Brand X Live: Overlooked, But Not Forgotten

HOW did I forget to write about seeing Brand X? The gig was almost a YEAR ago!

Did I fall on my head? Did I slip into a coma? Did I get amnesia? I’m really not sure. Brand X was one of those bands I’ve wanted to see for ages, but never thought I’d get the chance. Then, when I finally get the opportunity to sit within TEN FEET of the band, and see one of the better sets I’ve had the privilege to witness, I completely forget to write about it. I have pictures and everything! I didn’t start a piece and not finish it. There’s nothing in the archives. I just walked right over the gig, and moved on.


So now I’m trying to write a quick retroactive piece. Just to make amends. I’m sure the band couldn’t care less, but I’ll feel better. And that’s what I’m going for here. After all, I never forgot about the band. I just forgot to write about them.

Anywho …

Brand X came to St. Louis last September 13. They played at the Old Rock House, which is one of my favorite local venues. I’ve seen the likes of Adrian Belew and Victor Wooten, among others, play there. The Brand X show wasn’t very well advertised. I didn’t find out about it until a week or so beforehand. Even so, it was easy to get a ticket. I made sure to get there early, so I could be one of the first through the doors. I wanted to make sure I got a good seat. I needn’t have worried. The “crowd” that evening — such as it was — was quite sparse. I was embarrassed for my town, and annoyed for the band. But I had a marvelous view! So good news/bad news, then.

Coincidentally, the band was touring behind its new live release, But wait … There’s More! which was also released that year. If my souvenir t-shirt is to be believed (and I don’t think it would lie), this was a reunion tour, which felt perfect from my vantage point.

I was introduced to Brand X in the early ’80s by a clerk in a record store. The clerk saw I was into Genesis, and informed me that drummer Phil Collins had another band I would probably like. Just like that, I went home with Brand X’s Product, and a lifelong infatuation was born. Alas, the band never toured near my hometown (and as a young teen, I had no means to get to where they were), so concert experiences were limited to the band’s live album. They were just going to have to be one of those Great Bands I Never Got to See. Until last year.

Obviously, Phil Collins would not be with this particular incarnation. But legendary musicians John Goodsall (guitar) and Percy Jones (bass) were on board, and that was plenty exciting. The new live album also featured keyboardist Chris Clark (who was present at my show) and drummer Kenwood Dennard (who was not, being replaced by Kenny Grohowski). The band put forth two solid sets of music, doing more than a sufficient job of living up to my particular hopes.

Goodsall was in particularly good form, even though he was battling a nasty head cold. He played like a man trying to show that virus who was boss. It worked nicely.

The only thing cooler than a fretless bass guitar is a musician who has absolutely mastered it. I’ve gotten to see the likes of Tony Levin and Les Claypool in person. I’m so glad I can now add Jones to the list. His playing (which he made look so effortless, while also looking completely committed) often defied belief, giving complicated music a remarkable sense of groove.

Clark and Grohowski, while not original members, more than held their own. A band is only as strong as its weakest musician. Brand X didn’t have one.

Brand X’s show closely resembled their live album. Not that any of us cared: we were too busy getting caught up in the thrills and spills that came with this amazing music. I seem to recall “Euthanasia Waltz” and “Nightmare Patrol” standing out in a first set that also featured the likes of “Isis Morning,” “Disco Suicide,” and “Magala Virgen.” After a quick break, the band launched into “Magic Mist,” “Born Ugly,” “Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You’ve Broken Yours Off Already),” and “Nuclear Burn,” among others. No Brand X show is complete without a rousing rendition of “… And So to F …,” which is my all-time favorite tune from this band. If the audience response is any indication, I’m quite sure I’m not alone on that one.

As I marveled at Brand X over two hours, I was struck by a relatively trivial — but somehow important — distinction. For the longest, I’ve always thought of this band as a progressive rock act. But the truth is they are a lot more jazz fusion than prog. Instead of thinking of Bruford or National Health, I was reminded more of Return to Forever or Weather Report. Oh, well. Any way you slice it, this music was cool as hell. It will rank up there with all my other favorite concerts.

It’s always nice to cross a band off your “In Concert” bucket list, particularly when you never thought you’d have the chance. Being able to meet the band and have my CD autographed was just icing on the proverbial cake.

I was struck by how shy they were (though I think Goodsall was just trying to prevent the spread of his germs). I nearly freaked Percy Jones out when I tapped him on the shoulder from behind. I merely wanted him to know I was there, and that I appreciated his work. Still … that could have gone a lot worse. Thank goodness it didn’t. And lesson learned for future encounters.

I see Brand X will be playing at Reggie’s in Chicago on December 8. I also notice I’m off work that weekend. Do I feel a road trip coming on? Why, yes. Yes I do!

Should I make the trip, I promise to write about it before Christmas.


Brand X

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