Friday, May 18, 2007

Stepping, and Rocking (and Jammin' Java)

The DC Improvisers Collective just played our second show backing Joe Lally. This little project has been just great... I think we're getting the hang of Joe's songs, and actually starting to figure out what this material - and ensemble - should sound like. And more importantly, it's been fun fun fun.

We played last night at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia. It's a funny little club / coffee-house in a strip mall in the suburbs. I hadn't played there before - it turns out that it's quite the plush venue. There's like a green room and stuff. And they have music stands, and some nice microphones - and the sound guy was terrific. Sadly, the vegetarian chili is not vegan. Cameron and I walked across the street to Amma - a vegetarian Indian restaurant - and they botched up our order (by not actually cooking our food) so we had to leave without dinner, since I had to be on stage. Soft pretzel and beer for dinner at the club. Why do Virginia clubs only sell the meat-food? (Besides Galaxy Hut, are there any other veg-friendly rock clubs on that side of the Potomac?) I shouldn't be so complainy - the club was quite nice and the people there were very friendly - and I did mention the good sound, right?

Anyway, the show went quite well. I think Joe is writing some excellent songs, and I think the combo of his composed music with our improv group is really clicking. I actually "composed" quite a bit of my own parts, so I'm not really improvising all that much - but there's still plenty of room in the songs to let them go where they seem to want to go in the moment. Joe is heading off to Japan for a month of shows - but (please keep fingers crossed) we hope to be playing at Fort Reno with him in July.

After our last rehearsal, he gave me a CD of rough mixes of nine new songs that he's recorded - and he invited me to work up some guitar parts and come down to the studio and see what happens. I had to act all cool and collected and professional, and respond like, "yeah, of course, I'd be happy to," like this sort of thing happens all the time. But really I'm like a giddy little kid jumping up and down and hooting and hollering (on the inside). I've listened to the new songs - and have LOTS of ideas, hope to begin working them out in earnest later next week. His songs are really spacious. One of their greatest charms is all of the open space - so I have to try not to clutter them up. But you know, I'm a guitarist, so I want to play all over everything. Let's see how well I'm able to practice restraint. His songs are also very minimalist - with lots of simple (in a good way) riffs that repeat and repeat. I think it's a good fit for me these days - I'm enjoying playing only a few notes over and over and over lately. For the dance piece I just did with the Playground, there were several sections where I played for three or four minutes at a time with only three notes to choose from.

And in a totally different musical universe, I've also begun rehearsals with Step Afrika for our upcoming shows at Atlas (May 30 - June 3). We're re-mounting a piece that we performed last November at Dance Place - with some nice improvements. I spent the last two days in rehearsal with them, and head back on Monday and Tuesday for more. They're loads of fun to work with, and it's an interesting challenge for me. It's kind of hilarious that this professional step company hired little white jew-boy with glasses to write and perform the music for their Big Ambitious Major New work - but I'm loving it. There are a few sections where I get to rock out with the heavy distorted guitar. With all the steppers, it's like playing with a whole percussion section (that happens to have crazy moves as well as chops). Someday I'd love to work this piece up for a larger instrumental group - it would be super cool to do with the Low End String Quartet... But that's just pipe dream for now. This time around I'm keeping it all solo, you know, so I can eat.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"no more data entry"

Last night DCIC played our first show backing Joe Lally. We had two rehearsals. I think we sounded pretty good. But I might be biased. The show was at La Casa in Mt. Pleasant - sponsored by Hear Mount Pleasant and a benefit for Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.

The room reminded me very much of playing shows at Abbey House at Connecticut College. With the addition of crosses and some other Christian paraphernalia. And a small stage. And lots of toddlers. Don Zientara opened the show, and was upstaged by a gaggle of squirmy kids. They either got worn out, went home, or went to play somewhere else by the time we came on? Maybe kids don't like us. The audience was a who's who of DC Hardcore ex-scenesters (and their toddlers). It was like Fort Reno, but more exclusive (and with gross carpeting and the faint odor of rat poop). Watching all the kids rolling around on that carpet made me queasy.

But seriously, the venue was cool... a nice small room, and appreciative audience. Way better than playing in a bar.

Joe Lally has a recent CD out on Dischord, "From There to Here," and we played most of the songs on that record plus a handful of new ones. Thankfully, I didn't see Guy Picciotto in the audience until halfway through the set - that would have made me super nervous. Especially since he actually played most of the guitar parts on the record that I am butchering. Ian Mackaye and Brendan Canty were there too... Am I a rockstar yet?

We're playing with Joe again on May 17 at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia (just down the street from Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant). Don opens again.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

rock... and roll and lift and turn

Last weekend Eigenvalues performed with the PlayGround at Dance Place. Three shows, and they all went pretty well. Actually that's not true. The first one was super shaky but after that all was good. The show went well - we got a pretty nice review in the Post. Daniel and I also re-staged our duet, "unmapped" that we did for 24 hours last summer. Apparently, according to the critic, it's about "male energy" and my guitar is a remote control. That's all news to us but I'll take it - I think those were generally good comments about the piece?

Coming up this weekend: DCIC performs with Joe Lally. Super exciting! We had one rehearsal scheduled before the show, so I had to learn all the songs on his new album last week (while in rehearsal for the big production at Dance Place). Thankfully, they're nice and simple. And good... simple is good. We had our one rehearsal, and it sounded pretty good, I think. We're squeezing in one more rehearsal tomorrow night... so I'm certain we'll rock the house.