P H O T O G A L L E R Y
CARLOS VEGA MEMORIAL CONCERT
all pics by Geof O’Keefe & Ingo Rose
Review by our contributor Geof O’Keefe
CARLOS VEGA 3rd ANNUAL MEMORIAL BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE
It's been a little over two years now since the tragic death of drummer Carlos Vega, but in the latest of what has become an annual event, friend and fellow Karizma founder keyboardist David Garfield has paid tribute to his memory by gathering together some of the best musicians in the world to pay homage to their departed comrade. Despite the sadness of Vega's passing, these shows have been a joyous celebration of music he both played on and loved, performed by a dazzling array of musicians with whom he worked over the years.
Taking the stage for the first of two fairly similar sets, Garfield was joined by guitarist Steve Lukather, bassist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and percussionist Lenny Castro, and following a brief spoken intro, they launched into a thirteen-minute rendition on the Mile Davis classic, "Tutu." As with a number of the songs performed during both sets, each member took turns displaying their chops. Lukather in particular seemed extra "spirited" (especially during the second set), delivering a slowly-building solo that had the crowd whooping and hollering in appreciation.
Guitarist Michael Landau and organist Greg Mathieson joined the line-up for the Karizma classic, "Blues For Ronnie" (from the Dream Come True release), a bluesy shuffle with Landau coaxing other-worldly sounds from his axe. Throughout the evening, Lukather would often be grinning and shaking his head, watching and hearing some of the stuff Landau would pull off. Hearing and seeing these two legends playing literally side-by-side is a treat that has only occurred a handful of times, and it was interesting to observe and hear the effect each had on the other. Landau was content to stay at the back of the stage, calmly adjusting his gear and pedals while pulling ferocious sounds out of the blue, whereas Lukather would usually move to the front of the stage during his solos, displaying many of the traditional "anguished rock star" poses, but this writer can state that having seen Lukather at least twenty times with Toto or Los Lobotomys, this was some of his best playing ever, undoubtedly spurred on by Landau's subtle presence lurking not five feet behind him.
Mathieson's bouncy, infectious "The Sauce" was next, featuring some fancy drum fills from the always-amazing Mr. Colaiuta and some intense organ soloing from Mathieson (how about a new fusion-styled album, Greg? And include this track!)
The stage became increasingly crowded and star-studded for the old classic "Kansas City," with Chicago's Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff added to the fold, along with ex-Santana/Brian Auger vocalist Alex Ligertwood. A surreal moment occurred during this tune during the first set, as a trumpet player wandered in off the street and made his way up on stage for an uninvited guest solo, and as he was performing, a large poster of Vega, attached by Velcro to a curtain behind Colaiuta, partially fell down (Garfield identified the Rogue Jammer as Sal Marquez, a former Frank Zappa and Tonight Show player who has fallen on hard times lately). A bizarre moment, but it wouldn't be the evening's last.
Switching gears and putting that moment behind them, another pair of guests were introduced for a what would prove to be a very special moment. Along with Chicago drummer Tris Imboden, lifted onto the stage was Moon Calhoun, who was at one time a member of the seventies band Rufus and is now confined to a wheelchair after a 1995 bicycle accident. The assemblage launched into a passionate version of Stevie Wonder's "It Ain't No Use" with Calhoun's emotional lead vocals and the insanely catchy "Bye bye bye" chorus with a great jazzy chord change. Landau turned in one of the evening's most restrained yet totally appropriate solos.
One of the absolute highlights followed, as the Garfield/Landau Karizma composition "Toast For Eli" was offered up in a sizzling twelve-minute form with Landau soloing conjuring up a mixed vibe of Hendrix and Holdsworth, a nice trick if you can pull it off (and he can).
An all-star version of "Let's Stay Together" was followed by the set closer, the frisky Latin-themed "Corbitt Van Brauer" (also from the Dream Come True release), and the sold-out crowd (packed in to the point of discomfort-The Mashed Potato would be a better name) was asked to clear out to make way for the second set audience.
The second set was more or less along the lines of the first-six of set one's eight selections were repeated-but the looser (and apparently alcohol-influenced) atmosphere was set up by Lukather, who walked up to the microphone before a note had been played and greeted the crowd with, "Hello pussy eaters! We're feeling very delicious tonight" before launching into "Tutu," with some outrageous extended guitar soloing, combining Jeff Beck-like growls with blistering speed in what ranks as one of the single greatest Lukather solos this writer has witnessed. Garfield followed this up with a rhythmically-complex and yet beautifully melodic piano solo, playing off of and with Colaiuta's ever-changing patterns.
"The Sauce" was dropped in favor of a slow blues medley of Champlin's "Beggin' You Baby" and Keb Mo's "In a Dangerous Mood," and following "It Ain't No Use," Moon Calhoun was asked to remain on stage as an impromptu version of the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On" was given a royal treatment.
Then it got weird.
Following a brief goof-around performance of The Champs' "Tequila" and a request for some hard liquor, Lukather launched into his discussion of the "Twelve Steps" program, which in this case all involved, how shall I phrase it, "back-door love." An increasingly-annoyed Garfield repeatedly asked him to introduce the Jeff Beck song they were supposed to play, but Lukather got cruder and more outrageous with every step until finally Garfield left his post at the keyboards and went over and took Lukather aside for a brief discussion. Without further anal antics, Lukather launched into Beck's "Brush With the Blues," at which time Garfield promptly left the stage due to some undisclosed problem he'd been alerted to during a discussion with one of his associates. The energy and vibe had gone through a dramatic change, and when Garfield finally returned long after the song had ended, it was pretty much anti-climactic.
"Toast For Eli" again had Landau reaching places most guitarists can only dream about, and they closed this very memorable (if unusual) second set with "Let's Stay Together."
A fascinating, phenomenal and yes, even funny night of incredible playing from incredible players , paying tribute to a fallen friend.
Carlos would've loved it.
Another review by Helen Lieberman
All I can say it was an awesome night and was worth every penny. I got down to the Potato about 6:40 and there was already over 20 people in line. But fortunately they let us in earlier than expected.I was very lucky to get a table since several were personally reserved for Garfield's guests.
I wanna go over some of the set list they did since Mark and Andy didn't specifically name many of the tunes. I wrote down each song as they went along. Some of the instrumentals I left blank because Garfield didn't introduce every song but there were some instrumentals I thoroughly recognized.
The band opened w/a powerful rendition of Miles Davis' 1986 classic "Tutu". Lukather's solo on that was absolutely captivating. His technique can't be imitated by anyone, not even Steve Vai who often gets more credit more than Luke in the music press. The bassist btw was Jimmy Johnson who Garfield has used a number of times, a top drawer studio player whose solos that night were in a relaxed style yet is right up there w/Jimmy Haslip.
The two instrumentals featuring the monterous Greg Matthieson on B3 were "Blues For Ronnie" and the latin-tinged "The Sauce" (a tune he wrote for Lee Ritenour and covered on one of his '80's CD's). Michael Landau did some flowing guitar solos on those tunes.
I wish Bill Champlin would have done some more B3 playing but his singing and playing on "Kansas City" really stole the show. I won't comment on that trumpet player who sat in. I didn't catch his name but I thought his solo was lackluster. When Bill repeated the song the second set Garfield made the comment, "and I guarantee you you will not hear a trumpet solo on this tune this time."
I never realized that Moon Calhoun could sing but he really sang w/such passion on Stevie Wonder's "It Ain't No Use" and some wonderful "bye bye bye" backround voxes by Champlin, Scheff, and Alex Ligertwood.
Garfield and Landau's original composition, "Toast For Eli" was very eerie and weird sounding but it provided some wonderful improvisation from Landau, Garfield, Mathieson, and Johnson respectively.
Then the vocal section returned on stage for "Let's Stay Together" where Bill, Jason, and Alex each got to trade leads on the different verses and choruses but Alex seemed to have overshadowed everyone during the final vocal vamps. They all seem to have fun singing together. Something I didn't see during those Unicef benefits of the early '90's. Alex and Jason both have amazing ranges when they duet together with lots of power.
A Garfield instrumental "Corbette Dem Brower" w/a Carribbean flavor ended the first show showcasing the perky percussion of Lenny Castro and the rudimental drumming of Sting's Vinnie Collaiuta, their only solos of the evening.
It was wall to wall people in the place that the room felt like it was a stifling 85 degrees inside while it was freezing outside. The AC in the place didn't amount to that much since the body temperatures took over.
By the end of the evening I was sphitzing and couldn't breathe. I felt sorry for those only 2 waitresses supplying the drinks and potatoes to the customers. How did they manage to get through that crowd.
Now many of the songs from the first set were repeated in the second set with the exception of couple of changes. Bill sang his only original that night, the bluesy "Beggin' You Baby" at the B3 and it sent the crowd ablaze with his occasional yells and Luke once again setting his strings on fire. Then the song segued into another blues tune, Keb Mo's "In a Dangerous Mood" sung by Ligertwood belching out his tenor madness vox and was singing to Bill. Man the chemistry those two had together was unbelievable. I think Bill and Alex should sing together more often.
No one expected the vocal section to do an unhearsed impromptu "What's Going On" but Bill, Alex and Jason handled it well again trading leads on each of the verses. I saw how Bill and Jason seemed to be jiving each other during that song. But what I would have liked to hear is special Garfield shuffle arrangement of that tune that was on the Larry Klimas CD instead which Bill vocally arranged, rather than the traditional cover version.
Luke was not saying anything during the first show, but during the second set Garfield asked him to introduce the next song which was a Jeff Beck tune "Brush With The Blues" (from "Who Else") and how spiritually it meant to Steve. But instead Steve decided to be a little more than smart-allecky and said some rather risque or vulgar one-liners that are too nasty to post in this review. It got to the point where it wasn't funny anymore. I don't think Garfield liked his behavior at that point. As for the tune, it was slow, downright spiritual, and often weird at times. But Luke's playing had everyone in stitches.
Then the whole band and singers returned for an encore of "Let's Stay Together" ending what was an evening masterful musicianship and harmonizing. I noticed that Jason didn't do as much lead singing as Bill seem to have sung more IMO. Oh, I wanna cap this by saying the crowd really listened to the musicians as they jammed and were spotlighted, you could hear a pin drop in the place. No relentless chattering from the patrons, they came to listen.
David Garfield is an incredible band leader and pulled off this memorial concert with no flaws. A lot of hard work and it really paid. His keyboard wizardry can't be ignored. I watched him as he solo on all the instrumentals. He puts his whole body into it. All the musicians and singers seemed to have fun jamming and playing music they enjoyed. This was no easy listening Broadcast Architecture style smooth jazz for sure. This was hardcore fusion. Garfield is a nice person to the bargain and always surrounds himself with the best players.
Well I can't wait for next year. BTW the day before Garfield was interviewed on KMGQ in Santa Barbara and he said that next year they may have it in a bigger venue. Anyway Carlos would have been proud. He was definitly in the house in spirit. See you all next year.