NEWS: Mr. Big 20th anniversary reunion!

So I was just sitting around trying out my new iPhone, and I tested out the Google Reader. The very first heading I saw was Mr. Big Confirms 20th Anniversary Reunion, Plans To Tour Japan over at the Random Chatter Music blog.

Click the link for the full story, but here’s a little excerpt:

Feb. 1, 2009: It is the 20th anniversary of Mr. Big’s debut release (and also the 20th anniversary of Paul Gilbert’s first PGM signature guitar, the PGM 100). What better way to celebrate this then to re-form and then tour Japan, the beloved home-away-from-home of Mr. Big for many years? It will be exciting!

HMS interview, Jan. 31, 2009
Verbatim transcript follows:

“Hello listeners of Kosa Kai, Burrrn presents Heavy Metal Syndicate. Kosa Kai, who was there at the very beginning for Mr. Big, and we’re so happy to have a friend like him in Japan. And we’re very happy, and thankful, to have all of you, as our friends. So, Mr. Big’s coming back soon to play for you, we’re excited to see you all, Kosa Kai, domo arigato, for 20 great years, my brother. Take care, see ya soon, This is Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, over and out.”

The article continues with similar statements from the other members of Mr Big.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I love Mr. Big (there, I said it), but I really hope this will just be a one-off Japanese tour or something. I’d much rather hear Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan continue with their own music.

CLICK HERE to buy Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson’s ‘United States’ from CDJapan.co.jp

CLICK HERE to buy Billy Sheehan’s ‘Holy Cow’ from CDJapan.co.jp

REVIEW: Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson – United States

Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s album seemingly appeared from nowhere: Paul mentioned in a news update on his site that he’d completed recording a new CD, and a few weeks later it was released in Japan. A worldwide release is yet to be announced, so for now this album is only available on import. I bought mine here at CDJapan.co.jp and it was delivered in exactly 1 week. Woo!

The collaboration with the not-very-well-known-yet Nelson marks Gilbert’s return to vocal music after two highly successful and progressively brilliant instrumental albums, Get Out Of My Yard and Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar. The material has a different vibe to Gilbert’s solo stuff: you can really hear him enjoying just being the guitarist again like in Mr Big. The songs have lots of wild guitar playing, but the focus is on the vocal melody, and while you can particularly hear Gilbert’s melodic influence on the opening track, ‘Paris Hilton Look-Alike,’ often the vocal melodies come from a different place to those Gilbert sings on his own solo material. Nelson’s notes often seem to ride above the fundamental tones of the chord, rather than following them like Gilbert’s tend to (which is not to discount the inherent coolness of Gilbert’s melodies).

There may have been a temptation to take these songs and make them all FM-radio slick, but instead the drums sound natural and ambient, the guitars are warm and round, and there’s a live, seat-of-the-pants vibe to a lot of the material. Gilbert’s obviously enjoying the softer sounds of his Marshall Vintage Modern combo, and the sizzling treble of much of his solo stuff is completely absent here.

Nelson has been compared to Freddie Mercury (which makes me wonder, is Freddie his real name, or is it a nickname that was prompted by his love of Queen?), and while his voice itself isn’t overly distinctive, his control and range remind me of Jeff Buckley without the shakiness, or Richie Kotzen without the gravel. He has a very smooth, natural tone which perfectly suits the softer guitar tones.

So let’s look at the album track by track:

Paris Hilton Look-Alike. Thematically, this one reminds me of ‘Every Hot Girl Is A Rock Star’ from Paul’s ‘Space Ship One’ album. Musically it’s the most Gilbert-esque track on the album, and therefore a good introduction for what’s to come. Nelson hits some very natural, unforced falsetto notes, showing off his Freddie Mercury influence.

Waste of Time. Heavy on the melody, and a lot more uptempo than track one. Kicks the album up a notch, pointing to more awesome rock power to come.

The Last Rock N’ Roll Star. This one features a crazy riff in 6/8, and chugging verses that remind me a little of Van Halen’s ‘Judgement Day.’ There’s a mega-fast solo which will put to rest any lingering fears guitar fans might have that Gilbert is saving his best licks for his solo instrumental stuff these days.

Bad Times Good. A bit of an Aerosmith vibe, with a stomping 4-on-the-floor groove and some melodic, old-school rock solos. It sounds like Gilbert and Nelson trade solos on this track, with Freddie on the left and Paul on the right.

Hideaway. Another song that reminds me a little of stuff from ‘Space Ship One.’ A mid-tempo track with long vocal notes creating a nice contrast to the palm-muted riffage. There are some unusual, atmospheric chord choices in the chorus.

The Answer. I love this one. It sounds like it could fit on Gilbert’s ‘Flying Dog’ album. There’s a nice 12-string acoustic intro before a chunky riff kicks in, capped off by a waltzy chorus and another ultra-fast solo. Gilbert’s not afraid to slam it into higher gear on this material.

I’m Free. Very cool vocal harmonies, which sound like they’re achieved by sampling Nelson then playing the notes back on keyboard. This one has a spacey, ethereal vibe – yet there’s still an over-the-top shred solo, broken up by some soulful sustained notes and melodies. But lots of shred. Did I say shred? Just checkin’. Cos so far there’s lots of it.

Pulsar. This one has a very funky riff which reminds me of some stuff from Mr Big’s ‘Hey Man’ album, or the way the ‘Space Ship One’ track ‘Interaction’ moves between extended guitar figures and vocal interjections. There’s a change to 3/4 time in the middle for an evil high-speed Black Sabbath vibe, along with a cool harmony solo.

Girl From Omaha. A slightly Weezer-ish chorus, backed up by funky synth sounds and an almost pop-punk riff, in a similar vein to some of the stuff from Paul’s solo debut, ‘King of Clubs.’

I’m Not Addicted. An uptempo track and great way to close out the album or a gig. This one features those famous ADA Flanger sweeps Gilbert is so known for, yet he never overuses this signature sound. A good singalong song and I imagine this one will also be lots of fun to play on guitar.

This is an interesting and unique departure for Gilbert: more hard rock than his own vocal songs, less polished than Mr Big, and more easily accessible to non-musicians than his instrumentals, despite being full of astounding technique. With some major label money behind him I could see this album doing quite well in the US, and while I hope Gilbert never stops doing his own vocal and instrumental albums, I can’t wait to hear what these guys come up with next.

WHD Entertainment

CLICK HERE to buy Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson’s ‘United States’ from CDJapan.co.jp

NEWS: Billy Sheehan Oz clinic tour

Bass god Billy Sheehan, he of the flowing blond mane, insane tapping licks and growly tone from albums by David Lee Roth, Talas, Mr Big, Steve Vai, Devil’s Slingshot, Niacin and about a billion more, is coming to Australia for a few clinics on behalf of Yamaha and Allans Music.
Billy has a new album coming out soon with some very special guests (including Paul Gilbert), and Devil’s Slingshot recently released their debut album, Clinophobia. The progressive metal band consists of Billy, guitarist Tony MacAlpine and Aussie drummer Virgil Donati, and for a time these three, with the addition of Dave Weiner, were Steve Vai’s backing band. You can see them in action on Vai’s Live At The Astoria DVD.
Billy has a rad new Yamaha bass to pimp, as you can see from the pic. This one reminds me of the bright pink Yamaha he used to play in the David Lee Roth days.
Dates are:
Melbourne: October 14, Allans Music, 152 Bourke St, City
Brisbane: October 16, Allans Music, 90-112 Queen Street Mall, City
Sydney: October 17, Allans Music, 228 Pitt Street, City

Tickets are $20 and available from Allans stores and online.

INTERVIEW: Paul Gilbert

In the world of guitar heroes, Paul Gilbert is the everyman’s shred god. Vai has the alien freak thing down, Satch is the shiny Silver Surfer, and Yngwie is the neoclassical reincarnation of the roadrunner. Gilbert just comes across as a cool guy who loves to rock. With a career spanning classic shred band Racer X, through to Mr Big (admit it, you’ve strummed “To Be With You” on an acoustic guitar around the campfire at least once), covers projects with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, and a solo career that’s seen him play everything from jangly guitar pop to all-out metal, with a few classical detours along the way, it’s surprising to note that 2006’s, “Get Out Of My Yard,” was his first all-instrumental album. In October of that year, Gilbert took some time out from defending his yard to tell me all about it.
PETER: Why did you wait until now to release an all-instrumental CD, and what inspired you to do it?
GILBERT: When I was a kid, all the coolest guitar players were in big rock bands, playing arenas, and being played on the radio. And all these bands had SINGERS. Eddie Van Halen with David Lee Roth, Jimmy Page with Robert Plant, Randy Rhoads with Ozzy, Alex Lifeson with Geddy Lee, Michael Schenker with Phil Mogg… and even Allan Holdsworth had John Wetton. I loved these guitarists, but I also loved their BANDS. So when flashy guitar playing started to become a niche that was aimed solely at an audience of guitar players, I wanted to stay away from it. From the beginning, my band RACER X had singing and songs. MR. BIG, of course, went even further in that direction. And as a solo artist I surprised everyone and went in a pop/punk direction rather than make the shred album that most people were expecting. But as much as I love rock and pop songs, I AM a guitar player. And after playing for 30 years, my guitar had some things to say. So I thought I would quit complaining about the guitar niche and heartily join in by making the coolest CD of pure guitar music I could dream up.
PETER: Did you stumble across any cool new techniques during the recording of the album?
GILBERT: The first song I recorded was the Haydn symphony. I used my guitar to replicate every instrument in the orchestra. I learned bassoon parts, oboe parts, cello, clarinet, flute, bass, viola, and of course, the main violin parts. The arpeggios and scale sequences in classical music are always a challenge to play on guitar, so I have no choice but to invent some unusual fingerings to make the notes happen. After recording the whole piece, I was definitely warmed up to do the rest of the record!
PETER: What happened to the song titles for the album that you originally posted on your website, that when strung together formed a paragraph about pesky kids in the yard?
GILBERT: Ahh! You saw that! I thought that would really cool at first, but I couldn’t remember which song was which, so I went back to my original titles.
PETER: What guitars did you play on the album?
GILBERT: I used an Ibanez PGM300 with a Kahler tremolo on it. I haven’t used a whammy in a long time and it was fun to try it again. You can hear that guitar on the solo in “The Curse of Castle Dragon”. I also used it on the main parts of the Haydn symphony. I have a custom Ibanez doubleneck that I used for the opening “Get Out of My Yard” solo. One of the necks is strung with just 3 strings, all tuned to “E” in octaves, low, middle, and high. This is really good for playing arpeggios with hammer-ons and pull-offs. I used this tuning with a capo in a bunch of different positions to make the intro happen. I also have some vintage Ibanezes that I really like: a ’79 hollowbody Artist, a ’77 Deluxe 59’er Les Paul copy, and a ’77 SG Custom copy. I bought these all on ebay. They are killer!
PETER: Will there be any new PGM Ibanez models in the near future?
GILBERT: I just got a new prototype with a narrower fingerboard and three gold covered humbuckers. It’s really cool! For something to become a production model, I would really have to become my main guitar. And the current PGM301 is still hard to beat.
PETER: How did you get to be so damn good on the guitar? Do you practice a lot these days, or do you not need to any more?
GILBERT: Thank you the compliment. I don’t practice ALL the time, but often enough. I definitely had to practice for the Haydn symphony!
PETER: What’s the strangest place you’ve heard one of your songs played?
GILBERT: The first thing I can think of is… a few years ago I was doing a guitar clinic… I think it was in Kansas. A kid who worked at the music store picked me up from the airport, and as soon as we got in his car he turned on his stereo and starting listening to “The Jam”. This the last song on my first solo album “King of Clubs”. It’s a 20 minute long guitar battle where the rhythm section basically never changes, and Bruce Bouillet and I just solo and solo and solo and solo. So, back the story… the song was about 17 minutes into it when he turned it on. That meant he had already made it that far. And then, 3 minutes later, the songs ended… and STARTED AGAIN. He had the thing in “loop” mode. 20 minutes of non-stop soloing was NOT ENOUGH for this kid. He needed it AGAIN. Insane.
PETER: Godzilla is tearing apart the city. You have time to save one guitar before he eats the rest. What guitar will it be?
GILBERT: At the moment, I really love my ’79 Artist hollowbody. I haven’t played hollowbodies much before but the thing just resonates so beautifully. Even at a low volume I get great feedback and sustain. Plus it’s BIG and since I’m very tall it’s nice to have a guitar that’s more my size. Maybe, armed with this guitar, I could fight off Godzilla and preserve the rest of my guitar collection. I would certainly try.

GET OUT OF MY YARD is on Mascot Records
Click here to buy ‘Get Out of My Yard’ on CD.
Click here to buy the ‘Get Out of My Yard’ instructional DVD.
Click here to buy ‘Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar’ on CD.
Click here to buy the ‘Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar Guitar Instructional DVD & Shred Annex.’