The Field Assembly CD release shows at Phog and the FM Lounge both happened. On the same day. I played three different sets in the space of about six hours. I got through it all with more energy than I was expecting to have and didn’t really feel it all catch up with me until I got home after it was all over, when just brushing my teeth started to seem like a herculean task.
But let’s start from the beginning.
SET # 1 (at Phog)
Michou opened in stripped-down form, with just Michael Hargreaves and Stefan Cvetkovic. Some nice vocal harmonies. There was a funny moment when Mike asked how everyone was feeling and the response was pretty much dead silence until I let out an inappropriate high-pitched cackle.
There were somewhere between ten and twenty people in the audience. And it didn’t get any larger than that (that’s what she said). But I kind of liked that. It had a nice way of diffusing a lot of the nerves, and the people who were there made for a really respectful, attentive crowd.
Our openers got the hell out of there as soon as their set was over and didn’t even stay for one of our songs. Seems like pretty douchey local band etiquette to me. I also found out later on they didn’t do their part at all to help promote the show. What can you do?
For this Field Assembly set the band was just Adam, Dean Drouillard, and myself. Like so.
I got to dig in a bit more and play meatier things than I would later on in the full band set. That was fun. Singing the harmonies in just about every song was…less fun. Kind of awkward. I’m used to doing that in maybe two or three songs at the most. Couldn’t really tell if my pitch was on or not. It felt kind of wobbly to me, so I didn’t put a whole lot of force into my singing, and in some places I think it was pretty much inaudible. But all things considered, I wasn’t that nervous, I didn’t play anything ugly on the piano, and it felt pretty good.
Also made sure to protect those ears with isolation headphones. I don’t care if it doesn’t look cool. Temporary threshold shift is not my friend, as I learned from Tara’s CD release show when I thought I could get away with being selective about when I put the headphones on.
It was the first time I ever played with Dean. He’s a really tasteful musician. He did some nice things with melodic feedback while playing a very pretty red Gretsch guitar and a Gibson hollow-body. Funny to think I was almost seduced by a vintage Gretsch like that last summer but found myself swayed by the infinitely cheaper Teisco instead.
Also worth noting: Tom and I were both wearing our CJAM T-shirts from the last pledge drive. As the kids like to say, “Represent!”
People still say that shit, right?
After the show at Phog, the full band met up at the FM lounge and set up for soundcheck. I played a few bugle blasts for good luck and got to listen to Matt Rideout play some nice Latin-jazz sounding things on one of my funky old acoustic guitars. We played a bit of “Eye of the Tiger” during soundcheck just for a laugh. That was fun.
Sound was checked. Things were done.
Max joined the party. We did our own soundcheck as the doors opened and people started to trickle into the place. We ran through “Do the Mountain Hop”. Then a few of us went off to the Pour House to grab a bite to eat before the show. I’d never been there before, but the combination of a pretty waitress with a fun personality and a sexy salad made it a winner in my book.
Then it was back to the FM. The place was starting to fill up. I didn’t feel all that nervous, maybe because the show at Phog went well and I felt warmed up. I don’t know what it was.
SET # 2 (FM Lounge)
Max and I climbed onstage for what was the first proper live show I’ve played that didn’t involve being a sideman or backing someone else up since 2005. We opened with a radical reworking of a Bruce Springsteen song only die-hard fans of the boss would have recognized. I threw in a mid-song melodica solo just for fun. It felt good.
What’s funny is our set started out leaning pretty heavy on the covers, with something like a 60/40 ratio in favour of other people’s songs. And then one by one the covers were discarded, until all but one of the songs were my own. Almost all of them came from AN ABSENCE OF SWAY. I’m not sure why it worked out that way, but it cracks me up that I ended up defeating my own effort to hide behind semi-obscure cover songs.
An improvised solo instrumental piano piece fell apart before it could really go anywhere, probably because I was trying to juggle three different sets of music in my brain and something had to give somewhere. But I was able to shrug it off and move on to the next thing.
I have no idea how it happened, but I felt pretty comfortable up there onstage playing my own stuff. A lot of the credit should go to Max, who’s a fantastic musician and a great guy to have in your corner when you’re unsheathing your musical genitals in a public setting. There was a lot of improv going on in some songs, and with some people that could have been disastrous. With Max it felt comfortable. The connection was there.
Even vocally, I felt confident. I pushed harder than I have in a long time — not screaming or anything like that, but really full-on belting some things without relying on the falsetto range or backing away from the mic. It felt like I could do pretty much anything I wanted with my voice during our set. My vocal cords were there for me.
Thanks guys. I know I mistreated you in the past, but thanks for sticking with me.
One of the highlights for me was “Capricorn Cloves”. I brought the bugle onstage with me, but when it came time to play it with one hand while playing piano with the other, I noticed the mouthpiece had fallen out when I kicked it over in the middle of an earlier song without knowing it. There was a bit of a pause while I fixed that, and then I started making drunken elephant noises.
People applauded my bugle “solo”. It was the craziest thing. I can’t even play that horn.
On the album the song fades out on a jazzy piano/fake upright bass vamp. We decided to stretch it out live. I played the bass line for a while and comped a bit while Max improvised a long, ridiculously sexy bass solo. Then he picked up the bass line and I did a little exploring of my own.
And then, as Max put it, we “went to hell”. I broke the tonality of the piece and he created a gigantic, dissonant swath of noise using his upright bass and a delay pedal. I didn’t know you could get sounds like that out of an acoustic instrument. It was pretty nutty. I played some dissonant piano runs underneath that, and we eventually brought it down to a more melodic, muted close.
It’s fun messing with a song like that.
“Water to Town” was more or less rewritten on the spot. The lyrics were unchanged, but the music was totally different. I wonder if anyone familiar with the album recognized what we were doing there. And I sang “Do the Mountain Hop” in my normal voice for a change, instead of slipping into the weird voice you hear on the album version.
The audience response was pretty insane. People seemed to be into what we were doing, and it was a nice feeling to have a positive live experience playing my own songs after so many disasters and so much indifference in the past. Thanks to Max for being my partner in musical mayhem (you might be seeing an album from the two of us before too long), thanks to Adam for having us open the show, and thanks to everyone who came out and showered me with gifts of floral-smelling sweatbands. Or applauded. Same thing, really.
Thanks to all you folks who came over and said nice things after the show, too. My head grew at least six sizes before the end of the night. Standing up is difficult now, but it was a nice ego stroke nonetheless.
As for the two people who assured me our set was being recorded, well…I later found out nothing was recorded at all. One of the best live performances I ever gave will survive as nothing more than a memory in the minds of the people who were there. So thanks a lot for misleading me there, guys. I appreciate it.
Here’s the set list, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
SET # 3 (same place)
Most of the time, after you play a show you get to relax, and if someone else is playing you can hang out and listen to them. I got about five minutes to take a breather. Then I got back up onstage for the full-band Field Assembly show.
It was like some kind of ridiculous Windsor supergroup — Adam Fox at the helm of it all, Dean Drouillard on guitar, Adam Rideout-Arkell on guitar/bass and Matt Rideout on drums and percussion (both of Yellow Wood fame), Eric Arner on bass, guitar, and glockenspiel, Stephen Hargreaves playing hammond organ and percussion, and my hairy self playing piano/Wurlitzer and glockenspiel.
While there was a whole band full of singers up there on the stage, I ended up covering almost all of the vocal harmonies. A certain someone who was supposed to sing the harmonies couldn’t be bothered to learn their parts, so I had to fill in for them. Not something I was expecting going into it, but hopefully it sounded alright. I still haven’t done enough of this in a live setting to judge how good my pitch is when I’m harmonizing with someone else’s voice. At home with no amplification it’s fine. Once a PA system is involved, my confidence in my live harmonizing skills takes a hit to the nether region.
In any case, it was fun, and it was my first time playing in anything as large as this seven-piece band. Everybody got their moments to shine like Sinead, and Adam R. played some nice lead guitar on the lone instrumental track. Stephen and I also had a nice moment during “Old Spell” where I was dancing around since there wasn’t much for me to do between glockenspiel cues and we did a bit of a spontaneous choreographed dance routine during the instrumental break coming out of one of the choruses. Jumping back and forth between playing Wurlitzer and piano in a few songs was fun too.
I’m glad I got to meet all the guys who were in the band. They’re all great people and great musicians. Thanks to Adam for inviting me to be a part of it all, and to Ryan Fields for doing a great job making everything sound good. Another hearty thanks goes out to Ron Marston for taking all of these pictures and letting me post some here.
Here are some more.
It was a fun night. Nuts, but fun. Congratulations to Adam on the successful release/launch of his first album under the Field Assembly banner. Everyone who doesn’t have a copy should go buy one at Dr. Disc or from the man himself, because I said so. Support!