Keys to the Highway
The Mark Kaye Band comes to town from the Mission District via Menlo Park.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The pop funk group the Mark Kaye Band has played all over the Bay Area—everywhere from the Last Day Saloon, a popular San Francisco venue since 1973, to Blush, a new 6,000 square foot dance club in Burlingame with lots of creative lighting. Mark Kaye and the boys have also brought their brand of poppy funk to swank joints like San Francisco’s Club Rouge, an opulent nightclub where bartenders are called mixologists.
But the band’s biggest Bay Area claim to fame is that they often play the Oakland Raiders pre-game parties at the Oakland Hilton on Saturday nights. There, Raiders fans dressed in black and silver hit the dance floor between shouting the name of their favorite football team over and over again.
“It is way out of hand,” bandleader Mark Kaye says of the Hilton gig. “The dance floor gets a little crazy with clothes on.”
While many funk groups are content to perform the old school hits from the ‘70s, Kaye’s group has a secret weapon in their arsenal: original tunes. With four CDs in the can and one more coming this February, the group’s originals are processed pop and funk numbers that at certain times recall Stevie Wonders’ music from the ‘80s. Their latest, titled What Would Love Do?, features soft rock ballads like “To Love is to Let Go” and the funkier “Shake It Up,” which has throwaway lyrics like “I wanna thrill ya, I wanna for real ya” over clavinet beeps and blips.
Kaye admits that the songs take a slightly different shape in a live setting. “It’s funkier live,” he says. “We approach it with a real improvisational approach.”
Also onstage, the band is unafraid to dip a bit into the ‘70s classic funk catalogue, playing tunes by the Ohio Players and Kool & the Gang. “We funk ‘em up pretty good,” Kaye says of his band’s renditions.
Kaye, a multi-instrumentalist who plays a handful of keyboards, including a keyboard/guitar hybrid called a “keytar” (see below), lived and played music in places like Oahu and San Francisco’s Mission District before moving to Menlo Park a few years ago. “There’s only one way out of the Mission District: music, prison or a coffin,” Kaye says of his former neighborhood.
With his band performing regularly all over the Bay Area, it is clear which option Kaye has chosen.
There might be some of you readers out there wondering what the heck Mark Kaye has strapped around his neck in the adjoining picture. You might be thinking that it is a deluxe version of the popular ‘80s toy from Mattel called the Magical Musical Thing.
Well folks, it’s not. What Mr. Kaye is playing is a “keytar,” a synthesizer shaped like a guitar. It has also been called a belly synth, a guiboard and a strap-on—though the encyclopedia Web site Wikipedia cautions that when using the last term one must add the words keyboard to differentiate the instrument from the sex toy of the same name.
Why would a musician choose to play a keytar instead of a standard keyboard? Well, I don’t have a degree in musicology, but I would venture a guess that the keytar allows keyboard players to feel like a guitar player, which some folks see as the classic rock ‘n’ roll figure. What a keytar definitely does is free up the keyboard player to indulge in truly “rock” moments like playing his instrument while sliding across the stage on his knees.
Since Steve Masakowski introduced the keytar to the world in 1978, many semi-popular musicians have embraced the instrument. Jan Hammer, the composer of Miami Vice’s theme song, played a keytar. And Thomas Dolby, the guy who did that cool ‘80s song “She Blinded Me with Science,” was known to wield the instrument from time to time.
In 1995, the keytar experienced a brief resurgence in popularity after soft rocker John Tesh played the instrument while covering Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard” on The Late Show with Conan O’Brien. Bloggers continue to gush about the incident on the Internet almost 10 years after that fateful evening.
These days, a handful of bands like The Doodlebops and the Sump Pumps—along with Mark Kaye—are attempting to bring the keytar back from the brink of obscurity.
Let’s hope their efforts are successful.
THE MARK KAYE BAND PLAYS SLY MCFLY’S, 700 CANNERY ROW IN MONTEREY, FRIDAY AT 9PM. 649-8050.