Monday, October 01, 2007

Notes on / in Ohio

Jardin means "garden," right? So what's with all the bricks?

Now for some random observations on what I can only assume will be the last IJG tour for 07:

Cincinnati (27 September, Jardin)

* I have already indicated that our Midpoint show redeemed (for me, anyway) what would otherwise have been a pretty so-so tour. This was not so much because of the size of the audience (which, to the best of my knowledge, wasn't much more than 40 people -- cozy enough inside our tent, but not exactly a huge crowd). No, what turned things around was the quality of the response. Like the best audiences we've had all year, the Cincinnati folks seemed to instantly understand our schtick. Consequently they did not hold back at all: dancing, lighters, whooping / hollering, and various other forms of audience participation were all to be found in great abundance. For the record: we never got this sort of response in 2006 (or before), and for the life of me I have no idea why.

* I was quite internally-agitated until shortly before our show. There had been many premonitions of doom throughout the day (in fact, I might as well admit that this tour occasioned what I suspect may have been my very first panic attack -- oh joy). Not the least of these was the rumor (uncovered by Jill and Matt) that Jardin's neighbors had previously voiced (and had been able to enforce) concerns about "excessive noise after 11 PM." What time were we supposed to go on? 11:15 PM! Beautiful. (As it turned out we didn't run into any problems.)

* Aside: the festival infrastructure was very professional, though my understanding is that things were run almost entirely by volunteers. Kudos to you, good people of Cincinnati.

* Our writeup in Cincinnati's City Paper: "Naturally, it's neither exactly Industrial nor Jazz, but IJG does take the instrumental and compositional chops (and horns galore) from the latter. And if you take into account that the origins of Industrial music can be traced to Dadaism, noise art and a reaction to 'agricultural' music, well, suddenly it all makes sense. Dig It: Throbbing Gristle meets 'Yakety Sax' at an art opening." (I like this, but what exactly is "agricultural music"?)

* As alluded to in the TWSIS piece, Cincy was the guinea pig for our first experiment with "guerilla marketing" (a tactic we alternately referred to as "jazz terrorism" (Rosenboom) and "jazz streaking" (Pratt)). To wit: a few of the horn players (Rosenboom, Templeton, Rodriguez, and perhaps Francis?) piled into one of our minivans a half hour before our show and played a spontaneous open-door concert, while Ms. Knapp eased the vehicle down one of the festival's main drags, and Mr. Lichtenwalner waved a sign announcing who we were. At the time I had no idea whether this (admittedly obnoxious) strategy would work. Now I can say: it worked. (Note to self: more jazz streaking.) Anyway, here, for the curious, is some footage of the second pass:

* Because of the two days of pent-up anxiety that came with worrying about how things were going to go in Ohio generally, I ended up letting off a lot of steam during the performance at Jardin. I mean a lot of steam. It was a physical experience as much as an emotional or intellectual one -- a little bit like laying into a punching bag for 45 minutes straight.

* Speaking of: I realized after this show that if I could somehow manage to tour the group more regularly, I would probably be in the best shape of my life. It seems like every time I get to the end of a set, I have more or less sweated through whatever clothes I happen to be wearing (what with the jumping and the running and the hopping and such). It's a workout, and, you know, much more fun than getting on a treadmill.

* Various kinds of spontaneous band choreography emerged with this show -- something I consider an extremely high compliment from the musicians. Although I have fantasized about carefully working this sort of thing out ahead of time, usually we barely have time to even practice the actual music. Once in a while I will write in specific gestures as part of an individual chart, but nothing too elaborate. With these shows, however, the band more or less danced as an organism -- not in the sense of everybody always moving as one, but a commitment to (and lack of embarrassment about) the idea that music and body movement simply go together. My favorite moments in this regard were the "visual reverb" (the term is Josh Rutner's) that many of the horn players did behind the bone solo in "Fuck the Muck" (see the clip below), and, in the same tune, a rather over-the-top arm-linked-swaying that accompanied the hymn section at the end.

Columbus (26 September, Rumba Cafe)

* I don't mean to knock Columbus. There are certainly good people and good musicians fighting the good fight there, just as there are in most other places in the world. And I personally thought Honk Wail & Moan (the other big band on the bill) turned in an admirable set. They certainly had a decent turnout (including one couple -- okay, one rather energetic chick and her seemingly along-for-the-ride boyfriend -- who danced their way through about a third of the HWM show). Basically, everyone involved in helping me set up this gig really went out of their way to make us feel at home. So gracias all around.

* Still, it was probably inevitable that things were going to be a little stressful in Columbus. The IJG west coasters were seriously sleep-deprived (we had all taken red-eyes); the group had gotten precious little time to rehearse anything, old or new; we ended up going on pretty damned late (if James Hirschfeld hadn't had some friends in that part of Ohio (almost by accident), we might not have had much of an audience at all); and we were adjusting to the somewhat depressing vibe of the city (which suffers from an "insular urban blight" kind of situation).

* I have already mentioned the emergence of our "Skeletor" character, played (and, honestly, created) by Dan Rosenboom. Talk about channeling one's inner 12-year-old! It's probably safe to assume that most of us in the band have gone through a metal phase at one time or another -- so even though the music we are currently playing is pretty unlike metal in just about every respect, there is something inherently right about having a dreadlocked skull-mask guy along to help play it:

* Let me backtrack. For some time now I have been trying to feature the piccolo trumpet skills of Mr. Rosenboom in a more than peripheral way. With the new stuff, I think I finally managed to come up with a few apposite vehicles for that purpose. The catch was that I asked Rosenboom to create an "evil cowboy" character to go along with one of those tunes ("Boozey McBombalot" -- with a title like that, you can perhaps guess who the "evil cowboy" is supposed to be). This he did with a gusto, and an artistry, that was downright thrilling. (In case I'm not being clear enough: Rosenboom actually played the piccolo trumpet while wearing the skull mask.)

* Apropos of nothing: I'm trying to get to the point, compositionally, where I can reliably make a listener laugh with a single well-placed note.

* Speaking of laughter, here's a 2 AM "golden moment of goofery" at a gas station in Columbus, courtesy of Evan Francis:

* * * * *

So there you go. It's been a really exciting and fun year for the band. Thanks again to everyone involved, especially the musicians. We'll see what we can pull out of the hat for '08. Until then, it's back to the new record for me...


Jill-o said...

If I had to wage a guess (and I have to be careful how I phrase this), I'd say we hadn't gotten this type response in '06 because we weren't as animated, and we weren't including our audiences in our shows.

Jazz groups, no matter how cute, aren't often interesting to watch. Possibly thanks to MTV (etc.), audiences want to be entertained-- they need stuff to look at.

At the end of the day, I think audiences want to say "Damn that music was great," but also "Damn, I had a lot of fun tonight." I think in 2006, audiences said the former, but not so much the latter.

IMHO, I think the addition of the signs, more costumes, more audience interaction (howling, getting them to scream "big ass truck!", whipping out lighters, dancing with the drunk folks), leading the booty shaking by example (Oliver!), and just being more familiar with the music so we can get our noses out of the scores and move our bodies a bit makes the audiences feel like they're not just watching a concert, but instead they're being involved and entertained.

I also think playing more stand-up venues with booze helps tremendously. A sober, seated audience is our worst enemy. :-)

Just my two cents.

Andrew said...

Well-said, and I agree. I didn't mean to overstate my bemusement (though I do think there are lots of variations on both sides of this -- a great sitting "concert audience" at the BPC; a standing, boozed-up, but pretty wooden audience at LoFi).

We started bringing out some of the costumes, audience interaction bits, interludes and so on starting back in December 05, and I guess it's remarkable to me that it took a while for people to respond to it the way they do now (of course we're probably better at it now).

I'm sure you know that it still frustrates me a little that some audiences can't have fun without the "stuff to look at." Don't get me wrong: I really dig the way we have developed this visual/experiential dimension to our show. I think of it as essential to the group now, not superficial or gimmicky or anything like that. But I want the whole enchilada: i.e., I want people to "have fun" just listening to the CDs too, cuz that's really where everything originates for me (i.e., in the sound itself).

Maybe I was being so emphatic with my original statement as a way of throwing up my hands with a kind of puzzled chuckle, as if to say: how strange / interesting / challenging it can be to try and make "real" music when you live in a culture that is so obsessed with images.