Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tour tales no. 2: "The Bee Dance"

Okay. Here's another one of my slipshod, shamefully self-promotional IJG movie productions, utilizing audio and video from our recent Pacific Northwest Tour. The audio was entirely recorded in Yakima, which, partly because it was outdoors, was the most highly-mic'd of all of our shows this go-round. So you can actually almost hear the mouthpiece buzzing part at the end of the song.

This tune has more or less been kicking my ass for over a year now. I think that maybe -- just maybe -- I finally got it right this time (this is the third version). One thing I can say for sure: it's amazing the difference a key can make. Anyway, please excuse the typical problems of live sound and etc.

So what's with the title? That's right, this is another in our song cycle of tunes dealing with the subject of animals -- an aesthetic obsession described in more detail here. If you want to know more about waggle dance (the technical term), here's a neat article. Apparently,

[t]he direction and duration of waggle runs are closely correlated with the direction and distance of the patch of flowers being advertised by the dancing bee. Flowers located directly in line with the sun are represented by waggle runs in an upward direction on the vertical combs, and any angle to the right or left of the sun is coded by a corresponding angle to the right or left of the upward direction. The distance between hive and recruitment target is encoded in the duration of the waggle runs. The farther the target, the longer the waggle phase, with a rate of increase of about 75 milliseconds per 100 meters.

And here's some truly rad footage of real bees getting down with their bad selves.

Anyway, this incarnation of the tune features: Dan Rosenboom (trumpet / piccolo trumpet), Steph Richards (trumpet), Ian Carroll (bone), Nelson Bell (bone), Cory Wright (soprano sax), Lee Elderton (soprano sax), Evan Francis (alto sax), Ward Baxter (tenor sax), Mary-Sue Tobin (tenor sax), Mieke Bruggeman (bari sax), Jill Knapp (vox), Tany Ling (vox), Dan Schnelle (drums), Oliver Newell (bass), and yours truly (conducting, composition).

Opening clip of a bee c/o Ivan Bridgewater and the Internet Archive. Other footage c/o Tany Ling, Jill Knapp, Matt Lichtenwalner, and Andrew Durkin.

More to come...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Speaking of dirty words

More tour tales soon. In the meantime:

Great googly-moogly! Joe's Garage is coming to the stage (in LA, of course). The LA Weekly has a cover story by Steven Leigh Morris.

It's impossible to talk about this masterpiece (one of Zappa's many masterpieces) without referencing the PMRC brouhaha. Zappa, as you probably know, was an opposing witness at those hearings, and Joe's Garage, which came out a few years before the brouhaha, was a particularly obscene album in an oeuvre full of obscene alums. As I suggested in the discussion occasioned by my last post, it seems strange to me that we haven't made a whole lot of progress in terms of how we relate to this stuff as a culture. It seems we have anything but, ahem, catholic (little "c") tastes.

By the way: anyone who has read (or re-read) Zappa's autobiography in the "post-9/11 world" might have noticed that the man could be pretty prescient. Consider the evidence found in this PMRC-inspired Crossfire exchange, quoted by Morris:

Zappa: The biggest threat to America today is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that's happened during the Reagan administration is steering us right down that pipe.

Novak:... Do you really think ... in this country, with the permissiveness, that we are moving toward a fascist theocracy?

Zappa: You bet we are, buddy.

[Lofton and Novak laugh derisively.]

Braden: One example of a fascist theocracy?

Zappa: When you have a government that prefers a certain moral code derived from a certain religion, and that moral code turns into legislation to suit one certain religious point of view, and if that code happens to be very, very right wing, almost toward Attila the Hun ...

Lofton: Then you are an anarchist. Every form of civil government is based on some kind of morality, Frank.

Zappa: Morality in terms of behavior, not in terms of theology.

Many of Zappa's Crossfire appearances have been available on YouTube at some point (subject to the whims of the estate).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tour tales no. 1: The wages of profanity and political commentary

The Ws were always the kind of fan that any group would be honored to have. When they were still living in Bakersfield, they came to every show, talked us up to all their friends, bought all our records and swag, and even filmed many of our performances. (They would always follow up by sending me carefully annotated DVDs adorned with artwork of their own devising.)

Actually, for a few of our early Bakersfield shows, the Ws comprised nearly half of the audience. Yet they stuck with us regardless of the sort of turnout we got: they were just as enthusiastic about the "tumbleweed gigs" as they were about, for instance, our performance in front of thousands of people at the 2007 Bakersfield Jazz Festival.

So when we arrived at Eugene's Cozmic Pizza last Wednesday evening and found the Ws waiting for us (they had driven 40 minutes from Corvalis, the Oregon city where they had coincidentally moved in the last year), I was, to put it mildly, flattered beyond belief. Initial pleasantries were exchanged (the Ws took pride in knowing several members of the group by name) and we all prepared for the evening's concert.

Once things got rolling with our opening tune (our tribute to Keith Jarrett, which you will remember from the last tour), I sort of lost all perspective on the audience (as I tend to do when I go into conductor mode). So it wasn't until after the end of the first set that I discovered that the Ws were gone. And it wasn't until I had had a chance to speak with Matt (who, as usual, went way beyond the call of duty on this tour and worked the door for pretty much all of our shows) that I learned what had driven the Ws away.

In a nutshell, the Ws were offended by 1. our "filthy" language and 2. our anti-McCain song (which, I probably should have mentioned earlier, is called "Civility").

No, really! Apparently it is possible for someone who has only heard our earlier albums (which feature such wholesome tunes as "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboy-Presidents," "Full-on Freak," and "Baby, Shake That Thing") to assume that we are an innocuous, god-fearing, Republican outfit.

What can I say? On the one hand, I'm sort of proud that something we created actually pissed someone off enough to make them walk out of a show. I mean, isn't the ultimate point of political art that it have some sort of observable impact? That it move beyond merely noble-sounding lip-service? Isn't that the quality that purists long for when they (however bombastically) say that jazz (or punk, or whatever) is no longer a "socially relevant" music?

On the other hand, if that's a victory of sorts, it feels kinda hollow. I mean, this group is in no position to be losing fans -- particularly the sort of fans who remind one that the root of of the word "fan" is "fanatic." I genuinely liked the Ws, and I'm just as irritated by the fact that they failed to see the "offense" that they took as an opportunity for dialogue about art / politics as I am by the fact that their "fanhood" was very hard-earned over a long period of time. The situation sort of cracks me up and depresses me at the same time.

Not that I have any regrets (whatsoever) about the aesthetic / political directions the band has taken in recent years. The charts are what they are: the truest music I know how to make at the moment. I can't do much about that -- and in fact in some ways I feel that it is only recently that the group has managed to find its own voice. Why on earth would I want to dial that back?

* * * * *

Two addenda:

1. We had good reasons to edit our final two shows of this tour. Our PDX hit was an all-ages affair attended by many youngsters 10 and under -- so while we left the John McCain song in place, we had to creatively tone down the language in some of the other tunes, which truthfully added a whole other level of comedy to the experience (for instance, in "Big Ass Truck" we substituted the phrase "fiddlesticks" for "what the fuck"). And moments before our Yakima show -- the final night of the tour -- I got the talk from the series' artistic director: "Yakima is a pretty conservative town, they're not going to go for anything with the word 'fuck' in it, etc., etc." Again, we creatively toned down some of the language, though it wasn't quite as funny in this context for some reason.

2. A few days after the tour was over, I got a package in the mail. It was from the Ws. They were returning the CD and the T-Shirt they had bought in Eugene a few nights before, with a note explaining that they couldn't support offensive music.

What the fuck?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ups and downs

First, the latter: from the great Tom D'Antoni comes news of the demise of the PDX jazz festival. Crap, for many reasons.

Second, the former: also from Tom (same post): a very enthusiastic review of our show here in PDX last Friday. I am blushing profusely, though I admit that that show was the best (and most fun) of the tour. (I promise, some sort of post-tour write-up is coming soon.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A band of many influences

You never know when one of them is going to pop up in an impromptu post-gig singalong (this one occurred last Wednesday night, when we were in Eugene):

Friday, September 05, 2008

John McCain is a selfish prick

As promised, our anti-McCain ad, in a version we did last night at Le Voyeur in Olympia. It's pretty stupid and tasteless, but then, most negative ads are.

For soprano (Ling), piano (Durkin), and bullhorn (Rosenboom). Videography by Matt Lichtenwalner.

The video:

The words:

John McCain has a microchip
implanted in his head to give him helpful tips
on how to start the next world war
and what that ugly little button is for

John McCain is an evil boob
they feed him chopped up kittens through a plastic tube
he farts whenever he thinks too hard
his victims are all buried in his backyard

Yes he has been baking in the Arizona sun
simple things are hard to comprehend
he'll use his medieval mace
to make the world a safer place
only for the rich Americans

John McCain is a selfish prick
who pokes at open wounds with a salty stick
he peed in your coffee pot late last night
he thinks that everything is going alright

More updates to follow.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hello, Seattle!

A fun show at the Jewel Box Theater last night. Possibly our smallest turnout ever, but that doesn't always matter, does it?

Here's the amazing Baby Gramps rocking out with his "friend from the sixties":

Ian Carroll preps for the show by donning a hazmat-emergency-type suit, c/o my good friends Sarah and Matt:

Most of the ensemble, after the madness. Back row, L-R: Ward Baxter, Dan Rosenboom, Lee Elderton, Mary-Sue Tobin, Dan Schnelle, Ian Carroll, yours truly, Baby Gramps, Jill Knapp, Gramps' friend from the 60s, Tany Ling. Middle row, L-R: Cory Wright, Oliver Newell, Evan Francis, Stephanie Richards. Front row, L-R: Samantha Boshnack, Nelson Bell. Motherfuckers one and all.

More to follow. If you're in the area, come check us out at Cozmic Pizza tonight!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Rehearsal, 9/1

Present and accounted for:

Jill Knapp (vox)
Tany Ling (vox)
Dan Schnelle (drums)
Oliver Newell (bass)
Cory Wright (soprano sax)
Lee Elderton (soprano sax)
Ward Baxter (tenor sax)
Mary Sue Tobin (tenor sax)
Mieke Bruggeman (bari sax)
Dan Rosenboom (trumpet)
Stephanie Richards (trumpet)
Ian Carroll (bone)
Derek Bondy (bone)

Not the full group, yet. Tomorrow we'll add Evan Francis, Samantha Boshnack, and Nelson Bell for our first show in Seattle. Hang on!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Never a dull whatever

If you know me at all, you know I'm dying to comment on the political events of the past ten days. Would that I had the fucking time. I've got a tour this week, by gum!

That's right, Pacific Northwesters, an authentic version of the IJG is coming this week to a venue near you -- Tuesday in Seattle, Wednesday in Eugene, Thursday in Olympia, Friday in Portland, and Saturday in Yakima. (Click the preceding link for details.)

I'll try to pseudo-live-blog it, in my typical pseudo-live-blogging way.

In the meantime, check out the new (and vastly improved) IJG website. I really had very little to do with this. Which is why it looks so awesome. (Kudos to Jill and Matt.)

And as for the political thing -- one quote that stuck with me this week was Gore Vidal discussing the Republicans on the Rachel Maddow show: "We're not up against a political party. We're up against a mafia."

I wrote a little anti-McCain tune for this tour -- we'll see if we actually get to it.