Answer - Pay for the pizza.
It seems like bass players have always gotten a bad rap even though they, along with the drummer, are the backbone of most bands. I don’t really understand why this is the case, except maybe because they have fewer strings than the guitarist – making it seem to be easier to play the bass.
But it’s not.
I’ve been a musician for a number of years now, and was already familiar with two of the three performers in Bx3 from previous shows: Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan. While they are amazingly accomplished musicians themselves, both are probably better known for working with their guitar counterparts. Stu Hamm has worked with notable guitarist Joe Satriani for many years and has toured with him on the successful G3 tour. Billy Sheehan was part of David Lee Roth’s band after having left Van Halen, and then went on to form Mr. Big with guitarist Paul Gilbert and has backed up Steve Vai several times on the G3 tour.
The third bassist on the tour is Jeff Berlin, who while perhaps not as well known as the other two is certainly just as talented. While Stu and Billy are known more as rock players than anything else, Jeff performs in more of a jazz-fusion style and is very interested in formal music training – having had a hand in founding several music schools in the United States including the Bass Institute of Technology in Los Angeles and the Players School of Music in Clearwater, Florida.
The concert itself was very similar in form to the G3 shows (which makes sense because this is basically Stu Hamm’s version of G3 with basses in the spotlight), with each bassist performing a set of their material and then all three jamming together for several songs at the end of the show.
Jeff Berlin was the first to come out on stage, and certainly did not take very long to warm up the crowd of mostly bass players and other musicians. Playing in more of a freeform jazz style than I’m used to seeing, I think my mouth was wide open for most of Jeff’s set. The highlight of his set was definitely an immaculate arrangement of Clapton’s classic “Tears in Heaven” that I was not at all expecting to hear from Jeff Berlin. I can’t imagine how many new fans Jeff Berlin has made on this tour – the crowd was talking about him for the rest of the night.
Stu Hamm has a great on-stage persona and really impressed the Chicago crowd with his humor and storytelling. Turns out Stu did most of his growing up close by in Champaign, Illinois! This performance was no different from the other concerts I’ve seen him at – the guy has an uncanny ability to pull people into his songs even when he’s just a backup player - but he showed another side of himself at the Cubby Bear. He is much more than a backup musician. Top marks go to Stu’s “Abbey Sonata”, a mesh of Beatles and Beethoven that shouldn’t be missed!
It’s good that Billy Sheehan performed last, because the guy could not be stopped by anyone. I didn’t think that anyone could play the bass with such ferocity, but I was wrong. Billy’s playing was so impressive, in fact, that I don’t even remember their being anyone else on the stage during his set (not to insult the backup band: Jude Gold (guitar) and John Mader (drums) played their hearts out all night long). Billy played songs from throughout his career with many different bands, and I’m not sure I could pick one song that stood out among the rest – but I did think that his cover of “Goldilox” by King’s X was pretty impressive. I’ve never heard an instrumental version of this song before, and I don’t think anyone could do a better job anyway.
All three players reconvened on the stage after their individual sets for a jam to remember. Immediately smoke filled the room from several fog machines at the back of the stage and the guys launched off on a raucous cover of “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap – absolutely hilarious, and enough solo spots for everyone in the jam to go nuts. The night finished off with an extended jam on “Crossroads” that no one wanted to end. Every time it seemed like the music was reaching a crescendo, it just got crazier. But all good things..
Anyway, all of the musicians involved on this tour are stand-up guys and stayed after the show to take pictures, sign autographs, and talk with fans until everyone had a chance. I certainly hope that they get all that they deserve.