached every single one, and often I was only a few days ahead of the pace of the tour. Eventually Ed and Toss would stumble out of bed, usually about 20-30 minutes before our previously determined departure time. Something tells me that neither of these guys has ever run a paper route. Anyway, before long, we'd be schlepping our bags and some light equipment (two soft drum cases, two guitars) out of our rooms and down to the car. The car would be packed, and I'd head over to the hotel front desk (carrying my drug-dealer briefcase as always) and attempt to get us checked out in less than 20 minutes. The speed at which we were checked out was directly proportional to the intelligence of the hotel (or, in a lot of cases, motel) employee. In other words, some dumb fuckers cost us some time on occasion.

On the road again...we had the Mitsubishi Expo (the "Expo" from here on in, ladies and gents) set up so that we could lie down in the back seat, giving us two sleeping positions (shotgun and back seat). Any illusions I might have had about catching up on some sleep while Ed drove us to the next destination were quickly shattered; after two near accidents, one potentially fatal, Ed was relieved of his duties as #1 driver, and I took his place. I don't think Ed minded this too much--usually, he was in that back seat and asleep within 20 minutes, thereby securing the Frank Briggs Award for this tour. Toss would settle into the shotgun seat and man the stereo, cranking everything just about as loud as the Expo's system could handle, and sometimes beyond. Fave road music of the car: The Raging Honkies' (Michael Landau's power trio) as-yet-unreleased second album. If it ever comes out, you must find a way to get it, put it in your car stereo, and drive on a highway somewhere--it was magic. Other stalwarts included Sheryl Crow's second album (yes, Sheryl Crow!), Toss' jazz project Waternoise (who, by the time of this posting, will already be touring Europe), and anything with Vinnie Colaiuta on it. This doesn't sound too depraved, does it? Our musical tastes were cultured...it was when we opened our mouths that things got, well, a bit scatological. What's that mean? Uh, we had potty mouths.

The rate at which the level of conversation descended into the most tasteless of subject matters was actually quite alarming. Favorite topics ranged from the various states of gastronomical distress that the band was experiencing, to the high level of sexual frustration prevalent among the three of us, to...well, that was about it. We basically just went straight for the gutter and wallowed in the conversational slime for as long as Toss and Ed could stay awake. A typical remark: "My fuckin' butt crack is like the Arch Deluxe." Compared to us, Beavis and Butthead looked like Rhodes scholars. I won't lie and say I didn't contribute to the filth. I did, laughing to the point of tears all the while. To its credit, the locker room mentality (credit to Keneally) helped me stay awake long enough to get us wherever we were going, so it wasn't completely devoid of value, but God forbid anyone ever heard a tape of one of those car conversations.

BFD tour photo Let's just say that our drive on this "typical day" was five hours long. That's about 330 miles, or, in rest stop terms, just over a tank of gas. Time to fill up the gas tank and empty our own tanks. I'd bring the briefcase into the gas station, collect the receipt, and stuff it into a special envelope which contained money that Keneally had given me to pay for hotels and gas, as well as all of the receipts for such expenses. At various points during the tour, I was a bright enough bulb to leave little things like the car keys, the special money-and-receipt-filled envelope, and sometimes even the entire briefcase somewhere in the gas station's Food Mart. Usually I was quick enough to find these little things before Toss or Ed would notice, but a couple of times I got caught, and they'd wonder aloud just how was it that I had been deemed responsible enough to carry out the tasks at hand. After BFD was finished bumrushing the "always sparkling" local bathrooms, and stocking up on road food and snacks (this last bit had much to do with the gastronomical distress that I was referring to earlier), we'd pile back into the car for more lively conversation. Usually, after returning to our vehicle during a particularly long trip, we'd notice that the Expo was starting to smell like a bunch of guys, leading to yet another batch of descriptive, semi-intelligent banter on the topic of odor.

A five hour drive meant that we'd probably hit the road at around 10:30 AM, which would usually bring us to our next hotel at about 4:00 PM (allowing extra time for tank fillage and empty-age). In most instances I had simply booked the same hotel that the Vai drivers were staying in during the day (those guys had the serious vampire hours going on), and it was always an exciting moment to see what our lodging for the night looked like. After checking in, we'd head for the rooms, and if they were cool, appreciative grumbles like "hey, this ain't bad" or "yeah, this'll do just fine" could be heard in the hallway. Of course, if the place was a pit, the comments reverberating throughout the hallway sounded more like some of our finest car conversations than anything else.

Again, let me stress that this was a "typical" day. Some days went differently--occasionally, we couldn't afford to stay anywhere near the venue that we were playing. Take Chicago, for instance...the local Quality Inn was going for about $120. a night, which was way out of our price range. On such nights, we'd leave directly afterwards and either get a hotel outside the city limits, or just head straight for the next city. The downside to this was that we would then be forced to bring all of our luggage inside the club, since no one wanted to leave anything in the car (which turned out to be a well-founded fear). Clubs like The House Of Blues in Chicago became The Hotel Of Blues for us BFD Alternate Reality folks. But, most of the time, we woke up and drove, and then stayed in the city that we played that night, while Vai's band would wake up mid-afternoon and play, and then drive through the night to get to the next city, sleeping along the way. It was a rare and joyous occasion when we were all staying in the same city on the same night.

Which brings me to something important that I learned on this tour. I now know why bands have big, comfortable tour buses. No, it's not so that they can watch "Showgirls" on the VCR on the way from Amarillo, TX to Santa Fe, NM--it's so that they can wake up in the city that they're playing in, which is much less disorienting than traveling and then playing. Driving through the night allows for this objective to be achieved. Why didn't we do it that way? We couldn't afford to go on vampire time; the traveling was hard enough on us without having our hours all screwed up as well, with no bunks to sleep in. I was responsible for this decision, and although it left us more tired at times, I still believe that we didn't have much of an alternative, and that we needed do as few overnight drives as possible, or else we might have turned into a bunch of narcoleptic zombies by the third week. Even with my fantastic "BFD must stay on regular hours" theory at work, by the time we hit Chicago, narcoleptic zombies turned out to be a valid descriptive term.

OK, back to the Day In The Life. Hotel check-in was at 4:00, and let's say I've found out that doors were set to open at 8:00. Under normal circumstances, maybe the opening band wouldn't have needed to be there until 7:00 (since Vai took so long to soundcheck anyway), but me and Ed needed to be there earlier so that he could start setting up our equipment and that I could start acting like the important person that I hoped they'd take me for. That gave us about an hour to relax. Usually I ended up making phone calls and writing the set list for the night's show. That part of all of this was really fun, and it would get my mind back on the music track. That's right, I forgot, we played shows on this tour! Yippee!! 5:15 lobby call, back in the aromatic Expo for 5-15 minutes, and we'd arrive at the venue at about 5:30 PM.

BFD tour photo With bass guitars, spare drum parts, and one black briefcase in hand, we'd walk in with our heads tilted up and our eyes wandering around the hall, checking out the layout of our home for the night. Along the way, we'd stroll by the members of the Vai crew, hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the stage and gear setups. The towering Gungi would be behind the mixing board, testing out the sound system to the strains of Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and Kate Bush's "Babushka" at absolutely crushing volumes. If we heard these songs blare through the PA any later than 6:30 PM for an 8:00-doors show, we knew that they were stressed out and behind schedule. Then we'd see Roger Bell on the stage, checking out one of Steve's many different Ibanez guitars, all marked with names such as "Lasher", "Evo", "Bad Horsie", etc. I'd always get a nice New York-flavored "how's it goin', Bry?" out of Mr. Bell when I entered the room.

BFD tour photo Also running around on the stage would be Nick Tongue (yes, that was his real name, Beavis), a happy-go-lucky always-smiling Australian fellow who tech-ed (?!) for Keneally and Phil Bynoe. An aspiring guitarist and tour virgin, Nick ended up meeting Ruta Sepetys at Musicians Institute, and the rest was networking history. Rich Pike, Steve Vai's personal assistant and longtime LOB reader, would be scurrying about trying to get the dressing rooms and the wardrobe case arranged to Steve's liking. And then there was John M. McGeary, Mike Mangini's drum tech, perched behind the kit. About 300 pounds of Boston-flavored caustic wit, he was known to us simply as "McGee", and he slowly but surely became the behind-the-scenes star of the tour. You'll find out why later.

Our bass and drum gear would be in a pile somewhere on the floor of the venue, loaded off of the truck courtesy of the Vai crew (how cool were they?), and Ed would locate the pile of BFD gear and get to work on setting up the drums. That was the last I'd see of him for about an hour. Toss would loiter around the stage while I got to work on being important. The next hour would be, at least for me, a flurry of tour manager activity.

First, I was off to see the club's manager for the night. Again, "Hi, I'm Bryan from Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins..." blah blah blah. After a quick confirmation of all of the items I listed earlier in this Act, I'd be led to our dressing room. Sometimes we had our own, sometimes we ended up sharing with the Vai guys (who, 99% of the time, were way beyond cool about this arrangement). Then, in no particular order, the following things would get done: I'd show Toss and Ed where our dressing room was; I'd make sure that the food and drink would arrive in a timely fashion; I'd approach the stage and confirm the set times with Roger Bell; I'd have a brief chat with the house sound person about how easy we were to deal with, since by this time they were usually going out of their minds about how complex Steve's stage setup was. They were always relieved to hear that not only were we a trio, but that Keneally's guitar rig and vocal mike were already set up and onstage just waiting for us to use.

The Vai band members would usually be on the premises by around 6:30. Once I saw Mike Mangini and Phil Bynoe enter the room, I'd try and find Keneally before he had to hit the stage to check his gear. Most of the time, he was on the bus, savoring one of the few moments he had to relax, and I'd find him there and assault him the very latest information from The Alternate Reality. Now was the time to "settle up", as we called it, which consisted of me handing him a pile of hotel and gasoline receipts and rattling off the location and amounts of said receipts (Mike handled the responsibility of keeping the master financial records of the tour). Example: "Cleveland, Ohio--$94.50, Travelodge...Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania--$16.50, gas...". Yeah, really fucking exciting stuff here, I know.

Then I'd show him the set list I'd come up with for the evening. One of my favorite parts about being in this band was the fact that, every night, the set was different. A risky strategy, to be sure, (especially considering our one and only rehearsal for the tour), but that's the way we were on this tour--musically reckless. He'd look the set over and smile at what he liked, and made a startled, confused face at what he didn't, almost saying with his eyes, "why have you done this to me?" Actually, he usually just said "cool!", but occasionally he would change one song around. For some reason, he kept removing "Aglow" whenever I put it on there. (Just for a joke, me and Toss decided to keep putting it on there [we did actually want to do it], and Keneally would always come up with a different twist on why he didn't want to do it that particular night. "Uh, don't really feel like singing this one tonight...too many mid-tempo songs in this part here...My Dilemma and Aglow are kind of the same, let's take out Aglow...". He eventually confessed his fear of trying to measure up to the near-perfect "Half Alive" version of "Aglow", and finally, in NJ, he accepted it. We kicked the shit out of it that night, and it was only the second time we'd played it on the tour.) Occasionally, when things were running behind and everyone was crazed, Keneally would be onstage soundchecking with Vai, and I'd have to get up there and go over the set list with him while he was banging out "I Would Love To" on the keyboard.

7:00--Steve shows up. Doors are at 8:00, and it's hurry up and wait time for BFD. Ed's got our equipment ready to go, me and Toss have cracked our first of many beers for the evening, and Vai is checking his guitar sound.

7:15...Vai is checking his guitar sound.

7:30...Vai is checking his monitors. Our faces would droop as we watched the time allotted for our soundcheck slowly slip away. Hey, he's the headliner, it's his right, but for some reason, we expected every night to be the night when we finally got a lengthy soundcheck. It never happened. Our longest soundcheck of the tour was probably 10 minutes (that is, once everything was plugged into the board correctly, which was sometimes the biggest struggle of all).

7:40...The Vai band is finally getting its monitor mix together. Mike Mangini has a special situation--he has those new "inner ear" monitors, as opposed to a wedge/speaker next to his kit. They worked great, but they left him at the complete mercy of whoever was running the monitor board that evening (Vai didn't take a monitor mixer on the road with him). If his inner ear monitor level wasn't right, Mr. Mangini would get quite upset. If his levels were suddenly spiked way up, the sound would hit his eardrum like a hammer, and this particular sound fuck-up would make him VERY ANGRY, for his hearing was at stake. Add in the fact that his drumset was about 20 pieces large, and you had the makings of a difficult, time-consuming drum monitor check. I pitied the fool who couldn't get Mangini's monitor mix right.

7:45...Vai's band kicks into the official soundcheck song, "I Would Love To". Last minute monitor levels are adjusted, and then Steve would say the magic words... "OK, we're done." 15 minutes to doors. Let the frenzy begin.

Keneally, having been onstage for nearly 90 minutes by this point, takes a five minute break while we set up in a blur. Stagehands start hurriedly handing drum and bass gear to Ed and myself. Seeing as we only had one tech, and he needed to tend to the drums as quickly as possible, I ended setting up my own stuff. By the end of the tour, I could get it done in about four minutes. Now me and the club's sound people are barking back and forth across the stage: "I don't need a DI box...move Keneally's keyboard vocal mike to the front of stage right...the bass drum has an SM-91 already in it, and it needs phantom power...please don't put any gates on the drums...the guitar is already in the mix...". That kind of stuff was OK. It was when I heard things like, "Uh, I ain't sure we got enough mike cables for that" that I got a bit snippy. We found out real fast which clubs had good sound people and which ones didn't. If they were good, we were set up and ready to check in ten minutes. If they were complete idiots, they could take thirty minutes. That's right, you added correctly--that puts you at 8:20 PM. If the sound people were morons and the club owner was a dick, we were forced to soundcheck with the doors open. We had to be in the right mood to enjoy that sort of thing.

But back to a "typical" day. 7:55 PM...drum level check. 7:58...bass level check. 8:00...guitar level check. 8:02...vocal level check. At around 8:05 PM, Keneally would take what we could get, and instruct the band, "OK, play three chords, everyone. 1,2,3,4...{bang branng bwaaanngg!}...that good for you, Toss? That good for you, Bryan? OK, we're done." . Sometimes we actually played a whole verse of "Rosemary Girl", but not very often. The house engineers would breathe a sigh of relief, we'd leave the stage, and the doors would open immediately, allowing a restless group of fans to stream into the club. We could usually see the freaks running towards the stage to get the best possible spot as we walked off in the direction of the dressing room. It was beer and deli tray time.

On a real bad night, when the sound situation was a total nightmare, Mike would be forced to stand onstage for 90 minutes with Vai, stay up there for another 20 or 30 minutes with us while the doors were open, start our set immediately after soundcheck (in other words, not leave the stage at all), play our set, take a 20 minute break, and then play Vai's set. Mercifully, this only happened about three or four times on the whole tour.

Our set begins at 9:00. It's 8:10. We've got 45 minutes to relax, play pool, have a beer...be a band. Personally, I valued this time period very much. Sometimes, because I was so wrapped up in technical and business bullshit, I'd forget that I was even playing that night. It made me less nervous, but it also made me less focused. During these 45 minutes, I could focus on being a bass player again, and I loved it. Not like I'd warm up or anything, unless you count drinking my second or third beer as "warming up." Before you call AA, let me tell you something: I don't drink that much at home. I don't even like beer. But, after a day like that, if there's a free case of Heineken staring you in the face, you attack it. I know I did. And, often enough, Toss attacked it even harder, but not until after the show.

8:55...we're all kind of human again, and we're ready to play. Ed distributes the water (or beer, depending on the kind of day we had) and towels and assumes his side-stage position. BFD talks about having a good show, and maybe trying to remember some of the parts in songs that we hadn't played in a week or more. Such were the perils of playing a different set list every night with little or no time to run anything in soundcheck. I don't want to brag or anything, but I'm going to puff up my chest for just one second here and proclaim that, on this tour, when it came to playing material that was under-rehearsed, in less-than-favorable conditions, We Kicked Ass. This tour made men out of us. (Women, please see the all-encompassing p.c. disclaimer at the beginning of the story. Thank you.)

9:00...BFD hits the stage, with either a wide-open improv piece (that could have named anything, like "My Name Is Omaha", "The Happy Buffalo Dance", or even "The Bean Eaters"), or the ol' reliable intro, "Career/Quimby". From there, it was anything goes. With the lone exception of "Bob Dylan's Nose", we were free to choose from the entire BFD repertoire, and we did so with abandon. We still played some songs more than others, but it was wonderful to be able to do any tune we wanted to on any given night. It's hard to describe how rewarding it was for me to actually be up onstage playing after all of that bullshit.

More show info--at first, people were usually confused by us. If you've been reading the "alt.fan.frank-zappa" newsgroup lately, it may sound like a million people showed up just for BFD, while Vai received only tepid, polite applause. I can assure you that this was not the case at all. A large majority of these fine folks were there to see the little Italian virtuoso, and didn't even know who BFD was, let alone Keneally. But, as the set progressed, you could see the facial expressions in the crowd change from bewilderment, to amusement, to genuine interest, and finally to wild enthusiasm. Let me tell you about how fucking good THAT felt. And, of course, there were a growing number of Keneally freaks out there. People who screamed along the words to "Breakfast". People who cheered when Mike would say, "Here's a couple of songs about cows." People who knew when "Uglytown" ended. You know who you are, and you made our night. Every night.

9:45...BFD crashes down on the last chord of "Breakfast" (remember, a "typical day", not every day), and our set is over. Yes, I wish we could have played longer, but it wasn't worth alienating Vai's crew to ask for a longer set, since they were already accommodating us more than they ever had to. We'd all leave the stage while Ed began to take down Toss' drums. I'd take about 60 seconds, catch my breath, down a half a beer, and go back out on stage and be Mr. Stage Manager, first taking down my bass rig so that Ed and the stagehands could carry it off, and then making sure that Ed had a place to go with our gear and tear it down. Most venues would have preferred that we loaded our shit out the back door right away, but once they knew that it was going on Vai's truck on the end of the night, they usually just let Ed go about his work. Again, our bootleg outfit was protected by the security umbrella of the Vai crew.

Only once during the tour, in Long Island, was there a real problem with loading stuff off of the stage. On this special night, there was nowhere to go with our gear and no one to help Ed, two details that had been worked out before the show even began. The crowd was everywhere, there was no backstage, there was no roped off area, and there was no one to help us. 10 minutes later, I finally found someone who worked there, and inquired as to where we were supposed to load our gear off. He goes, "Uh, I dunno...how about up there?" He's pointing at a DJ's booth not very close to the stage. "We can't get through the crowd! We have one guy! How do you expect us to get a drum kit over there?" "I don't know what to say, man." Now I explode.

"Listen to me. Vai's crew is coming back here in about 10 seconds. His stage manager is gonna want to know why our shit is still sitting on the stage. And I'm gonna tell him that we've been up here for ten fucking minutes waiting for someone to clear a fucking lane through the fucking crowd so that we could get our fucking shit off of the stage, but that you guys have been sitting on your asses! I'm fine with that if you are." Now the club manager walks over, and I give him the same speech. Before long, Roger Bell arrives, and he finds the stage a mess. He's calm, like a veteran should be. "Uh, what's going on here, gentlemen?" I explain to him the situation at hand. "Well, folks, I suggest you clear a path through the audience. OK? OK." Within seconds, two very large men are both blocking off an avenue through the crowd and passing drum and bass gear over their heads over to the DJ's booth. For that kind of shit to happen while I was still filled with adrenaline from the show was really, really difficult to deal with. Have I mentioned that I love both Roger Bell and Gungi? Just checking.

BFD tour photo But, as I said, normally it wasn't like that. By 9:55, I'd be back in the dressing room with Mike and Toss, and we'd talk about the show for a bit. More often than not, we were really happy with the performance. By the time I got back there, it was almost time for Mike to change into his Vai clothes. His "Vai clothes"? Don't worry, Keneally wasn't wearing any leather pants--his "Vai clothes" were an oversized zoot suit and a fedora, as opposed to the grunge-boy attire he sported for BFD. He looked dashing. Some people actually didn't recognize him as the same guy who was just clowning around with the opening act.

10:00...Keneally is headed off to the Vai dressing room to change, and we say goodbye to him. "Have a good show, Mike." Weird. Toss is now hitting the beer hard. The man can fucking drink. Once he gets his sweaty shirt off and cleans up a bit, it's time for Toss to party. I usually headed out into the crowd at this point, beer in hand, to say hi to some of the BFD faithful. I can see the Vai crew running around the stage like maniacs, making sure that all is well. Ed is still tearing down our gear. I'm out in the crowd, trying to be a nice Bassboy. At this time, I'd like to apologize to the fans who attended the following shows: Boston, NYC, and NJ. I was swamped by family and old college friends and ended up having little time to socialize. Sorry 'bout that. Also, in Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, we left right after our show was over, usually due to a long overnight drive that awaited us. Sorry again. Aside from those locales, I got to meet a great big bunch of really cool people. Again, I can't thank you enough.

10:15...the lights go down, the crowd screams bloody murder in unison, and then comes the explosion. BOOM. A huge, subsonic "boom" noise comes from the PA, announcing the start of the Vai set. Sirens wail, fire engines honk, and the band enters. Finally, Steve Vai walks on the stage, and the place goes crazy. The band kicks into the opener, "There's A Fire In The House". I watch for a bit, usually listening for sound (and imagining what BFD sounded like through the same system), and then retire to our dressing room, where I'd find Ed...sleeping. Must every BFD tour have one of these compulsive sleepers in the entourage? Apparently so. Me and Toss are now pouring beer down our throats.

11:15...Vai's band plays his signature tune, "Answers". Both sides of the stage contain a small percussion setup. How convenient...one for both Toss and myself. A few shows into the tour, Steve had asked me and Toss if we want to play percussion during "Answers", as well as an improv piece in which he conducted the band, Zappa-style. We said yes. We weren't out there every night (it was our choice whether or not we felt like doing it), but on the majority of shows, when Vai started "Answers", we'd be perched on the sides of the stage--Toss on Phil's side, and me on Mike's side. On cue, we'd run up on stage and play along while Steve gave us voice commands, like "Bat da da dat!" 'Twas fun, I say. Afterwards, it was back to the dressing room for even more beer. Ed would still be asleep.

But some nights we didn't feel like partying, maybe because we didn't feel well, or maybe because we just didn't feel like hanging around. Problem was, we were kind of stuck there, because as part of the our-gear-on-Vai's-truck deal, Ed had to stay 'til the end of the night and help load the truck. So, what did Toss and I usually do in the meantime? That's right--drink anyway. Listening to Vai's show for the 28th time, impressive as it was, got just a bit boring. You have to remember--they played the same set every night.

12:10 AM...Nick Tongue, the aspiring Australian guitarist/Vai roadie, gets to jump onstage as 3rd guitarist for "The Attitude Song", the final tune of Vai's set. We all got off on watching him up there. Also, for the encore, everyone dons these ridiculously oversized hats, a trend that Keneally (who else) started. Vai eventually decided that he needed a huge fucking hat as well, and the rest of the band followed suit. Ed is still asleep.

12:15...Steve Vai: "Thanks for making this a night we'll never forget. We hope to see you again real soon. Thanks...good night." The Vai band takes a Van Halen-style bow.

12:30...I'm very buzzed. Toss is drunk. Ed is finally awake and getting ready to help the Vai crew load up the truck. I go to find Keneally so that I can lead him to the person who will pay him for BFD's night's work. By the end of the tour, Mike was so exhausted that I ended up taking over this duty, but for the most part, I'd hand him off to the club's money man and leave it to him.

12:45...Aftershow. Some folks are lucky enough to have received "Aftershow Passes", and these people are still milling around the venue, waiting for Mr. Vai to arrive. In the meantime, I'm back in black briefcase mode, walking around all over the place, and some people stop me to tell me how much they enjoyed BFD's set. I talk to the nice folks for a bit, as does Toss when he appears. Aftershow was always more fun after a couple of beers. Eventually, the Vai band members meet and greet the small crowd. Then, finally, Steve appears, wearing a long leather jacket and dark, wrap-around sunglasses to block the house lights. He's friendly and polite, as are all of the guys, signing autographs for just about everyone there. Keneally arrives back from the money man just in time for the Aftershow, and signs a million different things, from FZ's "Best Band...", to "Zappa's Universe", to "hat", to "The Mistakes", to "Half Alive In Hollywood". Man, he's been on a lot of good records. OK, freaks, a "Zappa's Universe" exception has been duly noted.

1:00 AM...Mike and I stroll on over to the merchandise stand to see how much stuff BFD sold. Most of the time, it went like this: "Well, we sold out of this, we sold a bunch of these...only a couple left of these...". You people are the fucking coolest.

1:15 AM...finally, the Vai gear truck is loaded, and Ed's day is done. We gather all of our stuff (drums, basses, briefcase) and head for the Expo, which smells better now that we haven't been in it for 8 hours. Unless Vai's band is staying in town that night (which they usually weren't), we say goodbye to them, and Keneally as well. The Alternate Reality resumes without him. The three of us leave for the hotel, to drop off our stuff, and maybe Toss and I go out and drink some more (Ed, of course, goes to sleep). We've got eight hours until our next set of wake-up calls.

And that, my friends, was a "typical" Day In The Life Of The BFD Alternate Reality. Ridiculously long, right? Kind of boring, perhaps? Hours of work for 45 minutes of payoff? Well, just imagine living that day over and over again, a la Groundhog Day. One week on the road seemed like a month of real life. It was both exhilarating and draining, life-affirming and depressing, ridiculous and sublime. It's a miracle we survived it with both our health and the band intact.

One thing must be made clear: This is not a bitch. This is not a rant. It's just as close to an objective telling of the story as I can provide. Mike and I worked tirelessly all year long waiting for an opportunity like this. Sure, it wasn't always a thing of beauty. As a matter of fact, at times it was downright ugly (I'm having flashbacks of a drunken screaming match between me and Toss in Pittsburgh...we must have woken up the entire third floor of that hotel). Either way, the most important thing is that the goal was achieved. Beer For Dolphins is now a more widely known entity. The goals of The Year Of The Dolphin were met--if only just days under the deadline.

And what is your reward for making it all the way through this hopefully entertaining 14-page bit of background information? Why, the Best And Worst Of The Tour, of course! And, the Quotes Of Note will follow in a separate piece. And you'll breeze through them and laugh even harder than you would have had you never finished this monster. Or, maybe you'll just curl up next to Ed and go to sleep.

I'll leave you for the time being with this thought: I don't know about you, but I'll never look at an Arch Deluxe the same way again.......................B.B.

P.S.---A special note of thanks and more thanks to the BFD Tour Organization in its entirety is long overdue: Mike and Vivian Keneally, Immune CEO Suzanne Forrest, Moosenet CEO Scott Chatfield (how 'bout the KoncertKopia?! Nice job Scott...and nice job to you folks out there who contributed...more on this later), Toss Panos, and the long-suffering Ed Lucas. We did with seven people what most couldn't do with twenty. I love you all. Down, Ed, down.

P.P.S. This humungous chunk of text was edited ever-so-slightly by the lovely and supremely talented Martha C. Lawrence. She's slowly teaching me the finer points of literature; thanks to her, I may finally be ditching this terrible "me and Mike" habit I've picked up over the years. Now, if I could only begin a paragraph with a word other than "so"....



The Life Of Bryan continues...


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