Recently I went right from the Hollywood cabaret gig (see my Session Sensei column in the May 2010 issue) to
rehearsals for Conan’s “Legally Prohibited” tour. I have been the
road most of the spring--we hit 32 cities in nine weeks with a comedy
and music show that sold out everywhere we performed.
Years of freelancing in New York City prepared me for the
challenges of the quick change of musical hats, but last week was
particularly extreme: one night I’m in a dark suit playing standards
and show tunes on a Steinway in a hushed room full of Broadway
aficionados, and a week later I’m blasting on an electronic multi-keyboard
rig behind a whirlwind of comedy bits and production numbers.
The new live show keyboard diet needed to be rich in
the three basic food groups: piano, organ and synth—I had to be ready
for anything. What gear should I bring? Best to be prepared, so I
showed up at the first production rehearsal with a whole pile of
keyboards. The techs asked, “How do you want these set up?” I wasn’t
being flip when I answered “I dunno…” I’d worked on Conan's TV shows for 17
years, but had only a rough idea of what a live show would require.
After a few hours it became clear that I would need
of synths, because only by the fifth day of production rehearsals, the band was
performing 23 musical cues in addition to five full
production songs. We were told we may even have some famous guest artists sitting
in. We’re playing behind everything, and performing cues we’d normally
prerecord, such as fanfares, stings and beds behind videos. Here’s one
morning’s keyboard menu so far, and it’s before noon: xylophone, French
horns, new age pads, koto, flute, and of course the usual staples of
Rhodes, Wurly, organ, and piano.
When we did our first run-through, it was a
blast. I continued to drive my tech crazy for two days until I settled
on a final keyboard setup. a strictly meat-and-potatoes rig centered around the Yamaha CP-1 stage
piano. On top of that for synth I’m using the Yamaha MO-8. T’d to the
left is a Korg CX-3 drawbar organ which pumps into my Leslie 122
cabinet. For an auxiliary keyboard controller I’m bringing the M-Audio
Axiom Pro 61, and for backup I have a Yamaha Motif rack. I have Logic Pro and Mainstage on my Mac 17" laptop in case we need to sequence a
cue or come up with anything crazy on the fly. The setup is lean and
mean, and hopefully roadworthy!