Judge Adam Arseneau once tried to poison an ex-girlfriend with niacin, but all it did was lower her cholesterol.
Mr. Big. Hah!
If you're a musician, especially a guitar or bass player, then you should know the name Billy Sheehan. He is one of those guys who gets featured on industry magazines more times than seems feasibly possible, and gets voted the best rock bass player of all time for decades at a time. He also started the band Mr. Big. Of course, if we held people accountable for what they did in the 1980s, a lot of people would be in jail right now. Or worse.
Started as an experimental side project by Sheehan, Niacin is a three-piece progressive jazz-fusion band featuring Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth, Steve Vai) on bass, John Novello on keyboard and Dennis Chambers (Funkadelic, Steely Dan) on drums. Try to envision if Stevie Wonder had talked Rush into becoming a jazz band, and it would sound something like Niacin…blistering and aggressive bass, funky keyboards and jazzy drums, playing in a free-form environment. Fans of Medeski, Martin, and Wood and even jam bands like Phish should feel right at home here.
The level of musicianship is downright humbling, and these guys can play incredibly well. I watched the performance three times, and became more captivated with each viewing. These guys are seriously, seriously good. The drumming is robotic in its perfection and the keyboardist flies across the keys with the frenzied energy of a tap-dancing hummingbird. And as a bass player, Sheehan is nothing of astounding, attacking the fretboard with a manic aggressive style reminiscent of Geddy Lee from Rush, except that Sheehan doesn't sing like a 15-year old eunuch on methamphetamines.
And as for Niacin, the name? Alternatively known as vitamin B3, "Niacin" is a not-so-subtle musical reference to the Hammond B3 organ, the trademark vintage sound of which the band centers their music around. This is the kind of joke that only nutritionists or musicians would find funny. I laughed.
Niacin: Live in Tokyo is a short show, clocking in just over 50 minutes, but there is a lot of musical goodness packed into the hour. Filmed at a small club gig in, the intimate, up-close venue allows the camera to dart in and around the trio as they sit in a semi-circle and play. The set is simple and no-frills, but oddly effective. The band is all business: they say "hello" as they get on the stage, plug in their instruments, and get right to it, stopping occasionally to say "thanks a lot!" to the crowd…and get back to business. No time for love, Dr. Jones.
The track listing is as follows:
1) No Man's Land
Of particular interest are "Birdland" and "You Keep Me Hanging On," both classics of their respective genres and handled by the trio with consummate ease, converted into fusion aggressive jazz songs so effortlessly that they sound like original material. There is some repetition in the music, but the relatively short set keeps things moving along fairly well. A three-piece instrumental band can only do so much, after all.
Having reviewed a few Eagle Vision music DVDs now, I now realize a singular trend runs through their entire catalog, and here it is: terrible visual quality, great audio quality. Niacin: Live in Tokyo, for example, seems to be taken from an analog video source…the image is murky, saturated, bland and soft, with a nasty tendency to distort into an ugly digital mess when the lights dim low, which unfortunately is the majority of the performance. It is certainly not unwatchable in any sense of the word, but you will notice the poor fidelity. This is most unfortunate, and the singular problem that keeps this DVD from becoming a true success.
On the other hand, audiophiles can choose between a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, a Dolby Surround 5.1 track and a DTS Surround track…and all sound spectacular, with great balance and bass response. The 2.0 track feels a bit meek and hollow compared to the surround tracks, but sounds quite excellent on its own right. The 5.1 track is a step up the immersive ladder, but I found the mix in the rear channels to be overwhelming and chaotic for my tastes. In comparison, the DTS track sounds smooth, clean and well-preserved. Regardless of which track you choose, this DVD will sound great in your living room.
A short performance, ugly visuals, and a total lack of extra material keep Niacin: Live in Tokyo from being a must-have item, but the sheer awesomeness of the band and the quality of the musicianship are enough for me to recommend it.
Plus the DVD is cheaper than dirt, and that never hurts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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