Masaharu Yoshioka- Soul Searchin' Music Critic's Diary (March 21, 2008)
Al McKay Allstars Live: Big Party Is Happening On The Stage
Al McKay, the super guitarist who was one of the key players during Earth Wind & Fire’s best years, brought his band Al McKay All Stars to Japan for the 11th time, since his last appearance 2 1/2 years at Osaka Blue Note in Aug. 2005. Mount Fuji was in Aug. 2002, and for me, it was since the live at Akasaka’s former Blitz in July 2001. The house might not have been totally full, but EWF fans are serious fans and they know how to have fun.
6 members from Mount Fuji were there, and the set list was from songs before 1981, in other words, the best period of EWF were squeezed into a rich 80 minutes. 3 lead singers and 4 horns are up front and since they all energetically move and dance, the stage is a lot of fun. I like the 3 vocals who are very entertaining. From the first song, the stage is a party!
The party hits off with 3 up-tempo songs, 2 masterpiece ballads, then from the 6th song, "In the Stone", a surge of non-stop medley that sets the crowd on fire. What’s even greater is that they did those gems from the 1970s that the present EW&F no longer performs: Jupiter and Magic Mind!! The crowd by this time is ready to go into top gear!
Among the 4 All Stars Horns, Katsutoshi Hiraishi, the trombone player from Osaka Monaurail in Japan played in place of Ryan Porter, who could not at the last minute come to Japan. He was watching and copying the other guys for the choreography, but he did a good job. Second from the left, the eldest member, Michael Harris is one of the original Phenix Horns. The horns led by him in the above 2 songs, remind you of the former EW&F. There are 3 or 4 places where the horns take solo in "Magic Mind". The vocals point to the horns in perfect timing and lead the crowd’s attention to them. So cool!
And above all, despite the band being the guitarist Al McKay’s band, most of the time, he stays behind the front 7 and simply plays his rhythm guitar. 2 or 3 times, he would come up for his short solo. What a modest guy! I felt that the drum was a bit shy of funk, but it was okay as the band as a whole was tight.
The non-stop hit medley from the 6th song on was really something, the highlight. It was as if it was a dream seeing a live EWF show in this small venue, Blue Note. It was an incredible 80 minutes for EWF fans.
When the medley ended with "September", I thought, "No, this can’t be all!" In response to the craving crowd’s clapping, they returned to the stage. Then Al McKay said, "When the All Stars was first formed, this man played drums for the band. Taka Numazawa! Please come up on stage!" Oh my, Numazawa-san, you are here! He sat on the drum set, took count, and started the encore, "Boogie Wonderland". There was more funk. A tight finish and went straight into "Let’s Groove". Hey, why don’t you play all the songs! (LOL) This was a lucky night.
According to Numazawa-san, he got a call from Al, and since he did not have a gig that night, he came. Since he’s done these songs together so many times in the past, he says he has no problem doing them.
After the live, there was signing of autographs. The other members came out as well. I told Al, "The set list tonight was perfect. But there was just one song that I really wanted to hear that you didn’t include. That is "Back on the Road". He said, "Oh yeah, we haven’t done that in a long time. OK, next time, ask for it! (LOL)" I told him, "That song is like your theme song." 'Yes, that’s true." He answered.
The lead singer with dreadlocks, Tim was at a table with Taka-san. I asked him, "The set list today was about 70 -80 min. You can do longer, can’t you?" "Yeah, if it’s just one stage per night, we can do a 90 to 100 min. show." "Then what other songs do you often do that you didn’t do tonight?" "Let’s see, Sun Goddess, Sing A Song, Saturday Night, I’ll Write A Song, Love’s Holiday,... There’s more but I can remember." I see. It makes me want to see the full version show. When the set list is comprised of EWF songs from up to around 1981, that alone gets me fired up. I guess that’s how it is, and I am pretty sure that everyone feels the same. But if they keep delivering the good days of EWF like this, I am going to be coming back for more. (LOL)