suddenly this mackenzie hall show isn’t so far away anymore. two more days, man. or woman. or…inanimate object reading my blog. hey, you’d be surprised how many plastic hippos read this stuff. for some odd reason, they really like the idea of a hairy-rambly-music-spewing internet presence. who knew?
i’ve had an unexpected little realization while rehearsing for this show. i always thought it would be interesting to hear what would happen if someone else covered one of my songs, whether it was in a live setting or in recorded form. i did get a taste of that sort of thing once when travis sang “peculiar love” at the green bean café (it underlined just how unhinged the lyrics are when i heard someone else singing them), but a few people have told me i shouldn’t expect to see it happen with my songs, because my material is not that easy to cover, given how tricky it can be. that always struck me as a little strange, because some of my music — particularly from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN forward, when i made a grudging return to working within more conventional song structures — seems pretty simple to me. a song like “a well-thought-out escape”, for example, is basically three chords repeated over and over again through the whole song, and there’s a slight hitch to the rhythm that could be a little tricky, but aside from that it’s not a very complex song.
the thing that made me re-evaluate this idea that i had almost regressed on some level to writing in a simpler way was when i charted out a few songs for dan (the dude who will be tearing it up on bass at the show). what i mean by that is, i wrote or typed up the lyrics and wrote out chords and other relevant things in the margin — making a proper tab or sheet music/notation is beyond my abilities. this is more of a guide, in case something is needed to fall back on. in doing this and then playing through some of the songs, it became clear that even some things i assumed were dead simple were…not so simple after all. there’s a song on MEDIUM-FI MUSIC… called “to be frail is to begin to be free”, and while it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album, it always seemed to be one of the simplest things i’d ever written. the arrangement is honed to the bone, there’s almost nothing going on outside of a few chords being played on the piano, everything else shadowing that, and a simple drum beat. well, be that as it may, it turns out there’s actually some pretty tricky stuff going on there rhythmically, and what i thought was a pretty straight 4/4 with lots of space is something else entirely. liam charted it out and told me what the rhythm is actually doing, jumping from one time signature to another, and it just about made my head spin. the structure of the thing is pretty straightforward — while there’s no proper chorus, it keeps alternating between A and B parts with no real bridge to speak of and a few pregnant pauses where all that’s holding it together is the drums — but it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds.
another good example is “a fine line between friendship and baked goods”, off of CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, which i think is one of the most fun things to play in the set we’ve been putting together. there’s a very long first verse. technically it’s probably more like two verses, but it’s delivered as one unbroken piece. then there’s a tricky, brief instrumental section (where the tempo kind of doubles and things get more frenetic), followed by what you could call the bridge (where the opposite happens, and the tempo is chopped in half from what it originally was). then the verse chords reappear for a little while, but they’re a backdrop for what would be the chorus if someone else wrote the song. only, the “chorus” shows up this one time and never comes back. then there’s another instrumental section that goes several different places before the song ends — we basically jam it as far out as it’ll go, and i get a great opportunity to go nuts on the piano and pretend i’m a jazz musician. there’s nothing very linear at all going on with the structure of the song, and yet it’s not one of the more radical examples in my catalogue of messing with form (certainly nowhere near as radical as something like “kings” in that regard).
in other words, even the “simple” songs tend to have something off-kilter about them, and i seem to end up skewing song structure on some level even when i’m not trying to. the thing is, most of the time i don’t “write” these things in the sense that most people sit down and map out what a song is going to be a piece at a time, and then chip away at it until they feel they have it exactly right. this is just the stuff that comes out of my brain, and i try to get it out as quickly and competently as i can, so there’s rarely much craft involved. i was under the impression that, after my period of severe structure-warping on albums like GROWING SIDEWAYS and BRAND NEW SHINY LIE, i had relaxed into a simpler way of constructing songs while the production side of things gradually got more ambitious, but apparently what comes out of my brain is not always as simple as i think it is. even when a song is pretty conventionally put together, with sections that repeat more or less where you would expect them to, there’s almost never an actual “chorus”; while sections of music may repeat, the lyrics almost never do, so what feels like a chorus rarely is one. i grew tired of choruses a long time ago and i only feel justified in writing a song that has one if it absolutely forces itself upon the music (something that doesn’t seem to happen very often, thankfully).
so that was a neat little discovery.
oh yeah…here is the real poster for the show.
saturday is when the craziness happens. like the poster says, doors open at 6:00 (though we’ll probably still be doing soundcheck then), and the music starts at 7:00 (though i’ll probably wait for about 15 minutes or so to accommodate people who are a little late). as i said when last year’s show was approaching, feel free to show up whenever you can — if you can only make it for part of the night or can’t get there until the second set, that’s absolutely fine — but understand that showing up at 8:00 will mean you’ll have probably missed the entire first set of music. nobody is getting paid anything no matter how many people show up, so i don’t think there’s any point in waiting an hour or two for the place to fill up as much as possible. having said that, i think people know by now that i don’t operate according to the usual “don’t start a show until an hour or two after the advertised start time” rules of conduct.
the show is free, as is everything that comes along with it. there will be a bunch of copies of the new cd, which will only be available at the show until a week or so later, when they should become available at dr. disc and phog as is usually the case. i planned on having copies of a bunch of other cds at the show as well, but i don’t think i’m going to have enough materials to make that happen in time. the plan is to play two sets of music, like last time, with a little break in-between so people can stretch their legs, use the bathroom, shoot the poo, or slow dance with me while no music is playing. this time it will be a little different, because i will be alternating between playing some things alone and some things with the band. i’ve got a setlist of 17 songs put together at this point, and i think there’s a pretty good cross-section of different things going on between brand new material, songs people who’ve been following my music will recognize, some drastically reworked material, and a few obscure or not-so-obscure covers. only about a third of those songs are being played with the band, but some of them are fairly extended pieces, so it should balance itself out. liam and dan can play the hell out of their instruments, and it’s great fun playing with them and twisting these songs in different directions, so hopefully whoever shows up will get as much enjoyment out of it as i do. jackie robitaille will be sitting in on one song for harmonious vocal/piano bliss, and my good friend t-rizzle will be in the hizzle operating the sound-related stuff.
that’s right. i said hizzle.
maybe i’ll see you there on saturday. maybe you’ll choose to haunt my dreams instead. and if you happen to be the person who took down my poster from green bean and kept it for yourself, thank you for negating the money spent on it and the promotional work it was intended to do…you could have waited until after the show, but you didn’t. thanks a bunch. and a sincere, non-sarcastic thanks to whoever was responsible for putting a little blurb about the show in the windsor star.