Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wrapping up New England

After Providence, we moved on to New London, Connecticut. I haven't been there in a few years... I went to college there, but didn't really know the town too well. Sure seems like it's been nothing but hard times there since. The venue was a small bar in the heart of downtown. We had low expectations for a Monday night at the end of a holiday weekend, but it turned out to be a popular event. Sean, the promoter, was great to us and really seems to work hard trying to make a scene happen up there. It was a tough room to play since things got noisy, but the show went well.

Next day we drove into New York City for our show at the Knitting Factory. It was my first time on the main stage there. The sound in that place is perfect. The guys working the show were first-rate and the gear is a cut above any club I've played before. I'll spare the geeking out over the microphones but a club that uses an RE20 on the kick drum warms my heart. Dinner at "House of Vegetarian" was especially satisfying; yesterday in New London (on a holiday) it was slim pickings. We had no idea what the turnout would be like and it was good. The room was pretty crowded. This all made for an ideal situation... New York City, good sound, good audience, but wait - that's not all. We had another guest musician, Ricardo's friend Aurora played alto sax on a few songs which was freakin' awesome. She nailed all of them (with no rehearsal). The rest of the show went smoothly, and I think we all felt good about it. Definitely my best New York show so far...

Today it's back to DC for a show at the Black Cat. We're leaving New York in time for me to stop by the house and visit with my dog - yay! Sadly, the tour's not done yet and we head out again for two more days, but at least I get to spend one night at home with Cameron... I'm sure when this is done there will be much soul searching and relationship negotiating as we figure out if this "touring musician" thing is going to work again in the future. It's been hard for both of us, and I'm not sure how to work this out so there's no resentment on her end after she's left taking care of everything at home for weeks on end while I drive around playing shows. Doesn't seem fair, and I suppose it truly isn't. Add to that the money issues and we've got a recipe for some major relationship hurdles. Do I remember enough Landmark mumbo-jumbo to have the conversations we'll need to have to work through these issues without things getting totally ugly?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vanity, Dim-wittedness, and Cities that start with P

We drove up to Portland, Maine and had a nice Saturday at a place called Space. It's a multi-use nonprofit arts facility that hosts lots of shows. The people there were super nice and treated us well. We had a pretty good turnout and the crowd was very attentive - a big change from the bar scene the night before. Spent the night at the venue, our first nightclub slumber party of the tour.

Spent the next morning at a Portland eco-friendly laundromat. Clean clothes rule!

Then off to Providence. We played at The Living Room, which is basically a dump. I don't think the proprietors would mind that label, as it seems to be dumpy intentionally. The sound system is equipped with enough firepower to blast the audience into another zip code. Fortunately, Pete the soundguy is skilled and doesn't overdo it (plus the mixes and monitor mix are solid and he works super fast). Smallest audience yet, but the music is good. We have a New England super fan who has spent his holiday weekend following us - from Cambridge to Portland and Providence.

My realization / insight about my vanity issue has been helpful... I think having seen it and named it, it's been almost easy to drop it. It remains to be seen whether this is more self-delusion or actual progress.

After the Portland show, a too-young cute girl was asking about the vibrator and said, "Do you need to practice with that?" The following day it occurred to me that this comment may have been a come-on. I am the dimmest bulb. And even if it wasn't a come-on, I can still go with that story, so now I got what I wanted - some little piece of validation. Ridiculous. I am ridiculous. Happily (and thankfully) I've got a super hottie sweetheart at home and this nonsense can be seen for the nonsense that it is. And we get to back DC on Wednesday - only two days away...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tour continues: starting New England

The show in Ithaca went quite well. I was worried about turnout in the “off season” in a college town, but that was unwarranted. The people were great, the music was good, the opening bands were good, the meals were good. Ithaca was just swell, although a bit disorienting at first since all of my previous time there was spent visiting in the in-laws (now ex-in-laws), so it was a bit strange making new memories and associations with the town.

Day eight: Fairly long drive to Cambridge, Mass., but it's a scenic drive and the weather was nice. Our venue here, The Middle East, took good care of us. Sound was good, food was good. From here on out we're playing with the Glorytellers and Geoff Farina is sitting in with us on a few songs. We had a quickie rehearsal during soundcheck, and I'm delighted with the new sounds he's bringing. It was a Friday night and the place was pretty crowded. We went on late; the room was pretty well drunk. Now that we've been playing together for a week, the songs are starting to fit us. Or more accurately, our versions of these songs are starting to come into focus. After the Ithaca show, Ricardo said he felt loose and I think we're just getting looser and able to inhabit the songs more deeply.

Joe nimbly handled a couple of hecklers, and effectively established that his show isn't a party show. He also managed to address some deeper aspects of the coming together that is made possible through music. It's really something how he's able to stay focused on what a joy it is to be with a group of people and play music, even though a late-night bar scene isn't the most conducive environment for thoughtful reflection. He's somehow able to make it more hospitable by his example: who he's being and what his intention is.

Here's the part where I reveal what an incredible asshole I am. See there was this cute young lady at the show. Much too young for me, mind you, but she was right up at the front of the stage and enjoying the performance in an inebriatedly enthusiastic manner. A manner which seemed to say her mind was in the process of being blown by us. Especially the guitar playing. Of course this is flattering, and I can use the confidence boost. But here's the bad news: I was actually disappointed when she took off after the show and didn't stick around to chat for a minute. It's not that I wanted anything to happen with her (see the “too young” part above, and let's not forget that I'm in a fabulous relationship and am totally and passionately committed to Cameron) but what I learned – and would rather not admit - is that I really wanted to have the opportunity for something to happen. Because I need the affirmation somehow? This was a saddening realization. I think this makes me some kind of higher order asshole. Like asshole to the tenth power.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tour journal continues... week 1

Day two: Cincinnati – show at Blue Rock Tavern. Neat little up-and-coming neighborhood; venue / promoter was super nice. Dinner at strange next door “community center” fundraiser event. Opening band, The Pomegranates, are coming to DC to record a CD. Why? Seems like more trouble and expense than it's worth, but best of luck to 'em! Met 1st kid of the tour (20 something guy) who was affected by Fugazi / Dischord similarly to myself. Nice to learn that some of the young kids are still getting the message from the same source. Since then, have met people in every town with similar stories. It was a Saturday show in a small bar – decent crowd. About half were there for the music, other half was out on a Saturday night. Joe is very enlightened in his response to non-attentive audiences. He ends the set each night with “Sons and Daughters,” acapella standing in the middle of the crowd. The chattiest crowds have all gone silent during this...

Day three: First trip across Indiana, show in Chicago at Schuba's. Plush venue – nice sounding room, nice gear, good soundguy (Stan). We are joined by cellist, Alison Chesley. She rocks. An old friend from college, Chuck Jones, surprises me at the show. He's large. He gave me a whammy pedal and an electric kazoo. He said I look like an aging baby bird. Mahmood also came to the show (he booked the tour). We should have taken a photo for the alumni magazine. Show was good. We stayed with Joe's friends Damon and Wayne of The Eternals. They visited into the wee hours, I fell asleep.

Day four: Second trip across Indiana, this time south to Bloomington. Venue, the Art Hospital, is a small DIY venue, an old house in a commercial district. Not sure if anyone lives there. Seems to be run by college kids. Unfortunately, it's a rainy Sunday night and school is out for the summer. Small crowd, but super-attentive. We went for dinner late, and the nearby vegetarian restaurant had just closed. We popped into the coffee shop downstairs and happily ran into Jesse, who hosted Joe and Ricardo during their last visit. He happened to be working there. Good thing, since we didn't have arrangements for a place to stay. He took good care of us, even made vegan pancakes for breakfast and we all had a chance to play with his scottish terrier Dexter.

Fun trivia fact: Joe Lally keeps a bottle of fish oil tucked into a compartment near the driver seat at the front of the minivan, so he can take a swig as needed. Icky.

Day five: Our third and final traversal of the state of Indiana, this time heading back up north to Detroit. We have a motel room near the airport. The hotel has funky 70s soul music playing day and night. The place is funkdafied. The bathroom is a bit funkdafied, but passable. The show is a strange one. It's a large venue, with a massive stage. Joe, smartly, decides that we should set up on the floor, in front of the stage so we can perform as though we are, in fact, in the same room as the audience. This turns out to be perfect, especially given the modest size of the crowd. Mostly the opening band and their friends. Seems like everyone is pretty drunk by the time we play our set. The music goes well. I'm now “off book” and playing the set without peeking at my notes. This frees things up considerably and I feel good about it.

Day six: We drive through Canada to take the short-cut to Buffalo. We go through a tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Canada. Detroit seems like a hardscrabble town. Coming out of the tunnel in Windsor, everything is sunshine and smiles. We find a Little Italy type of neighborhood, but it turns out we can't afford to eat at restaurants in Canada with the exchange rate where it is these days. We pick up a few things from a cute little Italian grocery and have a makeshift lunch on the sidewalk by the van, followed by espresso at a lovely gelato joint. My romance with Canada wears out as we drive to Buffalo; long stretches of highway through farm country is the same as in the USA, but with lower speed limits. We catch a peek of Niagra Falls on our way back over the border. The show is at Soundlab, a nice little basement club downtown. Orthrelm opens for us, and Mick sits in on a couple of songs. He's unreal. In a good way. Brian Fending puts us up for the night at his place in the suburbs. Somehow we don't wake his wife and daughter at 3am, and Reba, the Rottweiler warms up to us after a few minutes.

Day seven: Scenic drive to Ithaca. Lunch at Moosewood. On the way into Ithaca, we listen to Gillian Welch's “Time: the Revelator” in the van. It ends with an epic song, “I Dream a Highway” and every chorus (“I dream a highway back to you...”) makes me tear up. It's tough being away from home – and we're only now finishing the first week. It's going to be a while yet before I get home to Cameron.

This touring thing is a strange way to make a living. Especially when it costs $80 to fill up the van every day. The small shows we're playing mean that we're living close to the break even point. Joe's been selling a few CD's – some nights are better than others, but I'm not sure how he's going to pay for his plane fare to/from Italy plus our tour expenses. Doesn't seem like he'll have much change in his pocket when we're done... Maybe we'll do better as we get later in the week and into another weekend.

We walked around downtown after lunch and saw several posters up advertising the show. Hopefully we'll get a decent crowd, but playing a college town like this after school's out doesn't seem too promising. Joe has a great attitude about this stuff. He is so committed to playing music, he'll be doing it one way or the other and the business stuff will catch up eventually.

I'm a bit jealous that he's able to put his writing and playing first. Personally, I get all caught up in the money, or more accurately the fear of not having enough money. Ricardo, our brilliant drummer, doesn't have health insurance, doesn't have a car, and doesn't make enough money to need to file taxes. My overhead isn't so low. I have a mortgage, I choose to live with only one other person (and our dog), I have health insurance, we have a car, and comprehensive auto insurance. Otherwise, we're quite frugal – I'm not sure how I can get my overhead much lower. It seems that being a musician today means giving up attachment to all material things, not having insurance, and also giving up attachment to “normal” personal relationships, since you'd need to be touring almost constantly in order to have any kind of steady income. Of course things aren't all that bleak, and many musicians find ways to hold onto part-time or project based day-job work in addition to their writing and playing. Hopefully I can make some progress towards that when we get back from the tour. My fear is that I'm going to need a full-time day-job to get out of debt and that's going to put my musical projects on hold for three or four months at least.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

On the road with Joe Lally, part 1

It's been a wacky week or so... Cameron and I got back from a trip to Egypt and Jordan with her parents. We haven't had time to go through our pictures yet... maybe I'll get to post some next month. After we recovered from the jet lag and various digestive difficulties, it was time to scramble to catch up on things before heading out for a two week tour. That was complicated by my granmother's passing away last Tuesday night. The funeral was on Friday morning. It was a nice service - short and sweet, and we had a nice chance to share memories of her.

Then I had to split real quick and get in the van. Which is, I guess, how this business works. I'm missing my other grandmother's 90th birthday party, which is taking place tonight in Boca.

I'm on the road right now with a rock band. How crazy is that? We had our first show last night in Pittsburgh. It was a little strange, it was an early show that was set up that way for kind of bizarre reasons... but the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. It was honestly our third rehearsal more than our first show, but I felt pretty good about it. There were a few places where I felt like I was being a little tentative, but for the most part I was able to relax and let the music be. The drummer, Ricardo, is really fantastic. I haven't played with him before, so that's very cool.

I meant to bring a few things that got left behind. I left my camera at home, I didn't want to carry any more junk - so I don't have any photos of the trip. And I forgot to bring a towel. We spent the night yesterday with some college students in Pittsburgh. Very nice of them to put us up, but I would've enjoyed having my own towel. Lesson learned.

So the early show thing was because there was a big show that night, presented by the same promoter who put on our show but at a different venue. It was a reunion show by The Meatmen. There were two local reunited punk bands on the bill. I think it was a very good decision for us not to be on the same bill, although the money might have been better (but the crowd and vibe would've been wrong wrong wrong)... the place was packed. It was weird though, like it was suddenly 1981 or something. Most of the audience was in costume. Costume like they were at a punk show in 1981. That was surreal. I guess it's nothing new that punk rock is now a costume rather than a subculture, but it still makes me feel strange to see it that way. I was introduced briefly to punk icon Tesco Vee, which was also a bit surreal. Turns out that the guy who wrote "Tooling for Anus" is quite down to earth and used to live in the DC suburbs where he was an elementary school teacher. Wild to think that he still does his "act" and can draw a big crowd doing it. Or maybe that's not strange at all? Maybe being a normal guy and simultaneously being a raving madman is perfectly normal? Maybe just doing both in public is what's rare.

Tonight we're in Cincinnati. We'll see how things unfold. We talked in the van today about me adding some backing vocals. Hopefully we'll have some extra time during sound-check to practice that. Singing in public... yipes!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gusty Winds May Exist

One of my favorite records ever is now available for free online. The self-titled debut by "Gusty Winds May Exist" has recently been posted on It's definitely the best shakuhachi / recorder duo record you'll hear anytime soon!

I think the "transcontinental duets" are particularly striking, as the two instruments were recorded independently, yet they work so beautifully. Tom and Nancy agreed on a specific date and time when they would each record. They would meditate for a specified period (a few minutes, I think), then play and record for a specified length of time. Tom was in Washington DC, and Nancy was in California. They put the recordings together, and thanks to some kind of cosmic karma mumbo-jumbo, the resulting pieces are gorgeous.

Don't take my word for it, download your own copy: