"Honey, I'd like to have Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins crash at our house. Is that OK?" I was sweating in the hot July night, hoping my wife would allow us to be invaded by people we didn't even know. Musicians, no less.
I had read about the WNHTH 1.0 tour and the plea for Guest Hosts, and I jumped at the chance. They were coming to my town, and it was on a Saturday night! Maybe there was a God. I had a feeling this was going to be fun. I'd known of Keneally since his stint with Zappa, had seen him perform with Z at the infamous "Shank Hall" show in Milwaukee (early 1994), and had been overjoyed to run across a copy of "hat" at a CD store a little bit later. Here was a guy who played wierd, complex, beautiful music. And he was still alive (I miss Frank)! And he was coming to my town.
I sprung into action, plastering flyers everywhere in Madison I could plaster. Called all my musician friends. Contacted a few media folks. The hardest part of trying to get people fired up about BFD was the fact that MK/BFD CD's are virtually impossible to find in Madison (are you listening, Immune records?). The show was approaching.
Got a call from CEO Chatfield the day before the show, and all was ready. The day of the gig just happened to coincide with a large beer festival in Madison, of which I've been a permanent fixture. I even had a buddy staying with me that weekend to attend the festival. I knew the operative word for me that day would be "endurance". My friend Chad and I showed up at the Club Tavern at around 7 pm. My wife Denise was working until about 10 pm, but would join us for the second set. The beer festival had been great as always, but the best was yet to come. The band was doing sound check, so I introduced myself to everyone, then got a bite to eat. The plan was to have a certain number of the MK/BFD entourage crash in the basement of my house on Madison's lovely east side (you can barely hear the interstate from the yard) after the show. Then, in the morning, the rest of the band would meet us at the house for breakfast, before departing for the next gig in Indiana.
"Fourteen years ago today, I saw a show in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Some guy named Frank Zappa." I was at the mic, introducing the band. After my brief introduction, I settled back into my seat for the show. It was awesome. This was a band who could play and have fun doing it. I never knew what would happen next. Highlights included the "Build-A-Song Improv" during set 1, with unforgettable melody lines provided by Pat Busby ("That's not a hat. That's his hair!), the poetic elegance of Cami Slotkin on "Missile Dick" to open set two, "Tuning Again" while Thomas Nordegg replaced a busted string, the audience vocal on "Inca Roads" ("Thank you for saving my voice"), and Mike's insistence that they re-do some of the trickier sections of "Inca Roads". While listening to Inca Roads, I was convinced that Frank was in the room with us. Any other audio freaks notice the two bars of King Crimson's "Elephant Talk" that Keneally slipped in on the vamp section of "Gloss"?
3 am. Whalen Manor. We have arrived home after the show with Thomas Nordegg, Jay (the young video wiz), and Jason Harrison Smith. Thomas got the luxury spare bedroom (it had a real bed), while Jay and Jason each had sofas. After being greeted by our dog, looking through my CD collection ("ya got a lot of Rundgren here"), and noticing my scary picture of FZ on a tractor, the Dolphin boys were ready to call it a night. I went to sleep tired yet happy.
Breakfast was scheduled for around 10 am. This gave Jason, Thomas and Jay the added advantage of a few more minutes of sleep than the rest of the crew which was coming from the west side. The Whalens were psyched up to serve "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast". My daughter Natalie had prepared a banner which hung proudly on the entrance to our kitchen. She was excited to learn who these people were, excited to learn that Mike had played in FZ's band. She is one of the few nine year old girls who gleefully dances to the "Lumpy Gravy" album. Unequaled amongst her peers is also her ability to sing "Who Are the Brain Police."
The band arrived and breakfast was served. The hardest part for me was just trying to be a good host rather than a rabid fan. I really, really wanted to sit with Mike, et. al., and talk about the FZ days, as well as life after Zappa. Instead, I happily served pancakes, bacon (Bryan: "in California, you get arrested for eating this stuff"), milk, juice, and coffee. We were serenaded during parts of breakfast with Jason playing piano (in boxer shorts), which added to the atmosphere. Chatfield suggested we call some sort of exterminator for drummers in boxer shorts. Later, MK and MZ did a short piano duet in the living room. The whole group was so nice, respectful, and very comfortable with each other. No big egos here. It was apparent to me how much they enjoy playing Mike's music, and how much Mike appreciates their efforts.
Soon, it was time for the band to move on, and we said our goodbyes. Luckily, I had the chance to see them less than three months later. The nice part about seeing them again was that they were happy to see me, and had appreciated my efforts as Guest Host. At the second show in November, I met some wonderful people (Dave Foster, John Willcoxon). It really felt like an extended family.
This band is the real deal. They are warm, smart, funny, and talented (if only they were rich, they wouldn't have to crash in my basement). Next time they come to your town, welcome them with open arms, take them into your homes, take a day of vacation from work to see them, feed them breakfast. It will be a rewarding experience for you. One that you won't forget.
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