i’m gonna be late. shit. i’ve got all my stuff packed to go to the show, but i can’t find the
power plug for the theremin. this wouldn’t be a big deal but mr. smolin asked me to guest on his track “Casper” on theremin. I’ve turned my entire studio upside down… no luck. Every musician will tell you that they have a “cord box” that is filled with nothing but different cords, adapters, plugs, and miscellaneous connectors… mine is currently spilled out onto the floor, a tangled web of multiple colored snakes writhing for my attention… unfortunately with every minute that passes, i’m becoming more tangled than it. Five passes through the snake pit yeild nothing… i open up my road case and dump its contents on top of the pile… nothing. Rifle through the pile of papers on the studio table… oops i forgot to pay the dentist, and that parking ticket. Shit. I dive behind my record cabinet in search of this lost piece of equipment… hrm… Celtic Frost – “To Mega Therion”, “1984″, Dio – “Sacred Heart”, John Davidson’s Greatest Hits (the guy from “That’s Incredible” – did he have
any hits?), Steeler’s self-titled album… Steeler? Yep. Which reminds me… I saw that
Yngwie is coming to Los Angeles in April.
The Yngwie guitar showdown challenge still stands. Cmon Mr. Malmsteen. Or are you yeller?
Things are looking bleak here. I can’t find this damn thing and there is no jerry-rigging it. I’ve
begun to rehearse my speech to Mr. Smolin. Here goes:
“Barry, i turned my place upside down and couldn’t find
the theremin plug. But i’ll play some Whammy guitar in its stead.”
“Charles… you are endlessly irresponsible… you have earned yourself 5 days detention and
i want this note signed by your parents and returned to me on monday.”
Mr. Smolin then grabs me by the ear and makes me sit in the corner.
I continue looking and looking and looking… back to the tour case, behind the couch, in all my gig bags and guitar cases, back to the snake pit of cords, in the drawers, toolboxes. Eventually, i fell to my knees in at the base of the snake pile in a hunched pile, hands over my face. I can hear my mothers voice clear as a bell saying “Charlie, you are very smart, but you don’t apply yourself. You should start applying yourself by cleaning up your room.” I peer out from my hands over the snake pile towards the “beginning HTML” book on a shelf below the studio desk. Upon it and a bunch of other unused computer ‘how to’ books i see a black wall wart with a midi-cable looking power cord hanging off it.
Thanks Mom. I learned my lesson.
By this time its 7:34… the show starts at 8 and i live about 20-25 minutes away from the venue. I make a final pass at all the stuff i’ve got to bring and drag it down the stairs, throw it into the car and speed away to the show.
Now, my girlfriend gave me this paintball gun the other day. I’ve been wanting to do a little drive by paintballing ever since this delightful little mischief gizmo entered our home. So we’re driving down the street towards the freeway entrance… i pulled the gun out and planted a purple paint splat on the “101 North” freeway sign just as we get on the freeway. Little did I know that there was an L.A.P.D car right behind us. The lights go on… we pull over. Shit… i learned my lesson right? The officer’s silver name plate says “Rodriguez”… badge number 4235. He peers into the window… can i have your license and registration please. In a flash, my girlfriend (who’s driving) grabs the paintball that i’ve poorly concealed under a sweater on my lap, and plants a big green paint splat on Rodriguez’ forehead, hits the accelerator and we’re gone. We blast by a coupla
exits on the freeway then duck off and take the surface streets to the show.1
We arrive at the Riv and find a parking space out back. The clock in the car says 8:12… but its 25 minutes fast. I grab my shit and haul it into the club… i’m met at the door by Mr. Smolin. I immediately begin to recite my rehearsed speech, till i realize that i actually found the adaptor and all is well. He smiles and says that he’s more worried that his six string foil Harvey Canter (Ph.D.) is M.I.A.. We chit chat for a bit, then i drag my shit inside and find a place to set up the
theremin for his set. I’m also hoping to set up my laptop so i can record the show.
Eventually all the gear get set up, and i decide to set myself up with a drink from the bar. As I wandered over there, i bumped into Josh Baldwin, phenominal former drummer for numerous L.A. indie stalwarts including Stew/The Negro Problem, Third Grade Teacher and more. Josh is also a jam music freak… loves the PH guys from VT as well as all the jammy jammers. I’ve been wanting to put a project together with Josh since i first heard him play. He introduces me to : “This is Mike, my new guitarist.” I asked Mike how long ago Josh took the cellophane of him, and if he still had that “new guitarist smell.” We rapped about all manner of gear and music and whatnot, most notably about loops and the boomerang loop sampler that newtron and i use. Just at that precise moment, the one and only Andre LaFosse – loop genius extrordinaire walks up and into the club. I begin to sing Andre’s praises (in C# major) to which he humbly walks away embarrassed. I love doing this to Andre…. he’s such a great musician but when people compliment him, he shrivels all shyly like a middle school kid. Funny. Dre bolts as i describe what he does to Mike, Josh and Chad (?) Mike’s roommate. Josh tells me he’s looking for a bassist and a keyboardist… i tell him i’m gonna hook him up with the great Bernman… (note to self: email those cats tomorrow) A coupla seconds later, head Negro with the Problem, Stew walks by, we punch fists and say “yo” then go back to our dranks.
It looks like Mr. Smolin is starting up his set so i head back to my laptop to get the recording started. It seems that Harvey has arrived… VOX amp, boutique stocked pedal board and shiny hollow bodied Gretch in tow. The big hollow round sound of the Gretch sounds fabulous with Shmo tonight. The last coupla times i’ve seen them, Harv played a buncha different Strats… the hollowbody sounds like the missing piece to the puzzle. Shmo and Harv roll through a coupla Mr. Smolin nugs including the ode to giving oral sex to Mary Tyler Moore (yes!) then I get called up to the stage to play some theremin over At Apogee‘s “Casper”. As the song began, i started to rattle my amp back and forth, shaking the reverb chamber – making “thunder” sounds… i added a coupla bits and pieces of theremin whoops and cries, attempting to paint the horror that really is Casper the “friendly” ghost. Tune ends, i step offstage then drink a buncha beer.
I stepped outside to get some air and michelle appel drove up to the curb and beamed her smiley face from the window of her auto. I haven’t seen michelle in a year or so maybe… old friend from way back – i met her on my birthday on a bench outside of 14 below sometime in the mid-FOOD era. We chit chatted about various stuff… she asked me if there was anyway she could get in free. I told her that i didn’t have any ‘guest list’ and she’d have to pay. She said she only had $3, (cover was $5)
i gave her $2 and in she went.
by this time Mr. Smo had just about finished, and Michael Simmons’s set was in full swing. Simmons sounded especially great this evening. Throughout his set he was heckled by some drunk dude… at first he handled it stellarly, but after 13 hecklebursts you could see Simmons begin to grow tired of the annoying interruptions. Still Simmons put on a great show and tore the place down.
After Simmons, i retreated to the bar once again and double fisted a scotch on the rocks and a third Newcastle Ale. Country-rock dudes “I See Hawks In L.A.” set up their stuff and played a fine set of their Byrds/Burritos honky tonk trail hymns. I downed another round of drinks, then stepped outside again to find the one and only Carol of the Forest hanging outside. Carol is awesome. [ insert book-length bio of Carol here ] Shortly thereafter, Pete and his friend John Baltic arrive, with Newtron quickly behind. It seems that Newtron had a ‘classical gig’ out in Ventura (about 30 miles up the coast from L.A.) tonight… we were hoping he was gonna show up in his Tuxedo tonight. No tux. Oh well. We joked around a bunch and loaded the gear to the front of the club… the booker came out to say that “I See Hawks” were doing their last song and to get our stuff ready to roll into the club.
Last time we played at Que’s Mr. Smolin kinda acted like the evenings MC… he emailed me the day after the show to give me his honest opinion on the show… he dug it and thought we wailed… but he said that i needed to possibly pare down my massive rig because set up took way too long. he was right on the money, plus i got a little bombed on the scotch before playing (so what else is new eh?) So i kinda thought that this time i’d just bring my “guitar rig” and leave the synth, theremin and other gadgets at home.
“i’m goin through changes”
- black sabbath
theres been a drastic change in my listening habits evolving through the last year or so. i went to see the first metal show i’ve seen since 1989. since that time i’ve been catching up on the current metal bands out there (the best of em being: meshuggah, opeth, mastodon, lamb of god, and dillinger escape plan – watch spacefuzz.com for a detailed dissertation on the current state of headbanging.) so with the onslaught of metal back into my psyche (and the slow steady removal of all “jamband” music) i’ve gotten a bit more in touch with the visceral aspects of music and the sheer physicality of playing the guitar. the guitar is a pretty amazing instrument… in the right hands it can bring you to tears, blow your brains out and all the spaces in between. (check out opeth’s great disc “damnation” for a perfect example of this kind of range) so i kinda thought about the whole thing here… what would happen if there were a band that grooved like metallica/meshuggah/megadeth but jammed like sun ra? a crazy intersection of the extreme tightness that only metal has and the extreme freedom of expressionist sound-paintings.
in response to this i came up with a different type of game plan for this show. usually we have two or maybe three “rehearsals” before a show or run of shows… both to re-examine and refresh some older material and to work up a coupla new ideas and possibly a cover song or two. for this show i brought in three new “tunes” one of which would sorta function as a “cover song.” the first thing we rehearsed became the opening jam from tonights show “1985″ – a simplish echo delay groove played on a metalized E string (detuned to D – giving it a bit of a growl) the riff is played by alternating tapping the fretboard with both hands – not in the eddie van halen way, more in the ‘andre lafosse – turntablist guitar way.’ the right hand taps in certain parts of the neck causing different parts of the fundamental pitch to come out (called ‘tap harmonics’) the delay box sets up a little tempo kinda like U2 or floyd used to do… i move the tap harmonics up and around the neck, changing the pitch and giving the sludgy drone jam a bit of architecture. the other tune i brought in is called ‘virus’ which is sort of a variation on ‘the trojan horse’ but amped up, freaked out and surely metallized. its a pretty complex tune, the lack of rehearsal time added the precise amount of rawness that i had envisioned when i wrote the riffs. unfortunately, we didn’t play ‘virus’ that night. its gonna have to wait until
the next show before we pull it out… sadly. the last tune i brought in was something that i had actually scored out on paper for the band to read off of. this tune “the entire ozzy-era black sabbath catalog done in :40″ is a graphic score based on a frequency analysis i did of the entire black sabbath catalog after compressing their studio albums into :40 seconds using a computer audio editing program.2 in these days of 24 hour cable news, reality tv, jingles, instant messaging, and the compressed lingua electronica of text messaging, why not take a stab at compressing the mighty sabbath into “mc nugget” form? now, i’m not saying that you’re gonna hear “into the void” or “paranoid” or “hand of doom” in there, but trust me… it is.
additionally i’ve kinda grown a little confused that all of our tunes end up being 15-45 minutes long. i love improvising, but sometimes concision really is the best hammer for a nail. i don’t mind that in the time it takes us to warm into a groove, most bands have reached the 3rd chorus of the 4th tune of the set, but i kinda do. i wanted to interject a little ‘turn on a dime’ orchestration into the proceedings. plus play some sabbath. \m/_
so the long and the short of it is that metal has kinda changed my life again. last november’s ktf shows were very very electronica influenced, (amon tobin, boards of canada, cornelius and squarepusher – please take a bow) and this show was definitely thrash metal influenced. the times of our lives are quite circular… metal has changed my life in much the same way that iron maiden’s “number of the beast” and “powerslave” caused me to put my beloved beatles records into the
record cabinet for a good coupla years… (opeth, meshuggah, lamb of god, mastodon – take a bow) it has happened again but now my funk and jam rock collection is in the cabinet (i still cant seem to shake this Frank Sinatra kick i’ve been on lately – awesome). i still love the groove, but that whole jammy style of music has become quite staid, gentrified and generic. the thing that attracted me to that scene to begin with was the feeling that anything could happen… now its evolved to “anything can happen within a certain set of paramaters that will get college kids dancing anddrinking.”
i hereby submit my resignation to the Jamrock Institute Board of Directors. I want to thank each and every person who has come to see me pretend to be a psychedelic guitar hero impersonator over the past forever… i’ve enjoyed entertaining you, but the time has come for me to venture out on a different path, one which i’m not sure as to what it is, but i do know that
it will be my own.
so what does that mean? it means a coupla things. one is that i hereby promise to follow my true artistic vision (wherever it may lead) to create challenging music that defies convention, that is beholden to no trends or genres (metal, jamrock, jazz, electronica or otherwise) and communicates using any and all available tools, sounds, materials and emotions to convey universal truths, expose untruths or find the grey ares in between.
does this mean that i am quitting kiss the frog? no. but i means that i must find within kiss the frog and my space in it the avenues to express myself uncompromisingly within the framework of a collaborative collective.
ok… now that i got all that hoo-har off my chest lets get back to the show… end of cathartic confessional
so we set up all our stuff… and for the first time ever, i was the first one done setting up. pete even commented to that while he was screwing something on his hi-hat stand together. it took newtron another 5 minutes after i was done to get his stuff plugged in (and 5 minutes into ’1985′ to sort out all the bugs and settle in) Normally, i would be the one twiddling knobs into the 4th song of a show. Tonight we welcomed the great Barry Smolin to the KTF stage. Shmo and I have been talking of collaborating onstage for a near eternity and now we’re going to have the opportunity to cut the rug together. He asked me via email what tunes we might be playing and if i could email him a coupla
chords to sort of road map some things out for him. I thought long and hard about it… i really had no idea what we would be playing, but i had a general idea what we probably wouldn’t play (based mostly on the above rant) i knew it was probably going to be a louder and heavier kinda show so i sent him some outlines of 4 or 5 tunes and a demo mp3 of “virus” in case we pulled it out. basically i left it with shmo “just let it fly and everything will work out.” i think that shmo was possibly more worried about sitting in with us than we were having him sit in with us. he has some massive ears (anyone who listens to his radio program will concour – he hears everything and truly deciphers sounds to their cultural and artistic meaning – he’s the real deal music junkie) and he can play his pi-ana real good too (as anyone who’s heard his buff rekkid “at apogee” can attest to) plus i jammed with him at a negro problem show a few years back… he let out some really roaring organ
underneath a guitar solo i took… the kind of roar that puts the history of the hammond organ into one brush stroke.
it looks like newtron has his shit going, pete’s chomping and i’m ready to roll… i leaned over to shmo and told him that there was a glass of scotch on the rocks for him on the monitor speaker behind him. he grabbed it, we toasted, agreed on the key of D as a good starting point, turned the key, hit the gas and away we went.
i started by making a loop of the 1985 riff which i faded in… pete started grooving on it, shmo made some great electronic squeals, newtron plunked out some angular bass riffs and next thing we know we’re in the thick of a jam, a loud thick sludgy distorted dub metal meltdown. about 5 or so minutes in… michael simmons starts ‘rebel yelling’ from his seat at the front table. he’s belting out this massive Tom Araya styled howl… i’m finding this kinda odd because simmons sings with the gentility of George Jones, without all the ornamentation. simmons leaves his scotch at the table and makes his way to the stage… howling. he grabs the mic from the stand in front of me and lays out a coupla sheets of full bodied yelps as the band grinds away behind him. he puts the mic back and looks at me sorta drunkenly… ok not sorta, just drunkenly. he wanders over to the side of the stage behind newtron (forcing newtron out of his little cubby area behind his laptop/looper contraption) he emerges with is electro/acoustic guitar with no plug and no strap, peering out into the darkness towards the sound man… hoping to get his axe patched into the p.a. system for a bit of a jam. no such luck, the soundman is now outside smoking dope… simmons grabs the mic again and lets off some more Tom G. Warrior yells (google that yo!) i’ve settled into a really chunky low-D groove… very megadeth-like. simmons gets off the mic and wanders back behind newtron for a while, again displacing newtronic… who obliges simmons patiently by moving to the front of the stage and jamming out with us. simmons putters around looking for a direct box to hook into… in his absence, i build up a pretty nice guitar onslaught… we’re raging now. simmons comes back out… holding the cordless input jack to his strapless guitar up for me to see. i’m wondering now what he’s trying to ask me. am i supposed to bail mid solo to go dig behind newtrons rig for a cord and a direct box? am i supposed to stop the band and go get the soundman to sort this out? what am i to do? simmons grabs the mic and howls a bunch more… all the while looking at me. i love this guy i really do… i don’t want to make it seem like i’m dissing him, i find this whole thing to be incredibly amusing. simmons then puts the mic back on the stand and walks off stage… but before he does that he manages to step on the “bypass” switch on my boomerang looper. the bypass switch essentially turns everything off except the loop. funny thing is that at exactly the same time he did
that i turned on my wah wah pedal… everything on my rig cuts out except the loop. simmons then goes back to his table with his guitar and sits down. he howls a bunch while he’s there and i’m left there onstage with newtron, pete and shmo whooping it up in the vacuum space where my very loud and full guitar once was. it was a pretty drastic change, and surely jarred the crowd, and violated the flow of the music. so i get down on my hands and knees to see if a cord came loose or if the power went out or something… a good 3 minutes into doing a diagnostic (the band was still playing) i flicked the bypass button and voila… elvis has re-entered the building. by that time the jam had pretty much turned into an abortion and i was a little frazzled and had lost all the momentum of the previous week building up to the show. we settled back into something kinda similar to the trojan horse… simmons started howling again. he got out of his seat and came back to the stage. i maneuvered the mic to where i wanted it (i was about to sing the words) and simmons went to reach for it… our eyes met. i shook my head and he backed off. while i was waiting for the riff to come around again he again reached for the mic, i again shook my head and missed my cue. i started singing anyways and we were instantly off into “the trojan horse.” this is already shaping up to be an odd show.
in addition to my guitar refusing to stay in tune, i’m beginning to wonder whats going to happen next. maybe the cops will come. we thundered through the “horse” and jammed it out pretty hard… it took a coupla really nice left turns and ended up at a big burst of good feedback… newtron and i conducted each others feedback for a second then we jumped into “The Entire Ozzy-era Black Sabbath Catalog Done in :40″ it took about 55 seconds to play it, and we hit the big rock chord at the end and everybody cheered. total time for that big segue: 32 minutes.
when that was over i rapped to the crowd about just getting out of rehab and this was my first show back (lie) and that i was in rehab because I was hooked on Phonics. nyuk nyuk… three people laughed. my horoscope said that i was going to have a difficult time communicating today and that i should try a different approach. of course i didn’t and all my jokes went over like a led zeppelin reunion without bonzo – forgettable. i also anounced the website url and mentioned that i write this very blog after each show where i detail all the zany shit that happened at the show… to which simmons said “uh oh” and the crowd of people there laughed. hi michael! i love you – kiss! kiss!
we hoofed from the horse into “propaganda” – which rocked out… we sorta botched the crazy breakdown riff, but the jam was something special… a long looping noise fest that went on and on… it was magical (even if the folks in the crowd didn’t exactly ‘get it’) shmo was an all-star on the keys. he played some perfectly placed plang noises and some excuisitely dubby keyboard glissandi while newtron and i bleeped and blipped over petes huge wash of drum madness. somewhere in there newtron segued into the funk number “Avalanche” which we got down and nutty with. the “heads” in the crowd grooved in their seats at the presence of something stylisticallly familiar. the ol 4/4 funk jam just works… sad but true… too bad it gets so boring to play so quickly. is that tune even in 4/4? anybody know? i don’t. either way we worked it more than a discount hooker at a shoe salesman convention… during the jam one of the bartenders (the one who steve ‘ishottha’ sherriff thinks is actually a man beneath her valley plaza robinsons may blouse and skirt) handed shmo a note that says “will be.. the last song” shmo hands it to me and i read it. we finish ‘er out rather quickly… rock n roll ending. i hop on the mic ‘thank you, we had a great time, we’re kiss the frog.’ bam. amps off
we’re outta there. i’m not sure if they either a) hate us b) want to go home c) both. i dunno, and i didn’t really want to stick around to find out. Propaganda->Avalanche segue: 25 minutes
newtron (or was it pete) motioned to me to look out towards the bar… slouched backwards on a bar seat, facing the stage, cradling his guitar, seemingly passed out was one michael simmons. very very funny.
a coupla nice people came up to the band stand to say hello, including Amy Hiatt who gave me her email address to put on the list, Dre LaFosse, Josh Baldwin and some other folks. I also got a nice hug from Mr. Smolin… who, thrown in the deepend, was a complete and total pro. I don’t think that his many radioland fans have any idea what a gifted musician he is in his own right. Thanks shmo for gracing us with your twinkling, you looked great in the KTF t-shirt!!!
We quickly began to tear our stuff down, ended up outside bullshitting about all manner of whatever then said our good nights as the lights on the bar went off and bailed home. End of show… end of adventure… but beginning of a new one.
Thanks for coming to the show, and thanks for taking the time to read all this stuff…
1: This didn’t happen.
2: This didn’t happen either.