Since 2004's Dog was the hardest rocking album Mike Keneally had released up to that point, it came as no surprise that the subsequent tour ("Guitar Therapy") had the band "bringing the rock" to venues across the U.S. Keneally's a monster guitar player with an utterly personal style, and his songwriting is equally idiosyncratic, to say the least (just check out the very weird "Spoon Guy"). He's got a band who can easily negotiate the trickier musical passages as well as follow his lead when it comes to dynamics or improvisation, all the while flat-out rocking. Guitar Therapy Live is a great document of what these guys can do on any given night. It's got a raw, live sound with clearly separated guitars and everything mixed loud. In his always-entertaining liner notes, Keneally comments that he was "overplaying on every single solo," which, of course, is pretty much what Keneally fans are after. They won't be disappointed.
Following "Quimby," the customary opener, the band launches into a hot version of "Panda" that's got the first of many killer guitar solos. Then it's a tough version of another bizarre Keneally gem, "Lightnin' Roy." Second guitarist Rick Musallam gets a wonderful wet tone on that one, then cuts loose with a great solo on Bryan Beller's "Seven Percent Grade," while Keneally temporarily moves over to keyboards. The way the guitars are recorded and separated gives the listener a chance to hear just how good a player Musallam is, since it was sometimes difficult to pick out his parts on Dog. Drummer Joe Travers and bassist Bryan Beller play like a rhythm section who've been friends for 20 years or so (they have), and nowhere is that better exemplified than their "Purple Lagoon" interlude and breakdown in the middle of "Uglytown" (which also features nice dueling guitar leads). "Hum" is another instrumental tour de force, with Keneally switching between guitar and synth (or playing them at the same time!) and Musallam contributing another fine solo. These are but a few highlights among many on this recording. Keneally's playing throughout is so impressive, people might be surprised that he used to consider himself "a keyboard player who plays some guitar." This is a tight band who sound like they really enjoy playing together, and that comes through loud and clear. Keneally's music isn't for everyone: it can be challenging, difficult, and just plain weird. It can also be joyous and transcendent, and almost always displays jaw-dropping musicianship. Sampling from each of his albums except the orchestral one, Guitar Therapy Live is a celebration of the Keneally songbook and guitar indulgence, and fans of either one or both are sure to enjoy it. [The deluxe edition contains a DVD featuring their performance at the Baked Potato, where the majority of the CD was recorded.]