The course of my life changed on May 18, 2003. How? Three words: Yellow Matter Custard.
Let me explain.
I’d been a big Dream Theater fan since my junior year of high school. If there were Musician Olympics, in my book, they would’ve gone home with all the gold at that time. Aside from the jaw-dropping skill of guitarist John Petrucci, I’d always been in awe of drummer Mike Portnoy. He’s a world-class drummer and a consummate showman every time I see the band play live. When he announced he was assembling a Beatles tribute band for the 2003 Modern Drummer Festival, I asked a few friends of mine to join me on a trip to New York City to their “warmup” show at BB King’s Blues Club. These friends had seen Dream Theater with me before and knew the caliber of musicianship to expect, but they were far more interested in hearing renditions of Beatles tunes.
The lineup of Yellow Matter Custard included Matt Bissonette (who I knew from Joe Satriani albums), Neal Morse (who I knew from progressive band Spock’s Beard), and Paul Gilbert (best known for Mr. Big). I owned a few Mr. Big albums and always dug Paul’s speedy yet melodic playing but I hadn’t looked into any of the solo material he was currently putting out. Nonetheless, I was very anxious to see him play live whatever the context (admittedly, I’m not very into The Beatles but I have developed an appreciation for them over time).
The show was astounding. Even though I knew only half of the songs, I was completely blown away by the performances and the band’s chemistry. My hands-down favorite moment was Paul’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which, although flashy, was raw with emotion (watch it here). The next day, I began my hunt to find anything and everything Paul Gilbert and in the process, I learned he’d attended Musicians Institute in Hollywood. That was enough to pique my interest so I visited MI the following summer and moved out to Hollywood to become a student there in 2006 (I even had a one-on-one lesson with Paul the following year). That experience ultimately led me to move back to California in 2012 to further my creative pursuits and that’s where you find me today.
Paul Gilbert’s solo material is my favorite of all his output, especially his pop-rock albums. One of the few CDs I was able to easily find (without buying a copy from Japan) was Alligator Farm, released in 2000. I’m baffled as to why he wasn’t the biggest thing on rock radio at the time because aside from chops galore, his songs are infectious. The song that made my head spin the most was “Individually Twisted,” a ridiculously catchy tune with a legato passage from Heaven before each verse. The CD stayed in my car stereo for weeks but this is the song I kept coming back to. Today, it reminds me of a time in my life before living in California was on my radar, before rent was due the first of every month, and the summer when my perception of playing guitar changed from something cool to something I had the potential to do really, really well.