January 23, 2001
I'm on the plane on the way home from the SMB and Dregs tour. This is the same format that we did some months ago, but this time, there's no cast on my left hand. The band really did play very well together, and it was so much easier for me this time physically.
Detroit was our first gig, and everybody was a little bit worried about making the trip to Chicago the next day, because of the winter weather. Luck was with us, weatherwise, and we actually avoided any blizzards all the way out to the West coast. I had decided not to fly the band myself for several reasons. One, we had 6 guys plus baggage for the plane, which could make nearly every flight a balance between payload and how much fuel we could carry in order to stay below the maximum gross weight. Also, the memories of spending hours in the cold scraping off frost, snow, and ice came immediately to mind. Next, the altitudes for crossing the mountains require us to always use oxygen, and to get it refilled, which isn't always available, ditto for the deicing fluid for the windshield. Next, factor in the chores of preheating the engines for every flight in the very cold locations, and I could have a bit too much stress if the weather was down. As luck would have it, weather with serious icing conditions was a factor over some of the mountains at the altitudes we fly, so it was a good decision.
Back to the music, we really had a good trip. For me, the highlight had to be the gig at the Coach House, during the NAMM show. If you've never heard of it, NAMM stands for National Association of Music Merchants. It's a trade show that features music products being demonstrated for music stores to see, and hopefully order to sell in their stores. There are always lots of musicians at the show to make appearances, and play music. Nearly everybody that goes to the trade show is a fan of music, so they all stop to hear any live music whenever possible. As a result, there are musicians furiously wailing away at every booth, every aisle, every building for at least a square mile's worth of indoor real estate. It all blends together to form a sort of intense cacophony that can start to numb your mind after a bit. So, when I learned that we would be playing 2 shows after the NAMM show ended, I was worried that the audience might be largely composed of NAMM attendees that would be burned out. Well, it turned out that the energy of that night really kept everything going in a great direction. To start out with, we had the winners of a guitar and bass competition that Ernie Ball had been a part of. In addition, John Petrucci, Steve Lukather, Albert Lee, Vinnie Moore, and Tony Levin were all playing with our musicians for the first part of the show. Unlike many of the trade show jams that we have all been a part of, each player did one tune with an extended solo, then the next person came right up with no delay. As a result, the audience was able to be blown away with Petrucci, then be amazed at Vinnie, Lukather, then Albert, and the contest winners. After Albert Lee did a tune, we all played together with Albert on his tune, "Country Boy".
I can't describe very well how incredible those guys played. The beauty was the difference in styles, and mastery of the instruments. By the way, we all play Ernie Ball/Musicman instruments, so there was the industry angle covered. So I will try to recount what happened, anyway, despite my limited words. First, the SMB played two tunes, then Vinnie Moore came out. He is an extremely likable guy with a very melodic, bluesy style that is punctuated with easy to listen to technical passages. If you ever have a chance to hear him, you won't be disappointed with his complete mastery.
Next, John Petrucci played a tune that was a nice melodic theme, then he let loose with his solo. John has the most impeccable technique, and always strives to find exciting ways to express his ideas. He just keeps getting better, too. I love his ability to effortlessly execute any difficult idea, a virtuoso.
After that, I think came the contest winners, who did a good job, especially considering playing on borrowed equipment with strangers in a high stress setting for a walk-on appearance.
Steve Lukather just picked a very easy blues tune, and the accompanying musicians said "thanks" for not giving them another difficult arrangement to learn. He started off with some Beck-like vibrato bar phrases that were gorgeous. Luke just absolutely tore up his guitar with tasteful expression, all free improvisation that could have been one of his best one-take solos. He has such a command of the tones on his instrument, that it was like listening to a very articulate person tell a story. He is an incredible performer, as well, so the crowd just loved it.
Albert Lee has always blown my mind with his amazingly liquid, Nashville-like sound. I am always surprised how he is able to play such beautiful, impossible, twangy, funky solos. He has never played a bad one, or the same one. I know, having played next to him for 18 shows in a row once. He defines smooth playing in his style, the same way that Eric Johnson does in his own style.
So, you can tell that I had a good time, and all the other guys were loving how nice it was to be able to hear everyone else in a nice easy environment without having to stand around forever. All in all, it was a fantastic gig, and our whole trip has gone as well as we could have imagined. I'm thankful, and especially for those of you who took the time and expense to travel to so many shows. By supporting us, you are literally keeping the United States alive for us as a viable place to work. Thank you.
© stevemorse.com 2001