9/22/17: Sunshine and rainbows and hysterical mutism

I’ve been thinking about CBGB’s lately. Back in the 90’s during my Doc Martin years, we played there a bunch of times.

I always liked playing at CB’s – they were really well-organized about the musical acts. You had your own dressing room (or shared one), so there was a place to keep your cases. And they had the onloading/offloading process between acts down to a science. We usually made a little money, too, and met some terrific musicians.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the ladies’ room was among the scariest I have ever dealt with. It’s hard to capture in words exactly what it was like, but let’s just say it really encouraged me to rethink this whole going to the bathroom thing. Thanks in part to that place, one of the skills I’ve picked up during my musical career is how to use the facilities without touching anything.

One night at CB’s, for some unknown reason (probably a little stage fright), I experienced what can only be described as temporary hysterical mutism. Nothing was coming out of my mouth. It happened mid-song, and I had to think fast.

What do you do when you’re in the middle of a gig and your voice gives out? You think fast. I made a split second decision to continue mouthing the lyrics, even though no sound was coming out. I did this for about a song and a half, when my voice came back online.

The poor soundman was going nuts. Every time I looked over at him, he was frantically working the knobs and faders, trying to turn up my nonexistant voice. I always felt bad about that, but in retrospect I think it was the right thing to do. If we’d stopped for a few minutes, I probably would have freaked out and stayed mute for longer.

Later on, reflecting my advancing years, I began to do gigs at CB’s Gallery, which was also a fun place to play. Much cleaner bathrooms, too. And I never went mute during a gig there – actually, the CBGB gig was the only time that happened.

Here’s a song by Syd Straw about CB’s. Her memories are different than mine, but it was the kind of place where memorable things happened. RIP CBGB OMFUG.

 

 

Image by Jeremy Keith. 

Creative Commons License 2.0. 

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4/26/17: The happiest man on earth

There’s a game going around Facebook today where you list nine bands you saw and one you didn’t. Your friends have to guess which band you didn’t see. Music nerd that I am, I’m having a blast with this (incidentally, the answer to mine is “Queens of the Stone Age”).

Anyway, this leading to that, I started thinking about Iron Butterfly, a band I had the unlikely opportunity to see. As a Gen X-er, I’m too young to have seen them in their late 60’s/early 70’s heyday, but in 1988 they did a reunion show at Atlantic Records’s 40th anniversary celebration.

I guess as a warmup show, they played at the Chance in Poughkeepsie. And I went with some friends from college and we had a great time.

The Cult Brothers, which was two members of Blue Oyster Cult and two other guys, opened up the show. Their drummer was not a member of BOC, and looked like he was about 20. And while they were onstage, that guy was the happiest man on the planet. He was having a blast. He was twirling his sticks and throwing them up in the air and catching them, and he was playing with BLUE! OYSTER! CULT!!! it made me happy just to watch him being happy.

I hope that guy had a long happy career in music, and I’m dedicating these two songs to him.

 

 

Image courtesy of the British Library.

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:

 

Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0

Brahms Festival 2016

I adore Brahms, and if I had the cash I’d be on a plane out to Detroit right now!

Thanks to Rich Brown of Good Music Speaks for turning us on to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing celebration of Brahm’s life & works. They’re doing all four symphonies, a Berio arrangement of Brahm’s Sonata for Clarinet and Orchestra (I had no idea that existed!), and even a beard contest. But trust me – that’ll be a tough one.

There’s even a beard competition, but trust me – it’s gonna be a tough one.

Here’s more info:

Source: Brahms Festival 2016

Photo courtesy of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (UK), via Creative Commons.

November 4, 2015

The first concert I ever went to was the Alarm, at the Beacon Theater in New York. Three of us drove into the city in a tiny little convertible that may or may not have been made out of fiberglass.

I actually don’t remember anything about the show, except that I enjoyed it. Actually, my dominant memory of that evening is my two friends doing impersonations of DJ Scott Muni.

This was a time when U2 was The Big Deal, and any band that even kind of sounded like them had a good shot at having a hit. The Alarm were angry in a good way, and had awesome hair and cool fringe-y suede jackets, just like Bono.

And they were actually a good band. They played well, they had some good songs, and they had the right music at the right time.

My second concert was at the Pier, again in NYC. I was a lot more into the bands that played that night; it was the Cure, with 10,000 Maniacs opening.

That was a really fun night – I was with a bunch of friends, and we drove into the city in nice, safe sedans and station wagons.

Photo of the Alarm by Helge Øverås.

“Alarm kalvoya 01071984 10 500” by Helge Øverås – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons