Wednesday, November 09, 2005

DCIC Rocks the Black Cat

On Tuesday, November 8th, the DC Improvisers Collective played at the Black Cat along with Gestures, a new group featuring Sean Peoples (Hand Fed Babies), Rebecca Mills (The Caution Curves) and Fiona Griffin (ex-Meltdown, Et At It, Horses, etc.).

We performed without our bass player, Dan Barbiero, because (get this) he had a gig that night with a straight-ahead jazz piano trio at a public library in the suburbs. Well, we’ll forgive him for not doing both shows, even though we didn’t go on until 11pm so he probably could have played both. And I guess he should get points for playing at the library. I do love my county library system.

Anyway, Dan’s early-to-bed early-to-rise schedule notwithstanding, we had a grand old time as a trio. Actually, the sax-guitar-drums lineup worked out nicely for a rock club. I brought my laptop so I had some looping, pitch shifting, and other effects at my disposal and I enjoyed being able to take up more space, sonically. Mike spent most of the evening playing tenor sax, although a short excursion on soprano worked out really well too. His new tenor sax is so loud he didn’t need to mic it, even though the guitar amp was mic’ed and Ben hammered the drums at maximum volume quite often. Ben Azzara, our drummer, is no stranger to the Black Cat – he’s there almost monthly with at least one of his various rock bands.

We all had a hard time hearing the guitar on stage – I should have turned my amp up louder, but the audience heard it just fine since it was mic’ed and fed through the house PA. I think the difficulty hearing actually led to really good listening by the three of us. Since we had to make an effort to hear everything, we were really listening closely to one another, and I think that translated into some solid group improvising.

The venue also had some influence on our playing, I think. Being in a rock club made it easy for us to cut loose and play loud (and we did some softer playing as well). We had a nice audience – pretty good turnout for a rainy Tuesday night, certainly. There were many friends in the house, and I think that also encouraged us to take some risks and try some new things since it was essentially an intimate gathering of friends – many of whom have heard DCIC play a few times, so it was nice to give them something a bit different. And before I get off the subject of the venue, I love the Black Cat for several reasons, including: half price food for the bands at the attached vegan-friendly cafĂ©, Food for Thought (mmmm, BBQ Seitan Sandwich), three free pitchers of cheap beer for the band (also probably helped us cut loose and play loud), and finally and perhaps most important for me: properly grounded outlets! That seems like a funny detail, but my guitar rig can be so noisy thanks to my single coil pickups and my cheap-o audio interface for the laptop. The rig was really quiet, so the power on stage must be really well grounded. What luxury! I wish the same were true in my apartment…

Ok, now about the music… We had a rough outline that was something like this:
1. We open with something energetic and let that go for a good amount of time, 10 – 15 minutes.
2. We do a second piece that opens with a guitar/drum duo – sort of ambient with prepared guitar sounds. After five minutes or so, sax enters, drums exit and we do a lyrical sax/guitar duo. Then we make up some more.

We didn’t actually stick to that game plan – the high energy opening piece got quiet and slow after a few minutes before building back up again, and we went right into the prepared guitar thing without a break distinguishing a second “piece.” All the elements we planned for did get included at one point or another, but we let the music go where it was going and got outside of that structure. Happily, we still did the stuff we said we would… so I can’t complain about any lack of rigor or anything. I’m actually quite happy that we had the flexibility to stay in the moment with the music that appeared – and still find ways to break out into the duos at various points.

During the prepared guitar section, I put the guitar down on a chair and knelt on the floor. I had the usual alligator clips and paperclip on the strings, and played with dulcimer hammers, a paintbrush, and vibrators. Every once in a while, someone in the audience would come up close to see what I was doing and then move back to where they had been standing. That was funny… I’ve been the “guitar nerd” checking out a performer's gear that way so many times, I think this was one of the first times I’ve been on the other side of that transaction.

I forgot to push record on the minidisc before we started the show, but I think I did manage to record about half of it. Hopefully we’ll get that posted on the DCIC website in the next week or so.

If anyone took photos at the show, please let me know – I’d love to post a few here. Thanks to everyone who came out for it! Hope to see you all again soon. And thanks to Gestures for playing with us!

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