Moogfest @ BB King’s

Keith EmersonNEW YORK, NY—B.B. King’s once again played host to Moogfest the annual festival that honors the inventor and godfather of electronic music Robert Moog (1937-2005) and the revolutionary analog synthesizer that bears his name. This year’s lineup included prog rock legend Keith Emerson, jazz-rock legend Jan Hammer, Mahavishnu Project, Roger O’Donnell, Jordan Rudess, DJ Logic, School Of Rock and Frank Lucas.

Now, unlike the metal shows I’ve caught at B.B.’s, Moogfest was a predominantly older, mellower crowd. Tables were set up for Moog enthusiasts to relax and have a cocktail or two while they took in the night’s entertainment. Moogfest contest winner Frank Lucas kicked things off with his prog stylings on the analog ivories and proved quickly that he’s no amateur. Next up was the School Of Rock kids whose unbridled enthusiasm and take on a couple of Zappa tunes had the crowd buzzing afterwards. Following the young maestros was DJ Logic who sucked the audience right back in, spinning groovy loops with a heavy dose of Moog magic layered on top. Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess took the stage next and like some mad scientist, swirled and oozed out some major ear fuckery going from ethereal effects to spaced-out dirge-like riffs that by the end of his short set had the audience in the palm of his hand.

From the pop/new-wave side of the fence was Roger O’Donnell (Psychedelic Furs/The Cure) who proceeded to treat the audience to a few tunes of his entrancing minimalist pop with a warm soothing sound only a Moog Voyager can provide. A sensual electro bliss washed over the room, as did the sweet angelic vocals of singer Erin Lang who accompanied O’Donnell. The duo proved the old adage “less is more” as was evident by the crowd’s even more warm response. Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute group Mahavishnu Project then took the stage and, let me tell you, they were the real deal. You couldn’t pick a more complex talented body of work to try and duplicate than Mahavishnu Orchestra. The Project is led by drummer/composer Gregg Bendian (Pat Metheny, Ornette Coleman, John Zorn) along with renowned keyboard player Adam Holzman (Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter), guitar whiz Glenn Alexander (L. Shankar, Randy Brecker), Project Object bassist Dave Johnson and violinist Rob Thomas (Andy Summers, Tito Puente). Together they re-created the mind-blowing jazz-rock of John McLaughlin and company that caused many jaws to drop.

And now for the moment I had been waiting for all night—Jan Hammer! Hammer’s the man who broke serious ground on the keyboard with the aforementioned Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, ’80s synth-rock duo Schon & Hammer (featuring Journey’s Neal Schon) and, of course, his cutting-edge solo material including the theme to “Miami Vice.” Hammer even made rocking out on the key-tar cool, if that’s possible. And here he was, his first time playing the states since ’91, backed up by Mahavishnu Project. They wasted no time in tearing right into an amazing set of his work, keeping fans on the edge of their seat the entire time. Highlights included “Oh Yeah?” as well as “Blue Wind” and “Lead Boots” off Jeff Beck’s Wired album.

Last up was prog pioneer Keith Emerson (ELP) and his band who launched right into “Karn Evil 9” with Keith attacking the wall-size Moog like a possessed Beethoven. Keith and his band featuring super talented guitarist/vocalist Marc Bonilla never missed a beat, playing some amazing originals as well as classic ELP. They finished up their blazing set with “Fanfare For The Common Man” and an encore that ended with Tchaikovsky’s “Russian Dance.”

During the course of the night I met people who flew in from all over the country to be part of this truly magical night of music that ran the gamut of sound and style. And although Moog himself was not physically present, having gone on to that big laboratory in the sky, something tells me he took the night off and was all ears.