Jim & Warren - on assignment, Laguna Beats, 3 July 2011.
This particular Borders shows no signs of immanent closure, unlike many of its sister stores. Jim speculates that they either own the property, or are benefiting from unusually low rent (the big CompUSA store next door shut its doors a couple of years ago). The South Coast Plaza store also seems to be a survivor, at least for now.
One highlight tonight: recovering 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. 'Heart Full of Soul' seemed unusually strong too, as did 'Killing the Blues'.
We wrapped up the evening with some conversation in the parking lot, first with each other, and finally with a couple of Mission Viejo peace officers who raced up in their patrol cars with spotlights blazing to ascertain the correspondence between an alert from the store's burgler alarm and our suspicious co-location. It took them awhile, but they were somehow able to ascertain that we were not to blame. The actual perpetrators, it would seem, were either quite successful, or non-existent.
We attempted revivals of old favs 'Angelyne' (The Jayhawks), and 'Cruel to Be Kind' (Nick Lowe). The highlight for me was 'Space Oddity' for which Jim has gradually developed along dramatic lines, including very quiet passages, perfectly suiting the cinematic song... and I love playing the outro, with sopping wetness of tone...
Marginally-mad Doug D. checked in for a song or two, and then an update on his court proceedings, and musing about whether to catch up with The Rebel Rockers at The Sandpiper later on, or to join a massively inebriated buddy in some less constructive activity. Not for me, thanks. At left is an image of Doug as he appears on the mean streets of Laguna Beach, not entirely unlike his Wild West visage, captured ably in the painting below...
...and there was $8 in the jar tonight, contrasting nicely with the $0 we pulled in Friday at Borders SCP.
Soon after, street scrapper 'Sticks', with some sort of cackling girlfriend in tow, installed himself on the bench ten feet to our right and proceeded to do what he does best: bang away very loudly with drumsticks on a plastic bucket. Since we had already playing there for awhile when he fired up his muscle car, you might guess that he'd be smacking away helpfully with our rendition of 'Starman', but they don't call this man 'Sticks' because he's some kind of flimsy and 'sensitive' artiste, no, not at all.... they call him 'Sticks' because of his singular ability to relentlessly bash away at full power, unhindered by any little distractions in the environment — certainly not a little folk-rock band ten feet away, in the midst of what they imagine to be their 'gig'.
"I think of it as an exercise.", Jim offered. I told him I was tempted to view it as an opportunity to make a suggestion, but wasn't quite sure how catastrophic that might be to the social equilibrium.... So we just played on, a little bit louder, and proved to ourselves that it's possible to play a song at some tempo x, despite Sticks's antic fussilades at tempos y and z.
...not to mention a cast of other completely baked and profoundly confused characters, to rival George Reasons himself... Perhaps this is our new demographic...?
We finally surrendered to Doug D.'s latest account of legal opinions and court hearings, and his demoralization related to waking up in the Overflow Shelter, rather than on the beach. I told him I'd emailed him a scanned image of the Mian Situ painting that he recently modeled for, and given me a printed image of... He agreed that he'd like to forward that to his sister Donna in Sedona (in hopes that she'll print it and mail it to him). Everything is too complicated!
Somehow, there were a couple of $5 bills patiently waiting for us when we wrapped it up... which seems fairly encouraging, considering every other mad and silly thing...
Somehow, we toughed it out for three hours, and as many dollars, one of which we gave away to one of our street-person fans... perhaps we should think of them as our Street Team....
Jim & Warren - Slamming it just to stay warm, at the Laguna Beats, 25 Feb 2011.
Later on, a 40-something couple hit us with a request for none other than 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'...! Having played it just a half hour ago, we were in unprecedentedly good shape for it, and this pass was off the hook -- easily a best-ever for me, and together, probably... beyond big fun... and we had the pleasure of watching the couple blissfully singing along.
I finally broke a string, during my 'Cerulean Blue' piece, throwing the entire guitar hopelessly out of tune (Bigsby vibrato), so so I picked up my tinwhistle, as Jim continued to play, and discovered that the entire melody can be played on that instrument, despite the rocking back and forth between two keys... a pleasant surprise, and very good to know... and something I probably did know a few years ago... We had made a point of practicing this one for my filmmaker pal Pilar Walsh, who was unable to make it after all. She has graciously included the song in the 'short' for her 'How I Survived the Sixties' film project.
We finished out with me making up bits on harmonica and tinwhistle to three more songs... and singing -- which I found to be astonishingly different without also playing guitar -- harder in a way, feeling so... exposed... and it was a little too easy to hear myself not singing very well... We're very lucky that Jim is in this band.
We made a point, among many other things, of recovering our one (wonderful) Wilco song 'Side With the Seeds', which is potentially stunning, if we can just remember how it all goes, including the elusive lyrics... so we just played it again, taking full advantage of the peripatetic nature of our 'audience'... and doing so goes a long ways toward getting it right... by trying to incorporate everything learned from pass one into pass two. Let's play it one more time...!
We are, I suspect, playing more songs better than ever before. The correlation between playing well and playing often is evident in the extreme.
Unexpected highlight: the Yardbirds' classic 'Heart Full of Soul', triggering smiles and applause from at least one lovely woman... despite my absurdly inaudible vocal. I realized afterward that the song's signature riff must be irresistible... not that I play it correctly, or even well, but it's probably recognizable, and slightly huge, the way it's wrapped inside a jangling Dm chord... Another thing, though: we really slam those chords, and they comprise one happening progression: Dm G Bb... flipping to D major for the choruses.... Long live Graham Gouldman!
'Baby Blue', our other labelmates song, was also a personal best-ever for me, assisted by the huge tone stack I'd established for its predecessor... and by our run-through the other night...
We had a few people really tuned in to our station, after awhile, including a couple we recognize from several past outings... That's always a game changer, as it pulls us more out of ourselves. We start 'relating' to them... telling them little stories about the songs, or commenting on our experience of playing them. It also makes me more reluctant to sing anything, unless I'm singing well, which is unlikely. So far, I just sing anyway. It also makes us feel more 'on the spot', of course, which improves our motivation (at least theoretically) to really learn how to play these songs...
We paid special attention to our newest crop of Fab Four numbers... 'Strawberry Fields', 'A Hard Day's Night', 'Help From My Friends', Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'... along with the Badfinger 'labelmates' pair — 'No Matter What' and 'Baby Blue'... as well as a big favorite I'd abandoned till Jim requested it again, 'Don't Dream It's Over'... not to mention Jim's own chart-topper 'Tangerine Kisses', which is quite a pleasure to play.
Our only-half-mad pal Doug D. dropped by in time to catch a spontaneously accidental jam, which he urged us to put together with a surfing movie... yet to be identified... an irresistible idea, though... it did wonders for Honk, and The Sandals [?], after all... Doug appraised us of the ongoing festivities at the Vans store south on PCH, and reminded us that the Rebel Rockers are up at the Sandpiper... yet J&W carried on manfully, as the temperature dropped further. Finally, the chill penetrated enough to send us packing... Jim heading home to nurse his barely-abating pneumonia.
I stashed my gear in the car, and drove south to the Vans store, caching the tail end of the surf-centric festivities, leaving me feeling woefully unrelated... until spotting the wall-mounted array of vintage skateboards evoked fond memories of my own homemade plywood and rollerskate-wheels board, shaped like an elongated baseball diamond, and brush-painted glossy black... built for a freshman high-school 'speech' for Fr. Whipple's English class.
Catching up with only-slightly-mad Doug, who very kindly made a point of vigorously introducing me to everyone he knew (every other person, it seems) while extolling my Island-style slide guitar playing (I don't think that Doug has actually ever heard me play slide guitar, but why argue...)... I heard the concise edition of his and his parent's life story, stretching back to his Australian grandparents, and then marvelled as pointed out the 240 Thalia St. location of legendary freak eatery Millabee's Treats, adjoining the Hava Stand, which is still entirely in operation, since that storied time, and under the same proprietorship, apparently...
Eventually we found ourselves at the evening's true and final destination - The Sandpiper (I am preferring not to call it 'The Dirty Bird'). I was immediately taken by the wide-openness of it, and found myself swept past the gate-keeper, missing whatever toll he may have exacted, had not Doug snowed him with some Jedi mind tricks... passed down from Johnny Gale, no doubt...
...and the Rebel Rockers were rocking it, like a baby... gently but rock-steadily... with Princess crooning and moaning, Redlocks (now 'Redz') blissfully pumping his electric bass, Jelani filling the room with keyboard chord washes and lovely backing vocals.... but also: a very solid big black drummer, one Ed Krebs on guitar, and a compact fellow who could well be from Kingston stepping in to share energetic vocals from time to time... I was expecting just the first three old-timers, doing their best to hold something credible together, but instead found a very tight and lively unit, that sounded big and full, melodic and musical, effortlessly packing the dance floor.
Someone introduced me to guitarist Ed between sets, and it was a pleasure to feel him out, and check out his rig, and then to get lost in the eminently musical solos he took later in the night. The dance floor was well-occupied at all times, but with room for me to stand close to the band, at left, and to gradually surrender to the hypnotic beats, and finally just let it all go and dance -- alongside, if not exactly 'with' -- various lovely girls that weren't bothering to have a partner... for some time, awhile after Doug retired for the evening, to the shelter, hopefully... or to some inclement outdoors hideaway. I finally exited when the band took a break at 1am, but I may need to get back there soon for another round of being on the receiving end of the music...
Good experience playing, though... it feels like we're taking things a bit more 'seriously', or at least not quite so haphazardly. We closed with best-yet readings of our Sgt. Pepper's pair: 'With a Little Help from My Friends', and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' — what an intense pleasure it is to play that one...!
We finally managed a nearly feature-complete run-through of 'Strawberry Fields Forever', and ran though a bunch of other Beatles' favs, and Jim's 'On the Point' chromatic instrumental (C C#dim Dm G) which our street pal Doug DuMaurier soaked up and said would be a perfect theme for a surf movie, "...like 'Five Summer Stories'..." (featuring Honk).
We paused to soak up the current status of Doug's legal project, and hear his latest description of a brief stay in the lockup... Doug also reminded us that we still haven't seen the apparently remarkable movie about surfing (and tripping) called 'Chasing the Lotus', made my Messrs. Spider Wills and ____Weaver...
It was a very good session, in any case... so helpful to play this often... everything accumulates, largely to the good.
After an unusually good run-through of 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away', I pointed out to Jim that it was helpful that we were both backing off on the guitars, making it easier on my vocal... which let to consideration of that sort of thing belongs to a whole set of next-level factors, which can make all the difference between playing a song, and playing music. We are both understanding how that sort of thing only becomes possible once has the material itself well in hand... and how much, or course, that's a function of actually working through the songs, especially together. More to come, it would seen... what a good deal...!
We also spend some time with 'Cerulean Blue' -- now famously in a (very short) movie -- with Jim studiously learning the signature riffs, which frees me up to play the 2nd guitar parts. Perhaps we'll hear it on the radio yet...
World-debut: 'Hard Day's Night' after much consideration about what to play for the opening chord of our version in D. For now, anyhow we're landing on A7sus4: 575755 for me, and x02030 for Jim... partly because if we start off with a [very-closely-related] D7sus4, it is incredible difficult for me to find the vocal melody, probably because it starts with f#, which the chord masks with a g (the sus4). Jim has sorted out the correct way to play George's very cool guitar break... getting it much righter that I did, despite my 5:00am attempts last night... He's accepted my suggestion that _he_ play it... which isn't yet quite possible, but might be just the sort of thing to open up such possibilities for him.
We took a first halting attempt at 'Strawberry Fields Forever', which is very much a work-in-progress for Jim, and in the just-getting-acquainted stage for me...
Afterwards... after munching a much-needed PB&J, I strolled down PCH, and found myself enjoying the singing and strumming of a 20-something girl set up in the Toes On The Nose surf apparel shop, right next to the big alley, where Richard and other people of no-fixed-address congregate. I trundled in with my cart and guitar, expressed some appreciation, listened to another homemade song, and then just asked... "Could I join in with you...?" She said, "OK..." tentatively, but I could see that it would work out, so I unpacked just the guitar and the Mobile Cube, and sat on my folding stool on the other side of the main aisle. Her guitar was just nominally in tune, which made tuning to her quite challenging, complicated by a moving capo and keys like Eb and C#m.. but I managed, and it went pretty well, as she made clear at several points. Afterward, we exchanged names, and she gave me a CD with some of the songs she'd played and told me that this is an every Sunday afternoon 4-6pm gig for her, and let me know I'd be very welcome to join in again. Finally she said, "It's funny, but what you were playing on the songs is just the sort of thing I hear in my head for them!" I think I will just try to believe that...! The name of this young chanteuse is Summer Watson.
...and after that, I rolled on to Ocean Ave, and checked out the Marine Room, in hopes that The Missiles of October might be holding forth, hopefully with the mighty Richard Bredice on his snapping and gut-wrenching Strat. Instead, lead singer Poul P. strolled up the street for a particularly aromatic smoke with a guy who turned out to be famed Honk guitarist Richard Stekol... and my this guy has got something all of his own happening -- much very effective chord strumming, featuring all sorts of ambiguous and extended voicings, and a highly idiosyncratic approach to lines and melody, all riding on the burnished tone of an ancient Les Paul goldtop, through an amp that would appear to be a Marshall, but which features a plaque identifying it as a Dumble.
...and as if you need any more songs once you have that one, we reeled in our long-neglected three-chord wonder 'Rain', which I dearly love, and then we romped through our just-about-learned-up 'With a Little Help From My Friends', and then bravely stumbled though 'Things We Said Today', which we'd both run through earlier in the day, but had otherwise not played in a year or so... and then we managed to crawl though the various tricky bits of 'All My Loving' enough so that we could finally pretty much actually play it again, though we'd better be sure to do so again asap -- meaning Friday at SCP.
We also had a colorful encounter with busker and raconteur Spider, who appeared with a very nice mandolin (complete with built-in pickup) and suggested that he join in the show... which we somehow managed to avert, and very luckily. Spider also has spiffy new duds, including a leather vest and alligator-skin cowboy hat, and also, he swears, a van, a driver's license, and four guitars. I'm hoping that he really does have a van, at least, if only for shelter. It got down to about 30 degrees in the wee hours of the following morning.
New shift-runner Kelly follows Leah's lead -- incredibly solicitous, and impossibly pretty.
We can hear and feel all of the previous experience paying massive dividends on a night like this... Above all, we're playing together, at least much of the time, and we're learning how to obtain better and better musical advantage from two guitars and two voices. Personally, I had another 'best-ever' time playing guitar... with just the right mixture of alertness and at-ease-ness... making everything seem relatively easy, and making it possible to dial in all sorts of happening sounds for various songs. Highlights for me: 'Gravity' (first time in months), 'Locomotive Breath', 'Space Oddity', 'Into the Mystic', 'Southwest Passage', and even my 'Cerulean Blue'.... complete with a pass featuring Jim picking out bits of the melody...!
One misstep: Left my cellphone sitting on the little curb behind us... which led to an awkward retrieval exercise from street-percussionist 'Sticks'... which spun off a sidewalk jam session with one Pam, and then a very informative encounter with the just-slightly mad Doug Dumaurier, who recalls bits and pieces of the Brotherhood program, and also much of what else was happening at the time, including the Rebel Rockers, and what he refers to as 'Tim Leary's band', which may have included our old friend George Reasons...
Richard M. stopped by to warn us that we might run into yet-higher humidity, and sure enough, a fine mist of actual rain enveloped us within half an hour. This just made a good thing even better, apparently, as we played on regardless for about an hour, rehearsing everything new, and devoting at least 15 mins to a detailed exploration of just two chords that Jim offered up: E and D7(sus4)... quite a tension-release exercise... much more so than VII I... since each and every constituent of VII7sus4 is pleading to resolve, by a half step, to a member of I. It reminds Jim of something in the Led Zeppelin catalog. I know it from an equally un-namable George Harrison (solo) song.
If I'd known that it would still be 80° outside at 5:30pm, I'd probably have suggested skipping out to a sunset setup at the Laguna Beats instead, but it does seem good to refresh our presence here, as we may well be grateful for this venue, come the depths of winter... and it's nice to have the full PA setup, esp for vocals... which in my case might well be inaudible otherwise.
One highlight: My 'Southwest Passage' instrumental, which is normally quite a handful for for both of us, especially me, but this time seemed almost effortless (in some parts).
Both Richard and Happy stopped by for awhile, so I was able to hand Richard another set of strings, and to hand Happy a new Generation Bb tinwhistle, complete with hastily-completed fingering chart. It's perfect for two of Richards favorite keys: Bb and Eb, so I'm hoping it will serve as a good alternative to his tenor sax, which is really too loud to play with acoustic gtr., and is a lot of luggage to carry around.
Young fiddler Will appeared in the midst of 'Let It Be', suggesting "OK if I just jump in...?" It probably would have been, in retrospect, but I said, "Well.. probably not in the middle of a song...", so he sat down and patiently waited for us to finish that one. He looked pretty sharp, so J&W quickly agreed to let him have at it. Jim suggested 'Into the Mystic', and I wondered what would become of my carefully worked-out bits, but no problemo: Will just would his way into the cracks, playing quietly (and in tune) much of the time, and never getting in my way. The song just sounded even better with him playing. 'Hey Jude' was better yet. I'm playing chords for that one anyhow, so it was nice to have a counterpoint layer happening, and during the outro, where I play all sorts of melodic bits, including the melody, it just sounded bigger and better with Will playing too. People were stopping to listen, and we were all deep into it. We wound it down, as customary, after about three minutes of outro, but then I just kept stroking the chords, softly, and we slowly built it back up to another rave up, with Jim working all sorts of variations on the rhythm, keeping it new every time through the changes... I suppose we played that song for at least 10 minutes, and I'm not sure how we ever stopped. Thanks, Will, wherever you are (back to the midwest, apparently).
I stuck around for awhile afterward, and was rewarded eventually with an impromptu street corner jam with powerful singer and guitar-basher Charles and his tambourine-shaking pal Mark... and songstress Molly Mackin, fresh from a gallery gig up the street... and also the aforementioned Will. It was more frustrating than anything, due to all-over-the-place intonation of the four instruments, but it was good to sit in with Molly again, after having played through several NY songs with her in The Alley earlier this week.
As if that wasn't enough for one night, Luke and I had a very satisfying acoustic jam session after I got home. He improvised a melody in his favorite key of Em, and I sorted out a chord progression to fit in, after considerable trial and error... what a great exercise that is... and I see how much more possible it is than I've always imagined. It certainly does help to know something about that underlying pattern language...
Luckily for me, though, Keith snapped a capo at fret one for 'Old Man' and 'Gently Weeps' and finally tuned up to standard pitch for the last several songs -- a good indicator that his voice is responding well to 'warming up'.
It will be another month before we play again -- quite a change of pace from our schedule a couple of years ago...
One highlight: 'Don't Dream It's Over' -- played down in C [rather than Eb), as we saw Neil play it in San Diego a few years ago. This makes it possible for me to pretend to sing the highest pitch (g, rather than bb) in the chorus, though having Jim sing along there is very helpful indeed.
When I rolled into town around 6:30pm, I found April singing in the Bouchard's Alley, and Richard down at the end of the Toes To The Nose alley, lamenting that he missed his spot "by a minute". He played me some new songs he's been working on, including E.C.'s 'Watching the Detectives', and I finally set up and joined in, despite the random blasts from Cliff's nearby baritone sax, and the loud, sustained verbal abuse one homeless guy was heaping upon another. Richard consented, reluctantly, to play his 'Hungry Ghost', which was a pleasure, and which allowed me to verify that my chord progression for it [Bb5 C7 Eb Bb] is happening. His msg the next day said "Anyhow, all was not lost...we did reach new heights with Hungry Ghost, I believe.".
Beyond that, it was a comedy of errors. We tried playing in the entryway of the Toes On The Nose store [as a swarm of local gendarmes swept in to clear out the fistfight that had erupted in the alley], but Richard was so ill at ease there that at first he could only play scale-pattern lines. I tried adapting that to my 'World Cup Rendezvous', with only limited success. We tried hiking up to see if April had wrapped up, but she was still belting away like a steamship. I suggested asking her if we could have a turn, but by now it was at least 9pm, and Richard couldn't stomach the thought of displacing her. I checked out, in hopes of smoother sailing ahead... but the environmental factors here are not especially forgiving... and Richard is comfortable playing in just that one spot.
Looked for Richard afterwards, but he'd packed it in already...
Buoyed by a bottle of wine that pal Happy materialized, Richard obligingly showed me just how he plays 'Hungry Ghost', 'Horizon' and 'Nickeltown' (the first two are my current favorites), and let me shoot (poorly lit) video of each one, so that I could have a good record to practice with.
Once I understood 'Horizon', I put the camera down and started to chime in, with various trebly alt.chords. Back home later, I discovered that the camera had caught the audio of three of our run-throughs, the second of which sounded pretty good (though my gtr is a bit too loud). A couple of days later, I shot three minutes of waves lapping at the Laguna shore, and then used Premier Elements to put that together with the audio, and an annotated pic of Richard. After much wrangling with Elements, and with the help of the MPEG StreamClip utility, I posted it to my Facebook profile, and to YouTube, where it currently awaits some loving attention... 'Horizon'.
We then had an exceptionally good time working through his own songs -- some new to me, and several which I remember from last summer's get-togethers. Some of these songs are truly remarkable... 'Hungry Ghost' and 'Horizon' really got my attention. This all seemed highly productive to me, and it's very encouraging to hear Richard bringing his own material forward. Once he surrendered to performing, he clearly was feeling a lot better, probably in part because I was being a good audience for his songs... though they also stopped a few passers-by in their tracks, including one young man visiting from Cologne, who stayed to listen for at least half an hour, and who praised Richard effusively for his songs and his singing.
When old-standards / Ave Maria singer April appeared (again) at about 10pm, Richard graciously turned the 'stage' over to her, and we stayed around for several of her inspired readings of Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael songs, including 'Stardust' --set to very good backing tracks (iPod docked into small boom box). As usual, a small crowd of enthralled listeners gathered around, and filled her hat with cash and love.
As Richard and I tramped away together, he thanked me carefully for pulling him out of his malaise, and spoke of how he'd like both of us to get to know his songs well, so that they could be a more featured part of his program. I'm for that.
Despite most passers-by doing a very good job of ignoring us, there was $26 in the hat when we knocked off at 8:00 or so. One middle-aged Chinese-American gal did her best to teach us a variety of songs that she knew we should be playing (rather than the ones we were playing), including 'Bye Bye Love' (good idea) and 'Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home' (which she identified as a Creedence Clearwater song). Apparently we were supposed to be dancing too. I'm pretty sure that she needs to be our manager.
Lot's of fun for me, despite unforseen complications including a punk rock band blasting away down the street at Hurley's, and Richard's need for cigarette breaks. I even sang 'Four Seasons in One Day' at one point, just to keep myself busy...
Good news: A gallery mgr friend of Richard has suggested that he play there next time... just the sort of opp that Richard has been hoping for... so perhaps we'll have a real gig at next month's Art Walk... I'm all for that.
I used the big AT condenser mic for Jim's voice, the smaller AKG mic for Jim's Songwriter gtr, and the little Shure AXS-7 mic for my little Mobile Cube amp. Everything bled into everything else, of course, but the tracks are distinct enough to allow panning, balancing, etc., and I hope to figure out how to apply just a bit of reverb on Jim's very good vocal. Just need some more time... but we're heading Back East for a week. Shall I bring the notebook, and headphones...? That's probably all I'd need... might be a good idea...
It's got to be a considerable challenge to play percussion along with Richard, because he plays quietly most of the time, and all but inaudibly some of the time. I did notice that things were getting out-of-sync at irregular) intervals, as we played along, though Richard did make a point of complimenting True on his playing at a couple of points. After one song, I came up for air, and found True to no longer be there... which seemed very odd. Perhaps he'll reply to my msg about it, eventually...
Anyhow... another very good experience for me. I'm getting the hang of seeing Richard grab a capo-three G grip and reading 'Bb', and then seeing several Bb options arrayed on my fretboard. I tried my Eb whistle on Richard's 'Dream Bucket' song, and he seemed very pleased with that. I have a Bb Special 20 harmonica, fortunately, and will soon order a Eb unit. I should probably get a Bb whistle too, which would play in both Bb and (even better) in Eb. I did have one...
When Jim and Sarah left to hook up with son / sibling James, I checked into The Alley – next to Bushard's Pharmacy – and found Richard McLeod mid-set. He seemed happy to have me join in, so I did, and afterwards we had an extended conversation (sort of) re what he's hoping to accomplish musically, and how he doesn't ever feel quite prepared / ready to play gigs, as such.
So I made a little map for guidance (afterwards), though I find that I don't have time to consult it in real time. It helps to review it 'off line', though...
I IIIm IV V VIm bVII Eb (C) Eb Gm Ab Bb Cm Db Bb (G) Bb Dm Eb F Gm Ab F (D) F Am Bb C Dm Eb G (E) G Bm C D Em FRichard noted at one point that his current Takamine acoustic gtr has a (passive) pickup, which he had not so far tested... so we jacked it into the Mobile Cube, and it sounded very good, and Richard appreciated the reverb. I appreciated the elevated level of his guitar, allowing me to turn up some...
Richard's pal Happy joined in, haltingly, on his tenor saxophone for awhile, and I had him shoot some video of Richard and I playing through a couple of songs, one of which turned out pretty well – a cover of 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)', which I much prefer to the Eurythmics' original.
Fainting from hunger, I bid the boys adieu at 5:30 or so, picked up some cashews and Coke, and then rejoined Richard a bit later at his formal performance setting in the Bushard's alley, for a very good session, full of many old favorite cover songs (including NY's 'Like a Hurricane') – all with his unique, often simplified, stamp. After an hour or so, blustery Tim blew in from Las Vegas, eager to sell his new CDs, and Richard, perhaps having had enough for one day, ceded his coveted spot. I stuck around with Tim, playing gtr, slide gtr and harmonica, till it finally became clear that 1. it wasn't working that well, and 2. Tim really wanted to play solo (perhaps concerned about division of tips, but also because what I was playing was not lining up very well with the accompaniment on his new recording.) By then, heading home seemed appealing, and I felt very fortunate to have a home to head to, unlike some of the people I've been playing with lately...
After awhile, we noticed some formidable competition across Forest Ave., in front of the Fingerhut Gallery -- a brash young fellow hitting an acoustic guitar very hard, and belting out his favorite Bob Dylan and Beatles songs, including 'I Am the Walrus'(!). The sheer volumetric intensity of his program, coupled with the, "I think you guys better turn up a little bit..." comment from a spectator, inspired us to jump straight to 'Locomotive Breath'.... and then to knock off, but not before pulling down some appreciative attention for 'Space Oddity', and 'Starman'.
After Jim's departure for points south, this fellow set up on the stone bench opposite our spot, and I joined him for several bashed-out numbers, including a powerhouse 'LA Woman' (which stopped one 40-something guy and his family in their tracks). My guitar seemed to go entirely out of tune toward the end of that song -- every single string -- which was perplexing until I realized that he'd broken a string, causing his guitar to go entirely out of tune... and mine relative to his. I took this as my cue to disengage. He ID'd himself as Thomas, and assured me that he plays around here often... as if that was a good thing. Perhaps it is; it may just depend upon your 'pov'.
Jim's daughter Sarah joined us again, for the two songs she did the other night, with me backing her up, and dad videotaping the proceedings. She had some trouble this time, keeping the chords to 'Honey Bee' straight, but her singing is very sweet, and it broke the ice with the crowd, which Jim and I were then able to ride on afterwards... like some kinda sonic slipstream...
Song highlight: an unusually strong reading of Bowie's 'Space Oddity'.
I braved playing my big blue Ibanez this time out... even though it must be much less discrete than the tiny black Nomad... but it's a much more versatile instrument, and sounds better. I ran it through my Maxon OD808 overdrive pedal this time, then into the Fishman EQ, and on into the Mobile Cube. These three items give me 85% of what I'm 'looking for' in my guitar tone, so I'm able to leave all the other big and heavy hardware home. It makes the setup and tear-down very quick too.
Song highlight: my 'Southwest Passage' guitar instrumental... sounding much more 'jelled' than heretofore. It has the potential to rock out, in a countrified manner of speaking...
First up, my dear guitar student Tina Neukirch, who is having a great time learning just about every song she can think of, and learning them well. The Eagles' 'Already Gone' is a song we only checked into recently, but she managed to make it rock, with a little help from me and Jim -- who also layered some sweet Henley-esque vocal harmonies on top. It's a very straightforward three-chord number, except for the up-a-fourth key change for the final chorus, which makes it unsingable for me, but Tina managed it nicely (though I should query her opinion of that, next we meet...)
Tina had strategically waited till Tully's was just about empty, at about 7pm, but by the time Jim's daughter Sarah appeared at 7:30 or so, there were quite a few people in the place again. Jim handed off his big Gibson Songwriter to Sarah, who graciously consented that I could play along, and then she launched into what I imagined to be a song of her own invention, but which turned out to be a cover of YouTube phenom Zee Avi's 'Honey Bee'. She made this song sound great, with a warm, full-bodied and pitch-perfect vocal, nicely negotiating the song's bluesy-chromatic turns. She managed the complicated chord progression very well too... never losing her place, wisely eschewing the examples of her dad and his pal... After a rousing hand from the crowd, Sarah did treat us to one of her very own songs, turning in another big and relaxed-sounding vocal performance. There were even more people inside by now, many of them obviously listening, and I'm sure that at least some of them came in because they heard Sarah through the open door, as they were strolling by. Tina, thankfully, recorded both of these songs for posterity, with my little camera.
It was a tough act to follow... but Jim and I played a few more songs, including a very strong reading of 'Space Oddity' which seemed to really got people's attention, especially that beautiful dark-haired girl leaning against the condiments counter. We closed out with a rousing 'Starman', even though it had drifted a little past Leah's 8pm closing time (and the place, by now, was packed).
Our pretty-good-for-us $10 in tips was surely partly on account of Sarah's contribution, so we cut her in on the take, as Jim instructed her to be sure to declare the entire $2 at her next 1040 opportunity...
Tina also captured a pretty good run-through of Jim's hit instrumental 'Summer of Love' ( / 'If and When'), which I chopped down to just the best (final) pass and posted to YouTube... not quite sure why... except that I like this song a lot.
Far more people than I'd have guessed were out and about, including a young couple from Europe who applauded loudly for 'Wish You Were Here', making me wish we had another Floyd feather or two in our quiver. Perhaps we should have followed that with 'Space Oddity', or 'Starman'...
We did have some musical competition from the loudspeakers arrayed at the perimeter of the ice cream shop itself, but found it quite possible to overwhelm it, without attracting notice of passing police cruisers, and without alarming the ice cream shop proprietors, apparently...
Despite neglecting to bring along a tip jar, various people dropped off about $16, mostly on the trash can... surely more than we've ever pulled in playing on the street before, including across the street last year.
I went with a minimal setup: Nomad into Fishman EQ, into the Micro Cube. This allowed me to carry everything on my back. I'd like try the Ibanez next time, at the risk of some officer of the law guessing correctly that verboten amplification is involved in my signal chain. One other missing link: an overdrive stompbox for 'Baby Blue', 'Side With the Seeds', 'Gently Weeps'... I'll just borrow the Maxon unit from the gigbag for now...
Fortunately, Keith's cousin Vanessa and her family dropped by. This was a special event, since Keith hasn't seen her in several years. Keith's brother Roy showed up to visit with them, and also to request his favorite songs, including 'City of New Orleans'. Roy is one of Keith's biggest fans, understandably enough, and is especially appreciative of his little brother's efforts to learn up all his favorite songs.
We took an (otherwise unheard-of) break to visit with the relatives, for half an hour, or more. When we 'remounted the stage' we found ourselves just about out of time, but managed to squeeze in two or three more songs, without, apparently, getting into any trouble with store mgmt (which we certainly have managed to do in the past).
One of the highlights for me: a very good take of 'Let It Be', which I had, fortunately, run through earlier in the day. See Keith's good-quality multi-camera cross-fading video here...'Let It Be'.
Outdoors is where it's at for me, though I did check into the new 'Security' student art installation at Akorn, at Jeff Horn's behest. One of the evening's pleasures was 'hanging out' with Jeff, as there seemed to be a lot to discuss, and Jeff graciously introduced me to everyone who stopped to say hello to him (every hipster in town, seemingly).
Jim passed on this instance, which may have been just as well, since the sonic space of the 2nd St. 'zocalo' was pretty well wiped out by one guy, singing and playing acoustic gtr through a small PA. I almost suggested that he turn down, a lot, so there would be room for other people to play, but instead I set up on a bench behind him, close to Sycamore St., running the Nomad through the little Boss Loopstation, and into the Roland Mobile Cube, which worked pretty well... and then I spun through my current fixation -- 'Over the Rainbow' -- for awhile. This was mostly frustrating, but provided more valuable experience in using the Loopstation... not to mention learning to make this song sound even marginally listen-able... not there yet...
When the rockabilly band (same one as last month) fired up around 8pm, I set up across the plaza from them, with the Nomad directly into the Mobile Cube (reverb maxed), and bashed out big chords 'behind' their one guitar player, especially when he was taking solos, on the likes of 'Honey Don't' and 'Folsom Prison Blues' (1955). I don't think the band even noticed me, but it was a very good workout for me, in terms of 1. guessing the chord progression from the sound of it, and 2. playing rhythm guitar in the groove -- still quite a challenge for me (lucky for me that Jim does this very well). Also, this clearly proved the viability of the Nomad / Mobile Cube combination. It gives me quite a good clean Fender-ish tone, with tons of headroom, and it completely eliminates the Nomad's internal feedback problem.
[Currently, I'm running the Mobile Cube from a new RShack RC car battery, rubber-banded to the back panel, and with a power-cord splitter to also run the Loopstation. The Nomad could also be powered from this battery, though it would take some initiative to add a DC-in jack, and it might be awkward unless I'm sitting still... unless I stitched the power cord to the signal cord... Alternately, the Nomad could have its own dedicated big rechargeable battery, either attached below the power switch, or set into a cavity in the back... which I'd have to somehow create, without a router...In any event, I should probably consider using the Mobile Cube with the Nomad at the Drum Circles... awfully sandy, though... perhaps a Pignose, then... (which can also be powered from such a battery)...?]
Finally, I joined in with the songster noted above, one Rob Chiavelli, on some of his chiming open-string-ambiguous instrumental pieces, and it was... wonderful. He was clearly appreciative, and as I tuned in carefully to his ebb and flow, I found myself playing at an unfamiliarly high level, tracing lines inside of a chord, and extending his chords with with 6s and 9s, which seemed to fit his implied open-string harmony. The relatively slow tempo and the simplicity of his chord progressions seemed to open things wide open for me, though I made a point of balancing my runs for the money with very simple and steady motifs, sometimes playing just a 1 or a 1-5 double-stop repetitively, when he would run a closely-packed chord sequence. The Nomad has never sounded as good as it did then, through the Mobile Cube -- with the knob spun from 'reverb' into the 'delay' range -- providing a tight low end, allowing me to support him with big bass lines. He invited me to join him in the open mic nights he runs in Costa Mesa, and (if he can agree to leave out his praise-songs) I may be up for it.
One highlight: After we meandered (but soulfully) through a little two-chord accidental jam incident, friendly barista Monica asked us what that song was and said, "I really liked it...!" I did too, actually, and I'm pretty sure Jim did too... There's a special opp for us in this sort of exploration-and-discovery playing... it certainly takes us places we would otherwise never get to.
Gigs like this make me want to get out and play even more, because it makes it so plain how furthering it is... something beyond simple accumulation... more like interest compounding... not that I know anything about that.
Despite the strong wind and 60-ish temp, there were 60-70 drummers having at it, rather vigorously, along with the girl sax player who joined us back in January. She confirmed that her sister had indeed had her baby later that night in January, and then pointed out the baby bundled up in a basket in the sand. The sax-girl was playing in E minor this time, so I tuned to her, but soon shifted to shooting photographs, since that seems to now be a standard part of my program for these drum circles.
'Rooster' was shooting pics too, so we commiserated about that for awhile, which was my pleasure, partly because her 'personal space' requirements seem to be negligible. Soon she tossed off some useless clothing and jumped into the inner bonfire circle for some serious dancing about, which seemed to break some other lovely dancers loose, and soon four or five of them were inspiring the drummers to lay right into it.
Ukulele Adrian had earlier suggested that we hang around afterwards to jam -- as we did last month, and he told me how much he really appreciated the way I had settled right into his songs and played all sorts of "psychedelic surf" stuff. It was not to be, however, as a police cruiser showed up promptly at 10:30pm and announced that the beach was now closed, and that everyone should now leave... and then stuck around to make sure that everyone did so. I really hope that doesn't happen every time. Adrian and I have since made some attempt to hook up for a jam session.
We kicked it off by not kicking it off at all, but rather by wandering into an extended jam based on a simple figure Jim pulled out of a cowboy C major chord... I found this quite absorbing, somehow, and found any number of ways to play lines that sounded peculiar while never (intentionally) stepping out of the C major scale... I can't say how, though it probably has to do with unconsciously emphasizing non-chordal scale tones. This effort was met by silence, understandably, from the our small and bookish scattering of people in the cafe.
Still reluctant to break out a 'real song', apparently, Jim got my attention again, by artfully knitting together nothing more than G, D7 and C. We abandoned ourselves to blissful rhythmic and melodic spelunking for another 5 minutes or so, before fading out... but this time to a startling round of applause from the cafe-goers -- now, apparently, our audience, and now slowly increasing in size... From then on we had happy and demonstrative listeners throughout the evening. They also managed to stuff $10 into our tip jar... which is still very good for us.
After one song ('Something'?) I suggested that it must have been our best-ever rendition, even though it wasn't necessarily a best-ever performance for me. The song just sounded so well knitted-together -- as if it was just one richly-textured part, rather than four completely distinct parts -- two guitars, and two vocals. Somehow, we've learned how to do that, and without specifically attempting to do so. I should rather say: "we've learned to do that", since we have no idea "how", really. We've just accidentally melded our four parts together into one, as if by simple gravitational attraction -- which I suspect is a fitting analogy... gravitational attraction toward a center which is somewhere 'between us', and which is unknown until we reach it... or rather, until we hear it. And as for "accidentally melded"... even though the end result is a pleasant surprise... we are deliberately attempting something (so to speak)... we are, at the very least, listening to each other, and trying to play cooperatively. That's surely a big part of what makes this project worthwhile, and what most distinguishes it from other projects.
[Remarkable pre-gig activity: book-signing event for Nick Schou's Orange Sunshine, at Latitude 33 bookstore in Laguna Beach. Afterwards, surviving (though wheelchair-bound) protagonist Robert 'Stubby' Tierney kindly identified the precise location of the fabled Mystic Arts World head shop on my satellite photo... and assured me that not only John Griggs but also the notorious John Gale "...was good people"... while acknowledging the eventual subversion of the Brotherhood's original benevolent intentions. He also noted that he was personally responsible for arranging with the Weather Underground to smuggle Timothy Leary to Europe and then Algeria in 1970, after Leary managed to slip out of a minimum security prison in 1970...]
and the vacuum bell - Tully's Coffee - Woodbridge
This will never happen again, I'm fairly sure, but I'm very glad it happened this one time. Jeremy and Jessi of I Hate You Just Kidding kindly accepted our invitation to join this J&W gig for one song, which we then expanded to several songs. We also drafted in mutual pal Will Morrison of The Vacuum Bell -- who played with J&W at Tully's last month.
Just a few alienated space-age cowpokes and a few more spaced-out pokey space-aliens showed up for the show, but it was a big relief to me that it went off without any serious malfunctions. maa managed to catch video all of IHYJK's and Will's two songs. Suzanne, close friend of Will, made us a lovely poster, based a time-lapse photo she shot. I couldn't resist crafting another poster [above], after the fact, based on the space-cowboy image I used for the Facebook event notice. The OC Arts and Culture Weekend Update once again highlighted our show.
It was a pleasure to back up Jeremy and Jessi's gentle and sometimes enigmatic songs. I used my Strat for lighter and brighter alt.chords, and lines, with a main objective of not getting in the way of the songs, which sometimes dropped to a near-whisper, with the notable exception of the powerful 'Good Times'.
Will's directive, on the other hand, was "Let's rock this joint, guys!", and we proceeded to do very nearly that, with Will bashing out huge chords, and singing even bigger, with Jim smacking the little Laptop snare drum with brushes, and me switched over to the big AFS-75 hollow-body, overdriven and loud. One of Will's strengths, as Jim pointed out, is his sense of rhythm. so we were both able to really lean into his songs without confusion, and without getting in Will's way, by all indications. It seemed almost too much for this soft-spoken little cafe, but after listening to the video, I'm fairly sure that it must have just sounded very appealing to everyone there. In addition to Will's 'I Know Why #2', we played his new 'Adelaida', with its huge outro, for which I'd found something big just earlier in the day, and it seemed to work very well. Will threatened to take us on the road with him afterward... among other things... so I do believe he had a good time of it. We sure did.
Jim & Warren then manfully finished out the evening on their own, leaning toward countrified songs like 'The Weight' and 'Hickory Wind' (featuring gorgeous new harmonies from Jim), and closing with long-standing favorite 'Four Seasons in One Day'.
So we just did it... even though we'd played the night before at Borders SCP, and even though I had to get up at the unthinkably early hour of 8am, and even though Jim had to drive something like 50 miles from Dana Point, and even though the OC Music Awards were that same evening... and even though it was for three hours... (I was passing out from hunger halfway through).
Jim's fingertips were sore. I've been practicing so much that it didn't bother me, but my right-hand fingertips were very tender, from all the hybrid-picking I do these days... so I had a great cross-picking workout. Regional Mgr Charles L. seemed to love us, and lavished us with coffee, muffins, scones and liter bottles of water. We played quite well, I thing... coming off several recent gigs... and we goofed off by extending intros and outros to a few songs into meandering 10 minute jam sessions... and when we took a coffee and muffins break, barista Joon chatted us up, and asked Jim if he could check out his lovely Gibson Songwriter... which he then played to great effect, including a very coherent set of open chords in E that got me very much involved, at the expense of my scone...
Even the tip jar was happy, somehow collecting $20, which is still quite a lot for us. We received a very kind thank-you msg from Regional Mgr Charles L. the next day. If he asks again, though... it's going to coast him more than bread and water.
Crazy happy-accident gig with one of my favorite up-and-coming OC bands: Canvas. I headed down to Laguna, late afternoon, to practice for my weekend gigs, before the 7pm Canvas show -- part of the OsCene 2010 program, which includes a 'listening wall' of iPods loaded with songs of the nominees of the 2010 OC Music Awards.
So I had the workhouse Nomad guitar strapped to my back when I trudged toward the museum... wondering if I should hike all the way back to the car just to ditch it, or if it really didn't matter... finally concluding that with the guitar a musical opportunity would at least not be completely out of the question... just extremely unlikely.
Canvas had not quite launched into their first song, as I strolled in, and when guitar player George saw me, he mimed strumming his guitar, and said, "Hey... are you gonna play with us?!". I'm pretty sure that he was at least 87% joking, but why second-guess it? "Sure thing!" I yelped, scooting over to the side of their tiny stage... and we were off. The first song, luckily, offered a lot for me to catch hold of, and when singer Doll looked over and smiled at something I did, I know it would be alright. As the set progressed, I just faded back a bit when it wasn't entirely clear how to proceed, and then leaned back in as things assumed familiar shapes and textures. With the Nomad 90%-fully cranked, I think I was able to match levels with them pretty well, though only rarely did I edge toward the foreground of their rich soundscape.
Lots of hugs and high-fives afterward, so I guess it worked out alright for them. For me, though, it was another happening adventure in musical community.
Canvas is George Bernal, Doll Knight, Michelle 'Piper' Rosabal, and Keila Morris, and they are all over the place. Check into their FB fan page.
It was really just a large handful of people that turned out for us -- Will M., Suzanne W., Lamia L., Allison A., Caleb & Karen C., Keith M., Tommy O. and consort -- but combined with people who just happened to drop in for a caffeine fix, the place stayed jam-packed all evening long. It's certainly the most people we've ever played for there, and it was reflected in an overflowing tip jar... tons of ones... and two solicitations for guitar lessons...
It was not exactly an artistic triumph, though Jim actually sounded very good, but everything seemed more difficult than usual to me, and nothing sounded quite right, especially my guitar [do not change the string the night before a 'big' gig], though I felt better after awhile. The hardest part was not being able to sing very well, especially on my own 'Was Not There', thought it wasn't so bad on other songs, and especially on 'Four Seasons', which we closed with. I did have some good gtr playing stretches too, including in 'Gently Weeps' (George's birthday) when I was able to just relax and lean into the song...
...and we even had a special guest. When local singer-songwriter Will Morrison responded Yes to our event notice, I conferred with Jim and then asked Will if he'd care to join us, on my favorite song of his 'I Know Why #2' He said Sure Thing, so I sat down with his track the night before and sorted out a sixths-and-fifths part for it, which I was able to remember because I'm getting so familiar with those patterns (and because the song's in G major). We called Will up once his best friend Suzanne showed up. Jim handed over his big Gibson Songwriter, and shifting to bundle-sticks against pant legs ["Note to self: Playing bundle-sticks on your legs is much more painful than playing then on drums."]. Will blasted off without hesitation and just knocked it out of the park, slamming Jim's guitar much harder than I'd expected, and singing louder than me and Jim put together, and very expressively. I kicked in compression, overdrive, delay, reverb... everything I could find... and had a very musical experience surfing his melodious wave. We should probably do that again, and catch a good lo-fi video...
Now if we could just get Luke to join in... and Sarah...!
Afterwards, Lamia shocked our monkeys by revealing that she'd placed us in her OC Arts and Culture Weekly Update -- and since our gig is on Thursday, that conveniently put us at the very top of the list, ahead of all the actual local indie rock stars playing that night (The New Limb, We Are the Pilots...). She also dropped a little Facebook update for us -- a bit late to boost attendance, but much appreciated nonetheless...!
So now what... crawl back in the foxhole to lick wounds... or try to acclimate to the challenge of something approximating public performances...? Let's try doing both, and in that order...
Our previous outing at Borders MV seemed just OK to me, so I'm dazed and confused that this gig seemed so very much better. An independent observer might be hard pressed to tell the difference, but it was night and day to my own little perception collection machinery.
Mgr Leah was on it for us, relocating furniture, shutting down the UNIX-driven TV, dispensing cups of coffee and mocha, and generally letting us know how very welcome we are to be there. What an incredible contrast to how it used to be to play at this venue. Lot's of people in and out all evening, as many speaking Farsi as English, and many of them quite responsive... $9 in tips -- quite good for us...
As we relaxed into the show, we got slightly carried away, and perhaps a little bit loud here and there, especially my guitar... so I asked Leah about that afterward.... and she assured us that it was never a problem... which makes me feel like this is just about the perfect place for us to play. Program highlights for me... 'Baby Blue', 'Heart Full of Soul', 'The Edmund and the Lucy', 'Hey Jude'... and the wacky little jam session we fell into early on...
Before I had a chance to attempt to tune the Nomad guitar to the circle (whatever that means), I heard the moan of an alto sax, gently but confidently blown by a 20-ish woman... so I just tuned to her. Since she was playing in, roughly, Bb minor, I tuned a half step high, so that her Bb could be an A for me. This turned out to be a good move, as she played almost continuously, aside from a brief conversation break with me (she told me that her sister, sitting next to her, was going to have a baby tonight, and was having contractions already). The only other key she played in was F minor (E minor for me, conveniently). I stuck close to her, so I could hear her well, and found that she was somewhat responsive to my playing too, perhaps unconsciously... leading us into a few dynamic call-and-response exchanges. I'm not sure why, but even when she wasn't playing, my impression was that the drum circle was centered at Bb (my A), so it worked out all the way around.
Lots of dancers this time... many of them gorgeous and/or graceful. For extra credit, two were decked out in full belly-dance array, complete with bananas [?!].
Jim made it, with only a pair of claves, which he later reported worked very well. He feared that they'd be too loud, but like me, soon discovered just how incredibly loud a group of about a hundred drummers can be. He said he had quite a lot of fun. We may well be both in for the next one. Our attendance was facilitated by having recently joined The Orange County Drum Circle Meetup Group, which I highly recommend, since it's a portal to other drum circles, and is a good way to interact with other enthusiasts.
I'd hoped that there might be some more intimate drumming opportunity after the circle officially shut down, but not this time either. Just one fellow dithered away on a big hand drum at the fireside. I sputtered out a few Hijaz Kar / Byzantine riffs with him for awhile, but it was not really happening. Perhaps some other time... perhaps Jim should bring along some sort of a drum, in addition to claves...
Highlights for me: 'Side With the Seeds', 'World Inside the World', 'Into the Mystic', 'Starman', 'Baby Blue'...
The staff continues their campaign of kindness... "We love having you here.", said Leah, with a straight face. She must have meant it because she then gave us each a free sandwich!
A massive $46 in tips... thanks to the Christmas spirit, apparently. That's probably a record for this store. This was my last gig for 2009, as far as I can predict. Apparently, the year 2010 is arriving soon, if year-numbers can possibly go that high... If we want to blow our minds, however, we could number the years starting with the emergence of human life, or the formation of the planet, or the Big Bang itself (which went off, quite possibly, to the tune of 'Imagine').
Much improved sound this time out, thanks to slightly reorienting the StageMate speaker (set up on a chair near the door) to face the back wall, which angeled its sonic beam somewhat more than 90 degrees to us, spilling some direct sound in our general vicinity. Last time out, we were hearing only sound reflected off the windows and walls, which just doesn't work well, especially for me. This time I could actually hear myself sing, and my mic wasn't feeding back nearly so badly... though we can hardly guess why that would be. My guitars (I brought the Squire Strat along too) never sounded quite right, but I acclimated, somewhat, after awhile.
Dr. Shaw recently tipped me off that the nearby Tully's is having an "open mic" night, so I dropped by to ask about that, and met most gracious store manager Leah, who advised that she was really just signing up whoever was interested in playing for Thursday evenings. It turned out that all Thursdays from now through January are wide open, so we jumped right in. It certainly is more cozy in this little cafe than outdoors, as the mercury flirts with the low 50s.
Leah and barista Elise made us very much at home, while tending to a nearly full-house, including the tall bearded guy we see frequently at N. Lake. They had cleared the carpeted area away for us, and we set Jim's StageMate near the door, pointing toward the big plate-glass windows -- a very different arrangement to what we're used to at Borders, where I set it (or one of the house spkrs) off to my right shoulder... which allows me to hear my guitar very well, and maybe even my voice. The sound was so different with this setup, that it made it very difficult for me to sing, and my guitar just sounded all wrong. Next time we'll try facing the StageMate straight toward the back of the store (as another msg reveals that we used to do there), and perhaps we'll try using my new Roland Mobile Cube as a monitor, since it has line inputs that should mate well to the StageMate's effects send.
J&W have made some progress since 2004, apparently, at least in terms of song accumulation. Here's a proposed Tully's set list from an email msg dated Jan 2004:
Jim... Look about right? I'm actually only reasonably confident down to 'Never Ending'. I'll keep working on 'Miss Misery' and 'Angelyne', and if you're comfortable with 'Perfect Day', I'll be able to play something along with it. Love Hurts | Four Seasons | World Inside the World | Peace, Love and Understanding | Cruel to Be Kind | Never Ending Song of Love | Miss Misery | Angelyne | Perfect Day | - WA
Most of those songs are very much part of our current sets... but there's quite a stack of others, including newest addition 'Handle with Care' (Traveling Wilburys)
The big crowd slowly melted away as the evening progressed, and toward the end of the line we were playing to ourselves, but it was still much more of an audience than we'd have at a typical North Lake outing. When we finally said goodnight to Leah, she said "You guys sounded great... you can play here anytime!"... and then she made us take some sandwiches home with us. OK... we're off to a good start...!
Late in the program, Erin appeared and delivered what we took to be a tribute to our musicianship. "I have an announcement: It's almost 10 o'clock and the store is still full of people. ...I think it's you guys." Upon careful reflection... I suppose she may have meant it more as a sad commentary upon our inability to quit on time. In this particular case, however, I'm blaming it upon the Store Hours sign on the front door, stating 11pm as the Friday closing time, rather than the customary 10pm. This sign, Erin assures us, is wrong.
One highlight for me: Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day', with its newly-condensed outro -- which still leaves us lots of time to have some kind of a wild rave-up...
It must be a relief for Keith that the Regulars program seems to have dried up entirely, unless it's just been swapped out for the group that joined us for the latter half of this evening -- an equally large and decidedly more rambunctious troupe of young developmentally not-quite-all-there adults, and their handlers. We were no match for them, but they certainly were fascinating to observe, especially during the impromptu game of 'footsie' between the girl-who-could-hardly-speak and the little guy rocking out to his iPod. There but for fortune... but I'm fairly sure that they were having more fun than either of us were.
After much head-scratching, I reverted to the Forest & PCH intersection, and commandeered a section of concrete bench directly facing the ice cream shop. There's a big trash receptacle at left that sets it back slightly from the intense foot-traffic. Tentative solo Loop Station efforts proceeded unchallenged, so when Jim arrived we stood there, and launched in, at which time I turned up some, and then a fair bit... Miraculously, we remained unmolested -- except at some point the quiet music from inside the ice cream shop got a lot louder -- as if to say "Thank you so much for your music, and here's some of ours for you!" Little do they know, it's actually quite annoying... which might be the point, I suppose, except that their music is often (always?) very loud in the evenings.
First shakedown of my new Roland Mobile Cube, which is quite a nice little rig, and which looks more like a boombox than a guitar amp (one of the reasons for selecting it), and which even has a separate mic channel... it wasn't obvious how to get it to sound Right this afternoon, though. It seemed to need some encouragement from my overdrive pedal, though part of the reason for buying it was to have a more pristine clean sound than the Pignose could ever serve up...[?] The acoustics at this spot are also very different than in our little alcove across the street.
So where to play next time..?! I guess we just don't know. There's always The Alley up by Bouchard's Pharmacy, though it's generally well occupied, and we'd probably be displacing Richard, at least... and it seems too far away from The Center of the Action. There's also the other alley right off PCH, where we used to play... probably worth a shot again. Lots of people do stream by there, and there may be no one to complain, but we did get shut down there by the boys in blue, two years ago, for the same reason...
There are two other factors that makes the above moot, as we learned from the Aussie-born police officer who dropped by to let us know that 1. Someone had called in a complaint about us. 2. A city ordinance prohibits the playing of amplified music on the streets -- not loud music, amplified music. He readily agreed that my guitar needs amplification to be audible, and seemed willing to consider that my guitar wasn't necessarily loud, while insisting that it was nonetheless amplified, and noting that best practices require equal enforcement of the law. I took his parting admonition to be constructive, especially considering that the gallery was due to close in a few minutes: "So, figure it out."
So... we played on, first with the Pignose off, then on quietly, and then at normal volume. We saw our patrolman three more times as he made his nearby rounds, but he paid no further attention to us. Nonetheless, were we to set up in the same spot again, it seems inevitable that another call would be placed, and a peace officer would be dispatched. At some point, they might just run us out of town on the proverbial rail, or even arrange for to us spend the night in the slammer. Haven't done that in awhile...
I also did a little opening show with the Loop Station... just playing along to the E B A B A progression I'd put down on Wednesday. There are any number of ways to play along with that, and a combination of 6ths and 5ths seems especially evocative. It got the attention of a couple of the locals, including mad melodicist Keisha, who pronounced it "hypnotic". It was hard to stop, but eventually I was just hearing too much repetition. 'Cerulean Blue' turns out to be another especially good candidate for looping, and I'm just scratching the well-known surface, obviously...
Another visitor: a 40-ish woman pulled in by something that Jim was singing... ('Comes A Time', perhaps?). "You have a beautiful voice!" she exclaimed, to an abashed Jim. She pleaded for some CSN or Fleetwood Mac, but we served up 'Into the Mystic' instead, which she (and George R.) seemed to appreciate very much. She then told a wild story of how airplay was purchased for Guns 'n Roses' first hit 'Sweet Child of Mine' (instead of for a great song from her husband's band). She took our card, so I'm pretty sure that she's going to Put Us On The Map.
I'm quite sure that my near-continuous perception that I was playing unusually well (for me) was a. essentially correct, and b. largely due to what seemed like a highly conductive feedback loop with these appreciative listeners. It makes me feel more on-the-spot, of course, but more than that it makes me feel more 'obliged' to play well, and ultimately, it just feels more like something is Happening here... something I want to be involved in, even immersed in... so I'm more inclined to forget about everything else, and just seek the Next Best Note.
Special treat for me: my $60 Squire Stat is back from the shop (TR Guitars), and it is now very playable again, and the light buzzing I hear acoustically isn't translated by the pickups. It makes me think that I don't need another Fender-type guitar, at least for now, which is probably just as well, now that I'm among the ranks of the unemployed (if not the unemployable)...
Musical highlight: a Cat Stevens song I'd all but forgotten -- 'If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out'. Keith says it's the one played during the credits of 'Harold and Maude' -- wow... haven't seen that one in awhile...
Check out Keith's blog for his perspective.
So it sounded even looser than last time, despite there being far fewer people, and there didn't seem to be as much strong and creative playing from the veterans. Instead, very simple beats just kept getting 'thicker' and thicker yet. Still, I enjoyed it. There's something very compelling about making music with a whole big bunch of people, and something special about having lovely women swaying (with wild abdomen) to the beats.
Special guest: maa, who gamely banged my little drum, and patiently waited till 9:45 for me to honor my promise to leave by 9:15pm..
Special guest: the unsurpassably good-natured Ms. Sarah Rohrer, who shot pics and video.
We managed to recover (more or less) several songs that have eluded our attention lately ('Cruel to Be Kind', Side with the Seeds', 'Mary', 'Gently Weeps', and even the all-but lost 'Waiting In Line'...) ...and I think we managed pretty good takes on a few, including 'Let It Be', 'No Matter What', and 'Into the Mystic'.
A highlight for me: a relatively tight reading of 'Space Oddity', with especially strong vocals from Jim.
The robot harmonizer box seems to be earning its keep... it helped out in just under half this evening's songs, though often on just certain lines, or for the chorus. It's remarkable how few people notice that there is anything out-of-the-ordinary going on.
The other remarkable thing is how its harmonies fill up the soundscape, which must have something do to with the character of the sound -- the harmonies seem to not just reside at intervals from the main vocal, but to somehow stretch across and fill those intervals. This is nothing more than an illusion, of course, but it seems to create... not quite a wall, but perhaps a curtain of sound. It's a challenge to find 'room' in there to play 'lines', but I expect that Phil Spector would approve of the concept, at least.
The oddest thing for me, though, is the space-time continuum disconnect that opens up whenever this box is kicked in. It just seems funny when it comes and goes quickly -- to emphasize a line in a verse, but when it comes in and stays there for a chorus (or a song) it's as if our performance has been artfully replaced by a holographic video that has been carefully constructed to look just like us, while sounding quite different. I can't help but wonder if I'm there, and if not, if I'm anywhere at all, not to mention where I might otherwise be...
I dropped in early, thinking it might be righteous to run through a few tunes solo on tinwhistle before launching into the J&W program. It was a bit more challenging than I'd hoped to actually play the tunes correctly... the likes of 'Banish Misfortune' (asking for trouble), 'Blue Skies' (got it down). 'Red Red Robin', 'Greensleeves', 'The Wm. Tell Overture' (frightening), and a couple of other Irish tunes... but at least I don't have any special mechanical difficulty -- as I did before having my finger partly straightened-out.
But then the gallery gal-manager appeared, clomping down the little stairwell to announce that the gallery had expanded on the 2nd floor, and that sound was really "echoing" in the rooms, and "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to relocate." This seemed like an all-but tragic development to me, coming on the heels of a similar suggestion at North Lake, of all venues. Perhaps because she seemed almost reluctant to completely ruin our career, I suggested, "Perhaps it would help if we made a point of not playing this particular instrument...!", thinking how silly that must sound, considering that one of our other instruments is an amplified electric guitar.... as she once pointed out to me... Against all odds, she replied, "Well... maybe that would do the trick...". Very shortly Jim appeared, and before long we were making a considerable racket, surely beyond any reasonable art gallery standards, and yet, she did not re-appear. Perhaps she could be my new girlfriend. ...and let's hope she never reads this.
There certainly were fewer people pounding the pavements, despite how warm it was (I could not stand to keep my shoes on), which must have everything to with the cessation of both the Festival of Art / Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival (which spun off from the former in 1963 or so) -- which coincided with Labor Day Wknd.
Richard MacLeod stopped to say hello, on his way to set up somewhere. I thought I might seek him out later, but didn't... A little family trouped by soon afterward, with musical instrument cases strapped to their backs...
Now song: 'The Weight' - with us singing alternating verses -- inspired by the very good performance of this song by The Edge, Jack White, and Jimmy Page at the end of the movie 'It Might Get Loud' (it did). This song also reminds me of the Imaginary Sidewalk Band, which failed to launch a decade ago. It was to have been Keith, Dave and Jon Perry, and myself. ISB is just my pet name for this doomed project.
Most memorably for me, Jim launched into a compelling riff from out of nowhere, which kicked off one of our best-ever jams, this time full of wonderfully off-kilter intervals and quirky rhythms... running on for 10 minutes, probably. When we finally wrapped it, we suddenly heard else was going on -- a chimey bluegrass tune from the musical family that was now comfortably set up on the corner, with an open mandolin case collecting money as if by some kind of magical theft.
We'd been playing for more than two hours, so we closed out with 'Space Oddity', which seemed even more unreal than usual against the backdrop of 'Old Joe Clark' rolling out of the (loud) banjo. I felt like we were really putting the song over, though, and it reminds me of how much I love playing this song (and how hard it is to remember its not-exactly-simple chord progression).
And then I sat down near -- but not quite right next to -- the family bluegrass band, and essentially had a little workshop in playing tinwhistle in the key of A major, not something I'm otherwise inclined to do. It was quite disorienting at first, but I just kept after it (quietly, so that the band didn't need to make a place for it), and I could feel the patterns starting to get 'printed', which is, in part, a series of images of what the notes 'look like' on the whistle... along with their numerical values, and what critical intervals 'look like'. Anyhow, it was a breakthrough, though I'd have to spend a lot more time there to really feel at ease in this key. Playing whistle is about as different from playing guitar as can be, which must be part of why I'm so attracted to it.
It was sprawling and relaxed and friendly and vaguely 'tribal', though it wasn't just aging hippies but also teens and entire families who swelled the crowd to... about 120 people, I'd guess . Alec tells me that as many as 200 people have attended, though I'm not sure anyone is counting...
The beats were noisy and funky and solid and sketchy and catchy and threatened to disintegrate into chaos from at any moment, but actually did so only occasionally -- much to the credit of the evening's master of ceremonies, Marcus Tucker -- who would now and then blast the basic rhythm on a police whistle to reel everyone back in from the brink. Marcus would also close out the session from time to time, as if ending a song... and then start it up anew, with a fresh beat that one of his front-line drummers would come up with spontaneously. He's the smiling black fellow in the center of the pic below, shot at an earlier drum circle.
Much to my surprise, there was a place for not only me, but for guitar. I joined in on a smaller drum circle last year, at Laguna's Main Beach, I had my big hollow-body Ibanez in tow that evening, and was fairly sure that it would be unsubtle, awkward, and even uncool to bust it out, not to mention the effects bag, and the Pignose... so I contented myself with rhythm pure and simple, tapping out staccato tattoos with bundle-sticks, on the handle of my gig-cart... which was a pleasure, and didn't seem to annoy anyone.
So this time I brought along the immeasurably-more-well-suited battery-powered Nomad guitar, which worked out very well. Partly because the circle was bigger and more spread out... 40-50 people when it fired up at 7pm, and well over a hundred within an hour or so... it seemed easy to discretely switch the Nomad on, and tentatively pick a note or two... which led immediately to one big surprising discovery: it was necessary to tune the gtr to the drum circle! There must have been one or more prominent drums banging not far from 'A'. It seemed easy enough to tune my open A string to that pitch, and then somewhat less easy to tune in A notes on all the other strings. Soon afterwards, I switched the gtr off awhile to converse with a friendly gal standing nearby... and when I turned the gtr back on again, it was now nowhere near in tune with the circle. This seemed like a bad omen... perhaps the 'pitch' of the circle would be changing throughout the evening, as different drums came and went...? The circle was now pounding away a good half-step lower.... somewhere close to Ab. I dutifully retuned, dropping the A string down to this Ab pitch, and all the other strings accordingly. Mercifully, this new pitch-level proved to be good for the remainder of the evening.
Further, I found that the key of A (as it appeared to be on my half-step-down gtr) was the only key that sounded completely right. I tried both strongly-related E and D (major), and both sounded 'suspended' -- the only real resolution was to A. For some reason, it didn't occur to me to try A minor, but I did have some fun with the Indian scale that I sometimes play around with: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7 [Bhairav / Byzantine / Hijaz Kar]. Must of the time, though, I just hammered out beats on just 1 5 and 8 (A E A'), or arpeggios that included the 3 as well. There didn't seem to be much use for strings 1 and 2. I found myself experiencing the guitar from a fresh perspective: as an array of four drums... like four tuned tom-toms which could be played in any order, but also all together (big deep '5 chords').
I broke out of this program just once, when a young Asian fellow appeared in the inner circle, playing simple major melodies on a bamboo flute... in the key of B (Bb really). With him playing, modulating to B seemed non-problematic, and when he started to weave his way around the circle I stopped him wordlessly, playing bass figures threaded through his melody lines. Graciously, he just stood there and played, allowing me to face him two inches away, so that I could hear him over the drums, which continued to blast away (a full-step lower?!). I played counter-melodies, and big B chords, and bass lines with him for quite a few minutes... We were in tune, and in time, and it was very satisfying. I finally released my grip on him, and we shared big nods of approval, and moved on... back to circle proper, and, for me, back to the key of A.
As loud as the Nomad seems when playing it at a party, or on the street, it sure is no match for the firepower of a Full Moon Drum Circle. Standing at the outer perimeter, I could balance its output with the drums (for my ears), but when I stood just outside the inner circle, I could hear it well only with it up all the way, and only when hitting it hard. People just ahead of me could hear it, surely, but certainly no one else would have been able to. I was playing within a very narrow dynamic range: from audible to a little bit more audible. Still, it seemed like great fun, and it was exciting to be part of such a huge 'band'...!
Dancers, too... girls young and older, including one gorgeous 20-ish girl with impressive belly-dance shimmies and shakes.
At 10:30pm, Marcus 'called it', and almost everyone departed within a few minutes. I didn't, curious about what might happen next... I approached Marcus, and thanked him for making it possible for so many people to play together without disaster. He said I should have showed him my guitar earlier, and he would have had me come inside the circle to play at some point (as he had done for a female flute player, accompanied (inaudibly) by a guy strumming chords on an acoustic guitar). I assured him that I'd had a great time anyhow, and picked out a brief sample of what I'd been playing.
At Marcus's request, a 40-ish woman demonstrated her grasp of some beats on her djembe. I attempted to play along till she faded out, and then I tried joining in with two obviously seasoned drummers, but their attempts to get something going were frustrated by one idiot who was not only drunk, but banging a hand-drum incoherently -- despite the repeated admonitions of an irritated buddy.
Meanwhile, the drumming gal had switched to her D tinwhistle... which my guitar was nowhere near in tune with... so I approached her with my handmade whistle and bade her give it a try, which she seemed happy to do, while I played along on her silver Generation unit. We switched off after a bit, and jammed loosely for some time together, which turned out to be a lot of fun.
Finally, Alec appeared,and we talked for awhile, mainly about the album he's trying to record, but can't really afford... and the music video he made for his song 'El Viaje' at this very beach, just a few weeks ago, with some incredibly pretty girl, no doubt...
I do believe I'll attend the next Full Moon Drum Circle -- on Sunday October 4.
Special factors: a troupe of nubile dancing girls, seemingly unaware of their bikinis' valiant but futile efforts to contain their generous tops and bottoms... and the roaring Metrolink and Amtrak trains, just 100' behind us... and the legendary Doc Fret, who rocks out on the nearby pier with electric gtr, loop station, Fender Amp Can, and another portable amp (when he's not busy applying his very own 'Fret-a-Cure' procedure to someone's needy guitar).
Disconcerting fact: even thought we didn't start up till nearly 7pm, it just didn't seem right that the air was so warm -- especially for being a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean.
Not that there were many people listening, but the two older gals that were tuned-in seemed to have no idea that anything was 'up'. I think they just liked the sound of the songs. On the other hand, a sharp-witted bloke from the UK scoped it out right away, and later on the gal from the HB uke group asked "Where is that... reverb coming from...? It almost sounds like a harmony... I heard it when we were back there, and I thought it was you [glances at me] singing harmony.".
Sometimes the box's harmonies seemed to fit the song pretty well, and at other times they sounded oddly out-of-place and arbitrary, as if generated by an algorithm, rather than a musician. The ideal demo song for the box seems to be The Everly's 'Dream' ("Dream, Dream, Dream...") -- which probably indicates that brother Phil's harmony part for that song is almost strictly thirds-above. Here's the video of this take: 'Dream'. (WA is too enchanted by the accurate harmonies (and too confused by the chord progression) to actually play on this song.) Even on this number, the preternatural enhancement of the sound is apparent -- though I think that this is exaggerated by Keith's point-and-shoot camera, which has essentially zero treble response.
On the other hand... here's a good indication of just how much reality it can replace with something even better, apparently...'Cinammon Girl'... and I'm pretty sure that this is no more than the near edge of what's... possible.
Casual listeners, I'm fairly sure, will just hear songs, with little awareness of how many 'parts' comprise the vocals. If the box does something really goofy, as it does when the chord progression is idiosyncratic, people will probably just look over at me. I should probably start wearing a t-shirt that says "The box did it!"
The other consideration would be the quality and character of the sound it produces. I'm fairly sure that it's passing with flying colors on both counts, however. Keith summed it up nicely afterwards: "I love it!". It's place in the band's future would appear to be secure!
For the definitive story, check Keith's bloggage...
40-ish, sun-blasted Colin from Australia, first off, belting out Dylan songs and his bluesy homebrew songs with acoustic guitar and an overflowing heap of harmonicas. It was hard to read his response at first, but soon he asked "Can you make that a little louder?" It was fun, mostly, but I took broken string #2 as trigger to move on. His string repair technique is unique (I mean it's new to me, but I can't resist writing "technique is unique"). His strings typically break at the saddle, so he pulls the bridge pin, un-wraps the broken string fragment from the ball-end, re-wraps the string onto the ball-end, unwinds some additional string from the tuning peg, and then re-seats the string under the bridge pin. Parsimonious. We said a harmonious goodbye, and he made a particular point of looking me in the eye when he said he hoped we could play again soon. He'll be around for three more weeks, so the odds are fairly good...
...and then, lucky for me, Richard McLeod, pinned down all but inaudibly in the alleyway next to Bushard's. I believe he was happy to see me. He told tales of being chased away by the pharmacy management, and other awkward things, but had a couple of new songs, nonetheless. One called 'Running Down Your Heaven' is very compelling, and I am especially fond of the minor paean 'Second Sight'. As usual, he made room for me to take verses for a ride, which worked out very well, mostly. He's able to hear what I play, despite his efforts just to keep the song rolling, and often makes a point of letting me know when he likes the sound of something. We played for a couple of hours. During cigarette breaks, he spoke much of finding an opportunity to record ten of his songs, though it's not clear how this could happen, but he's hoping that The English Guy who has Connections may come through, if his own recording project works out... He reiterated his hope that I'd be part of the project, and I assured him that I would like to be in on any such thing, and inscribed my email address on his set list. I believe it is possible for something to come of this, though it may require something akin to divine intervention. In the meantime, he's writing songs that are very straightforward, almost simplistic, but quite musical. The lyrics are well conceived, sometimes reminding me of Hank Williams -- they tend to be very purely what they are, without anything that doesn't belong there. Finally, there is quite a bit of variety, despite the very limited palette of chord progressions. Beyond that, there is something very good about his singing, something that holds some fairly universal appeal, quite possibly...
One more little chapter: Old acquaintance Denise, singing plaintively with a big Epiphone acoustic gtr, just down the street (Forest) from Richard's alley. I'd wondered if I'd see her, since she said hello to J&W as we played Friday afternoon (and Jim sat in with her later that evening, singing harmonies for a few songs). We chatted some, as she struggled to remember how to play one of her own songs, and she played 'Time in a Bottle', another song of her own making, 'Big Yellow Taxi', 'It's Only Love' (like at the Gypsy Den), and 'Landslide'.
Mindful that she'd invited Jim to get out his guitar the other night, I tuned up to her quietly, and joined in tentatively, but I never did see anything approaching a green light. It was a tough assignment anyhow... because she plays and sings outside of time... almost as if there was no such thing as the passage thereof... the up-tempo numbers do have a something of a rhythmic pulse, but it is very elastic, stretching and contracting as if at the mercy of how much time it takes for her fingers to come to grips with the next chord. Her own emotive songs, though, are almost entirely rubato -- with syllables and chords appearing as they will, and the tempo, if there is one, is so slow that I think it must be intentional, a way to be expressive in time... though actually not in time. I can see how one could choose this as a way to convey emotional nuance... but it seems like a very high price to pay.
She moved to the opposite side of the sidewalk at one point (to get farther away?) and finally she summarily stuffed her big guitar in its bag, said a crisp goodnight, and strode off up the crowded sidewalk. I guessed that she might be headed for the alley, if only to get rid of me, but when I hiked past a few minutes later, she Was Not There -- which was some small comfort. The much greater comfort, though, was the several remarkable musical experiences I've had over the past several days, with Richard, and with Jim.
Epilog: Mad George hailed me down as I trudged up the hill, south on PCH, just past Starbucks, banging out the Big Chords of my new 'Loft'. "Hey... Let me play yer guitar!". No. "I've got to get home, George... maybe next time." I kept walking, backwards, as he spoke (almost coherently) of getting a guitar soon (not likely), but I finally paused and heard him ask, "Doesn't it bother you...?" -- explaining how he can hardly hear because of all the cars and trucks roaring by, all the time. "...and motorcycles..", I added, thinking of the one that had just ripped past. "...and motorcycles...", he echoed, adding, "Now you know why my mom lives on a 1000 acre farm in Louisiana." I was grateful for the opportunity to say out loud, to anyone, "The World Is Too Noisy!", but then had to add, glancing at the guilty Nomad, "...but here I am making some more noise...". George seemed to sympathize, in his own inscrutable way. He finally grinned like a schoolboy, and said, "OK... see ya!", and spun off and out, toward the lights, and even more noise. I spun off and in, toward the car, the NPR, and a refuge... of sorts.
Surprise guest: George Reasons, looking somewhat cleaned up, but waxing as incoherently as ever... which includes, I'm afraid, his oft-repeated announcement to passers-by: "He's the best guitarist in Laguna!" It did give me an odd taste of the danger -- that I've so far only heard about -- of starting to 'actually believe one's own hype'. I have to admit that seeing George enjoy my playing (and he can be very demonstrative) did make me feel motivated to actually become as good as he thinks I am (at least when he's drunk). George also thoughtfully reached over and turned up both the gain and the level on my OD-808 stompbox, and jacked the volume on the Pignose, so much that I couldn't back off the volume pedal enough to compensate...
No sign of our friend Richard McLeod this time, but a large girl was singing hugely across the street, to some kind of backing tracks. Later she was joined by a kid drummer -- with a small but fairly loud kit -- and a kid on an acoustic guitar (and painted-on-tight kid-sisters-pants) -- much to the dismay of the dark-haired Fingerhut Gallery gal -- whose doors face directly toward them (next to the ice cream shop. By the time we got a closer look, the large gal was gone and the guys were banging out some homemade hiphop-tinged songs. They were still at it (not busted) an hour later, even though we hear tell of a new Aussie cop on the beat, who is friendly, but not sympathetic to loud music on the street (or maybe just to amplified guitars?)...
We realized that we could arrive early and play out in the plaza between Broadway and Sycamore -- which must have been part of 2nd St. at some time in the past. We set up a little ways past the Gypsy Den's fenced-in 'patio', on that same side. We had a lot of fun and managed to get a few people so pause for awhile. A young hispanic fellow named Chris strolled up with his acoustic Takamine gtr, and attempted to play along. He was way out of tune, but was being very discrete, so I tuned his guitar up to Jim's, and encouraged him to play along. I noticed that on 'Hey Jude', at least, he was strumming the chords confidently. He busted into the Doors' 'Roadhouse Blues' at one point, and we made him teach us the signature lick, to which he graciously complied.
One pair of teenager couples (one dark and one light) tuned into us -- mostly for amusement, but also to hear some of their favorite songs... including the Disney nostalgia song... but also 'Gently Weeps', 'That Thing You Do', and inexplicably, Cat Stevens' 'Trouble' -- which is my current favorite K&W song (but Keith says he has trouble strumming it properly). I must learn it; maybe Jim will like it.
Biggest musical [sic] surprise of the evening (for me): Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing', twice. This song is revered, apparently, for its insightful lyrics, which include the following immortal lines...
Working hard to get my fill, Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice, Just one more time.
Some will win, some will lose, Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends; it goes on and on and on and on.
It certainly does, at least, go on and on and on and on... I couldn't help but notice, though, that the chord progression offers a great sandbox for hard rock riffage...
The 18-yr old couples stuck around for two yours, and as they departed, the hefty anglo guy came over, shook hands, and said. "By the way, we've got a new name for you guys: 'Grandpappy and T-Rex'... think it over!" He may be on to something... we could just leave it to our fans to let us know which one is which... or perhaps some things are best left undefined...
I managed to find gifted singer-songwriter Richard McLeod early on, set up in the alley-next-to-Bushard's-pharmacy, which features very helpful natural amplification and reverb. This is especially beneficial for Richard, who takes a very understated approach to singing and playing. It's impressive how much dynamic range he attains between quiet and near-silent. He will, hopefully, have some opps, eventually, to play through a good PA system. His approach, anyhow, illustrates well how a special effort on the part of the listener can be richly rewarded.
Playing with Richard is very satisfying for me (this is the third instance), since I love the sound of his singing and playing, and because he's very attuned to not just what he's doing, but also what I'm doing. He opens up verses and other spaces for me to take the lead, and sometimes a little more space, if it seems that I'm 'on to something'. The welcome challenge for me is to listen carefully to the (subtle) ebb and flow of his dynamic emphasis and rhythms, adjusting my playing as appropriately as I can understand to do. My default is to play very simple bass lines that correspond to the very straightforward chord progressions, with varying degrees of intensity. I may also play large and small variations of the chords (another challenge, since Richard typically plays in C, G and A minor, but capo-ed at fret three to sound in Eb, Bb and C minor, respectively. [Note: Bring Bb harmonic and Eb whistle next time.]
We were joined by acoustic guitar-slinger Brian for an hour or so, which didn't put me out of business. I essentially played low, and let him play licks and fills, which he did very well (and relentlessly).
Larry, a hobbit-like fellow with a big dreadnought gtr, appeared soon after Richard retired, and knocked us out with his strongly sung and played covers of such much-loved songs as 'Sweet Melissa' (I must learn it), 'Hide Your Love Away' (I pulled out the tinwhistle for the outro, which blew all minds). He wrapped it up with a big powerful song about his main man, J.C., which was still great fun to play against.
Next up: Alec C. Marken, who seemingly materialized on the sidewalk, announcing that he was in the mood for busking, and pulled his car over when he spotted me in the alley. this seemed fortuitous, since I haven't actually seen Alec since I quit his band early last year...
I made introductions all around, only to learn that Richard remembered Alec singing for a crowd at a N. California Rainbow Gathering several years ago.... much to Alec's delight...
There were at least three guitar players bashing away at the Forest / PCH intersection, so Alec set himself up on the 'far' corner of the-side-street-past-the-ice-cream-shop and PCH, tuned his guitar down a half-step, capo-ed up one fret, and busted into one of his big U2 songs, followed by another one for Richard to sing, followed by my favorite Alec Marken song, 'El Viaje', which Alec plays 'big', with a nearly-steady rhythm, and sings very romantically. I had a lot of fun playing big, high-strung chords. [Here's Alec and Deep Stirring play ' El Viaje' very well, at the Neighborhood Cup on April 5, 2008]
We were able to move to the corner in front of the ice cream shop after awhile, where Alec capo-ed his gtr up four and handed it to Richard, who sang a delicate and dramatically slowed version of another U2 song, which impressed Alec very much, not to mention me, and everyone standing around. Alec next shouted "Sing with us!" to the gaggle of barely-20 girls who streamed by, vocalizing randomly, "We're just drunk!", the noisiest one announced, but Alec soon had all six or seven of them joining in with abandon on an Alanis Morissette number, and then a couple more...
The street seemed very quite once these girls evaporated, at about midnight. Richard said his good evenings, making a point of assuring me that he appreciated my approach to playing with him, especially compared to what else we'd experienced that evening. Alec launched in to one more favorite U2 song ('With or Without You'?), then suggested checking into a local pub for a Guinness, then coming back out again (to catch the crowd that appears at 1:30am when the bars finally close). I found it finally easy to just say goodnight, after playing, with hardly a break, for about seven hours, standing all the while. I could feel the strain, finally.
We've probably never played for / to /at so many people before... most of whom paid no discernible attention to us as they promenaded past. Some, though, lingered for a few songs -- like a couple of moms and their several very little girls, who wandered out onto the pool coping, and onto the stage. I blame my poor performance of a couple of songs upon the very loose and abundantly-populated blouse sported by one of these moms, who frequently leaned far forwards to rescue the kids from the pool, etc.
A few people, generally nearly as old as us, settled into the tables and chairs set alongside the pool, and stuck with us for song after song... even a couple of hours.
...and wow, it was loud -- not really loud, of course, but very loud for us... and especially for me, with the satellite speaker right behind me. Keith just 'floored' the StageMate from the get-go, which was surely appropriate, but I couldn't help but reflect upon one eminent musician's praise for playing quietly, because then everyone can hear everything well and clearly. With the volume up this high, it seemed a lot easier to get lost, and a lot harder to recover, because it was harder to hear my guitar distinctly from Keith's partly because it was psychologically difficult to turn it up loud enough. This difficulty receded as the evening progressed, as I settled into playing, and as I became willing to turn up loud enough to clearly hear myself.
As we were packing up, three 15 or 16 years old -- two girls and a boy -- came up to tell us how great we sounded and how much they loved the songs. I found it briefly impossible to accept this as anything other than teasing, but eventually had to acknowledge that they were completely sincere. They even got us to autograph our little business cards.
Honoring the modern Pay to Play paradigm, it ordinarily costs $50 for the privilege of playing at this venue. This fee probably acts as an effective and automatic quality filter. It's worked well to keep us from playing there, at least... until this evening... when the fee was waived, just this once, by the very kind (and now departed) Stephanie. We pulled in $42 for tips and CDs, which is pretty good for us... but we would have had to hand all of it over, plus another $8, to the Irvine Co., were if not for Stephanie's kind gesture.
Fortunately for us, we can play at the nearby Food Court stage for free (unpaid), so we'll just carry on there...
take-no-prisoners one-off gig on the storied main stage of the Irvine Specimen Center.
At some point Jim suggested 'Heart Full of Soul', which seemed out of reach, but it's so much fun to play, and there seemed to be nothing to lose. Thanks to some additional attention to the sig-riff lately, I was able to play it much better than usual, and the vocal even sounded pretty good... owing at least in part to my experimental swapping-in of my AKG C-1000 small-diaphragm condenser mic. Its greater sensitivity (compared to Jim's dynamic mics) seems to allow me to step back a bit from the mic, thus getting much less of the 'proximity effect' woofy bass that makes my vocals for 'Was Not There' and 'Miss Misery' so... miserable.
We also had a pretty strong run-through of 'Teacher' right afterward, and a little later, a personal best-ever effort with 'Four Seasons' ("...our only Vivaldi song"). Somewhere along the line, a sharp-looking young woman clapped enthusiastically for one of those song, and then for most every song, which triggered the homework girls to start doing so too, not to mention a few other people. It changed the game... making it seem suddenly a lot more worth playing. It was hard to stop, but we did, after a modestly rousing reading of 'Hey Jude'. As we were packing up, the young woman responsible for our happy ending walked up to us, with her boyfriend. I could then see that she was quite a bit younger (22?) than I'd guessed. She thanked us for playing and said it sounded wonderful, or something like that. Whatever it was, we're going to try to believe it.
New song, recently, brought in by Jim: M. Ward's 'One Hundred Million Years'.
Keith has introduced some great new songs recently, including 'Sad Lisa', 'I Should Have Known Better', 'Hey Jude', 'Code Monkey', 'Graceland', 'Past the Point of Rescue', 'Country Road' (JT) and even Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', though the farthest-out entry must surely be Outkast's 'Hey, Ya' (?!)
There were a few obvious factors working in our favor, notably the remarkably good acoustics of this room, (compared to the Food Court, especially). Also, we had some people to play for. There was a middle-aged guy in the leftmost comfy chair totally tuned into our program for almost the entire evening. It's rare that anyone listens so intently, but I could see that this guy was picking up on all sorts of things. Every time I managed to play a part especially well, he would nod approvingly (or so I imagined). There was a young Asian girl who was with us for quite awhile, and then a 50-ish couple back in the tables, both turned to face us, quietly listening, smiling and applauding, as if it was all really worth listening to.
Another thing that was working out for me was my new Verbzilla reverb box. I had much more luck with it this time out, and found some gorgeous and shimmering halos that really worked for the slower songs, of which there are many. I mostly used it instead of my trusty Boss DM-3 analog delay, switching between them for comparison, and trying them together a couple of times. I'll have to experiment a lot more, but my basic impression is that reverb is probably what I was really looking for when I went shopping for delay pedals.
I expect that there were any number of X-factors that were just going our way this evening. In any case, seeing the genuinely appreciative response from our little audience both encouraged me to stay tuned in to the music, and gave me a vivid impression that I was really contributing something, and allowed me to imagine that both of us, together with the listeners, were engaged in some modestly remarkable musical happening. More of this, please...!
It was close to a worst-ever gig for me, and it made me wonder if K&W had lost their... mojo... or whatever it is they seemed to have for awhile there. Fortunately, the following gig (at SCP Borders) completely obliterated that question.
Keith's bloggage indicates that he had a similarly miserable time. The tips were correspondingly pathetic -- an all-time low, for this venue, of $16.
After we finished a run-through of 'Into the Mystic' (which I think must be one of our best-sounding songs), we were commissioned by a 30-something guy to play a song for him and his girlfriend ("she's really special"), as soon as he re-appeared with her. When he finally did, they graciously endured most of 'Perfect Day', before we busted out the selected 'Hey Jude' and reprised 'Into the Mystic' for them.
Our tips hit a record-breaking $30, thanks to a $10 bill, surely from the above-mentioned love-struck guy.
Very soon after this remarkable outburst, a 40-ish fellow approached stage right, smiled, and said, "You guys are doing a great job." That was helpful. Grown men that we are, we carried on.
Yesterday, I called the MV store and spoke to the Sales Mgr, to see about the status of our 'residencies' program, which turns out to be, after all, fiction. The Bob did not bother to communicate this new schedule to the store, apparently, and probably not to any of the other stores either, before he quit altogether. The Sales Mgr. decreed that we would no longer have a regular 4th Saturday gig at the MV store, but he did allow that we could continue to show up every 2nd Saturday -- so J&W and K&W will now share that one 'residency'. Keith would rather play at the Spectrum Ctr. Food Court anyway, at least now that it's warming up, and is lighter longer... I can't resist either.
Being Wednesday evening, it was nowhere near as crowded as on a wknd night, when it's thronged with 20-somethings almost as thick as 6th St. in Austin during SXSW (but minus the rock n' roll chaos). So it was just right for us... people strolling by, and occasionally pausing to take in a song or two.
Jim arrived first and he set up facing away from the adjacent long pool, perhaps in part because the array of fountains within it were blasting forth (making it very hard to converse)... and also probably because there's a good sized open area beyond the other side of the stage. Even though we managed to get the fountain turned way down later, and there are tables arrayed alongside the pool, I think Jim picked the right orientation, as it allowed people to get close, if they were so inclined, as a few proved to be....
...like the slender and lovely long-haired mom who turned that space into a world-class dance floor, for her and her toddler, as we bashed our way through 'Heart Full of Soul', hanging on for dear life... If there are sights more appealing than this, I still can not guess what they are. Please let me know what we can do to make this happen more often, or all the time...!
There was one other candidate for Best Thing That Happened, however. A 30-something mom and dad, with their four-yr old (?) daughter camped out on the concrete floor for our very very good (for us) rendition of 'Into The Mystic'. Afterward her dad came up to the stage and told us that when he asked his little girl if she liked the song, she said, "It's sliding into my heart!" We're going to take that as a good thing... a very good thing...
Shall we do it again? Perhaps, though it's a stretch for Jim to go this late on a week-night.
Hoped-for special guest Kyle Kaiser was not able to get away from his studio construction project for producer Jack Joseph Puig. Jim even brought along his Burns Steer and a tiny amp... maybe he'll join us this summer.
One other good thing: no money disappeared from the tip jar.
Tonight, as back then, I was completely 'winging it'. The set mostly consisted of songs penned by Kristi (some with siblings), which I didn't recall ever hearing before. A couple of them were exceptional, and on at least a couple of them, it was a joy to play along, and very clear what to do. It wasn't nearly so obvious on some of the other songs, particularly those with chord progressions that fell outside the scope of a single diatonic 'harp'. Kristi stepped back from time to time, so I could blow a verse into her mic, which worked well some of the time, but was a near-complete bust once or twice.
Still, it was a pleasure just to be part of their program, and both gals were very nice to me. Old Pal Gary from Back East came along, and shot some video, and I think he had a good time, partly because it was all new to him, even including hearing me play harmonica.
It occurred to me several times beforehand that it would be much more convenient to just pass on this opportunity. It's always awkward to enter into someone else's musical program, especially the first few minutes, when it's not clear exactly what the opportunities and expectations are. It took me quite a few minutes, in the cramped Alta quarters, to just figure out where to stand. More and more, though, I'm inclined to press through those reservations, since there's so much to learn from every new musical experience... even if one is not always entirely conscious of just what the lessons are. It all seeps in, somewhere, I trust.
at Irvine Spectrum Center (Food Court)
Bob grew up in Huntington Beach, and was part of the OC music scene for several years, and went on to form the band The Cheatin' Hearts with John Jorgenson [!] Even more incredibly, this band included Sneaky Pete Kleinow. Jorgenson continued the direction of The Cheatin' Hearts in his next outfit -- the Desert Rose Band, which he formed with Byrds-man Chris Hillman.
Bob now lives in Minnesota, and visits back here very rarely, so it was quite a big deal for his old pals -- including Bruce Lieberman, Dave Perry, Craig Fleming, Janelle, and Keith's wife Daleen, all of whom came early and stayed late. We even took a break, at Bob's request, so he could sit down and visit with them for awhile.
Keith & Warren have never sounded so big, surely, and on some songs, at least, so good... as on this one -- Joni Mitchell's brilliant People's Parties -- which K&W have played only once or twice before, and so long ago I can hardly remember hearing it. It was far and away my favorite of the evening, and I'm hoping I've talked Keith into playing it regularly from now on. I love the sound of my guitar on this take, and I very much like the way Keith is singing it, though I believe he experienced it as 'oversinging', as he put it, to try to stay above the the racket Bobby and I were creating.
For a much more detailed report of this slightly wild escapade, see Keith's blog post.
And here's a pic on Dave Perry's Facebook page.
at Surf City Nights - Huntington Beach
Afterwards, I asked Matt if he planned to continue playing this Surf City Nights thing -- since his MySpace calendar didn't note any other dates going forwards. He said they were probably going to take a break from it, noting that they had a lot of other dates lined up (including a gig on the Queen Mary). He suggested that he'd let me know when they do start up here again.
So... I'm hoping I didn't crash their party so hard that they decided to stop having it... or this part of it. It certainly was a good experience from my pov.
Matt and the Mob's MySpace page.
Before long, advance Mob scout Ryan appeared behind us, and then Matt...
at Surf City Nights - Huntington Beach
I felt more decisively welcomed this time, or at least not quite so obviously a party-crasher. Matt even asked me in advance to take a solo for the bridge in 'Daydreaming', like on the album track. I managed to struggle through it the first time, but had an illuminated experience when we played it again later. He suggested a couple of times that I should turn up some, and called for another solo on a bluesy number we did toward the end.
Regardless, it was a real pleasure to be able to play in this little band. Matt's own songs are especially appealing to me... including 'Shipwrecked', 'Surf Song', 'The Red Wagon' and others from his very appealing Farewell Adventure album. ...and here's their MySpace page.
As I rumbled back down Main St. (with my rumbly gear-cart, and AFS-75), the Young Fellow concluded a song. Liking the sound of it, I rumbled up beside him and said something like "I was going to be playing with Matt Kollar and his band, but I guess they're not here after all... could I join in with you?" He said something like, "Uh... I guess so... OK..." That's what I call courage... either that or an advanced inability to say "No!".
It worked out! -- despite his Keith-like use of a capo, which made staying in tune with him a challenge. Among other great songs, he played 'Fire and Rain', and to my great delight, 'Into the Mystic', the song sheet of which I'd looked over that morning, so I was ready to play huge chords for him, not to mention take off on a solo.
It was happening for him too, apparently. He would pass me solo verses for just about every song, and then lean in toward me as I went for it, and he generously called me out several times to the little crowd that gathered around.
One of the most remarkable songs Eric whipped out was the old jazz-pop standard 'You Belong to Me', complete with convincing mouth-trumpet solo. Click the link for a video of him playing and singing this song with Chelsea Williams at the 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica (skip ahead to 1:00, when they finally start the song).
...and here's Eric on his own, singing his country-folksy-funky song 'Union Dues'. This guy can sing... and his guitar is a great rhythm machine.
Check out his profile and songs on MySpace: Eric Kufs.
...and the next thing I knew... Matt and his Mobsters were arriving, right behind us, hands full of gear, saying friendly hellos... OK!
Good news: Jim brought in another great song: Van Morrison's 'Into the Mystic'.
at Surf City Nights - Huntington Beach
I dropped in with the trusty old Nomad, but soon realized with dismay that its battery was fast on the way out -- leaving me no option but too turn it just about all the way up... so the tone was very gritty, and the A string was feeding back badly. It was just manageable, and I stuck too playing basslines, since everything else, especially chords, sounded terrible -- in this setting at least (amplified acoustic guitars and mandolins, ukulele, accordion and keyboard). Besides that, I wanted to stay out of their way, as much as possible. This seemed like the best approach, all the more so because there was no one playing bass.
Check out Matt Kollar & The Angry Mob on MySpace-- and enjoy this nutty video of Matt's song 'Daydreaming'.
Jim kicked us off with NY's 'Comes a Time', which I've been working on since about 1980-something, but had recently stalled on... no matter... great fun for guitar, harmonica, and even a harmony vocal. I scribbled it right onto the set list.
It's probably worth noting that we don't attempt to engage the audience by talking to them at all -- except when there's some reaction to a song, and then we'll say "Thank you very much...", and one or the other of us will probably name the song, or the artist.... or a little more, if anyone appears at all interested. Tonight, though, once the switch flipped, we must have seemed downright friendly....
Highlight for me: Jim's out-of-the-blue rendition of our old pal Joe Ongie's 'Sleepwalking World'... which we gave up on a couple of years ago, after I had trouble singing it. I joined in on harmonica, which was very big fun, and then switched to guitar, and even played some slightly wild solo at the end, in emulation of the guitar heroics that Joe managed to get down. Jim says that this is his favorite Joe song, which surprised me, even though it's my favorite Joe song, with the possible exception of the brilliant 'XXX000' (exes and zeros).
We also swung a likely best-ever run through Wilco's 'Side With the Seeds', here preserved for posterity...
Settling-in took awhile, as usual, but eventually I felt like I was playing better than I've ever been able to... not always... but it's very encouraging to finally be able to imagine that I'm at least adding as much musical 'value' as I'm subtracting. It's not for me to say, of course, but it sure is enjoyable.
Special guest: Melina McPhee, sitting in on violin for 'A Whiter Shade of Pale', 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright', and 'Let It Be'. This is the third time she's played with Keith, though the first time with K&W.
Special attendees: Tommy O'Callaghan and his lovely friend Jeanette.
We started off by going along with a some encouragement from a friendly teenager to play some of our own stuff. Dropping right into jam-band mode, Jim spontaneously laid out a chord progression that was all about Dm and C, with a B part composed of just G and C. Despite its simplicity, but partly because of it, it seemed fascinating to me. There are, after all, any number of ways to say 'Dm' and 'C'. Very significantly, there are also any number of rhythmic variations that one could apply, and this, fortunately, is Jim's forte... so I think he may have applied them all, including a very smooth and effective crescendo effect -- almost as if from a volume pedal. So I think we both really sank our teeth into it, and played (for us) very well. Still, it was quite a pleasant surprise when people applauded for it... quite a few people. Always eager to name things, especially things that could be construed as musical compositions, I suggested the magazine rack behind us for inspiration, and pointed out a mag titled 'Dwell', but Jim had already noticed the utterly irresistible 'Atomic Ranch'. We returned to jam-band mode two or three more times, and each time it was quite satisfying, and the accidental attendees expressed apparently genuine appreciation each time. Are they just confused?
Otherwise we did play songs, concentrating on a few big favs: 'Mary', 'Wish You Were Here', 'World Inside the World', 'Where Are You Going', 'Starman', 'Miss Misery', 'Space Oddity', "Perfect Day', 'Four Seasons in One Day'...
If the new residency program is actually in effect, then this MV store is the one and only Borders J&W will be playing at, going forwards, at least for now. I'm thinking that we chose the right store.
A highlight was working on Jim's 'Lift' instrumental, finding four different ways to play the A part chords: C Dbdim7 Dm G. I'd better tab them out, since the dim7 chord is outside my standard lexicon...
C Db Dm G C Db Dm G C Db Dm G C Db Dm G E -0--3--1--3------3--6--5--7------8--9--10--10-----12--15--13--15----- B -1--2--3--3------5--5--6--8------8--8--10--12-----13--14--15--15----- G -0--3--2--4------5--6--7--7------9--9--10--12-----12--15--14---0----- D ---------------------------------------------------------------------No sign of Rick-the-Digger this evening, but lots of other geezers plying their trade... Brian (joined in with Digger and me a couple of weeks ago) was playing in the alley next to Bushard's Pharmacy as we arrived. We saw Spider and David in the same alley, as we were heading out -- playing together, apparently. Immediately after that, a 40-ish guy appeared and (seeing our guitar bags) asked if he could join us on bass. I drove up Forest Ave fifteen minutes later and saw him thumping away on a huge upright bass, with David and Spider. It sounded pretty good... and I was tempted to find a place to park, but concluded that I'd had a pretty good run, and might enjoy doing something else (like writing this?) for the evening. Meanwhile, a New Lonely Kid was singing his New Lonely Songs with guitar on the corner of Forest and PCH.
Still, we had a few happy-looking listeners, after awhile, including the Kid who was hovering with J&W the previous week. Suddenly, it changed. A gaggle of middle-aged Farsi gals dropped in, at the center of the tables area, at about 9pm. Clearly, they'd been somewhere else before they encountered us. I think we we were playing 'Roll Over Beethoven' when they rolled in (for some youngster, probably, as Keith thinks of it as a Kids Song). They responded enthusiastically, not just clapping, but hollering for more. I pointed out our song list, and one of them called for 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love'... which we pulled of pretty well. I'm not sure what else we managed to find for them, but they were all for it, even exhorting other people to show their love.
The program had changed -- from the usual playing-for-whomever-happens-to-be-passing-through to Playing For An Audience. Even after these crazy chicks headed off to their next social adventure, a bunch of other people stuck with us, and new listeners emerged. We had requests stacked three deep for awhile, another Persian woman approached to ask if we play private parties (in Tehrangeles)... people were just hanging on the songs...
People came up afterwards with all sorts of very kind encouragements, including "You should turn up a little more." for me. We've experience hints of this sort of response before, but all at once I felt an intimation of the 'celebrity' effect, and above all, I noticed how little cause there is for that, really, and how arbitrary it can be. We've certainly turned in better performances many other times (though we did rise-to-the-occasion pretty well this time) without nearly so much acclaim. Surely it's an illustration of how contagious responsiveness can be, and how 'binary' it tends to be -- either happening, or not. The trick, then, would be to learn how to 'ignite' it. In this case, it was a matter of spontaneous combustion... therefore unreliable. One could learn better, no doubt, how to start that fire. Ideally, it would just take a little spark.
$79 in tips (including a possibly un-cashable $5 check made out to "Keith & Warren") -- matching our previous record at the Mission Viejo Borders, way back in Sept 2005.
We used Jim's StageMate, jacked up on a stand borrowed from Keith... with two Pignose units running off the Effects Send output. We had significant feedback problems, even though the StageMate was two feet forward and to the right of my mic, probably in part because of the neared Pignose monitors, but also, surprisingly, from my $60 Strat, which I used about half the time. The StageMate seemed plenty loud with the master at about 4... even though K&W had it pegged at 10, with an additional spkr (set behind me). That's all quite confusing.
We had our fair of Sharp-tongued Teenage Girls, but nicely offset by a 12-yr old Asian boy who stood just ahead of the stage for half the evening, soaking it all in, and applauding earnestly. I found myself playing better, specifically for him. Highlights of the evening for me: Jim's complex 'Lift' instrumental, 'Where Are You Going' (Dave Matthews), 'Side With the Seeds', 'Locomotive Breath' (a little practice has made it possible for me to really slam the right chords at the right time) and our very own 'Edmund and Lucy' (which seemed to go over well with a group of 18 yr-old guys).
$18 in tips... half of what K&W pulled in last time here, but very good indeed for J&W. Next step: burn some CDs, even if they're essentially the Sampler 4 edition.
But then... we flipped on the Border-supplied Carvin PA head, and heard... an impressive hissing sound, and not much else. We eventually were able to get it to work, barely, sort of, by kicking in the 20dB boost switches for each channel in use, and maxing-out the channel level knobs, etc... It sounded a lot like the proverbial crap: egregiously distorted, and with the power amp (or something) shunting between a low volume level, and one much louder, depending upon some uncontrollable input threshold... so both the singing and the playing were punctuated by startling spikes of even more distorted noise. I pulled the master down after a few minutes, to spare the few attendees, including The Kids, who mostly stayed outside on the patio, wisely.
We just played anyway, after only a brief pause for reflection, and an apology... partly because it still seemed like a good opp to run through a lot of songs, and partly to just accept a pressing-on-regardless experience. It was quite a challenge, but we were both encouraged that we were able to have some very good passes through some of the songs... not that anyone else could tell... though we did also muse about what it's like to be on the audience side of such an experience, and how it may well be possible for a listener to differentiate between The Performance and The Sound. Still, it sounded horrible. It's a wonder that shift mgr Nick didn't tell us to get the hell out of there. We took pains to convince him afterward that the PA head was seriously broken, but I'm not at all sure we convinced him to even have it tested carefully. He did offer us future gigs at the store, though, in the event that we never again see a Borders schedule from The Bob... which seemed very likely at that point. As it turned out we did finally receive a schedule for September... on September 2.
A second speaker wasn't available, so we fed the StageMate's phones output into the tape inputs (RCA jacks) on a second (older) StageMate PA. It worked very well, with the added benefit of a dedicated volume control for the additional 'speaker'.
Daleen and Acacia came along for the ride, together with their full complement of three shelty service dogs [?]. It was very nice to have them there, and the dogs proved to be excellent promoters, attracting other dogs, their owners, and little kids and their moms.
Musical highlight for me: Steve Winwood's 'Can't Find My Way Home' for which Keith graciously let me take several turns.
No confrontations with gallery personnel, for a change. I crossed paths with Digger as I was heading out of town, but felt more interested in getting home to work on projects than to jump into his (highly erratic) program.
We played in the corner, half-obscuring the bookcase, which put 'my' spkr to my side, rather than behind me. Somehow, this worked very well... probably by allowing me to pull up my mic channel more than usual (without inducing ringing). The room is so reflective that there was plenty of sound bouncing back; I could really hear myself for a change.
Special guest: Dave Guy, longtime OC musician (Grandpa's Become a Fungus) who I'd met the previous wknd on my way down to the L. Beach (met Randy Katenhusen that evening too). Dave said afterward that 'Starman' was his fav song of the few he heard... and he offered his services on rhythm guitar and percussion... (?)
16 Aug 2008 :: Jim & Warren sings songs at the Mission Viejo Borders
that inspired the next-to-greatest generation to finally get rid of George Bush.
I was able to dial in my own sound fairly well, though I often wished I could brighten it up further... maybe I should see about new pickups for my $60 Strat... or find the short-scale Jazzmaster or Jaguar of my dreams -- though they offer darker-than-Strat tones. .. or I could just jump all the way to a 'Tele'.... I don't know...
Anyhow... not only were there lots of people -- on the order of Brea Downtown -- there were tables and chairs for them, so there were always people camped out for awhile... some of them quite attentive and appreciative... including a couple of 18-yr old girls just off the boat from Taiwan, one of whom just about cheered for Keith's reading of Elton John's 'Your Song'. She was very keen to know when we'd be there again, so she could bring her (other) girlfriend.
Farah showed up, after all, so we also got to meet her husband Robert [?], and her son. Daleen, Geneva and Acacia were on hand too, together with three service dogs, much to the delight of passers-by. Acacia had a lot of fun counting the cash for us: $64.62 -- right up there with Brea DT... and for a lot less driving.
My shoulder was pretty sore after three hours or so, but we continued gamely for the assigned 4-hour stretch -- Keith without any break whatsoever, and I just briefly went off to get a soda at some point. I did notice that I was flagging a bit during the last hour, but not nearly so much as at the 5-hour marathon at Java Joe's in June. Here, at least, there were people to play for.
For an alternative pov, check out Keith's blog.
Quite a wild weekend for me: Thu, with Luke: StereoFix at the Viper Room, and IPO at The Knitting Factory (Alter Knit stage) | Fri: This K&W gig at the Spectrum Ctr. | Sat, with Luke: NXNP conference (first ever) in San Diego | Sun: Deke Dickerson, and the Smith's Ranch Boys, at Safari Sam's (Sunset, near Western) -- including chatting up the entire spectacularly female Dime Box Band... Kristie, Edie, and my old pal Yolande.
1 Aug 2008 :: Keith & Warren lay down 'Bus Stop' at their first gig at the Irvine Spectrum Center.
Shortly thereafter one of our lady pals from the clothing store at our left came out to quiz us on the gallery gal's presentation, and to assure us that she loves our music. She said they turn their radio off when we start up, and only wishes we were a lot louder. [Is that even possible!?]
Shortly thereafter one of our lady pals from the clothing store at our left came out to quiz us on the gallery gal's presentation, and to assure us that she loves our music. She said they turn their radio off when we start up, and only wishes we were a lot louder. [Is that even possible!?]
We had some pretty stiff competition this time, at right... she sounded good too...
I dropped into the drum circle afterward (in the park next to the boardwalk). I'd brought the bundle-sticks along, in hopes that Sarah might join us, but they proved to work well (against the handle of the gig-cart) for this hopped-up jam.
It's so nice to have so many people to play for, even if most of them are just strolling by on their way to somewhere else (or are meandering back and forth all evening)...
$60 in tips... even better than the first time we played here... and way ahead of the typical Borders outing.
See also Keith's bloggage.
Well... there were some people to play for... not at all the packed house of partyers that we understood to be the standard wknd scene at Java Joe's... but there were at least a dozen people for awhile, thinning to to almost no one mid-way through, and picking up a bit later. For the last couple of hours, though, we played to a Scrabble game, and to a couple of responsive girls (way in the back). It was a bit more like a Borders gig at the Yorba Linda or Costa Mesa store... As Keith said afterward, "Not enough people to call for rock 'n roll"... so we didn't gravitate toward the 'harder' songs, as planned, though we did play quite a few of them over the course of the evening, including 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', 'Southern Cross', 'Five O'Clock World' (twice), 'Old Man' (twice), and even 'Mother Goose'.
At 4-1/2 hours (straight through) it was, I believe, our longest gig ever. By 11:00 my fingers were sore and I was feeling tired, and I could see that Keith was too. It wasn't clear how or when to stop, though. Keith finally decided to 'call it' at midnight, though Chuck and the Scrabble players were still going strong, having roped the nearby girls into some very silly banter about popular medications for STDs.
Concerned that my fingers were hurting, despite the fact that K&W were up the next evening at Borders MV, I had some fun (and limited success) figuring out how to play slide guitar with the edge of a harmonica. It's not ideal, so I must remember to always bring the slide bottle along, but it saved my further injury, and amused the girls in the back of the room.
The sound was limited by the lousy little second spkr we borrowed from Chuck, and Keith's new magnetic soundhole pickup is buzzing badly, but it seemed well balanced, and my guitar sounded right. Once again, I experienced the huge cumulative benefit of playing so often, and of of playing some of these songs so many times. Some of the songs sounded like Best Ever takes -- at least for me -- and maybe for both us us. I captured about an hours worth of video.
One confusing comment to me from the guitarist who was running the Scrabble game: "You need to turn up.". I've heard that a few times times recently, at least with Keith, including the last time we played at Borders MV. I don't understand how that can be right, considering what I'm hearing from the speaker behind me -- unless these people are close enough so that they're hearing a lot of the acoustic sound of Keith's guitar and voice, in addition to what emerges from the PA spkrs. That could easily be true for anyone sitting nearby. Not sure how to compensate for that...
Listening to the video from this show convinces me that my guitar tone is often / usually / always too 'dark' -- especially for the material K&W are doing -- despite rolling off all the bass with my tone controls and EQ pedal. I'm starting to dream of Strat / Twin Reverb sparkle and shimmer.
$64 altogether - $44 in tips, and $20 kindly tossed in by proprietor Chuck. That's pretty good for us.
Weekend gigs on the Joe's calendar are sopped up all the way till December. I declined Keith's query about going in for a Thursday gig soon, and he agreed that he should consider going in solo. So... not sure what's next. It may be the end of the line for me. Keith will probably want to soldier on.
See also Keith's bloggage.
Lovely weather... warm but plenty of shade... a gentle breeze rather than the stiff wind of last time. The stage was set up in advance of Keith's arrival, but in the wrong spot. All was in place by the time I arrived at 10:30.
There's something very nice about these gigs, which was very much in evidence this time: lots of appreciative attention from lovely young moms and their kids - mainly babies and toddlers. They sit on the grass off to the side, or right in front of us, becoming The Audience, despite the presence of a more diverse collection of other people, including dads, at the picnic tables just beyond.
When we first contacted the Zoo about playing there, I imagined that we might play roughly a 50-50 mix of kids and 'grown-ups' songs. I now see how naive that was, given the actual Facts On The Grass. So... this time out, we played the kids songs almost exclusively, including two iterations of 'Puff'. Luckily for me, I like some of these songs too, particularly 'Rainbow Connection', 'Jenny dreams of Trains', and 'The Last Unicorn'... but many of them ('You'll Be in My Heart', 'Winnie the Pooh', 'Puff') seem just sappy, insipid, and even evasive to me.
So I've advised Keith that he should consider this as a great solo gig opp, going forward. He's not even sure about that, since his kids songs probably mean little to the two year olds he'll be playing for here, though I'm sure that the mom's appreciate them very much.
We started right in with Luke's 'Break Your Heart', after reviewing the chords for Jim, and we played it again later. We also ran through at least a couple of other Luke songs, including... (?)
We also played Jim's lovely 'Tangerine Kisses', and my new 'Your Kind Forgiveness' (despite my confusion about the transition 'gaskets' between verses). We played for a couple of hours altogether, sampling several songs from the standard J&W catalog. This proved to be a challenge with Luke sitting in, though, as it's not clear to him how to play on a song that he doesn't know the chord progression for. It's miraculous that anyone can do that at all, really.
Afterward, Luke made it very plain that he'd had a great time, and that it was helpful to have just this sort of venue to start out with. The following wknd he played his first-ever open mic, at La Cave in Costa Mesa, and said it went very well. Now that's what I call Progress.
Video clip: Luke and Dad warming up.
Special guest percussion player: Sarah Rohrer, relaxing with her dad between college semester and a summer job. She would have been content to hang around and listen, apparently, but we pressed her into service with a pair of 'bundle sticks', and my plastic cart as a drum. She proceeded to tap out some rock-steady rhythms, and was confused only by the same songs that we also find rhythmically challenging ('Things We Said Today', for one...)
No emissaries from the Gallery this time, mercifully, despite the fact that our guitars must be drifting louder... on 'Peace Love & Understanding' for example, not to mention 'Side With the Seeds'... One passerby listened politely to 'Honey Don't' and suggested that we should be singing into microphones... very true of course, and a telling comment since I can sing this song louder than any other. We assured him that we couldn't really do that here... which is probably true... though we did set up the StageMate a few times last summer -- when we played in the alley next to 'Toes to the Nose' around the corner. The Gallery Gals would surely consider even the appearance of mics to be an act of aggression, though. It could also encourage other buskers to Get Themselves Electric... which could lead to... who knows... but conceivably to the LBPD reconsidering its policies, or enforcement thereof... so we'd better concentrate on the opportunity to develop stronger singing voices... if that's even possible...
Despite Keith's efforts at poster and cards (set out on every table by waitpeep Cassady at the Tue open mic), none of those people were present tonight. The chilly damp weather and start of the Memorial Day wknd were probably working against us, but this is our third gig playing to Very Few people at Java Joe's... far fewer than we'd see at most of the Borders cafes. $0 in tips this time, so the gas and tolls are down to us.
We're on for one Friday gig on June 20. That will probably mark the end of the line, unless Keith would like to continue with solo dates, because Chuck has already balked at offering us other wknd gigs. I'm not keen on weekday gigs anyhow, given an ample supply of wknd opps, especially when each gig at Java Joe's comes paired with an open mic night requirement, wherein we play three songs, though a badly-staffed PA.
We had a satisfying song selection lined up: 'With a Little Help from My Friends', 'Homeward Bound', and 'Mexico'... but I could barely hear Keith's gtr, so I had to keep my gtr way down -- to where I could barely hear it. As always, his vocal wasn't 'up' enough either... Oh, well... open mics are very often all about playing as well as possible, despite such limitations.
As usual, I could see that we were making a minimal impresson upon the crowd, which does seem like the right word. Surely they could hear themselves a lot better than they could hear us. The scene was wilder yet than usual, due principally to the appearance, mid-evening, of three 40-ish go-go dancer girls, surely inspired / unhinged by glasses of wine. They arrayed themselves before the stage, arms in the air and hips in full sway. The blond in the red miniskirt eventually outdid her sisters with a series of poses that involved deep squats and bending over so far as to make the tiny skirt no more than a decorative ornament... somewhat to the chagrin of her peers... some of whom escorted her to the tables outside, and drove her home, apparently.
Almost as entertaining: Randy's very good rendition of 'The Rain Song', followed by 'All Along the Watchtower'. I captured these songs with my Casio camera, and burned them to a CD to give to him, since I expect to attend at least one more of these open mics.... but very possibly not more than that.
I used the AFS-75 + Pedal Bag + Pignose rig again, which really does seem worth the trouble of dragging that wheeled cart up and down those hilly streets. The Pedal Bag lately consists of: Maxon OD808, Boss GE-7 EQ, Boss DM-3 analog delay, and Guyatone MC3 chorus (in that order).
Worked on three brand new songs: Eric Clapton's 'Let it Grow', Jethro Tull's 'Teacher', and WA's 'Your Kind Forgiveness'. Quite a workout... more tips than we're used to ($10)... and I think we managed some pretty good takes... ... including a probable best-ever rendition of 'Was Not There'.
I'm not sure how (or if) I fit in with 23-yr-old Ray's target market, but he seemed pleased to have me there, and opened up verses for guitar solos in almost every song... which went pretty well, though I heard myself playing certain things more than once...
More to come, possibly... and I've submitted CD and pic for K&W to play here... but it's probably a long shot. J&W might be a better fit, since they're not averse to rocking out a bit, every now and then....
I left after just an hour to join Ray Jordan at the Spectrum Center.
A dark-haired woman from the adjacent Fingerhut Gallery materialized in our midst as we were setting up, concerned about the plate-glass-window-shattering sonic implications of my mighty AFS-75 and Pignose rig. She pointed out that it's illegal to play amplified instruments on the street, to which I parried with a true story of an assurance from a pair of Local Officers that it should be Just Fine, as long as no Disturbance in the Force is created. She then convinced us to agree that if she were to soon perceive that we were interfering with the music in the gallery, that we would Get Lost with no further ado (she suggested relocating in front of the newly-empty storefront across the street). We bid a fond adieu.
She did not re-appear. We played for just an hour or so, but it was well worth it, if only for a best-ever reading of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', due in large measure to Jim's highly expressive rhythm playing. It's very fortunate that this happened, because I played this same song with Keith just a couple of hours later, and it was all I could do to just get through it, not that it was at all Keith's fault...
Jetted off to the Gypsy Den afterwards and caught the last 45 mins of our old friend Michael Miller, who has a new Martin guitar, and some great new songs... my favorite being the unfortunately yclept 'Yonna's Head'. It's beautiful, though.
Good sound, courtesy Keith's StageMate and one of Chuck's spkrs. Goofiest part: having Fox News playing on a TV screen to our right, with the volume not entirely muted. Highlight: knockout finale-medley of 'Four and Twenty' and 'Can't Find My Way Home'.
We just kept going, partly because proprietor Chuck was requesting songs... Very good tips, for us: $54, even with no CDs out. Lot's of encouragement afterwards from Chuck, who insisted that we sounded "great". Two more gigs coming up....
Highlight: Randy backing up a deep-voiced, dark-haired girl on 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', with a very fine guitar arrangement. Biggest crowd-pleaser: tall 45-ish very intense virtuoso blues harp player, with Randy strumming 'Stormy Monday Blues' behind him.
See also Keith's bloggage.
Continued with Digger afterward... despite the frustrations of not being able to pin him down to any particular tempo... I guess I just can't get enough.
Mark H. taped the proceedings, and all or most of it is up on his SoundClick page, including the three numbers we laid down: 'South of the Border', 'I Only Have Eyes for You', and 'Bus Stop'.
It's very lucky for me that this particular session was captured, as I'm playing passably well... much better than at the next time out on the 29th.
Gary Medieros (Acoustic Conversation) was on hand, and was kind enough to take several pictures, and a couple of videos, now viewable here on YouTube: 'With a Little Help from My Friends' and Cat Stevens' 'Wild World'.
Special guests: Vicki Strauss & son, Indian princess dad Jim, with his mother and a friend, and Mark Hermann, prominent local singer-guitarist.
See also Keith's bloggage.
On the way home from checking it out Friday night, it only took about five minutes to agree that the three songs for the open mic should be our smash hits 'Desperado', 'Fire and Rain', and 'Let It Be'. The last one went especially well, I think. I was able to not make any of my several typical mistakes, simply by running through it a couple of times the day before.
The best part of the experience was meeting and chatting up the other participants... Gary Medieros (Acoustic Conversation), Neal Lynch (who we met at Brea Downtown), Patrick (singer-songwriter), Scott (soundman and singer / guitar player) Keith (very good instrumental guitarist), John (very smart tenor sax player), Rafe (teenage singer / Strat player)... not to mention cheerful proprietor Chuck.
See also Keith's bloggage.
As if that wasn't enough, as I'd lean into something with more Resolve than ever before, I'd hear Jim shifting gears to respond to it / take advantage of it... leading us into Deep Pockets we might not have even known were available heretofore... I'd sure like to do some more of that...
It was fun, after all, and we went down pretty well, apparently... at least as far as the staff is concerned. Engineer Steve even said "Preferred Performers like you", as we discussed where we might want to set up next time... (the green lawn near the concessions and picnic tables).
We started at the horrifically early time of 10:00am (I had to get up at 7:30 to make it). For awhile, there was next-to-no one listening, but by 11am or so there were lots of little families stopping by for a song or two, sitting in the folding chairs set up for us. I'd played a J&W gig the night before, so my fingers were a bit sore, but my biggest problem was nutrition. I had a big bowl of cereal before leaving home, but I had to eat the PB&J sandwich I'd brought along for lunch almost immediately, and then half of a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar. I might have passed out otherwise. Next time we can play on a Saturday, and start a bit later... that would help.
Our overall sound is suddenly considerably bigger, too... putting to rest my long-standing complaint that we don't project enough to really envelop people within our program. This is a direct result of Keith recently replacing his home-fabbed cheapo soundhole mic (and metal rattle-bracket) with his old Dean Markley magnetic soundhole pickup. I'm not sure why, but one result of this is that Keith's guitar is substantially louder -- and much more evenly balanced with his voice. The big benefit for me -- aside from knowing that we project better -- is that I can now turn up a bit without being out-of-balance with his guitar. So we're both playing louder, so we sound quite a lot 'bigger', all of a sudden. One factor I'm not so sure about, though... the sound of Keith's guitar and mine have always been widely differentiated... but much less so now that we're both electromagnetic. This is a bit confusing for me, encouraging me to turn up a bit louder than I might otherwise, just so that I can hear what I'm playing distinct from what Keith's playing, especially when I'm playing lines in the bass register. I'm also concerned that we're shrinking our overall sonic 'imprint', though I'm trying to reserve judgement. I should probably make some new MPEG4 recordings.
Once again, I imagine that my own playing is gathering strength, especially in terms of being able to guess the Next Best Note to play, when I don't have set parts for a song (most of the time). High point for me: Paul Simon's 'America'... there just seems to be so much to work with.
Most awkward moment. A young and gracious staffer briefly outlined for us the new No Tip Jar policy -- together with documentation about the previously discussed and ignored CD-sales-through-the-store-register-for-a-40%-cut policy. The tip jar prohibition seems unimaginably inconsiderate to me, especially since K&W often find that the audience is generous ($38 this evening). The staff-kid was entirely sympathetic (and apologetic), and assured us that the he appreciates us, and mentioned that people often ask when next we'll be playing there... I guess I'll try to be thankful for that. It's a good thing we're not In It For The Money.
So I struck out on my own, accompanied by sleeping bag, propane stove, peanut butter & jelly, bananas, apples, and coffee -- thinking I might sleep over (in the rear seat of the Jetta wagon). It took me from 9:30am till about 3:30pm to drive there, due partly to getting off the 10 freeway too early (necessitating a long crawl through Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, etc) and a brief exploration of the barnacle-shell shores of the otherworldly Salton Sea, the smell of which did not live up to its horrible reputation, fortunately.
Salvation Mountain appears just before Slab City proper, so I spent my first 45 minutes here, briefly marveling over the spectacularly decorated vehicles, exploring the catacomb-like inner chambers of the structure, ascending the uncertain steps to the summit -- all while recording little annotated clips with my MPEG4 camera. Visitors Jenny (from Wales) and Doug offered that creator Leonard Knight is now about 77 years old, and explained many other things, including their residence at 'Salton City'. Just when I thought it was time to continue on to the Range, Jenny tipped me off that Leonard had just pulled in, so I scampered down to the ground level and 'taped' him explaining his program to a party of captivated visitors. He's a handsome and charming guy, with an easy smile, and a sincere but self-depreciating stance.
Finally at The Range, I immediately encountered chief organizer and soundman Bill, who was very friendly, despite seeming a bit harried by the logistical demands of the event. We had several brief exchanges over the course of the evening, including his recollection of Jim playing bass and drums two months before. Bill assured me that he could find a spot for me in the program soon, which he did. He confessed that he'd managed to misplace his sign-up sheet, so was doing his manful best to field requests to play on the fly. I went up right after a loud rock 'power trio' (which induced a few (older) girls to dance). I landed on 'You Don't Miss Your Water' as the least likely song to make a mess of, but it went very badly, owing to the sound of the Nomad sounding so strange from a guitar amp, and an all-but-inaudible, worst-ever vocal. I'm hoping that the (NPR?) camera crew that was prowling around didn't pick it up to use as an example of just how amateurish this event can be.
After my disastrous debut, I didn't feature being able to participate further, since even my guitar playing had been a mess, but things turned around after a Mexican kid named Ben asked if he could play my Nomad. As he did, I experimented with playing along on harmonica, trying to follow him as he slipped, accidentally, from key to key. He wondered aloud if he could play onstage, and after concluding that we might be able to swing some blues in E together, I assured him that Bill would agree, which he did. It was an even worse debacle than my solo outing, as Ben proved to be hopelessly confused about the structure of 12-bar blues, or even nn-bar blues... but I could still hear myself playing fairly well, which provided a timely shot of confidence.
So when Bill went up to play a couple of songs, I asked him if I could join in (on guitar) and he said sure. This went much better. Playing the Nomad (un-amped) sounded right to me, including the crunchy distortion from having it up near full volume. I don't remember what songs we played, though 'The Letter' may have been in this set. It was just big fun for me, playing 'bass parts', mostly, and taking a couple of solos, which also went well enough. Bill seemed to appreciate the company, and I began to feel like I was Really There -- part of the action.
A little while later, I fell in with 20-ish singer-guitar player Glenn and his harmonica-playing friend, and we went up for a set of songs from Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Johnny Cash. Glenn's vocal performance rivaled my own for inaudibility, but the Harmonica Kid played well, if chaotically, and I did my best to play unobtrusive alt.chords to the simple songs. It wasn't especially satisfying, but I felt fairly comfortable, except for some fuzzy-headedness, which was surely borne of trying to keep going for so long without something to eat.
There were several other pretty-good performances throughout the evening: a country-rock trio (60-ish Strat player with good chops, but dropping and adding beats randomly)... tall, lavishly-costumed 50-ish Ingrid, dancing sinuously to a non-Ralph Stanley recording of 'Oh, Death'... a lanky, scraggly-haired guy (who'd been playing bass) singing and playing bottleneck-style (very well), on a resonator guitar -- 'Sweet Home Chicago', 'Dust My Broom', and other blues classics -- together with the Harmonica Kid (who was all over the place, but shows promise).... and probably the most musical set of the evening: a 60-ish woman who looks a lot like Mother Maybelle singing several country classics, with lovely improvised vocal harmonies from another gal, and (later) not-exactly-in-tune lines from a teenage girl flute-player who later identified herself, with a straight face, as 'Worms'.
Now all-but fainting from hunger, I reluctantly passed on the slide player's request for a "rhythm blues guitar player", instead repairing to the car to construct a triple-decker PB&J sandwich... though I did surreptitiously play some big chords for him from a nearby bench, for his last couple of numbers.
The long-anticipated rain gently dropped in as skinny kid Zachary shambled up with his acoustic guitar. After some confusion with Bill, he sat down and began to play, as Bill began to load gear into the crumbling schoolbus at stage left. His homemade chord-progression-instrumental seemed like an accompaniment opportunity for a moment, but his playing was so tentative and just-barely-there that I concluded that it was time to Hit The Road, so I walked back to the car, and was starting to fab another PB&J when I heard him launch into the distinctive guitar-intro for 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World', a song that I like very much. Soon he was singing it, and well, so I strapped on the Nomad again, re-tuning a bit to his guitar as I hurried back, and started playing along as I planted myself alongside the stage, just to the left of him. It seemed to work very well, and he glanced over approvingly and started into one more song, which I recognized vaguely, and which was a pleasure to play along to. After awhile, he called out "Solo!", which was a bit startling, but I just Went For It, forgetting everything else, and found something relatively huge to play, after cranking the Nomad to '11'. I limited it to just one pass, and when I looked up at Zachary to confirm that I was done, he closed the song out right there... as if to highlight my contribution. It waa very magical moment for me, somehow. We had a brief exchange afterward where he thanked me for jumping in, and I told him that he had the critical musical spark to be a very good musician.
By now (~8:15pm) the rain had let up, so organizer Bill decided he'd play a closing set, for the few people left -- together with a 55-ish harmonica player, who proved tentative. It seemed clear that it would be fine if I joined him again, so I just ambled up on to the stage. After awhile, the woman who'd sung the country songs so well added some vocal harmonies. This turned out to the best overall part of the program for me. Bill chugged through all sorts of straightforward 60's pop/rock songs (including 'Ghost Riders in the Sky') on his acoustic guitar, singing and playing them monotonically, but at least loudly. I played chords and bass parts (un-amped again, but turned up almost all the way) and a few brief solos, whenever Bill stopped singing (and the harmonica guy didn't step up). Those still hanging around kept urging Bill to play One More, till the rain re-asserted itself, this time definitively.
I'd already decided that I would drive back after the show, and have a quiet day of reflection and recuperation at home before heading back to work. After making another massive PB&J, I briefly drove my car around the nearest dirt tracks, to get some sort of idea of the terrain and accommodations. I saw lots of little RVs and camper vehicles scattered around, many with lights out, and a lot of litter and debris, including what appeared to be the trashed remains of a couple of small boats. It was 9:30pm when I pulled onto the road to the nearby desperate town of Niland and began the long rain-soaked trek north up Rt. 111, along the silent Salton Sea, appearing as a black hole in the landscape, with small rugged mountains looming behind it. It took an hour and a half just to reach the 10 freeway. I saw at least three accidents en route on the 10... one horrific, with an upside down car surrounded by shattered glass, rescue workers, and a dozen emergency vehicles, red and yellow lights ablaze.
Not feeling even a hint of drowsiness, I just drove non-stop, listing to the radio, or attempting to. It was unnerving to scan the FM spectrum for listenable music, only to find that most of what sounded like listenable (if overproduced) pop music quicky revealed itself to be 'worship' music. At one point I scanned through six contiguous stations, four of them Christian, and the other two playing overblown, drum-machine, 'country' music. Eventually, the UC Riverside radio station appeared, playing all sorts of great songs (including the first three from Wilco's Sky Blue Sky album, among them the impossibly brilliant 'Impossible Germany').
I arrived home in a little more than 3 hours, despite missing the exit from the 60 to the 91. I hesitate to mention that the trip absorbed an entire ($38) tank of gas, because that seems like a small price to pay for such a rich set of cultural, social, and musical experiences.
Three minutes clip from the Talent Show (very poor quality).
Very good Wikipedia entry about the Salton Sea -- which has a maximum depth of only 55', and is about 220’ below sea level, almost as low as death valley. It was created by a spectacular overrun of a canal in 1905. There was a vast inland sea in the same location, a very long time ago...
The Neighborhood Cup - Aliso Viejo
Henry, just learning to play, wisely sat out when he didn't know the chords to a song. Fiddler David -- drafted in on impulse just days before the gig -- told Alec he'd lay back a lot, but he did just what I feared he'd do: played continuously (not even stopping when Alec would attempt an a cappella section). Worse, he played in tune just rarely, and otherwise either badly or egregiously out of tune. Aside from all of that, his 'playing' was squarely on top of Tommy's very musical tinwhistle playing.
There were a few good moments: 'With or Without You', Tommy and Alec's fiddle tune duets, Lisa Allin singing 'She Moves through the Faire' (!) with Tommy and Alec.
Otherwise... it was a social experience, but not a musical one, at least for me. Mostly, I just waited for some sonic space to open up, but that almost never happened. Alec's very loud guitar, Henry's big keyboard chords, Tommy's sax and David's ever-scribbling fiddle had it more than well-covered, just about all the time. I could only hear my guitar at all if I really 'stepped on it', and then it just seemed to add to the already raging cacophony.
Great time, otherwise, of course. Tommy announced that he was 'out' later that night, and after Alec told me that he was rounding up another sax player and yet another guitar player [?!] for the upcoming gig at Boscoes [sic] Sports Grill [?!], it seemed clear enough that it was the perfect time to make a friendly and graceful exit, though not before penning a detailed postmortem for Alec.
No regrets. It was a fascinating experience, especially in terms of all the crazy 'band dynamics', including some interpersonal fireworks, e-mail flaming, and the vast differences in p.o.v. between the various 'members'.
We played quite a few Christmas songs, and Keith also whipped out a couple of surprises including the Seekers' 'I'll Never Find Another You'... which I'd coincidentally listened to just the other evening. Judith Durham's vocal is a wonder to behold, and Keith also did a nice job with it. He also resurrected Steven Stills' 'Southern Cross', which he strums, quite rhythmically, so it's a lot of fun for me to bash the chords along to. Another new one, also vigorously strummed: Dylan's surrealistic epic 'Like a Rolling Stone'.
The tide finally turned when 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' (of all things... probably because of the tinwhistle outro) kicked loose some hand clappage... and the place seemed quite a bit warmer after that.
World premier: 'Honey Don't' which we'd played through just once the other night. Very promising... I can almost shout the vocal, and it's great fun to play with the rhythm of it, and there sure is something wonderful about those E to C verse chords (I bVI).
We played 'Side with the Seeds' twice, just to wring it out, now that Jim's got the lyrics pretty well learned. I still don't really know what to do with the solos, but it's a joy to play those signature riffs at the end of them, and it sure is fun to slam those chords. Mary shot a video of us practicing it the other day. It turned out pretty well: 'Side with the Seeds video.'
No Response Whatsoever for 3/4 of the 'show', then big response to 'Starman', and everything thereafter -- due, apparently, to the appreciative attentions of that unusually very tall 40-ish couple.
Used $60 Squire Strat to good effect on several songs -- notably 'Long May You Run'. It sounds much better through the store's Carvin PA than through my little Marshall practice amp (oddly enough), but the volume pedal has a hair-trigger effect with this guitar, making it very hard to make slight adjustments.
Possibly the first totally crashed song ever, in live performance: 'Space Oddity', which we managed to restart, and land successfully.
World premier: Wilco's off-the-charts 'Side with the Seeds'.
World premier (I think): Cheap Trick's 'Voices' - with outstanding JR vocal.
It's essentially busking, with a permit (ready to show to Brea PD officers, who didn't bother to ask for it).
As Keith pointed out, it was not a complete success 'artistically'. The temperature dropped to about 58 degrees, enough to compromise his guitar playing, and enough to provide me with some discomfort. Keith plugged a little space heater into an adjacent palm tree... and would use it warm his hands from time to time. If we play here in January, though, it could easily be much chillier. For now, Keith's excellent workaround is to stick as much as possible with big strummable pop hits, like 'Let It Be' and 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling'... but he did honor any and all requests, including the not-at-all-easy-to-play 'Scarborough Fair'.
My Big Problem #1 was finding some semblance of the guitar tones I've been carefully shaping over the past few years. The wide-open great outdoors space 'sounds' entirely different than a little cafe with its nearby reflecting walls, and low ceiling, for starters -- requiring us to crank up the little StageMate -- which makes it sounds a lot different -- somewhat distorted, and with the mids exaggerated, apparently. It took me quite a lot of experimentation to work up some tones that seemed at all 'right' to me... and each song seems to require something a bit (or a lot) different. I guess that's how one figures out what all of those little knobs are for...
My Big(ger) Problem #2 was intonation. Tuning to my tuner proved pointless for two reasons: Keith's guitar was very sharp after he tuned it to his tuner -- partly because his soundhole mic was feeding a lot of useless information to the tuner -- like the exhaust notes of passing turbo-charged muscle cars. Secondly, my tuner went completely out-to-lunch, so I couldn't even use it to determine a 'visual offset' to help me get each string tuned to the same degree of too-sharpness. Therefore, I had to tune exclusively by ear to Keith's guitar, which I'm accustomed to doing, but it proved to be completely impossible at first. This was probably due to some of his strings being more sharp than others, but it must have also been due to the environmental noise -- and especially the cars passing by. For the first several songs, I could hardly play at all, because everything sounded way wrong. Somehow, I was able to gradually get my guitar in tune with Keith's and then keep it there... until he strapped the capo on, or removed it... but even then, eventually, I was able to sort it out fairly quickly. Toward the end of the program, it seemed possible to just play...(!) Finally, it was difficult to stop, now that everything was finally working well and sounding good.
Given a couple more gigs here, we should be able to figure out how to to get everything better dialed in, more quickly. Warmer weather and quieter traffic would help -- both conditions available next summer, with any luck at all...
The tips were off-the-charts, for us: a guitar case full of $1 bills (mostly) adding up to $50, per guest-manager Acacia. That's works out to roughly my hourly rate for repairing computers, back along the way...[!]
Some straight dope here: Keith's blog.
More pics of Keith & Warren lightly rocking the casbah at Brea Downtown.
Also, as Keith points out, the sound at this South Coast Plaza store is The Best... owing to the topography, I suppose. There a covered window immediately behind us, a solid hard wall to the right, stacks of books to the left, and a relatively low ceiling overhead... yielding some of kind cozy set of reflections, apparently, that don't include 'boominess' or any other problems. It's Just Right.
Still, we were also playing well, and Keith's singing was unusually strong and he was 'giving it up' more than usual... probably because there were some very responsive listeners. My own playing sounded better than usual to me, and I allowed myself to be a bit louder than usual... partly because Keith's guitar seemed loud enough (that's very rare), but also because I was feeling unusually confident about my playing.
Among the standout tracks for me this evening: 'Don't Get So Down on Yourself', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Mother Goose' (my new chords are working very well), 'Old Man', 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling', 'Bus Stop', '5 O'clock World'...
Unusually good tips, as they go: $30 -- partly owing to five people picking up a CD...
An alternative p.o.v. here: Keith's blog.
New song: Cheap Trick's 'Voices' -- "still experimental", advises Jim...
it was certainly tomb-like to begin with, but warmed up gradually. We saw very few familiar faces, but several sets of people really tuned in to us for awhile -- including a group of three 50 year-olds, and then a group of three 15 year-olds (who requested 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'). Another 45-ish fellow clapped appreciatively for several songs, and even ventured, "You guys are great!", as he tossed a $10 bill into the tip jar.
We continue to work on the ever-challenging 'Mother Goose'. A significant problem for Keith is getting his guitar to sound 'right'. Since he's strumming a lot, it tends to sound too loud to him (not at all to me, though), and also too "muddy" in the low end. For me it's a knockout rhythm guitar opportunity (I've finally sorted out a set of chords to cover the whole thing)... and I just love the sound of it.
Keith whipped out James Taylor's sophisticated, 'Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight'. He's been working on it for years, but finally his voice has migrated up far enough to meet the song's high notes, without straining. This has worked out well for several other songs, including 'America', which we also played tonight... much to my delight.
And for just the 2nd time: Elvis' immortal 'Don't Be Cruel'... which is just a lot of fun, and which reminds me of Scotty Moore, though I don't know for sure that he played on the recording.
The chief distinguishing characteristic of this gig must surely been the unscheduled but welcomed participation of our old friend Cathy Cook, who stepped right up to the microphone and provided harmony vocals for several songs.
The Neighborhood Cup - Aliso Viejo
We played for two hours altogether, with Rob doing a set of his own songs for about 40 mins, sandwiched between Alec's opening and closing sets. The gods of kindness issued me a permit to play all the way through the whole program.
Pale-is-beautiful Melissa McKeever joined Alec on vocals for several songs this time, including an angelic and transporting take of Sarah McLachlan's 'Angel', not to mention what's starting to sound like the definitive reading of Christy Moore's 'Ride On'. I played some very low chords to Alec's high ones, and took a break or two on the whistle, which really seems to work well for this brooding Aeolian song. Alec also drafted Rob into his set, on djembe.
Alec played a couple of his own songs amidst the covers, one of which I liked very much. I wish I could recall a scrap of lyric so that I could ask for it again...
Rob graciously consented to having me in on his set, after admitting some concern that my playing might be more busy than atmospheric. His songs clearly would be best-supported by the latter approach. Therefore... I did my best to switch out of my typical linear-stream-of-unconsciousness mode, and into something more elemental, with more empty space, and with less relentless connecting-of-the-dots.
Rob’s carefully crafted and canny songs are made of wonderfully ambiguous chords and progressions. Lyrics are mostly in English, except when they are in Sanskrit. The songs are replete with unguessable twists, turns, key changes, and dead stops. His singing and guitar playing are understated, subtle, and dynamic. I could hear him very well, but he was never too loud, so I never had to be too loud. Everything was in tune... in time... and the tones were good. All of this provided a spectacularly good setup for me.... some kind of magic carpet ride. Some more of that would be very good, so we've pitched a gig to the Cup mgmnt. No response, after a week, though, matching my prior experience thereof.
For the last song, Rob suggested: "Just play certain notes... swell into them...". This instantly reminded me of the video of Fred Firth's masterful volume-pedal work on Evelyn Glennie's 'A Little Prayer'. I'd been lately trying, at K&W gigs, to incorporate some of that art into my own playing... to no avail whatsoever. This time I was able to find a way in... by doing just what Rob said -- taking on just a couple of notes (1 and 5?), leaving enough bandwidth available for my foot, which seemed suddenly able to oblige. This was a breakthrough. Now I at least know it's not quite impossible.
Special guests: Luke and Brandi (welcome back).
The setup was even crazier than usual, with comfy chairs arrayed where we'd normally stand, so we set up 'behind' them, putting us right on top of the comfy chairistas, but quite a long way indeed from the cafe seating area proper. There was just smatterings of response here and there, now and then, but I felt very good about several of the songs, and I think I had a lifetime best performance of two songs that are tough nuts because of some nearly-too-low notes: 'Miss Misery' and my own "Was Not There' (c in both cases). I typically gurgle them inaudibly, but tonight I could actually hear myself singing them. For this I am very grateful, though to whom, or what, I'm not sure...
Possibly the biggest hit of the evening was Jim's vivid rendition of 'There Is a World Inside the World'. That one, at least, got their attention, which is lucky, because it was our parting shot. (No need for encores, so far... luckily.)
He sang most of the songs he sings with J&W, one or two songs that WA normally sings (‘Something’), and condensed versions of most of our instrumentals. Rather than complain of running out of material, he wisely took a break, and then spun through much of it again... for the benefit of incoming students and fans.
By all indications it went pretty well... leading to frothy speculation that Jim is finally poised to quit the band and bust out his long-anticpated solo career.
The manager was kind enough to let us play through without a break, and continue 40 mins past the official stop time. Odd setup: right within the fairly small cafe -- about half the size of the one at nearby SC Plaza.
Good fun... I was able to play some songs unusually well, particularly 'Bus Stop' -- simply due to some kind of critical mass breakthrough from working on it diligently.
One fellow liked us so much he asked us if his wife could take a couple of pics of him standing 'up on stage' with us... we were happy to oblige, of course. Oddly enough, this also happened the previous weekend at the (farewell) gig at the Costa Mesa store.
Better bloggage here: Keith's blog.
Played everything I could think of -- including the most challenging of the lot: 'Banish Misfortune', ' Wm. Tell Overture', 'The Butterfly', and even 'Greensleaves' [tricky because of g#)]
It's a great way to find out what I really do know how to play... and otherwise, just where the problems are -- not to mention learning how to fix the problems in real time (creating a little mental picture of an elusive fingering)...
The Neighborhood Cup - Aliso Viejo
Alec switched back and forth between two acoustic guitars -- one at std pitch, and one a half-step down. He asked me in advance if that would wreak havoc for me, and seemed relieved to hear my "No problem!" response... since the latter guitar gives his (recovering from a cold) voice a break on some songs.
So I spent quite a bit of time plumbing the depths of Gb, Db and Abm... which can be a bit confusing... but fortunately I've had a lot of practice playing in all sorts of odd keys with Keith. It really shouldn't matter, though some keys 'look' a lot more familiar on the fretboard than others, of course....
Very musically happening, anyhow! Alec has an intuitive feel for the dramatic, so things are always changing up... it can seem a bit chaotic at moments, but mostly it keeps everything very fresh, and interesting.
Instead of the Nomad, I used my regular rig this time out: AFS-75, through effects bag and volume pedal board... which made it possible to always be loud enough... and it sounded much better, and gave me more sonic options.
Used the tinwhistle on 'Ride On' (Em C D)... which seemed to go over very well... Melissa McKeever sang on this one again, and also another Melissa.
Highlight: U2's 'With or Without You' -- featuring Shafi on lead vocal. I was going to sit this one out too (it followed Shafi's flute piece) but Alec flipped me a sign that seemed to say 'jump in!', so I did. I found some Edge-style 5-chords, and lines that echoed the vocal... and when it seemed to be solo-time, I was up loud, with lots of echo... with something to say... It was a huge... knocked us all out, apparently, from the big smiles all around, and some later indications... some sort of mystery achievement... like a brief visit to the Ideal World.
Kind words from Alec next day: "It really was a beautiful night lastnight, the feedback I'm getting is stellar. Felt good, audience was totally with us, love it... Lookin' forward to more jams with you!"
Some excitable 20-something girls appeared at one point, as we were putting down some lovely Beatles song... and one, at least, actually screamed, more or less... with (hopefully) delight. She then asked for 'Something', which we were very happy to play, and then "another George song", so we broke into 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. She seemed pretty happy about that too, though this song continues to be quite a challenge for me.
Mo' better story here: Keith's blog.
Unfortunately.... this will be Jim & Warren's last gig at the Costa Mesa Borders. The management has requested that we not return. The infractions appear to be some combination of starting too early, not talking a break, playing for too long, and indulging in a three-hour long jam session. Since this is all at least roughly correct, we can only be grateful that they put up with us for so long. Another strike against us, probably: we were asked to turn down at some point during this gig (which we did, graciously).
It's a bit of a heartbreaker, though, as we seemed to be Getting Somewhere with the clientele, and we like the wide-open feel of where we've been setting up -- which is apparently yet another problem from the mgmnt's p.o.v., as it probably was seen as blocking traffic to the cafe (which is probably silly, since there are so many other entry points, but...)
So maybe we'll just set up on the sidewalk outside the store entrance, and turn up to 11...! Just kidding...
As I ventured to Jim afterward, I'm getting the impression that these people must be somehow forming some kind of essential impression that we sound good, and that they like us. Based upon that, they then cut us sheets of slack whenever we screw up... which was quite often last night. During the 'carefree tune' section of 'Waiting in Line' Jim's guitar disappeared altogether, exposing just how sloppily I was playing that riff. In this case, though, he hadn't actually forgotten the chords, his left hand had just locked up when he grabbed the first big A chord in that sequence. Fortunately, he survived to play a few more songs before we got the tap-on-the-wristwatch signal (at 10:05pm).
One highlight for me: pulling off a pretty good mock-flute solo on the tinwhistle for 'Locomotive Breath' (of all things!). Previous attempts had been pathetic at best. I grant myself some credit for having really worked on it.
There's one fellow we see there every time, who's very keen to keep us well-stocked with Pink Floyd and Yardbirds anectodes. Currently he insists that we simply have not lived until we hear Keith Relf bark out 'Haha Said the Clown'. I'm not so sure, after finding an unsettling Manfred Mann version of this bizarre song on YouTube. Anyhow... he told us that we are the only band that plays there that he can relate to at all. Perhaps we should consider carefully just what to make of that...
The Neighborhood Cup - Aliso Viejo
I joined in on guitar for a raucous and extended edition of that number tonight, and also on the mesmerizing Christy Moore song 'Ride On', featuring a lovely blend of Alec's robust singing and Melissa's ethereal voice, together with Tommy's very right and good tinwhistle playing. I played some simple and low alt.chords.
There must have been at least 50 people in attendance, once things got rolling, including Jim R, and a fellow named Rich who told me fascinating stories of his days at Bennington College (while I was living in town). I think it must have worked out well for the Neighborhood Cup too, whose staff was kept very busy taking and delivering orders.
I brought along the Fernandes Nomad, thinking it would be ideal for jumping in and out of the sets, without any setup at all. I'd imagined a much smaller setting, with far fewer people, and a much lower SPL. Alec had me jack into his PA, but even with the mixer channel and the Nomad's own volume control maxed... I had to play pretty hard to be able to tell what the heck I was playing. The output of the pickup in that guitar must be quite low. I also had no control over tone, so was at the mercy of a very rubbery sound. Next time I'll bring the Ibanez and my little pedal bag, at least...
Still, it felt very good to be part of this crazy-mixed-up-Afro-Irish-hippie-rasta-gypsy program, and I'm looking forward tp similar opps to come.
Among those keeping us company tonight was the lovely girl at right and her boyfriend, who I think have also spent some time with Jim & Warren. She asked for 'The Boxer' (and later 'America' and 'Homeward Bound'), so Keith asked her if she knew Artie's part, and she said she did. She wasn't quite brave enough to come up and stand alongside us, but she sang it courageously and well from her comfy chair.
we have some challenging and great new songs, only played a couple of times so far, most notably Jethro Tull's Mother Goose', full of modal British Isles elements, and nutty all-but-impossible to sing lyrics... The Yardbirds' / Graham Gouldman's 'Heart Full of Soul'... a quirky and countrified version of the Stones archetypal 'Satisfaction'... Tom Waits' / Bruce Springsteen's 'Jersey Girl'... Cheap Trick's incredible 'I Want You to Want Me' (inspired by a Chris Isaak cover)... and new just tonight: 'Here Comes My Baby' ("Here she comes now...").. and revived from days gone by: 'Five O'Clock World', 'Can't Find My Way Home', 'Four and Twenty' and 'Sarah Maria'.
So there's plenty for me to chew on for awhile. I'm just now getting settled in with 'Bus Stop' -- managed the fast little breaks pretty well for the first time tonight.
Get the rest of the story at Keith's blog.
Steve plays at The White House every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday... as many as 80 songs a night. I'm not sure how he can do that, because he really belts these songs out, matched by tough, punchy, rhythm guitar playing... you just might want to get up and dance!
Lots of pretty girls and a few boyfriends did just that, much to my delight, and I'm sure Steve appreciated it. One was kind enough to climb up on stage and kiss Steve (and then me too, for good measure, I guess...)
I tuned my blue Ibanez down a half-step to match Steve's Guild dreadnought... and I'm very glad I did, as he played a lot of songs in open-string-friendly keys (E, D, A, G). This made it a lot more possible to play chords from time to time.
I ran the guitar through my little effects bag, and then into the house PA, alongside Steve's guitar and vocal mic. There must have been some additional compression happening in the PA. I backed my analog delay box way back, attempting to compensate. My sound was a bit odd, but didn't throw me too much....
Steve's program is not unlike Keith's: he plays cover songs out of a big black ring-binder, and has a song list that's at least 100 deep. Steve's songs rock harder generally, as does Steve, and some of the songs are relatively new (like Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy', which I don't think I've ever heard before, if that's possible...)
Steve generously handed over instrumental breaks to me for almost every song... and a lot of these songs beg for some kind of 'lead guitar' work... which is essentially over my head... but I managed to whip out something each time... something very simple, generally. I'm very sure that it's very healthy to be on the spot like that. It teaches you how useless it is to panic, just for starters.
Steve kindly said, "You definitely added cool textures and solos to the tunes.", and assured me that I could join in again... which I expect I will want to do...
Among the songs I recall playing... 'For What it's Worth' (in E), 'Brown Sugar' (in G), 'Roadhouse Blues' (in E), 'Let It Be' (in C), 'I Saw Her Standing There' (in E) and Dylan's 'Rainy Day Women #12 and 35' ("Everybody must get stoned") (in F#?).
So... catch Steve Bonino at The White House: every Wednesday and Thursday evening, and Sunday afternoons, (starting at 4:00pm).
I arrived first, at about 5pm, and found the alley to be inhabited by four or five tough-looking denizens, sitting a ways back, fortunately. I understood that the first order of business was to check in with them. They turned out to be rough tough cream puffs, except for one smaller fellow that offered some thoughtful commentary on the local environment. They all agreed that we could play a few songs, and that Beatles songs would be especially welcome. We would not be shut down by the local authorities, they believed, as long as we were "good". Oh, oh....
The first clear indication that we were not at Borders anymore came from the stumbling 30-something guy who made several heartfelt requests to play my guitar for awhile, finally culminating in an offer of $40. He was ultimately scared off by his wife (and young child) who threatened to turn him into the police if he didn't immediately do something-or-other. Whatever it was, he immediately disappeared.
As if clocking in for his shift, the infamous George soon appeared (at first with a friend who seemed slightly less inebriated). George got right into it. Soon we were a trio, effectively, with George alternating between dance routines of his own invention (right behind us) and air guitar heroics (right between us). He also very helpfully instructed us in the preferred way to grip F#m, and for awhile he was watching my guitar playing so enthusiastically, and so closely (during the outro for 'Starman') that he was considerably closer to my guitar then I was, blocking my view of my left hand altogether. This was all even more fun than you might imagine, but by the time George was throwing up at stage left, I was concluding that my fingers were too sore to play anymore... probably a wild coincidence... - WA
As Jim pointed out, it seemed easier to play here than at Borders, no doubt due to the transience of the 'audience'. For the most part, people simply continued on their merry way. There were a few exceptions, like the fellow who stood next to Jim for the better part of 'These Are the Fables' offering suitable commentary and analysis, and the wide-eyed little urchin who sat himself right down on the sidewalk as we busted into 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', inspiring me to play the solos very much to him.
We took some time out to bear witness to Chandor (sp?) who told us of many things, from making air bags for the automobile industry, to the fatal car crash that happened right where we were standing, 2-1/2 years ago. He advised us that the local gendarmes would leave us be, so long as we did not start drinking indiscriminately.
We'll just have to try this again, and we'll be very tempted to set up the StageMate. I suppose that if people really did start pausing to hear us play that it could seem problematic to the local officers... though we could always scoot backwards into the alley if need be... the risk is surely quite low... - WA
I made us up a 'proper' set list this time, with 22 of what I imagine to be our strongest songs. [link to it]. This allowed us to move on to the next song somewhat faster than we would otherwise, as we generally burn a few minutes just trying to figure out what to do next. That, coupled with starting early (~7:30) made room for a bunch of additional songs -- at least 10... even though we quit a few minutes early. 32 songs is huge for us, tying our previous world record set 26 May 2006, at Costa Mesa.
Something new: Jim busted out this straightforward but irresistable progression, leading me toward all sorts of little adventures: | E \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ D A | x4 | B \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | A \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | \ \ \ \ | [Is that correct?] We also took a few passes with me banging out the big chords, and Jim exploring his way through some lines.
Anyhow, I think we both had a lot of fun. - WA
We set up alongside the cafe area, for the first time, partly to have a good spot for the Casio YouTube camera. It probably is just the best place to set up, for any reason.
We caught at least a couple more half-way decent takes -- of Starman (at right) and the much-loved Wish You Were Here -- convincing me that both of these are very much among out strongest songs -- in large part because Jim is doing the heavy lifting with the vocals... though I have a lot of fun attempting harmony parts here and there...
Special event: World premier of Jim's fine new song-with-words 'Tangerine Kisses'. - WA
Pleasant surprise: the reappearance of our long-lost fan Cathy Cook, who came specifically to hear us -- an otherwise unheard of proposition. I found myself more reluctant to sing with her there, but she seemed to enjoy just about everything we dished up. It was nice to have some songs ('Something', 'Star Man') she'd not heard before. She told us afterward of the recent passing of her pal Luan, who we remember well from our first Borders gigs in this area.
I caught a few songs with my new Casio EX-S770 still camera, which takes good MPEG4 videos, with unusually good sound. Some of these lo-fi clips sound considerably better to me than they did as we were playing them... somewhat encouraging...What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love & Understanding? for example, despite a lot of little goof-ups on my part...
I imagine that These Are the Fables turned out pretty well too -- for us, at least... and I like the overall sound of Something, despite the shaky lead vocal... - WA
Requests were flying in like paper airplanes (or spitballs) tonight... just about out of control... poor Keith hardly got to pick any songs himself, by the time we got the "Last song!" call at about 10:10...
Altogether, it's getting to be more fun to play here. People are starting to remember seeing us before, which seems to lead to a better response, which makes the place feel a lot 'warmer' than it used to.
I was quite anxious just beforehand, but once we were underway, I felt at ease, except for a few minutes when known-hotshot guitar slinger Richard was listening. Even then I was able to hold it together pretty well. Jim seemed to be in very good shape, and made very few goofs.
We played two 25 min sets at lunchtime, alternating with Steve Clark, who sang pop songs with guitar, including Peter Gabriel's 'In Your Eyes'. We started out with Jim playing his Songwriter (with brand new strings) uplugged, and with my AFS-75 into my pedal bag and out to a Pignose. Jim found that he had to play very hard all the time to be audible at all, so for the 2nd set he agreed to jack into Steve's Strawberry Blond amp, which worked well. We must have been twice as loud for our second set, which made it a lot more fun for us, and didn't appear to cause a problem for the attendees or organizers [...or are they just too polite to complain...?].
For the first set, starting a bit late, we just managed to get through just...
1. Gravity 2. Undertow 3. If and When 4. Edmund and Lucy
We got considerably farther in the second set...
1. Tango Mysterioso 2. Gravity 3. If and When 4. Yorba's Linda (briefly)
5. Linda's Other (briefly) 6. Edmund and Lucy 7. Undertow
I'd put the chromatic harmonica number 'Tango Mysterioso' on the set list to give any listeners a break from the guitars, but then meant to skip it, except that two or three people asked me when I was going to play the (hallway companion) harmonica. I managed to bollox up the outro, but it went well enough otherwise. It certainly does offer some contrast to (relief from?) to everything else we do...
The real gold was mined in 'Gravity' (JR), 'If and When' (JR), and 'Edmund and Lucy' (JR & WA), though. The latter especially, is full of dramatic color changes, and we love to lay into those huge chords in the B part: G F#m Bm, slicing them precisely to fine red ribbons....
It was quite a lot of fun, altogether, and full of little expressions of surprise from people who didn't expect to see us holding forth in the corner -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
Steve Clark accepted my offer to join him for his second set, which went pretty well (as far as I can tell), and was great practice in divining the available clues about where the song is going, and where the singer is going with it... so that I can at least not crash the song on the poor guy, or interfere too much with his arrangement. He seemed to be happy about it, though, comparing it favorably to other experiences with people sitting in and doing much more harm than good... and it was pretty big fun for me.
Breaking a string on our second number ('I'm Only Sleeping') didn't help... My guitar was never quite right afterward. Still, it turned out to be not so scary, and mostly a lot of fun. We had our usual fair share of rough edges, dropouts, and outrageous goof-ups... but I thought that we must have been sounding pretty good, overall. For some reason, I could sing fairly well, and Jim was in very good voice.
"You've been practicing!", said Ms. Regular, after some song that went pretty well. After some discussion, she was willing to back that off to "Well, Maybe it's just that we haven't seen you in awhile." I'm going to take her at her first impression though, because I need a little of that...
We got through 27 songs altogether, compared to our usual 24 or so, and included all of the ones that scare me ('Miss Misery', 'Waiting in Line', 'It's Only Natural', 'Something'...), and most of the ones that scare Jim ('Angelyne', 'Alison', 'Cruel to be Kind'...).
And we tossed in quite a few of the homemade instrumentals, including 'Gravity', 'Rosewater', 'Yorba's Linda', 'Undertow', 'Edmund and Lucy', 'Tango Mysterioso', and Jim's new 'If and When', which I can't seem to get enough of.
One big highlight of the evening: Jim's reading of David Bowie's 'Starman', with me chiming in on the "Let all the children boogie" choruses. - WA
The Regulars seemed to tolerate us pretty well this time, with the sweet curly-haired gal going so far as to say that they really look forward to us coming in. No gigs there in August, alas... partly due to mgr Cidne's election to not have music on Friday nights, at least for now.
Special guests included former Toshiba buddies Sandy Crowley and Cheryl Cooley, Indian Princess people Todd and his wife, and a woman who mentioned in passing that she'd seen our gig listed in the OC Register, and had come specifically to hear us, after catching us once at RSM (2004, probably). Now that's a rare thing.
Pleased to see a little girl at his feet, Keith whipped out 'Dancing With Bears', but with a twist -- a hitherto unknown and unheard verse about Uncle Walter's wife, and her crafty solution to get her fair share of his waltzing (Matilda) budget. Several people laughed out loud, including me... and I'm just realizing that Keith should have a shot at writing C&W songs, as they absolutely require the clever turns of phrase and clear storytelling that he's very good at. More to come, apparently: a song for the Indian Princess program called 'Dads Just Want to Have Naps', to the tune of Cindy Lauper's pop hit.
Keith introduced Steve Stills' 'Southern Cross', which we'd played through a couple of times way back when, but not since. It rocks a bit, which sure is fine with me.
My intensive string-bending practice over the Back East vacation set me up nicely for a best-ever rendition of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'... it's really a relief to finally not make a complete mess of those two solos.
We also found ourselves lacking various bits of gear -- Jim forgot both harmonica and its rack, and our trusty 'Ringo' (metronome) and I forgot half of my cables... leaving me just enough to connect up the Ibanez, only, which proved to be just fine.
It sure was a lot of fun, in any event... not to mention funny. I had to laugh out loud in the middle of 'Rosewater' over Jim's spectacular, if inadvertent, set of melodica chord substitutions. Still, we did not quite crash the song! We had some other close calls, notably in 'Space Oddity' when Jim manfully carried on a capella for some time, while we both waited for the next recognizable guitar chords to roll around, which seemed to take a very long time. Nonetheless, we did not quite crash the song!
Yorba Linda proved to be the perfect venue for this sort of re-immersion session, since no one, essentially, is listening... though certain numbers elicited fairly strong responses... 'Rosewater' in particular, owing to it's comic impact, apparently. Another big crowd-pleaser was 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away', which seemed very odd, since we made quite a mess of it. I was quite confused about the chord progression, and Jim only somewhat less so... I did notice, though, that I was singing it strongly and Jim's chiming in for the chorus made it sound huge... so... it will be interesting to hear the playback...
We made a special point of playing smash hit instrumental 'Yorba's Linda' (not to be confused with the undefined 'Linda's Yorba') -- since it was conceived here... way back in 2004 or so.
I made up a set list beforehand (by drawing boxes around entries on the song list, as we've been doing lately), and boldly included all of the 'really scary songs', and to our enduring credit, we heroically did every single one of them, including the following daunting, if not downright terrifying numbers: 'Miss Misery', 'Something', 'Rain', 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away', 'Space Oddity', 'It's Only Natural', 'Alison', 'Mary', 'Waiting in Line', and 'All My Loving'.
One big surprise for me was that I could sing at all, considering a recent Bad Cold, and other problems... and not singing while practicing, but I was somehow able to sing better than usual, which is most encouraging, as singing is very much the most challenging part of the program for me.
Another pleasant surprise was how good we seemed to sound, at least when we weren't confused... It seems almost as if we're hearing the fruits of our labors reflected in an ever stronger, more confident, more dynamic and more musical performance... if that's actually possible. It's still not quite magnetic enough to pull teenage girls away from their magazines and boyfriends, but it's enough for us to have some kind of Genuinely Musical Experience... which just may be all we really need.
Keith says hello... "Good afternoon, Castille!"
We were outside on the playground this time, facing the kids at their picnic tables, arrayed in rows under blue cloth canopies. The sound was unhindered by the confusing echo we'd heard in the OCEAA cafeteria. We used the school's big portable PA, with a satellite speaker, so there was plenty of SPL. Daleen came by and taped most of the proceedings.
The kids appeared, as before, in three shifts, up to grade 6 (or Acacia's 5th grade class, at least). The response was all over the place. Some kids paid little attention, but a lot of them crowded right up against us (ignoring the orange traffic cones Mr. G, had set up to protect us), shouting requests, jumping around, dancing, screaming, and generally cutting up. I'd forgotten, if I ever knew, just how loud a group of screaming little girls can be... crossed my threshold of pain at least once...
Keith inquires... "Who's cooler, the third graders, or the fourth graders?"
We played everything from 'Puff the Magic Dragon' and 'Rubber Ducky' through 'Streets of Laredo' to 'Fun, Fun, Fun' and 'Take Me to the River', and to close the 'show', we rocked them silly with nothing less than 'It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)'. Keith's extremely distorted (run through a Pignose) electric guitar disappeared when he stepped on its cord -- about when I jumped into the bagpipe-emulation solo, but I was able to carry on, and said "Here comes the G chord!" to orient him when he got back online. It's a very good thing we had that song ready to go, because we'd been hearing lots of requests for AC/DC - from the boys, at least -- though the song they called out most was 'Back in Black' -- understandably so... got to learn that thing... not sure who could sing it, though...
One particular lesson from the OCEAA gig came in very handy: When a wide-eyed 10-year old boy asked me, "Can you play 'Smoke on the Water'?", I explained that we didn't know the whole song, but I whipped out the lick for him, to his utter delight. He re-appeared ten minutes later and asked "Can you play the 'Smoke on the Water' thing again..?!" I was very pleased to do just that.
As I was visiting the boys room just afterwards, I heard a big unison cheer from the playground: "Thank you Keith & Warren!". That seemed awfully nice, and helped me understand that something or other had just happened. "Are you coming back tomorrow?" called out one little girl, as we packed up... causing me to think that I wouldn't mind doing this more often.
Next stop... the local YWCA...? The director stopped by to check us out, and seemed to like us a lot.
For further study: AC/DC -- with Bon Scott on bagpipes -- blasts (or pretends to) It's a Long Way to the Top from the back of a truck heading down one of the main streets of Melbourne.
I'll have to miss the next one (Back East Trip). Mark must be having second thought about this program...
People were quite responsive, still, leading us imagine that we may be sounding pretty good, even if we're making a lot of small (and big) mistakes.
Tried out my AKG C1000C condenser mic for vocal and harmonica. It's incredibly sensitive... but (as some reviewers have noted) incredibly susceptible to feedback. I couldn't find a workable level setting for it, so switched to the Shure AXS-4 condenser, which seemed to work pretty well, but it looks very odd, with such a tiny head...
Unusually strong response to: 'Wish You Were Here'. Surpisingly strong response to: 'Waiting in Line'.
This is the only date that Jim & Warren have in all of June, so we'll have to take full advantage of our North Lake opps. Very fortunately, Jim is all done with school.
Lot's of appreciation, including from the regulars, some of whom dutifully dropped a buck after Keith mentioned the CDs and the tip jar. ($20 altogether).
We tried my Shure AXS-4 small-diaphragm condenser mic for recording the StageMate's output. It will be interesting to hear how it compares to the cheap dynamic mic we're been using. I hope Keith adjusted the input level to compensate for this mic.
When I got home there was an e-mail msg waiting from a woman who said she'd enjoyed our show tonight, and wondered what we might charge to play at a house party. Not too much, I expect!
An extroverted black man just behind us commented that our rendition of 'Mary' reminded him of his old favorite crooner Neil, so we blasted off into 'Cowgirl in the Sand', followed by 'Long May You Run', 'I Am a Child', and 'Sugar Mountain' (after a quick preview of the chords for Jim). He seemed to be happy to hear it all.
Our inebriated buddy from the last gig here was on hand again, but seemed content to assume a more supportive role this time, thanking us profusely and repeatedly for playing a song from Neil Young's Harvest ('Long May You Run', which doesn't happen to be on the album).
Jim was tempted to skip over 'Locomotive Breath', but relented to his desire to get it straight. Man... it's a lot of fun to get those chords to snap open and shut like that... bam bam bam...!
We heard all sorts of scattered but somewhat enthusiastic applause this time... quite unlike what we usually experience here... it could be a fluke... but maybe we're starting to earn something like that...(?!) That would be nice. We really did have a lot of trouble with some of the songs, but I do believe that we are getting somewhere with this thing... we sound stronger, generally, especially on songs we're finally at home with, and.. I suspect... we're just sounding better as we make the transition to just getting through songs to actually bringing forward their musical and emotional essence... I could be hallucinating, but this is what we're striving for, whether we're conscious of it or not, at any particular moment.
The absence of recording gear, the knowledge that his voice was in rough shape, and the initial complete lack of response from the (unwitting) attendees conspired to make Keith feel unusually relaxed, and he would up feeling very good about how it went down. After awhile, the crowd got bigger, and more demonstrably appreciate... very much so for the last half-hour or so. Lots of tips, too, especially for SCP ($30). Four CDs disappeared, one in exchange for a $10 bill.
Is was all good for me... the joy of playing seems to only increase over time. The more I play, the better it sounds to me, which inspires me to push myself yet a little further... I may slip into some sort of infinite loop if I'm not careful...
I switched over to the RISA electro-uke several times, for songs for which I don't have a more or less 'worked-up' guitar part. It seems like a good way to break things up a bit. It's quite a good instrument, and a joy to play. I expect I'll keep it in the act.
When Keith launched into 'South of the Border', I got to whip out my brand new 'customized' harmonica -- a James Gordon Special 20 in A -- for the first time (with K&W). James re-works Hohner harmonicas per the celebrated Joe Filisko method. It's just the ticket for playing with Keith, who believes that the harmonica is best heard unamplified... as the James Gordon unit is considerably louder than the stock Sp20 I've been playing. It also rings with rich high overtones which seem especially desirable on a harp this low. I've been using a Sp20 in G with J&W that James 'built' for me last year. I've very happy with both of them. I recommend them, and James -- who turns out to be a very nice guy.
Notable attendee: the (familiar-looking) tall, skinny, long-haired girl who dropped in comments from time to time, including an admission of being 50 years old. We had to relocate her, at which point she mentioned that she had her own band... which was working up original material "...not covers". Perhaps that explains her unflinching restraint. She highlighted one of the song lists in pink to indicate (we presumed) her several requests, but she walked away as we launched into the first or second of them, and if she enjoyed any of them, she was very careful not to let on. She must have known how much that unnerves us.
Broke in my new wheeled cart to carry bag, gtr stands, uke, etc... quite a big help.
Biggest crowd pleaser: 'Take Me to the River'. We played it hard and loud... a huge contrast to our usual delivery. People were really listening by now, inspiring me to turn up, and really dig in. It got a noisy, enthusiastic response, and I'm quite sure that it had everything to do with not only our pretty good performance, but the fact that it was actually loud enough to have a physical impact upon the listeners. This is all too rare for a K&W song, though we did at least approach that intensity on a couple of other songs, this time out: 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'You Were on My Mind'. Luckily for me, J&W bang it pretty hard (even too hard for me, on rare occasion), or I would be in quite a jam.
Jim suggested, earlier in the day, that maybe we should have an actual set list -- in addition to the thing I call a set list... but which can't really be a set list anymore, since it has 38 songs... rather than the 18 songs to be found on one of our early Borders set lists.
38 songs is way more than we can get through in a night's work... at least at our current rate of one song every 6.875 minutes -- based on tonight's program of 24 songs in about 160 minutes -- and that's probably a record for us. Anyhow... what we really have, as Jim pointed out, is a song list -- a list of all the songs that we imagine we can play. We pick and choose from it as we go... and (as Jim noted) we often spend a lot of time just staring at it, trying to decide on the next song.
So... in a fit of genius, I drew green boxes around 20 of the songs on the song list that I thought we ought to attempt this time out: the brand new ones, the ones that still scare us, and a few I know we love to play. I think it probably did save us a little time, but I wound up begging off on scary ones line 'Miss Misery' and 'Something', because I was terrified of further amusing the pretty girl off to the right who flashed me a big schadenfreund smile when I loudly blew a chord in 'World Inside the World', and because the very loud couple straight ahead were also listening, and even commenting...
Once these horrible people had drifted off, I was game to try anything, including the aforementioned, and also Michael Miller's 'Mary' (weak, but somewhat promising), and a World Premier of 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' complete with my out-of-tune recorder outro... but which seemed quite strong otherwise, and 'Something' which is still a challenge for me to play, but the singing seems to be going well... with a lot of help from Jim. We managed a pretty good reading of 'Waiting in Line' too, or so I imagine. I can almost play that all-over-the-place outro thing.
Most fun of all for me, and quite possibly for Jim, was our 2nd-time rendition of the more-obscure-than-I'd-have-guessed Beatles (John) proto-psychedelic 'Rain'. I love singing a low harmony, and a high echo for "When the sun shines", not to mention taking an instrumental verse. The best part of all, though, was the unscheduled off-the-wall jam that just happened coming out of it... very roughly corresponding to the brief outro in the recording, but we must have run with it for a couple of minutes. I found a nifty G7sus4 figure (lifted from the 'Strawberry Fields' outro, from the sound of it), and Jim was doing something that sounded quite musical... whatever it was. We may be very glad to have captured it, and everything else, with the MiniDisk recorder. It seemed to be very much a string of magic moments -- as it unwound, at least... and the people in the comfy chairs went wild, just a little bit... though we could not have guessed that it would be their cup of tea, exactly...
The venue: the Orange County Educational Arts Academy in downtown Santa Ana. It looks like a warehouse on the outside, but it turns out to be full of crazy little kids. We set up in a corner of the cafeteria, and played to 1st through 5th graders, in three 15-minute shifts. Keith noted afterwards that the sound was 'cacophonous'. He was very much to the side of the Stagemate, without a monitor, and so was hearing nothing but echo, probably. I was slightly ahead of the SM, and also had my Pignose as a guitar monitor, so it sounded quite clear to me, and well-balanced.
The littlest ones loved us the most, predictably, though, as Keith pointed out, they were also enjoying the opportunity to over-dramatize their response for the amusement of their buddies. We heard a few requests for "Elvis!" from them, and from the other groups too, including one specifically for his 'Teddy Bear' -- possibly a response to us playing 'Teddy Bear's Picnic'.
Even the 4th and 5th graders seemed very happy to have us there, though. Several boys came up to check out my guitar, and to ask if I'd seen School of Rock and if we could play 'Smoke on the Water' (10-year olds still know of this song?! Perhaps it's in the aforementioned movie...?). Trying to play that riff reminded me of 'Take Me to the River', so I said so, and to my delight (and astonishment) Keith launched right into it. This, along with a lively rip through 'Roll Over Beethoven', proved to be just the ticket for this crew. The kids to my right responded by pounding mightily on their table -- right in time -- providing us with some kind of bass drum sound. I found myself turning their way and playing right to them... with them, really.
Now that's my idea of a pretty good time...!
From: Jane Ross Laguna Sent: Friday, May 12, 2006 8:07am To: Keith Comer
The kids loved your gig! Thank you both for sharing your talents with OCEAA students. Your generous spirits are very much appreciated! Take care, Jane
It was more fun for me than I'd expected. I had made Mark promise to round up at least one other guitar player, fearing that I'd have to be the rhythm section all by myself... not exactly my forte. Guitarist Mark was there, fortunately, though he proved to be even more tentative than me, so I stepped up to the plate... and that turned out to be all right, after all. Fortunately, I'd brought along the AFS-75 electric, and the Pignose amp, and pedal bag... so I had some good tools. Mark found himself wishing he'd brought his electric. He probably will next time. Once the harp players start using their mics and amps... we might get pretty loud... enough to get shut down...?
It was a great workout sorting out as many ways as I could think of to play E7, A7 and B7 (we played in other keys just occasionally). Very fortunately, bassist Rob was there, and Kevin lent him a tiny little Danelectro practice amp to run his bass through. It didn't sound like much, but it was very helpful... especially for me. I'd let him start off at some tempo, and then slide in and stick with him as best I could.
Two other harp players were on hand: Steve, and Kevin -- who plays at a near-virtuoso level in first position, and is just starting to get the hang of 2nd position cross-harp, not to mention jamming with other players.
At Mark's suggestion to play a country song, I ran through 'You Don't Miss Your Water', and felt very comfortable doing so. I could see, though, that it wasn't easy for the other players, except Mark, to improvise to it, partly because of the Em (let alone the F). I may try to work up 'Stormy Monday' for the next jam. Rob had suggested it, but I knew I didn't have part with the minor 7th chords straight in my head. Perhaps I should whip out 'You Don't Love Me' from Bare Wires...? I'd like to try that with Jim, actually.
At Mark's suggestion, I played harp too, from time to time. It proved to be a great opp to try out my new James Gordon Special 20 in A - perfect for this jam's preference for the key of E. See a little more about this instrument in the bloggage for 20 May 2006 SCP K&W gig.
We closed with a special request from Kevin: 'This Land is Your Land', of all things. I was able to play the chords behind him, after a little bit of experimentation. He made it clear that he really appreciated it.
World Premier #1: George's 'Something', which was shaky, but seemed very much worth doing. We're playing it down in G (The Boys did it in C), since that's where Keith & Warren do it... but it's surely much easier for me to sing it there too. The highest note in the vocal is d; it would otherwise be g. This is a good example of J&W re-purposing K&W material (also 'Let It Be', and 'All My Loving' -- all Beatles songs, so far.) In the other direction, K&W picked up 'Love Hurts' after J&W had been playing it for awhile, and K&W very recently do 'Alison' (though down a full-step to D).
World Premier #2: a very rough reading of John's little masterpiece 'Rain', which we're not really equipped to do, and which we don't even quite know the words to, but we're both in love with it. Jim suggested this one, and sings the lead. I found a low harmony, like something George might have added. The whole song is just G, C, and D, with a Cadd9 over "Rain". It's nothing short of incredible what they constructed atop such a simple foundation, including a snatch of nutty backwards vocal toward the end.
After we played through Jim's worthy instrumental 'Other', which he was somehow able to remember, Jim generously renamed it to 'Linda's Other' to sit better with its companion piece 'Yorba's Linda '(not be confused with Linda's yorba, apparently...).
We finally braved Michael Miller's beloved 'Mary', which we've been trying to resuscitate lately. I'm not sure when we last played it... at the Michael Miller cover night at the Gypsy Den? Typically, I can't sing it very well, but tonight it went much better than I've ever heard it.... and I can't imagine why. Possibly, I just need to be sufficiently 'warmed up'.
We got a "Last song!" signal from the petite shift manager, like last time, but this time earlier -- 10:15. She assured me that this is because she "can't count money" until we're out of the building. Jim was impressed to learn that we have this special power over shift managers. He suggests exercising it over the attendees, to inspire them to unload uncountable quantities of cash into our tip jar.
A first for me: breaking a string during a performance, the G string, no less, toward the end of 'Orbit' (the first number!). It threw all my other strings wildly out of tune... so I switched back to my Burke tinwhistle. Fortunately, I'd just recently put a complete set of strings into the bag... so I sat on the floor and changed it while Jim ran through 'Gone' by himself.
Jim's 'Gravity' went especially well, and a 60-ish fellow came over to ask us what that song was right afterward, and who wrote it. "I really enjoyed that!", he said, or something to that effect... It does seem like a remarkable thing, somehow.
We literally forgot to do our barely-worked-up 'Something', but we did manage to pull off (pretty much) the world premier of 'Undertow' (formerly 'Roadside Ruminations'). Jim was reading the chords off the sheet I printed for him -- understandable since there are so many of them. I really like the way it sounds with his big chords underneath it. There's probably also room for a melodic line on top too... maybe a Loopstation could make that possible on a 2nd pass...
We went in early with the idea of running through everything, if possible, which turned out to be a bit unrealistic. We did get through some 28 numbers, though... very good for us. That leaves about 7 more... and that's not even counting 'Not Fade Away', our newest candidate. It starts to beg questions about how many balls we can keep in the air at once...
This Borders seems awfully restrained, always. It was quite awhile before there was any response at all tonight, and then it came in fits and spurts.
Lots of tips, though... partly because a genial black fellow tossed in a $20 for a CD (after I told him they go for whatever he'd like to donate). We also scored four or five little Jesus-freak pamphlets. You can never have too many of those.
Jim was very tired from much driving and visiting, and I was too, though some coffee helped a lot. We started quietly and slowly with a mix of the instrumentals ('Orbit', 'Gravity') and songs that we're at ease with 'World Inside the World', The Song About The Hurtin' Love... but we got a pretty good head of steam up after awhile, and braved all the scary ones -- 'Miss Misery', 'It's Only Natural', 'All My Loving', and even 'Waiting in Line' (which seemed to go over pretty well).
There was a lot of response... some from the regulars, who were there in force, and more from people at the tables, especially young Alex and his pal, who seemed very happy to hear us do the likes of 'Space Oddity', 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Perfect Day'. At one point we looked up after a song, and there were five or six people standing just beyond the tables, looking right at us... as if there might be something interesting going on (just behind us, perhaps?). They didn't stick around, but that seemed like an intimation of what could happen if we could ever pull off what we're trying to do... whatever that is...
I can't imagine why, but I was able to sing pretty well, for a change. I'd meant to sing a lot throughout the week, but didn't manage much, so I thought I'd be worse off than usual, but I could tell my voice was as strong as it's ever been, and much stronger than usual. It wore out after awhile, but I was able to turn in some pretty good vocals while it lasted ('I Am a Child', 'You Don't Miss Your Water'), and I also had a very good experience with the harmony parts 'World Inside the World', 'Long May You Run', 'Wish You Were Here', 'Perfect Day'...)
All in all, the most encouraging gig in quite awhile for me, and a very good time, at least, for Jim.
Only one of the regulars appeared tonight, which is unprecedented, but there were many appreciative people to pay for, a few of whom picked up CDs.
Nice conversation afterward with 20-something guy who just bought an amp and is having trouble making the transition from acoustic guitar to electric. It was nice to have all sorts of advice for him, and to have him listen carefully. It wasn't so long ago that I went through much the same thing. It's still hard for me to believe that I'm actually comfortable playing an electric guitar, finally.
From Keith's blog: "Looong set. We usually clock 42-44 songs in a night -- this time was 53." 53 songs in one set?! Don't tell Jim & Warren, who might get through 20-25...
I like the sound here... owing to the wide-open spaces, no doubt. I was able to dial in a much more satisfactory sound than usual... I'm seeing that it's often helpful to have the overdrive pedal (Maxon OD-808) kicked on just a bit (and the next night at MV I found that it's often good to engage the neglected compressor (MXR SuperComp), for sustain... though moderately, or it can flatten everything out too much.
Used my new Guyatome MC3 Chorus pedal for the first time in a gig... quite sparingly, as the effect seemed much more apparent tonight than when I first used it with Jim earlier this week, while teaching him 'Roadside Ruminations'. I like the sound of chorus just a little, so I need to have the rate set to the slowest frequency, and I'm not sure where to set the 'depth'.
Based on our experience last wknd that tracking with Keith's Dell notebook (mic in) requires flooring its input level, only to produce a very weak recording, we tried adding my RShack impedance adapter between the mic that's set up in front of the StageMate speaker, and the notebook's input. It was still necessary to max the input level, but we wound up with the best-ever live recording: very strong, well balanced, and with no clipping. There were some good performances, too, so this one is worth culling for another CD, to be clearly labeled "Live", and "Mono".
We had our first ever "Encore!" request, from one of the regulars, to which we responded with 'Wish You Were Here', which also got a big response, along with the comment "Pink Floyd?! Nobody does Pink Floyd...! You did it well, though..."
The sound was pretty horrible, with hard walls immediately to the rear and left, and open to the cavernous space above the store on the right. Worse, the store PA started acting up midway through, with awful buzzing distortion, and sudden drops in the volume. Fortunately, we had the StageMate right there to switch over to. Hopefully, it will continue to hold up for us... though I have some doubts about that...
Despite all of these people that came to see us, we wound up mostly playing for some very responsive people who made a point of sitting right up next to us... including a very sweet Hispanic family, complete with a 10-year old daughter that wanted to hear the songs from the Disney movies. Her dad, though, asked if we knew any Peter & Gordon songs... [What?!]
We made a special point of playing 'Miss Misery' for Amy, a known huge Elliott Smith fan. It was a little weak, but probably pretty good for us. I have a hard time singing the first line of each verse, which drops down as far as C, which is low for me, apparently. maa said later that she especially liked 'It's Only Natural' (and seemed to have guessed what the lyrics are all about). That's good to hear, though at the time, I felt that we were playing it at an nearly-random tempo. It will be interesting to hear the recording, captured by the new HI-MD unit again, but this time with the level set by hand, conservatively.
Once again, we carved out a space directly opposite the cafe counter. Otherwise we would really be boxing in the people in the cafe proper. This way, people can easily stay away / get away from us, and just as easily settle in closer, if so inclined.
No sign of old friends Cathy C. or Luan.
Jim captured the whole thing to his new HI-MD recorder, with the AT stereo mic pair... but set the input level too high (17/30), so everything was severely clipped... and unlistenable, except maybe once (for us)... to try to discern the performance underneath the crushing distortion.
No sign of known entities Luan, or Cathy Cook, but we did recognize one gentleman, whom we suspect to be a collaborator...
We arrived an hour early... good thing, as it took 15 minutes to find a parking spot. The plan was to bust out early to catch beloved songster Michael Miller at the Gypsy Den, but Jim's homework budget would not allow it, after all, so we just played another half an hour or so longer.
I think we did pretty well, aside from my feeble attempts at singing... and even that didn't seem too bad at times. Jim sounded very good, fortunately. We got a pretty strong response to a few numbers, notably The Buddy & The Julie ('Holding Up the Sky'), and the various Beatles songs -- 'Let It Be', 'Things We Said Today' and maybe especially 'All My Loving' -- now incorporating Jim's very fine idea of starting with a half-tempo instrumental verse and bridge, before we bust into the full-speed ahead (154bpm) version, featuring those triplet treble chords that John played so well, but which are a bit of a challenge for me... though this time I managed 'em (mangled 'em?) pretty well...
Once again, I didn't quite brave 'Waiting in Line', though it doesn't throw us nearly as much as it used to... it's been sounding pretty solid at recent North Lake sessions.
Early on a madly-grinning blond woman with two pre-teen girls and a vaguely familiar-looking husband appeared. It wasn't till they'd all settled in that I blurted out "Karen?!". Fortunately, Vicky had let me know she'd be coming, or I'm not sure that either of us would have have recognized our former marketing manager colleague.
For the last 45 mins or so, almost every song was greeted with a generous share of clapping and smiles. At the very end, after Keith said goodnight, there was one final big round of applause. Now that's the first time that's ever happened!
He seemed surprised that we'd received no notice, while admitting that they'd also turned away apparently un-notified chanteuse Olga the previous week. Since he was preceding most of his statements with, "I don't know what you guys want to do, but we..." I finally said, "Well, we'd like to play. Maybe we could do a relatively short set...?" ...to which he replied, "Well, we just want to have the Christmas music." (wafting gently from the ceiling speakers).
There's more to this story, but... apparently the local store was jumping the gun on an agreement to have no music from January forward. In any case, that's it for gigs at this Borders store, at least for the foreseeable future. It will be hardest on Keith, as it was his favorite venue ever from Day One, though he agrees that the Mission Viejo store _sounds_ the best of all we've played at. I also think we've gotten our best audience responses there (for both groups, possibly).
Anyhow, we had a great time, and it more than made up for the uneasiness I felt last night at RSM (another problem there is the less than warm reception). Another big help was the 30-ish girl and two guys that stayed for awhile, listened to everything, and let us know they were enjoying it. Jim's rendition of 'Wish You Were Here' really got them. They even seemed to like 'Rosewater', which Jim suggested trying, over my reservations... it's been awhile... but we managed it pretty well. One of the regular older gals mentioned afterward that she really enjoyed that one.
We checked over the 'set list' afterwards, and discovered that between this night and the night before, that we'd done every number, with the single exception of 'Tango Mysterioso'. That was a very pleasant surprise, as we were afraid we'd let some of them go a little too long to be able to reel them in again.
Next up, a vivacious and preternaturally engaging 16(?)-year old, who told us very earnestly, as we were tuning up and noodling around, before we'd played anything... "You guys are good.", leading into the ensuing brief but remarkable exchange between her and Jim. We'll forgive her that she kept begging us for Michael Jackson songs, because she really listened to us, and because she seemed to be in head-over-heels in love with us. With a little help from her boyfriend (?), she kept us company for the entire evening.
Another highlight was the unscheduled 7 minute-long jam we fell into when I asked Jim for an Am chord, in preparation for the 'Things Unsaid' bit we do, to launch 'Things We Said Today'. I managed to get lost a few times, but mostly it felt like one of those rare magical spontaneous musical combustion events... that make us want to be nothing more than a jam band. No doubt it was more fun to play than to listen to, but here's the final 30 seconds of our Am / Em jam, followed by another much-appreciated comment, this time from a 30-ish geekoid fellow sitting just to our right.
Yorba Linda's gig-slot is at the Borders-regulation 8:00-10:00pm. Typically, we'd arrive at 7:30, with the idea (at least) of playing by 8:00. This time we pulled in at 6:30, and were playing by ~7:15 (additional time burned setting up iAudio U2s for recording). Then we played for about an hour and fifteen... time enough for 10 songs... and almost no impromptu jamming. Don't tell anyone, but we were on the road by 8:45.
We managed pretty good run-throughs of new favs 'Miss Misery' and 'All My Loving' (and forgot to do 'It's Only Natural' and 'Waiting in Line'), as well as old standbys like 'Perfect Day' and 'Four Seasons in One Day'. The recording displays the gritty noise heard in of all our attempts to record with the U2... which seems to indicate that it's being introduced by either its A/D or its MP3 encoder... Jim recorded once also to MD, and said that it was quite clean. I'll be tempted to try recording with a notebook, next time out, and let CoolEdit do the encoding. I'll also try taking a feed from the PA's line-level Tape Out jacks.
The Joe Show was very good, and we missed only the first two or three songs. Joe sang his songs and played good strong bass, with Kurtis Gentile rocking out on his fav Telecaster (run through his vintage '63 Fender Bassman) and supplying very helpful harmony vocals, Roger on a full drum kit, and Barry Hovitz (sp?) waxing passionate on a couple of synths.
Joe thanked us for showing up, between songs, and even called out our special efforts to get there, which Jim had explained in advance, via e-mail. "Are they paying you now?", he asked. "Oh, yeah.", I replied (soon wishing I'd added "...with ice-water"). But, honestly, Jim & Warren aren't complaining. There are some big advantages to _not_ being paid for a gig... including the freedom to split early, and more... the freedom to try out new material, for example, way before it's ready for, say... a paying audience.
Heike, Steve, Mardi, Tom, Penny...
As I mentioned last we played, I'm double-booked for Borders gigs this coming Saturday. This is likely to happen often, given that the bookings for SD and Orange Counties aren't coordinated. So that's a bit of a mess. The other problem for me is feeling Spread Too Thin. My two duos have me doing six weekend and now four weekday gigs each month. It's good... and seems like it might be just about enough... (I'm trying to stay married at the same time)...
So... much as I've enjoyed playing these great tunes with you, and much as I enjoy your company -- I hereby bow out.
...It's been good. Thanks for making a place for me in your merry band. I expect that I'll see you all again, perhaps at Tom Giblin's or maybe someplace where I have to buy a ticket to get in...!
All the best, - Warren
It was very hard to stop. It was much better, in every respect, than the previous night's gig at RSM...
At this point, though I still don't actually 'know' most of the songs we play (I generally have only a vague idea of what the chord progression is, at best, and often know only what key it's in, and occasionally I'm not sure about even that), I do have all sorts of ideas about what to play for a lot of them, and I do have entirely 'worked up' parts for a few: 'South of the Border', 'Guitar Gently Weeps', 'Let it Be', 'I Only Have Eyes for You', 'Stardust', 'Take Me to the River', 'Forever Blue', 'I Saw Her Standing There', 'All My Loving', 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', 'Tennessee Waltz' (harmonica), 'Fields of Gold' (melodica), 'With a Little Help from My Friends'... that's thirteen, anyhow... and I'm working on the intro for 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' on harmonica, and ideally, melodica (tricky... and Keith plays it much faster than the recording).
I Also think we played pretty well. Keith's voice sounded good, despite singing last night, and my playing was better than usual, encouraged by the fact that there were actually some people to play to. We were fairly loud too (for Keith & Warren), which really helps pull people into the experience, I'm quite sure.
Last night at SCP we pulled in $9 in tips. One night at Tully's in 2003, we were astonished to find $39 in the tip jar. That's been the record ever since, until tonight: $79! There would have been even more, surely, if we hadn't sold out our supply of CDs. It's not like we're in it for the money, exactly... but that will buy me a week of lunches, plus half a tank of gas. I find that comforting.
We left a bit early hoping to catch Greater California (Terry Prine & Co.) at the Den, but they were packing out by the time we got there. We did manage to chat up Terry for a few minutes, and share recollections of the Michael Miller cover night that we all performed at (Jim & WA did 'Mary'; Terry did 'Priscilla' (but shied away from singing the big note, dropping an octave instead). Mr. Miller was there too, discoursing with Chris Lonawati, having not played his gig on account of not being able to sing at all lately... talking pretty well, though. Michael rode up to Lake Arrowhead with Jim and family the next day to catch the spectacularly devastating Beatlebomb dropped by Kurtis, Chico, Barry, Joe, Roger, Chris, and Mark Mancina.
Jim mentioned afterward that he'd actually been feeling a bit under the weather, with a sore throat, and maybe a mild fever. I was thinking, "Lucky me... I'm feeling pretty good!". By the time I'd arrived home, I had my own very sore throat, and by the morning I was sniffling and sneezing mercilessly. It lasted a week. I stayed home 2-1/2 days from work. Jim managed to stay home just two days. It could be a wild co-incidence, but I had the cute wait-peep refill our ice waters toward the end of the set. She _might_ have very carefully noted which of the two identical plastic cups (with straws) was mine, and which was Jim's... but I doubt it.
Jim captured the whole bloody mess on his little 1GB mp3 player/recorder. Listening to some of it today, I heard a badly mangled 'Cry Baby Cry' (I was too out of it to remember any of the lyrics), but then Jim's very smooth segue right into our instrumental version of 'I'm Only Sleeping'. Once we got going, it sounded pretty good, with me guessing pretty well where the melody is. At the end, the recorder picks up the kid behind the counter saying, "You guys rock!", followed immediately by guffaws from both Jim and Warren, who were probably still feeling pretty shaky. Very kindly, though, and dead serious, the kid continues with "I'm not joking... you're good... I'm lovin' it." Jim and Warren proceed to laugh some more, as if it was just too silly to contemplate, but now I wish we'd just said, "Hey... thanks!", because he clearly meant it, and listening to the song now, I can see where I might have enjoyed it too, had I just happened to be working the counter that evening. (There but for fortune...))
Anyhow, we braved a world premier of Neil Finn's 'It's Only Natural', after losing track of it for about two years. It's not there yet, and those high f#s and g#s in the vocal scare me, but I think we'll have an honest go at it, because we both love that song so much. I can almost play the signature lick, and it sure sounds more like it should, now that I can drench it in gobs of glorious analog echo.
We certainly did screw up a lot, but from time to time we sounded quite 'strong', as I tend to put it. This is at least in part because I was having a much better experience singing than usual... which may be mostly a function of improved confidence... which was due at least in part to the response we seemed to be getting...
It's been five weeks since we've played anywhere (excepting a couple of outside-Waters Restaurant episodes)... with Jim away out in Missouri, soaking up the very special musical world of Branson... but also Eagle Springs, AK. ...so we were ragged, but not catastrophically so. We played our relatively new 'Let It Be', and 'Alison', and had another go at 'Rosewater', extending it a bit by adding a pass with WA on his new Special 20 low-F harmonica (very nice!).
At the request of impresario Michael Miller, I put this little band together, for just this one little gig... but actually I just drafted in the existing nucleus of the weekly session at Tom Giblin's pub in Carlsbad. They were gracious enough to say Yes. and then I sat in with them for several sessions to get a feel for their tunes, and how they play them (pretty damn well). They didn't need me, but I sure needed them. We selected ten sets of great tunes, including a lot of my old favs (Swallowtail, Road to Lisdoonvarna, the Butterfly, Temperance Reel, the Mason's Apron, the Kesh Jig, and some equally remarkable tunes that are new to me (Campbell's Farewell to Red Gap, the Snowy Path, Farewell to Ireland, The Gravel Walk...)
Reports of rain the day before made it seem likely that the show would be called off, but the weather arrived sunny and cool -- just about perfect for playing. The stage is tiny, and was half full of the gear for the band up after us. There was no way to put five chairs in a semicircle, as I'd imagined. Tom thoughtfully suggested setting up behind us, which made it all fit, just barely. I had a good view of Steve's left hand, which kept me from straying too far from the path... as I knit bass lines and god knows what else around his big blocks of chord harmony.
I set up Luke's big AT 30335 LDC condenser mic, through his PreSonus TubePre, thinking that we'd use just that to capture everything. Since there was another mic already set up, Michael put it near my guitar, at first, and we slid the big mic more toward Steve and Heike. Michael jacked a line into the output of my tuner as we got underway... not what I had in mind, but it did allow us to slide the second mic a little more toward Mardi. Michael must have done a very good balancing act, if what Luke's camera caught is any indication. Heike is way up there, where she should be. Steve's guitar is loud and clear, and I can hear myself too, most of the time. Mardi is not especially audible, owing mostly to her playing style, but also to swapping seats with Heike, so that Heike would be closer to the big mic. Tom is in there, somewhere, even though we had his own mic dedicated to his bodhran.
We attracted a small, but enthusiastic audience, including maa and Meeta. Luke was kind enough to capture the whole thing to video, which indicates that we sounded pretty good. It sounds very 'together' most of the time -- which has everything to do with how strong Heike's playing is, and with how accustomed she, Mardi, and Steve are to playing with each other. It's tempting to take this show on the road... to Vicar St., suggests Tom, but should we start with somewhere closer to home... Mission Viejo, perhaps...?
1 minute streaming video clip of the intermittently acclaimed Irish Wanderers romping through a smashing tune at the Earthday event at The CAMP, Costa Mesa, 23 Apr 2005: The Red Haired Boy (Windows Media Video [.wmv])
We got through to a few people, apparently... lots of scattered hints of appreciation, and lots of tips. New fan Rick from last week at Brea was on hand to cheer us on, and to insist that we sounded better this week than last week. Now we're off for five weeks... that'll be a challenge.
The saving grace is that we played well... meaning stronger, with more conviction, and with greater dynamic range... than ever before, I believe. As Jim put it, "My guitar playing is feeling a little more under control, which is a fairly recent phenomenon. I still make mistakes, but I think the playing has become a bit more deliberate, mainly because I think I have more cycles to apply to the right hand where I used to have to focus on the left and let the right do whatever it wanted."
The vocals were strong too. I can't imagine why, but my own voice was stronger, and less scraped-up, than usual. I noticed I could hit most of the really high notes pretty well. I thought that the vocal harmonies were particularly strong... for us at least.
It seemed to me, as we started every other song, that we must pull in some new material, and not just a song or two. Jim appears to be all for it, and has introduced 'Let it Be' recently, while I've had us working on 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' (both of which Keith & Warren do). Here's my first draft of other candidates, though I'm sure I'm forgetting a few that we've been turning up over the past couple of months: 'Miss Misery' (Elliot Smith), 'Waterloo Sunset' (Kinks), 'Let it Be' (Beatles), 'I'm Only Sleeping' (Beatles), 'Waiting in Line' (WA, mandolin), 'Song for Sammy' (WA, melodica), 'Apache' (Hank Marvin and the Shadows), theme from 'The Magnificent Seven' (Elmer Bernstein), Cerulean Blue' (WA, guitar), an Elvis Costello song of Jim's choosing, 'Mandolin Romance' (WA, mandolin)...
I'm realizing that we're very lucky to have no further gigs in December, which will relieve the pressure to spend whatever time we have refreshing the current numbers. So we have a good starting point, at the very least.
A bunch of 18-yr olds tuned in to us for awhile, for the first half hour or so, which was both very encouraging, and a bit alarming, especially when one pretty black-haired girl pulled her chair over right up close... yikes...! Jim's wonderfully inscrutable 'Orbit' pulled them in right away. I stuck with guitar, rather than switching to whistle, and was finding some new lines, inspired by Jim's discovery of, and immediate incorporation of, a whole new part for it, in medias performance... very cool indeed... he just slipped in a couple of new (but well-related) chords, and we were off in a new direction... like some sort of bona fide jam band. When we finally pulled out of it, we heard an enthusiastic round of applause to our left from some smiling youngsters, to whom I briefly explained what had just happened. They seemed to appreciate it, giving me the impression that some of them, at least, were budding musicians. I felt that they were listening to us for whatever musical merit we might have, rather than to hear some great songs. I'm sure that they didn't recognize any of the material, once we established that they didn't know of Rhett Miller. We lost them gradually, as we launched into our set of songs. It occurred to me later that we could have kept them interested for some time if we were to just jam on the chord progressions for those songs, as we are won't to do anyhow, from time to time. On the other hand, when I look around, and see a bunch of mom-and-dad sorts of people, I imagine we should play them a song, maybe even something they'd recognize... "Things We Said Today', perhaps....
Otherwise... we were a bit ragged, not having played much over the last two weeks. We need some new material, no doubt. We'd practiced my melodica number, 'Song for Sammy', the night before, but skipped over it tonight, though I am keen to make something of it.
We also met Mr. Jim Augustine, who appears to be in his 70s, but has danced with Little Richard on stage as recently as 1995, and did not hesitate to request 'Wipeout', for which Jim was immediately able to beat out the drum part, on the body of his guitar. I couldn't quite guess how to play it on the spot, though I did sort it out a little later, around 2:00am....
Mgr Cidne is very kind to us, even inviting us to keep playing at 9:45, when closing time is 10:00pm. She calls for 'Rubber Ducky', of all things, and sits down for a bit to take it in.
Several Christmas songs tonight. Keith's pretty sure it's close enough.
We dropped in with what we imagine to be two of our strongest songs, both of which seem like especially good fits for The Den: 'Four Seasons in One Day' and '(What's So Funny about?) Peace, Love and Understanding', in that order. We had some trouble with them, as usual. My guitar was almost too hot to play, which threw me a bit. Jim was having the opposite problem. Still, I think we put them both over pretty well. I could sing pretty well for a change, and I could hear Jim's great harmonies, somewhere in the distance. My voice seemed to disappear unless I was right on top of the mic, and Jim reported the same perception afterward. I was able to look around enough to see that a few people were listening, just here and there among a sea of socializers. There was some slightly-beyond-polite applause after each one, but I realized that we hadn't really cut through the fog.
Our recent gigs have spoiled us a bit. It's so good to have a big block of time, not only to play more, but to have time to warm up and settle in, get the sound dialed in, get my guitar in tune, and then build some momentum. It seems almost freakish by contrast to jump up, set up some minimum set of gear, and blast right into a song. On the other hand, I'd love to be able to do that better, and there could hardly be more ideal training than these open mics.
As Jim pointed out right afterward, it's tough to have no monitor! He could barely hear his guitar (and mine was too loud), and we could both just barely hear our vocals, partly because there was lots of ambient noise -- quite a big crowd, and full of people there much more to hang out than to hear the music. At Borders, with the big speakers at either side and turned in half-way toward us, we can hear ourselves pretty well. I've stopped using the Pignose as a monitor (though it still helps with Keith, as we typically still use just the StageMate).
And what a luxury to have some control over the sound! At Borders, and anywhere else, we run the PA ourselves. If the vocals seem faint, I'll just reach over and twist that little knob a bit. At an open mic, the MC typically runs the sound, which can work very well... Last night, though, as we noticed listening to the people that followed us, even the good singers sounded weak, because the mics just weren't up high enough, and everyone's guitar sounded like it was Nashville-tuned, because there was way too much treble, and not much else in those channels. We remembered that it was very often like that.
One saving grace: We heard some good music, including the spectacularly talented young violin player Joe Khoroosh of After Miles, who is just in from South Dakota, of all places, with his guitar playing pal Isaiah.
We had the lucky pleasure to encounter proprietor Joe as we strolled in. He is our local hero, and an inspiration for us to plow these fields of song and dance. Joe told us tales of his new studio digs near City Hall, which is smaller but less likely to be flooded in the uncommonly hard rains of October.
I hurt my voice on the drive over, but was in pretty good shape by the time we actually started. I was able to sing some things stronger than ever before, which is quite encouraging.
Lots of interaction with the audience this time. I think we're starting to get the hang of that. I played my little chord progression in F on my Piano 27 melodica, in place of a whistle tune, and Jim found a good supportive rhythm on his shaker-egg to go along with it. All in all, quite a good time.
Luke came by and 1. videotaped the whole show, 2. took a bunch of digital still pics, and 3. recorded the whole show to Jim's portable Archos HDD recorder, using that great little AT stereo mic pair. The video is full of local ambient racket, including a continuous unrelated voiceover by Luke's girlfriend, but it reveals what may be a few best-ever performances, notably 'Peace, Love & Understanding'. We think we may try that out at the Gypsy Den open mic on Thursday night, which we haven't checked into in quite a long while.
Jim recorded most of it on his Archos player, though with its built in mic. Next step is to catch a set with his great AT stereo mics, set back aways. We also talked a friendly-looking female student into snapping a few pics.
'Peace, Love & Understanging' was a standout... thanks to 'Ringo' -- our trusty blue metronome -- getting us off to a brisk 120bpm start (up from 117). A cut-back 'Tango Mysterioso' with a new dramatic ending went over exceptionally well, as did several other songs, including 'World Inside the World', which we played again at the end.
As we were bidding this wonderful audience a fond adieu, we heard someone call out what Jim took at first to be "Popcorn!", but which we eventually decoded as "Encore!", spoken by an all but indescribable oriental gentleman that we now know as Luan. "Encore?!" Now that's a first for Jim & Warren, and a lifetime first for me, and not something I ever expected to hear at a Borders cafe. We obliged with another run-through of 'I Am a Child', which went considerably better than the first time.
Afterwards, we had a series of remarkable conversations with Luan, who drives a very odd-looking 1987 Daihatsu with somewhat more than 200,000 mile on it. He heartily recommends that I drive my 1990 Fox for at least that many miles, though I expect to chicken out about 50,000 miles shy of that mark...
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk - Irvine
We finally set up near the entrance to the parking lot, facing the walkers' pathway, on a little stage with a much larger canopy. Keith used the new StageMate, off to his left, on a stand, and I jacked into the old StageMate, off to my right, on a chair. I could hear both of us pretty well, so didn't bother with the Pignose for monitoring.
Inspired by the wide open spaces, not to mention the rock band in the far corner of the parking lot, we cranked it up way louder than usual, which augmented further the surreality of the scene.
People soon began appearing... strolling by in clumps and dozens, or jogging solo or in pairs... There was much waving and smiling... and it seemed that the participants considered us to be a lot of fun, at least. Some would pause to snap a pic, or shoot a couple seconds of video... which is way 'outside' for us. We would cheer them on, and urge them not to quit now... or we'd just keep playing.
Keith realized, mid-way through, that there was nothing to gain from ending a song, finding a new one, changing capo position, and retuning, so he just carried on with a couple of them ('I've Just Seen a Face", for one) for eight or ten minutes... quite a workout, but exactly the right thing to do, as everyone streaming past was hearing only a 20-30 seconds clip of it, anyhow.
Special guest: Geneva, who helped us set up, was great company, and then took lots of pics -- from behind and above the walkers.
It was great to play for so _many_ people... several hundred... I expect we'd do it again next year, should anyone ask... unless we're too big to play for free anymore by then... (captains of industry have appeared on the horizon)...
Mgr. Cidne offered some kind feedback, and complained that we were stopping on time, rather than running over for awhile. The crowning glory was when teenager Heidi came up just as we were shutting down to ask (sincerely, I think) "Do you guys have a CD...?" I had to admit I still haven't burned any, but urged her to grab a card for the URL, and check out the one song ('I Am a Child') posted on my site. I pointed out the mailing list clipboard, and she actually filled in her name and e-mail address.
I brought only the Blue Ibanez, not also the Black Nomad, and found that by bending the strings a lot while tuning up, that they would settle in enough so that I could yank them all over the place for 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', and pretty much get away with it... good to know, though it's still a bit hazardous... not that I can yet play anything worth hearing for those solo breaks.
Keith is playing Chris Isaak's 'Don't Get So Down on Yourself' recently. I think it sounds wonderful, and it's heaven to find slow winding lines for. The biggest crowd pleaser, though, appears to still be 'Let it Be'.
The day before, I replaced the Ibanez's unwound G string with a wound one (.020) and it makes that string about 100% easier to tune, and it stays there much better. This really pays off in 'With a Little Help from My Friends', which I pack full of treble chords, which now all sounds in tune, for the first time.
$2 in tips this time, rather than $61. The playing itself was a pleasure, though this will have to be the last time I have a bowl of coffee ice cream before playing...
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk - Fullerton
It's a good thing that I had my Pignose for a monitor, and that Keith's guitar is so loud, because we wouldn't have been able to hear ourselves otherwise. A few people gathered briefly, and listened, but otherwise, it was an awful lot like not being there.
Still, just playing is such a pleasure that we didn't really mind. Keith was so relaxed by not having anyone listening closely, that he delivered some great performances, and felt like it was happening effortlessly. I experienced a fair bit of that too, after I was finally able to figure out how to tune to Keith's guitar (by ignoring my tuner).
We're looking forward to the next JDRF event, which promises to be quite a bit different. For one thing, we'll be playing during the 'walk' part of the program, rather than afterward, as we did this time.
Quite a bright night altogether... many pockets of slightly enthusiastic people... including long lost Gary E, and family... Keith's new signage and stack of CDs filled the tip jar -- $61USD... a whole week of cheap lunches... and way beyond the previous record. All in all: great good fun.
Official time slot: 7:00-8:30pm. That's a long way to drive for such a thin slice of time, especially since we could easily arrive late, but we were playing by 6:30, and carried on with conviction till we finally faded out around 9:30.
What an odd set-up... not in, or even facing the cafe, but alongside it, facing the front entrance, with the cafe to our left. The staff cleared away a couple of big tables full of books, replacing them with ~16 folding chairs facing us. That was ~12 more than we needed, but it made us feel pretty good, just at first.
Our audience consisted mostly of the friendly 20-something security guy / restroom-token dispenser, and another staff guy who was really listening, and kept finding more great old songs to request...
For the first half-hour or so, though, we had the pleasure of playing for four mad teenage black girls, who sat down right up front -- giggling and falling all over each other -- and hit us up for the few songs on our list that they recognized: 'Love Hurts' [?], 'Georgia' (she was listening for Ray; Keith was singing Willie), and Kermit the Frog's 'Rainbow Connection' [?!] (It had earlier been called for by a staff kid with an advanced sense of humor). They disappeared after we had some kind of misunderstanding with them, but it was fun while it lasted. Now if we could just get the China girls in La Habra to act like that...
The demographics mix was altogether different here than anywhere else we've played. Lots of Hispanic bangers skulking around, for one thing, and not many Asians at all. Otherwise... people of every imaginable description came past, many just for the restroom tokens, most likely.
Special thanks to the 40-something lady who was listening and smiling from the cafe, and then told us we made her day, and proved it by dropping $5 for a CD.
We used their PA, the same little unit as in Cerritos the night before, but this time with the speakers up on stands. We even used their mics, which seemed to work as well as ours. $3 in tips -- even better than last night!
We used the store's miniature 6-channel Carvin PA, with the speakers set up far left and right, turned toward us at about 45 degrees, which allowed us to think of them as monitors also. Jim suggests that we bring along the Stagemate as just a backup from now on. I could use one of the two additional channels in the store PAs for the mandolin... It would be nice to be able to do 'Waiting in Line', at least... and I should jack the B-25 into one channel, instead of using the A-B switch... except it allows me to run both guitars through the tuner... hmmm... I could run an output from the PA into the tuner... but then wouldn't be able to switch the instruments off with it... This is the way we learn, apparently.
By prior arrangement, Luke joined me half way through. We did three or four of his songs, a couple of them twice, augmented by some extended jams, which got into some hopped up rhythmic territory. He played my B-25 acoustically, and I jacked the big blue Ibanez AFS-75 into the pedals (adding some OD-808 distortion), and the Pignose. We had a good time of it, and attracted the attention of a couple of budding guitar players, which seemed very welcome after two hours in outer darkness.
We played a pretty shaky set, with more jamming than usual, to comfort ourselves, perhaps. We did manage to get through a debut of 'Tango Mysterioso' -- the peculiar number that WA plays on his Koch chromatic harmonica. It must be a pop song from the 30s, but we're at a loss to name it.
Highlight: Keith's rousing reading of We Five's 'You Were on My Mind', which is big fun for me, even though I get lost after the key change. Slyvia Fricker wrote that song -- not the We Five's arrangement, though.
We set Keith up with my TU-2 tuner (I his clip-on unit myself) this time. Getting and staying in tune was a breeze right from the start. I find that as long as Keith is in tune himself, I can tune 'by ear' to him pretty well. If he's out of tune, though, it's like trying to tune to two or three guitars that are out of tune with each other.
I've probably never played as well -- anywhere, anytime -- as this evening. Generally, I was able to hit whatever I was shooting for, and it seemed to sound pretty good, or better. On a few songs, I felt that I'd done some best-ever playing, including 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', and Chris Izaak's wonderful 'Don't Get So Down on Yourself'. I could see that playing so often is improving my playing -- in several respects, especially in terms of improvising lines, and more especially, in finding just the right next note to play. Two people made a point of saying something nice to me about what I was doing, including the 20-something Beatles fan, and a serious older woman from S. America. That's unusual... and helpful.
All this despite Keith's admission afterward that he was screwing up a lot, having practiced little during his FL vacation. Still, he sounded good, and confident, especially as the evening progressed, and he had a great time of it. I got off to an especially groggy and awkward start, arriving late after collecting a traffic ticket (obstructing traffic) en route. It was a good hour before I could get my AFS-75 in tune enough with Keith's Ovation to be able to play at all. Thoughts of packing it in crossed my mind... It turned out that Keith was having some trouble getting in tune himself... his little clip-on tuner doesn't hear his low E string very well, and he was switching his capo on and off a lot. This problem somehow gradually faded away, and eventually I felt like I was able to get in tune, and play pretty well. It certainly did help that people seemed to appreciate us so much. $39 in tips -- that's only happened once before.
Jim's other compelling chord progression is 'Gone', a name that he chose under duress. We used that for awhile tonight too, and it inspired me to try some "glass-finger guitar" as Don Van Vliet called it. It's the first I've ever tried improvising with slide guitar in a gig, and it seemed to just require a lot of concentration, rather than be impossibly confusing. I found this very encouraging.
I also braved 'Blue Skies' on the tinwhistle, with Jim on shaker, trying to guess what tempo I had in mind, if any. We used the same (D) whistle earlier for 'Orbit', which makes for a great match, apparently.
One other introduction that seemed to go pretty well: G.P.'s 'Hickory Wind'. I'd tried it once before, solo, at the Gypsy Den, and wasn't sure it got anywhere. Jim seems to want to make a regular place for it. Hopefully, there's a good harmony vocal opp in there for him. Thanks, lastly, to Mike the Gearhead, for an onslaught of possibly useful information about stompboxes, vintage amps, and the financial status of Allan Holdsworth.
No equipment failures whatsover this time, and we debuted our new monitor system: a pair of Pignose amps jacked into the Stagemate's line out connector. They induce feedback, but we're working around it. The set list was about the same as in Brea, but jumbled up, and with the addition, at WA's urging, of Jim singing 'Hey Jude', which sounded great, and went over very well. Afterwards we dispensed encouragement, as make-believe rock stars wiil, to a young hispanic Elvis impersonator, who sings at nursing homes... and his mom, who loves him very much.
We do appreciate the kind comments of the pretty Asian girl sitting just to our left, though...
SET LIST: 'Orbit' (Jim's enigmatic jam vehicle), 'Cry Baby Cry', 'There is a World Inside the World', 'I Am a Child', 'Love Hurts', '(What's so funny about) Peace, Love and Understanding', 'Perfect Day', 'Holding Up the Sky', 'Four Seasons in One Day', 'Blue Skies' (Irving Berlin's classic, on tinwhistle), 'Cruel to Be Kind', 'Sin City', 'Things We Said Today', 'Angelyne' -- just 14 songs, in all, which was all we had time for, after trying to figure out why the Stagemate went kaput. Jim finally discovered that unplugging the monitor spkr brought it back to life. Very nice conversation afterward with ESL teacher Lisa, and with pop monster John Carrillo, who just happened to be driving by in the parking lot... he used to play Borders, before he got huge... Loyal fan Cathy Cook was also present at this gig, as was, I think, her [late] friend Luan.