Month: September 2011

Clouds and lemonade.

I thought the album page for CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN deserved some video content that wasn’t my half-assed piano version of “Peculiar Love”. So here’s another one of those “music videos” where public domain film content is chopped up a bit, thrown on top of a song, and the two seem to work strangely well together. I’ve always felt there was something melancholy about this song, and it’s still one of my favourite instrumental things I’ve done, as simple and stripped-down as it is.

A few days ago Liam suggested to me that I should play the whole album live someday, front-to-back. It’s an interesting idea. I wouldn’t want to perform every song the exact same way it sounds on the album. I think there would need to be a slightly larger ensemble to pull some things off. And it would be a ton of work putting it together, with more than thirty songs to reacquaint myself with. It would also be expensive, since the only place to do it would probably be Mackenzie Hall, and no one would be paying to get in.

Still, it’s something to think about. That album seems destined to remain one the most popular and widely-heard thing I’ve done, and it’s where a lot of the people who comprise the audience I have now first got on board. It might be worthwhile to revisit the whole thing with a fresh perspective at some point, if I ever do decide I feel like playing live again.

To the people I still owe some mail, I apologize for the delay. The money isn’t there at the moment to order more supplies so I can keep certain things “in print”. The box at Dr. Disc is probably going to stay empty for a little while as well, for the same reason.

Some would say this is as good a time as any to start selling the CDs, and I guess at this point I could justify doing it if I really wanted to. But it ain’t gonna happen. No way, no-how. The people who have been waiting for CDs will just have to wait a little while longer, until things are on the upswing again.

Here comes the rain again.

To whoever was at the show the other day because they wanted to catch my set — sorry about that. If I had to grade my performance and how I felt about it, I think it would come in at around a C-minus.

Nothing about that show really felt right. Walking through mounds of mud…picnic tables smeared with dirt…people shovelling mulch (I first thought it was manure) in front of the stage while we were playing…and the audience being so far away they might as well have not even been there from the performer’s perspective, because between songs you couldn’t hear any applause at all. I was also led to believe I would be playing for hundreds of people. There couldn’t have been much more than twenty people there.

I thought that last thing would help take the pressure off. Instead, it threw me a little. I work off of the energy of an audience a little more than I thought I did. The more I talk, the more comfortable I get, and the looser I get with the performance. When you don’t feel there’s anyone there to talk to you don’t do so much talking, and things feel a little strange and disconnected.

But the thing that really threw me off my game was the sustain pedal for the rented keyboard not working. During soundcheck, when we were setting up, I noticed it was doing this strange thing where it just sustained endlessly whether my foot was on it or not. I tried turning the keyboard off, unplugging the pedal, and plugging it in again before turning the power back on (that tends to take care of any polarity issues). Still the same thing. Even resetting the keyboard and restoring it to the factory settings didn’t clear up the problem. No sustain pedal for me.

It didn’t hit me just how important that little pedal is to the way I play piano and how much i use it until it wasn’t there anymore. I knew I was going to lose a lot of sensitivity without a real piano, but after the sustain was gone too the keyboard felt completely one-dimensional. A song like “Do the Mountain Hop” needs that sustain in order to sound right. When it sounds wrong, everything I do feels wrong.

It was bad enough that it didn’t feel like my voice or my fingers were cooperating with me entirely onstage. Taking away an important tool at the keyboard fucked everything up for me. I had to rethink a lot of my playing on the fly in the middle of each song, because half of what I wanted to do wasn’t possible anymore. I do a lot of floating around the keyboard with both hands, building up chord clusters and letting things sustain, and then sometimes soloing on top. None of that was going to happen without a sustain pedal.

After a while I almost felt like I didn’t really know how to play the piano at all.

Liam and Dan were great as usual, grabbing onto every improvised tangent I threw out there. And the sound guy was great to work with, making sure everyone could hear what was going on without things getting too crazy loud. I just wasn’t happy with my performance at all and didn’t once feel comfortable on that stage. I even tried a scream in the middle of one song in an attempt at firing myself up — something I haven’t done in ten years now — but my vocal cords said to me, “What the hell are you doing, man? We don’t do that anymore, remember?”

After the show I realized I forgot to tell the audience who I was, aside from introducing myself as Avril Lavigne before the first song. I was kind of glad. I wouldn’t want anyone who didn’t know me to think that set was indicative of what I sound like when things are going my way.

The funny thing is, in the immediate aftermath of the last Mackenzie Hall show I didn’t feel that great about my performance either. Now, weighing it against this one, that show was an absolute masterpiece.

If nothing else, I can be thankful for that unexpected bit of perspective.

I guess I learned a few things, anyway. I learned something I didn’t know about the way I play piano. I learned a digital piano absolutely does not cut it for me anymore in any situation. And I learned if I do play live again at some point (and it’s a big “if” given the way I feel at the moment), it needs to be at Mackenzie Hall or a similar space where I can play a real piano with a working sustain pedal and have more control over the atmosphere. Otherwise way too many of the subtleties get lost, I don’t have a good time, and I end up remembering why I started avoiding live performances in the first place.

In happier news, I managed to find a great shelf for not much money through the magic of Kijiji. The shelf I’ve been using to store my vinyl records has pretty much been maxed out, and it was time to give it some assistance. The shelves I could find in stores that would be of any use to me ran several hundred dollars. That seemed absurd to me.

Then I found this shelf someone was selling on Kijiji for thirty bucks that was much more interesting-looking than anything I’d seen anywhere else. It looked pretty sturdy and maybe just the right size to hold records. It turned out to be both of those things. Now it’s hanging out in the sitting room, doing its job with gusto.

Score one for glass with steel reinforcements.

Days of wine and noses.

Oh hey — we’re playing at the Shores of Erie Wine Festival tomorrow, at 1:30 in the afternoon. And by “we” I mean “me and my band of merry men”. Seems like it got here awfully fast, doesn’t it? It does if you’re me, anyway. Allison brown even did a piece/interview right over here, so you know it’ll be exciting…if you find mid-song extended jazzy instrumental jams exciting. As well you should.

Many thanks to Allison for the interest, and for asking some good, thoughtful questions. Some people actually do some research before they interview you! Yes! Some of my answers were pretty long-winded and had to be edited down a little, but I think the edits are pretty non-intrusive. The important stuff is still all there.

I thought things would be more compact and streamlined for this show, but if anything the jams seem to grow longer the more comfortable we get with playing together. So if you were at the Mackenzie Hall show back in June and you heard the band stuff, you should have an idea of what to expect, minus the grand piano. This time out should be similarly jazzy, and longer in the ligaments. If it feels right and the fingers and brain are firing on all cylinders, I may get a bit busier on the keyboard to make up for the lack of warmth that would otherwise be afforded by a real piano. ‘Cause nothing kills digital bite like comping and soloing at the same time. Am I right?

On a note unrelated to music, today has been a pretty interesting day for tennis. Three back-to-back matches between six of the best players in the sport…that’s a pretty good way to relax the day before a show if you ask me.

The stars in your eyes don’t explain…

Until recently, I had no idea this even existed — a short documentary following the Blue Nile’s 1990 American tour. Too bad I was only seven years old at the time and wouldn’t hear any of the band’s music for another seven years or so.

I think every Blue Nile album inhabits some realm of greatness. Even the material they threw away and relegated to B-side status is disturbingly good, But the one that stands out the most for me is A Walk Across the Rooftops. It’s one of the most weirdly organic synthesizer-based albums of the 1980s. It’s about as far away from typical synth-pop as you can get, and it’s one of those albums that will make your ears very happy if you play it on a good hi-fi system or high-end headphones. The title track was actually made for just that purpose, commissioned by Linn Electronics, who wanted something with a lot of dynamics to show off their audio equipment and liked the results so much they formed their own record label to release the album — or so the story goes (it’s since been revealed to be somewhat apocryphal, but it’s still a good story).

I’ve always thought Paul Buchanan had one of the best voices — remarkably human and vulnerable, but also capable of great range and power. I’d be glad to never hear another insipid love song for the rest of my life. But when this guy sings, “I love you,” I believe him.

You creep around.

For most people who maintain music-related personal blogs and websites that don’t depend on reviewing anything for their content, it probably isn’t unusual to go two weeks or so without an update. For me, given the standards I’ve established for myself here, that constitutes blog neglect.

Here’s the slightly belated video progress report for August to explain, sort of. You also get some talk of the Shores of Erie Wine Fest show (we go on at 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, September 11, for anyone who’s interested), some ideas about what the next album may or may not sound like, a cat and a bunch of mice sparring with jazz and classical music, Elliott talking about Idaho in general instead of focusing on the new album like he said he would in the last progress report, and a whole lot of other stuff.

I’m thinking about writing something that gets into more detail about a few old games for various now-obsolete home entertainment systems and what I think of their music. Particularly the first entry in the Ninja Gaiden series for the NES, Strider and Valis III for the Sega Genesis, and a few random games that are kind of stinkers but feature at least one piece of music that grabs me in a strange way (like, say, Time Lord — a nintendo game that makes you wonder what kind of crack the developers were smoking, and what kind of genius David Wise was to come up with such ridiculously creative music).

For what it’s worth, I don’t anticipate the blog neglect being a protracted or recurring thing, and as of this video progress report I should be back on schedule. Rejoice, you three people who still read this stuff. Rejoice.