This World famous venue is inching ever so close to being 50 years old. With music venues closing left and right all over the place and even on this same Cahuenga Blvd./Ventura Blvd it is warming to have a place these guys can call home. I even feel like this is one of 'my places' or that 'I belong'. This intimate venue has been run since day one by the Don Randi (Wrecking Crew) family and more specifically Justin Randi. That consistency makes this place even more special. I immediately had flashbacks picturing Luke at large venues from earlier in the year with Toto in Nashville, Los Angeles and Paso Robles, Ca. and Ringo and the All Starr's in Denver, Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, Ca. Now the furthest seat in the house away from him would be 25 feet away. This was once again a very special musical place to be.
This group that was put together by Jorgen Carlsson (Gov't Mule) once again treated these gigs as a family reunion. The one thing different about this sound check/hang was that Babko was the first to drop some humor. After a few technical issues were worked out it took these guys even less time than ever to get into an immediate groove. As Luke moved stage left all four musicians were within three feet of each other. As a few more jokes were dropped by Luke and the gang, Luke said "enough with the jokes let's get to the music!" It took only one run through each song for it to become even more apparent that even though it's been a year since these cats have played together that there wasn't very much that needed to be worked on. It was only the intrinsic nuances that need to be worked out. Babko took to work on his hilarious sound effects that would be added to whatever humor Luke would pull out later in the night. With most bands with this much musical talent the ego scale hits 10. These guys had to actually had to encourage Toss to kick his drum interlude up a notch. For this band everything was all about the betterment of the song as opposed to individuality. The enjoyment of this sound check were the jokes, stories and the non gig musical respites. There were stories being told with the music that correlated to them being played along with the story. Luke broke into Sonny and Cher's "I've Got You Babe", Al Jarreau's "We're in This Love Together" telling about being in the studio with Jarreau and reminding us that "I played on that record." Then there was talk about Ginger Baker and the riveting documentary about him that tied in with Ginger's son Kofi playing the Baked Potato frequently.
It was a few hours later and it was now show time. It was a slow walk to the stage for Luke as he seemed to know or have to say hello to everyone from the entryway on to the spotlight area. He started off by greeting his three band mates and then addressed the crowd. He flat out said "we're not trying to be dicks here but no photos or video." That was magic to my ears as I didn't have to be bothered for at least one night by annoying amateur photographers blocking my view. He went on to let the crowd know that whatever happened here tonight was to be witnessed only by us and not the World of YouTube or Facebook. This night was to be enjoyed by us and us only including the "Luke humor." He went on to say "have fun tonight and if I say anything obscene or shocking, you're welcome!" He introduced Panos as a "new dad" and "that fatherhood was tripping him out". He then introduced Babko (Jimmy Kimmel Show, James Taylor) as the "Genius." He said shaking his head in disbelief "Babko reminded me that" (the Lukather and Guests Christmas album "Santamental" that they worked on together) "was now 15 years old". Also about Babko he said "he's kind of a new dad too."
The first number was from "Santamental" and it was a perfect seasonal opener the classic "The Christmas Song". This was the only number chosen with a predetermined placement in the set. There was much discussion between all other songs as to what was to be played next . This tune jumped out of the box at full force and grabbed you. It let me know "oh ya, that's why I come here every year! " It then slowed down to let us absorb the talent that was in front of us. Babko was a HUGE part of this release a decade and a half ago and was a big part of this live version. It didn't take much longer to understand why people come from all over the World for these shows. Some even come for all six sets over three days. Then I thought out even further that this was what it's like with no rehearsal? WOW! It seemed like they have gigged together all the time as opposed to once a year.
"Greensleeves", the traditional English song that's hundreds and hundreds of years old was next. This instrumental number was more even keeled than it's predecessor. Luke did pick up the pace a bit throughout the song and then slowed at the very end.
It was time to shift out of Christmas and instrumental gear. Luke shouted "is everyone having fun yet?" The crowd responded with a rousing affirmation. He then asked "are there any stoners in the crowd? This is an old one from the 70's. Let's get a nice spaced out tempo for this one." Babko added some great "spaced out" synthesizer to go along with Luke's "spaced out guitar" on the Robin Trower classic "Bridge of Sighs" Then Babko added some more spaced out flavor on his Rhodes 73. This number slowed to a spacey,eerie crawl. The foursome then spaced out in unison. For a moment I did feel like I was living four or five decades ago. Luke showed just as much effort and energy on this song as he did when playing the same number on Tour with Toto in arenas and theaters.
Next up Luke whipped out the Sammy Davis Jr. guitar. If you are not fond of racy humor then now was the time to leave. Luke told what he said was "the worst joke I heard all year." He was right, it had to be. There is more than one side to Luke and he did look up to heaven and apologize to his grandparents. But he also did tell the crowd the Mike and Jeff Porcaro were up there laughing. At least the joke gave Babko a chance to perfect his sound affect skills. Luke said "now it's time for Jorgen and Toss". He also dedicated it to Mike and Jeff. Steve told the crowd how Toto put out a live DVD/CD from the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival that featured the Porcaro brothers that this song "Jake to The Bone" had been dedicated to. Toss and Jorgen did their rhythm brothers justice laying down a rock solid heavy groove.This song once again went from breakneck speed to a slow melodic groove and then back up a notch. As it ended Luke said "it's been a long time for that one!"
"Crossroads", the let's let Toss cut loose song in sound check was next. The Robert Johnson penned song made "rock famous" by Eric Clapton turned 80 years old this year. The one time Baked Potato patron Clapton is playing only 4 shows next year. Two in New York and two in Los Angeles at the Forum. This song was a fitting tribute to Clapton who came, back in the day to the Spud to see Luke. Toss didn't really need any extra room to show off his skills but took advantage of that room with perfection. It was a head tapping song that delighted the nights crowd.
Luke said "this was the first show of the first night that wasn't supposed to happen. The Thursday show was added after the Friday/Saturday shows were already announced. All six shows sold out very quickly and those lucky enough to be in attendance were thoroughly satisfied. "Silent Night" was the perfect song to end a spectacular night of musicianship, musical camaraderie and humor. The first night of this Christmas month ended with a mellow Christmas tune that made all thankful they had made their way to this show. Even the ones who traveled thousands of miles to get here.
I had a chance to talk to Luke after the opening night and he said "It's going to be great tomorrow. We had a nice 'rehearsal'. Some dumb mistakes. It was a great crowd and old friends. After all the Baked Potato shows were done he told me "I just love this place for so many reasons. The ONE place people don't have an iPhone shoved in our faces and I can be silly, gross and funny. And IF a mistake was made... and there were some missed cues and some 'uh oh' moments, (Luke laughs) it's cool. The ONE place it is truly 'you had to BE there! I love that! There are so few places like that left. People actually watched ad listened and were NOT on their cell phones. I think it made for a better musical show. The comedy was free. Last night I took it more out and told more sick jokes. People laughed and had a good time and the band was on fire. It is a joy and I love the fact that it has become a yearly thing. Next year will be five as 'Nerve Bundle' but we did it as 'Shpinctersaywhat' for two years too... seven in total. It was Jorgen Carlssons' baby and his idea to do it. Hoping we can do it every year as long as we can! It makes it special! We MIGHT try and do one in New York City too at the Iridium next year. We'll see..."
Afterwards I had a chance to chat with some of the guys. I asked Jeff Babko after Friday's show was there anything in particular about tonight's show? He said "we were on fire tonight!" I then told him Luke jokingly said the first night was 'a rehearsal'. I told him you guys were great the first night but even better tonight. Babko told me "everyone was listening to each other and enjoying each others company. I feel like when everybody listens to each other and enjoys what everybody else is doing, it sounds like a band. That's a mutual respect." I said you guys are obviously having fun up there and the crowd senses that. Babs said "that's good! That's the point. That's why were here." I told Jorgen Carlsson, Luke said you started this band. Jorgen told me "well, I was the instigator. Just put it that way. I mean I brought it up. Then Luke got on and that was the beginning of it." I asked what about tonight's show? Carlsson said" it's starting to sound like a band. By the second set for sure. It's crazy music. You never know what's going to happen." I told him this is becoming a regular annual thing. He said "fourth year. (Then Jeff Babko walked by) Jorgen pointed at Babko and said "there's the master! Babko's out of control. really! On 'Song for Jeff' in the first set Babko did an intro that was INSANE! Then Luke just responded to that. It was fucking madness." I said you guys fed off of each other. He said "yes, it's beautiful."
It was a great weekend of music enjoyed by all. Some familiar faces in the crowd were Babko pal and musical partner on the Jimmy Kimmel Show Toshi Yanagi. Tosh seems to make about every Luke gig at the Baked Potato. Toto XIV Producer CJ Vanston warmingly greeted me at Fridays show and showed his love of Luke by making the hang for his pal. CJ told me "it was great to see Nerve Bundle. Babko is always killer and Jorgen is sneaky solid yet played a beautiful, touching bass solo. Watching Toss LISTEN and play so unconventionally is one of he greatest joys for me, he is one of a kind. I really dig when he and Luke play together as sparks fly. Toss is super intense... that is why we ended up using Toss on (Steve Lukather solo release) 'Transition'. And Lukey? Just limitless, always on his game. Hard to watch sometimes, I want to get up there and PLAY! These guys are so much fun to hear and watch. Oh and I did NOT write the donkey joke, but I tell it to Luke." The ever present Trevor Lukather made the gig for Saturdays show to watch his dad play. It's rare for Trevor to miss one of his dads gigs.