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 lots 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!