Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Old vinyl never dies...

...it just gets made into dishware.

Of course, if a given old record really is trash (ya gotta be careful, given the potential for rebirth afforded by sampling, and digital technology in general), how much cooler it would be to make it into another music-producing device. (Horns made from old LPs? I dunno, might be cool.)

Trying to blog

Could you? (80+ degrees in Portland today...)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Catching up, part three

Continued from part two. (And here's part one.)

Another so-so night's sleep on Thursday, but no worries. Friday (May 18), the day of our last show for this tour, was more or less guaranteed to be a frazzle-fest for me anyway. As it turned out I made a half-hearted attempt to explore the city with my family during the day, but at some point pre-gig panic (the malady I usually come down with in the 12 hours or so before a performance) drew me inevitably back to the hotel room, where I paced, triple-checked our performance details, and took, like, three showers.

I finally emerged at about 2:30. The lobby of the hotel was abuzz now with other performers, some of whom I recognized. At one point I almost tripped over some of the dudes in Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but was too shy to follow up on my email request that they join us for the choral section that ends our closer ("Fuck the Muck"). I still think that would have been an amazingly absurd moment, but whatever. (Actually, I later learned that they were performing at exactly the same time we were, so it wouldn't have been possible to follow through on this hare-brained scheme of mine.)

I checked the group in at the lobby registration desk (wristbands and dinner passes and all that), and a little before 3 PM we all headed over to the World Forum Convention Center, which is where the show was going to be happening later that night. That's right -- two sound checks in as many days! The stage manager, Rene -- a really affable dude with a strong British accent -- had to deal with a few sudden changes to the stage plot I had provided ahead of time (we tend to improvise the physical configuration of the group based on the space, so stage plots are always approximate), and thus the check turned out to be a little rushed. One might even say that there was no room for "jazzytation." (Sorry, inside joke there. Consider the Dutch pronunciation of "j" as "h" and you'll get the drift.) But no matter -- in the end, there was pretty much only one "musical" consideration from the POV of the sound amplification folks: mic everything and make sure it's fucking loud.

Sound check over, we dallied until dinner (which turned out to be a kickass meal just like the one we had had at the Bimhuis the night before), and at some point I decided to take a stroll through the building. By this time (6 or 7 PM), the place was a madhouse of sorts (I would later learn that there were seven thousand people at the festival that evening). I was surprised to discover that the Convention Center was actually charging people to use the bathrooms (thankfully, I learned later, we artists got free access to same -- which is fortunate given the amount of beer we would end up consuming before the night was over). I was also surprised to discover the number of mannequins observing the proceedings, many of them stealthily dangling from trapezes. Yes, trapezes:

Apparently, in Holland, jaunty mannequins = jazz. I will assume that this choice of decor was not intended as a wry comment on the stiff, robotic quality of a lot of the stuff that passes for music nowadays. I will assume this even though our set was preceded by a band that (in my humble opinion) epitomized this stiff, robotic quality. I didn't catch their name, but let me describe them for you: picture five or six very handsome, well-groomed young gentlemen doing what I can only guess was their best impression of an eighties metal "hair band" playing fusion jazz. It was absolutely priceless, and "Miles' Home" (the name of the performance space we both appeared in) was chock full of people all digging on this particular groove. I ducked out of the green room and into the crowd several times, and each time found myself wondering if we could possibly compete.

Not that we had much of a choice at that point; somehow it was suddenly 10 PM and we were off and running with our show.

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to delineate for all y'all who haven't seen our current set the various onstage characters played by the group members when they aren't playing themselves. (It's sort of a strange facet of the group, these costumes we wear. Though I get a huge kick out of it, I sometimes wonder why we do it. Then I remember: dada!) First we have the animals: the Queen Bee, played by Jill Knapp (who as the procurer of many of the other costumes is largely responsible for the sartorial directions the band is taking); the crab and lobster, played by Phil Rodriguez and Katharina Thomsen, respectively (actually, I can never tell the lobster and the crab apart, which is why I'm lumping them together here); and the chicken, played by Brian Walsh (who also sometimes plays a generic "construction guy"). Our two other characters: 1. the wretched creature played by Cory Wright (jumpsuited and be-wigged, one can only guess the provenance), and 2. the hot dog, played by Dan Rosenboom (this character apparently became the source of a bit of double-entendre-laden banter Dan encountered during the inevitable trolling that a single musician does at a big festival after a great performance). You can see some of these characters here:

The characters and the non-characters (and the music, I guess), were, as far as I could tell, throughly enjoyed by these good people:

By the time we were about halfway through our set, the room was very crowded. Once again, the Dutch proved that they needed no coaxing to get into our schtick. Throughout the convention center, the doors to each performance space were open, so that wandering festival-goers could overhear what was going on in each. In our case it seemed like a lot of them actually stopped in to listen. I had thought that we had already seen all manner of audience participation -- dancing, bobbing, hooting, and so on -- but during this performance I found myself pleasantly surprised once more when the audience started singing some of the tunes right along with us. This may seem strange, since nothing we were performing had been "officially" released yet, and since it's all fairly complicated stuff -- but at the same time there are portions of our music that draw on well-worn snippets of popular song (usually recontextualized in strange ways, but recognizeable if you listen). It's just that we've never met an audience bold enough to jump in with those bits on the fly. Bravo, brave people of Holland!

Anyway, at set's end we had gone over our allotted one hour performance time by a few minutes. It was one of those awkward situations where I got the "10 minute" sign as we were about two thirds of the way through our penultimate tune. It would have been stupid to just stop after said penultimate tune -- the audience was clearly into what we were doing, and our aforementioned closer, "Fuck the Muck," is the song with which we always "go in for the kill," so to speak. "Muck" is at least 10 minutes long (it ends differently from night to night, so you never know), and thus when we launched into it with about five minutes to spare, I thought there would be trouble from the powers that be. But afterwards, as we struggled to get off the stage -- a little difficult to do when the audience really wants you to keep playing -- Rene came up and enthusiastically informed me that we were the best band he'd heard at the festival. I don't know if we were that good, but I thanked him anyway. Then he asked us to get off the stage as soon as possible.

The next five or six hours were, in a word, carnivalesque. It was a little overwhelming, actually, what with the lights, colors, sounds, and people. At first I fell in with a pair of very gracious Dutch musicians who had seen the show and insisted on buying me beer after beer (after beer after beer). Caught little bits of some of the other festival performances in the process -- a little Percy Sledge here, a little James Carter there. (Nothing terribly inspiring, I must say -- though that may have been because I was too exhausted... and relieved... to attend to any more music that night.) Bid adieu to my new friends, and found myself back at the hotel, where an afterparty for the performers was in full swing. I will say one thing for the smooth jazz cats -- whatever their taste in music, they ain't no slackers when it comes to the ladies. I must've seen the bass player from Spyro Gyra hit on like ten different women in the space of an hour. (Incidentally, I recently learned that the latest Spyro Gyra album is called Good to Go Go, a title which (you may forgive me for concluding) sounds suspiciously influenced by our own Industrial Jazz a Go Go! And we all know that Spyro Gyra are big IJG fans. So, like, what the hell, fellas?)

Then, with a little coaxing, I went from the festival afterparty to the IJG afterparty, which was taking place in one of the hotel rooms (I forget whose). I commented earlier about things to do in Amsterdam, right? You probably won't be surprised that various members of the group had procured some of these things when we had been in that good city on the previous evening. And now these things were being joyously smoked in the aforementioned hotel room. And a splendid time was had by all.

This is true even though the Dutch stuff did nothing for me personally. To be honest (uh-oh, I sense a tangent), I've always had a very tenuous and troubled relationship with pot. Seems like every band I've been in, somebody has wanted to get me high. Most of the time I demur -- some kind of anti-social gene kicks in, or something. But I've partaken enough times, and with such feeble results, to begin to strongly suspect that I may be one of those poor bastards who is actually immune to the stuff. (On a related note, I have also never ever been bothered by the smell of garlic or so-called "garlic breath." In fact I freakin' love garlic. I'm just weird that way.) I suppose my possible "resistance to cannabis" is a good thing to some extent -- lord knows I already have enough addictions -- but it doesn't stop me from wondering what all my stoner friends are raving about. And it doesn't stop me from being bummed by the fact that some rheumatologists will prescribe medical marijuana as a viable treatment for the particular strain of arthritis I have.

Okay, I've already dragged this story on for far too long. Here are the highlights of the last 24 hours or so of the tour:

1. Saturday was a free day. I spent it with Daphne and Thandie, wandering around the city, and just generally relaxing for the first time in weeks. We were thrilled to find a museum dedicated to M. C. Escher (if I ever become a rapper, by the way, that's going to be my stage name). Not only because of the bitchen prints (of course), but also because the place was illuminated by the most intriguing array of chandeliers I have ever seen (not Escher's -- I don't know who created them, actually). Below is a skull-and-crossbones chandelier that any card-carrying modernist would be pleased to have hovering over their dinner table.

2. Also on Saturday, we temporarily misplaced a few of our personnel. (!) I won't go into the sordid details here, but suffice it to say that (all night partying) + (an unforseen change of hotels) + (the fact that most US cellphones don't work in Europe) = a somewhat nailbiting end to this particular adventure. The cliffhanger factor was such that when I boarded the plane home on Sunday morning (mine was one of the first flights out), I still didn't know where one of my guys was, or whether he was going to get to the airport in time. Of course, everyone made it home safely. (Of course, I say "of course" now...)

* * * * *

So that's it. That's the saga. It was a seriously kickass tour. Huge thanks again to everyone who made it possible, and to all the musicians who participated.


Um, what do we do now?

Just because...

This is probably more interesting than anything I could write at the moment...

Viva la Kinks! The most underrated classic rock band ever. (Where the hell else in the annals of that testosterone-driven genre -- Aerosmith's insipid "Dude Looks Like a Lady" notwithstanding -- are you going to get such a rocking, awkward, tender depiction of a love affair with a transvestite?)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flotsam and Jetsam

It's ridiculous (or perhaps fortunate) how little time I have had to blog lately. The Dutch tour wrapup post is on its way, but in the meantime, some disconnected (and probably idiotic) ramblings:

1. Last Sunday night at about 10 PM I found myself in that subset of the country (the world?) commonly referred to as "those who are disappointed in the ending of the Sopranos." (By the way, skip the next three paragraphs if you haven't seen the final episode yet.) This is primarily because lowly I -- not a "TV expert" like some of the folks who were trotted out in the media in the days before and after the end of the series, but a TV-ambivalent shmuck -- was able to predict more or less how things were going to turn out. (Me to Daphne, maybe three weeks ago: "I bet they'll leave the whole thing up in the air, sans closure.") Okay, Mr. Chase, I get it. Neat endings are not like life. The journey (so to speak) is more important than the destination. Look for the clues and decide for yourself what happened. Whatever. Maybe I'm just cranky because I'm struggling to reconcile the vast quantity of musical work I have to catch up on with the number of hours (days?) of my life I have spent watching your epic TV drama.

The fact that I can't imagine an ending that would have worked better for me suggests that on some level I just don't care anymore. Which is strange. I guess for whatever reason my Sopranos admiration has dwindled over the last few seasons (despite a riveting episode here and there). But I had to watch the whole thing, didn't I? (Maybe that's America's great contribution to world culture: addiction.)

Despite my disappointment, I remain a big fan of the show's use of music. Though frustratingly uncredited every week, and amazingly sparse (usually saved until the last few seconds of each episode), the musical selections (as far as I know there was little or no original music used in the series) have always been spot-on. And Sunday's reclamation of Journey (for an absurd moment of comedy and impending-death tension) was particularly tasty -- very much in the recent tradition of providing popular tunes with entirely new contexts (the use of "Sister Christian" in Boogie Nights is another favorite example of mine).

2. Sometime last week I found myself in that subset of the blogosphere commonly referred to as "those who are astonished at (and humbled by) DJA's blogging stamina." 24+ hours of realtime written commentary on a seminal NY concert event? Most of it insightful, engaging, and well-written? Plus way cool pictures? Are you fucking kidding me?! I'm in awe. The only thing that would have been more impressive would be if he had been actually running a marathon while blogging about the marathon.

3. Also sometime last week, two of my closest friends in the world went up even higher in my estimation (as if that's possible!) when they told me that they had given their newborn son what I think may be one of the coolest middle names ever: "Hippopotamus." I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to divulge who these folks are, so I won't. Suffice it to say that if Daphne and I ever have a boy (another child is very doubtful at this point, but you never know), I will strongly lobby to name that individual "Zeke." That's because for a long time I thought "Zeke" was probably the most badass name you could ever give a baby boy ("Dweezil" doesn't count, because the "Zappa Family Trust" probably has a copyright on it or something). Alas, now I know I was wrong.

4. Sometime last month, I started listening (and re-listening) to a lot of Carla Bley. Holy shit, I can't seem to stop. Have you seen her website, by the way?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Pop is dead, Long live pop

So in my researching of festivals for our next big excursion, I came across information on a thing called "International Pop Overthrow." Now, I'm a pretty shameless defender of pop music, but this festival sounded interesting to me. That's because I was assuming "overthrow" meant to get rid of some established power structure, and that in terms of music, no power structure is more pervasive than pop. I mean, no matter how we define it, at least we can agree that "pop" is "popular," right?

Not so. I am informed by the good people at the IPO that the purpose of the festival is in part "to bring pop music the attention it so richly deserves." Huh? Does that mean they're assuming that pop music isn't popular, and that their mission is to make it popular? Or does it mean they already know it's popular, and they want to keep it that way, thank you very much? And in the latter case, where does the word "overthrow" come in?

Confused in Portland