night and the city

duck duck goose.

teenage geese posternatalie is having her CD release show next saturday at the windsor beer exchange. she’s dubbed her music “flock and roll”, which is almost too perfect. greg maxwell made the poster. that guy is one talented beast.

i’ll write more about the album once it’s out there in the world. for now i’ll just say this: along with the tire swing co. albums, it’s the best, most rewarding work i’ve ever done as a pretending-to-be-a-producer person. if you’re going to record and play on songs that aren’t your own, steven and natalie are the people you want to do it with.

you were born with relative ease.

tuesday no border

a couple weeks back, steve asked if i could send him a WAV file of “i’d name you aubrey” from TIME AWAY because someone over at ride the tempo wanted to make it a featured track. i did that, kind of forgot about it, and then woke up a few days ago to discover the song made it all the way onto a compilation album called weirdest tuesday.

i feel like i’m trying to set a record for how many links i can drop into one paragraph. look at me drop! tremble in the presence of my dropping prowess!

i’ve had something i’ve recorded show up on a compilation exactly once in my life. that was about eleven years ago, and it was not a good experience. at all.

(here comes the flashback…here comes the flashback…here comes the…)

this is going back to my days of being a semi-regular poster on a message board for a band i really liked. someone who was running a fan site and also a regular poster there got the idea to put together a compilation album sort of dedicated to/inspired by the band we were all fans of. almost all of us who wrote there were musicians with access to recording equipment, so it made sense.

i sent along unmastered versions of a few tracks i thought might fit, along with a rough self-mastered version of each, just to give the mastering engineer an idea of what i was aiming for — dynamic, not super loud, not too different from the raw mix.

i was told which song of mine made the cut, and it turned out to be the one i liked best anyway. i was also told the guy who was mastering the collection said my song was the best-sounding thing that had been submitted, and he was using it as a reference for mastering all the other tracks. that felt pretty good, coming at a time when i didn’t have anything like the equipment i have now.

a few months later i got a box of CDs in the mail (that i had to pay a fair bit of money for, but whatever), popped one in to listen, and learned the mastering engineer had mastered the already-mastered version of the song i gave him instead of the unprocessed mix. only “mastering” isn’t the right word for what he did. he destroyed the song. there were no dynamics left. there was no life to the thing. it sounded like shit. and wouldn’t you know, it was the only song on the whole compilation that got hammered with anything close to that amount of compression.

if you’re a mastering engineer and you have any hope of the two of us ever being friends, don’t do that.

so, had i known that tire swing co. song was also going to end up on a compilation someone was mastering to try and lend some continuity to a lot of tracks recorded and mixed in a lot of different ways, i would have sent an unmastered WAV file instead of the self-mastered one i sent along when i thought it was just going up on the website. but i didn’t get the chance to do that. and i kind of feared for the worst.

i’m happy to say the guy sitting in the mastering booth this time was much less heavy-handed. the version of “aubrey” on the compilation sounds about as good as you could ever hope for a song that’s technically been mastered twice to sound. it’s a tiny bit louder than the album version, and a little less dynamic, but not in any offensive way. even when the synth sub bass kicks in, it keeps breathing in a natural way.

so thank you, eric hogg, even though you’ll probably never find yourself on this here blog. thank you for not squashing the song. you done good.

in other news, the inaugural O-L west show at taloola went well. we played nine songs off of the album we’ve been working on, natalie played two of hers, and i threw in a bluesy song no one’s ever heard that will end up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE when i finish that thing around 2089.

here’s the set list (the bluesy song is missing, because it was sort of an encore, and “dorsal venous” got dropped from the set at the last minute):

OL west taloola set list

a bunch of people who said they were coming didn’t show up, because a lot of people say they’re going to do stuff and then don’t do it, especially on facebook. but the people who were there were good people. it’s always more comfortable for me to perform for a room of friends than it is to perform in front of a lot of unfamiliar faces. not that i have anything against faces i haven’t seen before.

i’m in no hurry to play another show, so if you weren’t there, you missed out on hearing me bend a note on the harmonica for the first time ever. you may never get to experience that soul-stirring phenomenon again. i know you’ll be losing some sleep over that one.

about the compilation from way back when with one of my songs on it — you’ll be glad to know i chucked all the copies i bought in the basement and let them sit there for years, until i gutted them so i could use the clear jewel cases for my own albums. i’ve put out a few albums where i pushed the DIY mastering too far in an effort to get things as loud as i could (not a mistake i’ll make again), but even when some clipping was introduced, at least the dynamics were still there and i didn’t squash everything. this was really the only time i’ve ever been embarrassed to let anyone hear something i was a part of. i’m sure a handful of people did end up hearing the CD, but they didn’t get one from me.

and about the new compilation that inspires no such feelings of embarrassment — you can download it for free over yonder. or you can stream it right here, if you like.

tire swings for everyone.

Image

steven’s album is now all packaged and ready to get physical, olivia newton-john style. here’s the super cool poster greg maxwell made for the CD release show on february 7th. i think it’s a friday. middle sister (who are releasing an EP of their own that night) and leighton bain will also be playing. there’s a facebook event page HERE. the tire swing co. set will be a full band performance, and some person who looks like me will be making some piano and guitar-related sounds.

i know you could have been more than a memory.

if you followed this blog back when i used to update it every few days (i now call that “the maniacal period”), you may remember a dude named steven leaving a comment on a post in 2010 or 2011, saying some very nice things. steven and james O-L are brothers. they’re also in a great local band called james O-L and the villains. they’re also two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. they’re also both capable of growing some great beards.

i made a bet with myself to see how many times i could start a sentence with the words “they’re also” before my left eye started twitching. i only made it to three. shame on me.

unexpected things have a way of happening, never more so than in the realm of music. that’s the way it works for me, at least. to wit: i just finished recording an album with steven, and it should get an official release (and an official CD release show) sometime before the end of the year. “tire swing co.” is the band name. steven wrote and sang the songs, james came by to lend some tasty electric guitar and bass to the opening song, kaitlyn kelly sang some gorgeous harmonies on two songs, and i did my one-man-band-of-session-musicians thing — something i haven’t done outside of my own music since OUTSIDE THE FACTORY GATES.

steven has a really interesting, unique voice. i like interesting, unique voices. if nick cave was more serene and laid-back, and less tremulous, he might sound a little like steven. on travis’ album, our vocal ranges are similar enough that if you don’t read the liner notes you might assume he’s singing all the harmonies himself (and he did do quite a bit of harmony-vocal-singing, but then so did i). in this case, there’s much more of a contrast, and i had a lot of fun playing with it. out of the seventeen songs on the album, there’s only one that doesn’t have me singing on it somewhere in the background, and that’s because it’s an instrumental and no one’s singing on it anywhere. unless you consider a banjo to be a voice.

hey — some people do.

i’ve really only recorded something other than my own music twice in the last decade. both were projects that kind of fell into my lap when i wasn’t expecting them. whatever is responsible for my musical lap-visitors, it has some good taste. there isn’t one song on the hour-long tire swing co. album that feels like filler to me. this is stuff i would want to listen to even if i didn’t have the chance to play on it. for weeks, i couldn’t even pick a favourite song to pull out for one of those “hey, here’s what i’ve been working on” moments, because seven or eight immediately came to mind and whittling them down was like trying to amputate my legs with plastic child-proof scissors.

what can i tell you without telling too much before the album comes out? steven played my 1951 gibson LG2 throughout, and i was reminded what a fantastic recording guitar that thing is. i played a lot of my newer martin OOO-15, because i liked the way the different tones of those two axes played off of one another. the funky old teisco wormed its way into a few songs. so did my long-neglected epiphone casino, which has been getting a little more love these days. i dropped my kay thin twin into standard tuning for james when he was over, and i really like the clean sounds he got out of it. there’s even some ukulele in one song.

i think the whole thing sounds like a unified, organic work, but at the same time there’s a lot of variety, and a lot of different sonic things happening, whether it’s a bit of delay coming in at the end of a piano solo, or the african drums gluing a song together in the most unexpected way. that last one was steven’s idea, and the sound works so well, in the last song i ever would have thought to use it, it’s insane. sometimes i forget how useful it can be to have so many random noise-makers like that lying around.

i was given a ton of creative leeway when we were recording. that was both a great compliment, and a little unnerving. it’s a great feeling when someone trusts your creative judgement enough to say, “here’s a song. do whatever you like with it.” at the same time, you want to contribute whatever ideas you might have without derailing the songs or making it sound like they’re yours, so your musical brain has to pull out some different dance moves than the ones it might normally reach for.

i’m still not sure i could call myself a proper producer, but i had a lot of fun arranging songs that were not my own. i think i only really went off the deep end once. there was one song i had a whole mess of ideas for, so i ran with them, and when i stopped running i looked up and saw that i’d kind of altered the whole shape of the thing. luckily steven was happy with what i did, and that song’s on the album.

the song is called “the maple tree”, and it’s up there at the top of the post. anything that sounds like a synthesizer is a fender strat played with a lot of reverb and manual volume swells. i couldn’t tell you where that guitar solo at the end came from. it was another one of those things that just happened, without any premeditation. i feel like it’s one of the best guitar solos i’ve played in my life. at the very least, it’s high on the list of my own personal favourite guitar moments. and it wouldn’t exist without the great song steven wrote inspiring me to find that sequence of notes somewhere in the part of my brain that speaks to my fingers.

as for the video footage — it’s from some public domain silent kids’ film from 1960 called the sky. i don’t know anything about it, aside from the fact that it was either horribly edited, or the version i found is incomplete. there are long stretches of nothing but black screen breaking up the images of actual things. nothing really happens on-screen, but i thought the imagery of sea and sky and dawn and dusk suited the music. i chopped it up, rearranged it, got rid of the kid (sorry kid), messed with the speed of some bits, and tried to assemble it all in a way that made emotional if not rational sense. there’s a gritty bit at the end of the smokestack footage, and i didn’t catch it until the video had already been rendered, but whaddayagonnado?

and in keeping with the recent theme of talking about live shows after they’ve happened instead of before, i should tell you we played a tire swing co. gig at taloola just a week ago. here’s the cool poster greg maxwell made:

poster by greg maxwell

there was a good turnout, and people seemed to like what they heard. for me, it was fun to get the chance to do something different in a live setting. most of the time when i’m doing the sideman thing, i’m playing piano and that’s about it. this time i played no piano at all. it was all lead acoustic guitar, except for a few times when i picked up a ukulele or banjo or melodica. i’m probably always going to be a little more comfortable sitting at something that has black and white teeth, but i like the challenge of not having that to fall back on. and i enjoyed how steven and i were both able to break out our vintage gibson acoustics and let them chatter at each other like siblings meeting for the first time.

maybe next time i’ll say something here before a show happens, not after. we’ll see.

more about the album as it inches closer to a proper release.

doing the promotional dance in reverse.

a silhouette dance

i probably should have said something about the show i was playing with travis on friday at the green bean café before it actually happened, but my recent habit of being kind of lax in the blogging department continues. so that didn’t happen. the show did, though. consider this your notice. now just travel back in time a handful of days, and everything will even out.

unlike the last two times we played together at green bean, this show featured a full band, with eryk myskow on bass and caleb farrugia holding it down behind the drums. i stuck to playing what i guess you would call “lead digital piano”. local songstress erin britton was kind enough to let me use her keyboard, since for all the things with keys i have around here, a dedicated digital piano isn’t one of them, and taking the upright with me to a gig isn’t exactly practical.

somehow it came out in print that this was a “johnny west and friends” show. which is just bizarre. putting aside the fact that it clearly said “travis reitsma & johnny west” on all of the posters and the facebook event page, with his name above mine and in a larger font, you’d think anyone who follows my music even a little bit would know i’m not going to be playing my own material live at this point in a venue that isn’t equipped with a real acoustic piano.

that’s not a knock on green bean. i really like the place. i should go there more often than i do. but i think it’s been pretty clearly established by now, here and elsewhere, that mackenzie hall is my place. if i am going to bother playing live in any capacity other than doing the occasional sideman thing, that’s where it’s going to happen.

or i’ll play a show in someone’s closet. hey, you’d be surprised how roomy some closets are. you can even fit a piano in some of ’em.

it was a non-issue, because there wasn’t a single person who showed up expecting to hear anything other than travis’ songs with me playing a supporting role. i just think it’s sad when someone who’s still got a sore ass over not coming out on top in a war of words/music a few years ago will try to hit back at you long after the fact by defiling what little journalistic integrity they might have had left, printing things that aren’t true in an effort to screw something up. impotence, thy name is…that guy.

the show itself was fun. at the same time, it reminded me why i hadn’t played live at all since september 2011. there’s way too much anxiety wrapped up in live performance for me to put myself through it on anything more than an occasional basis.

with the exception of my experiences at mackenzie hall (and maybe the FM lounge), anytime i hear my voice coming out of a monitor on-stage, it sounds wrong to me, i lose confidence in my ability to sing in-tune, and i end up giving shitty vocal performances as a result, whether i’m singing lead or harmony. i tend to get a little busier on whatever instrument i’m playing to compensate for that and focus most of my energy in that direction.

i guess this works on some level, because i get people coming up to me after the show telling me how good they thought i was (and they seem to be sincere). me, i kind of wish i had a large wooden trunk i could crawl into and lock from the inside.

come to think of it, i think i could count the live performances i’ve come out of with significant good feelings on the fingers of one hand. it’s just not where i’m comfortable, and it hasn’t been for a long time. there was that surreal set at the FM lounge with max on upright bass, and the two mackenzie hall gigs, and then everything else tends to live in different ranges of “this could be worse” and “get me the fuck out of here”, even when it’s going well. that’s just my own personal thing.

having said that, there was a good turnout, there were several pretty girls at green bean who writhed naked on the floor to travis’ musical craftsmanship, and i got to chew on a good sandwich. so those were a few definite points in the evening’s favour. one of them is a partial fabrication (it was more “swaying” than writhing, really), but who’s keeping track?

here comes the rain again.

to whoever was at that 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 be about a C-minus.

nothing about that show really felt right. walking through mounds of mud…picnic tables smeared with dirt…people shoveling 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 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.

i didn’t realize 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 enough that it didn’t feel like my voice or my fingers were cooperating with me entirely on-stage. 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 really done in ten years now), but my vocal cords said to me, “what the hell are you doing? we don’t do that anymore, remember?”

when i realized after the fact that i hadn’t bothered to announce who i was at any point (i introduced myself as avril lavigne before the first song, if that counts), 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 vehemently 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 for all my vinyl records has pretty much been maxed out, and it was time to give it some assistance. after looking all over town, it became clear that finding a good, sturdy shelf was not going to be so easy, unless i wanted to pay a few 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 had 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.

hairy dude in the hall: the sequel.

well, what josh kolm rather brilliantly coined “mackenzie hall 2: hall harder” happened. it was an odd little two-headed beast of a show, but i think it went pretty well. where to begin?

it was a different kind of show from the last one in a lot of ways. this time i had a band playing with me for some songs. this time there were cupcakes. this time the material was completely different. this time it was personal. but that’s always the goal, isn’t it?

the turnout wasn’t quite as insane as last time, and i think there were a few reasons for that (if even half of the people who said they were coming had shown up, it would have been packed to the gills again). but there was a good crowd, and i don’t think i could have asked for a more attentive or receptive audience.

in a way, seeing some empty seats this time might have made it a more unique show. i’m not sure i would have been quite as loose or taken as many chances if the place was bulging at the seams. maybe you feel a little more connected to an audience that’s a little smaller.

i went into it with a setlist i planned on sticking to. then i ended up deviating from it at least as much as i did at last year’s show. the original plan looked like this:

and it turned into this:

ONE BIG SET

purgatory waltz
i’m a witness, not your waitress
anthropomorphism dance
like a lover does
emotional blackmail
umbrella
he was saved by poultry from the shadow of beef
a fine line between friendship and baked goods
light sleeper
will work for food
excuse me, miss…where might i find a bandana like yours?
do the mountain hop
the mind is blown when the fight is thrown
water to town
sweet leaf (snippet)
an american trilogy (elvis presley absurdity)
tonight’s the night (snippet)
to be frail is to begin to be free
improv in Eb

my sense of time got insanely skewed while i was playing. i knew what time it was when we got there to set up, and the start time was about 7:00 (though i waited a good 20 minutes or so past that, because i understand some people are going to be a little bit late). but somehow, somewhere in there, time melted away into an amorphous goo, and by the time we were playing the last song of the night i had it in my head it was the middle of the afternoon, as if we’d somehow gone back in time. i even talked about the day as if there was a lot left of it in that final song. i was confident when everyone stepped outside after the music was over, the sun would be shining, and a lot of us would probably want to grab dinner somewhere.

meanwhile, it was past 9:00 at night. and though i felt like maybe i’d provided 30 minutes of music, it had really been more like 90.

i still don’t know what happened there. i wasn’t overtired or anything. no one drugged my cupcake. maybe it was just the atmosphere in the room. maybe it was just me.

this was the jazziest show i’ve ever played by quite some distance. some of the solo pieces didn’t feel as strong as that side of things was the last time around, but the band stuff got pretty spicy, and we went some places i’ve never been able to even think about taking my music in a live setting before. at some point i think it stopped being my music and became our music, with the way we were improvising and playing off of one another.

i couldn’t want for a better rhythm section. if you told me even a year ago i would find a drummer and a bassist who would be not just able to go anywhere musically, but happy to twist things inside-out and never play them quite the same way twice, i would have rolled my eyes and told you those people didn’t exist, or if they did, they wouldn’t be interested in playing with me. and yet here we are.

both of these guys can play the hell out of their instruments. but they’re always tasteful, and they always serve the song. some of the things they’re doing are so subtle, you might not realize at first how complicated they are.

to give you just one example: “to be frail is to begin to be free” needs a kind of deep, rattling snare sound in order for it to work the way it should. this was easy enough to achieve at my place because of the size and depth of my snare drum. the kit liam brought to the show had a smaller, higher-pitched snare. instead of swapping out the snare, he altered his playing and rolled into every snare hit in order to get that rattling sound.

that, my friends, is a musician.

when jackie came up for one song, i had to remind myself it was a prophetic breakup song i was singing and restrain myself from smiling through the whole thing. it’s surreal hearing a voice that beautiful harmonizing with you. after almost a decade of going it alone, i finally found that feeling again of playing my own music with a band and having it pushed into places i would never be able to take it by myself (at least not live, because there’s only one of me). and i wasn’t even looking for it. it just happened. funny how that works.

big thanks go out to liam, dan, and jackie for playing with me and letting their magic goodness pour out all over the place; travis and jay for taking care of the sound (and, in travis’ case, lending some gear to the cause as well); johnny smith for being hostess/cameraman/CEO and the glue that glues the glue together (glue the glue! got to glue the glue!); tara for making so many amazing cupcakes; sarah for recording some stuff with her magical little recording device and doing a post-show interview with me, which we’ll get to later; josh, for putting in a herculean effort trying to find someone with professional equipment to film the show (in the end, the fates and mel gibson conspired against him); crissi, who donated additional cupcakes to the cause, even though she couldn’t make it to the show; and too many more friends to mention, like pete, angela, dr. sinclair, beverley, grace, kaite, samantha, danny, terry, matt, erik, murad, dalson (who took these pictures and got some really good footage of a few songs he was kind enough to share with me), the extended CJAM family…i could go on. everybody who was there played some part in making the show what it was.

i just need to remind myself when i play live and it isn’t a perfect, polished-to-death affair, that isn’t a bad thing. it’s what i do. and i guess i should expect that when i try to make it more of a well-oiled machine, i’m going to find myself instinctively tearing it down and making it more difficult for myself, because i think that makes it more interesting.

angela told me it felt more like spending time in my living room listening to me play music than any kind of conventional show. for me that’s a lot more compelling than “performing” in the traditional sense. as with the last show, i got that feeling of hanging out with people as opposed to playing “for” them. the idea is to make it a more communal, intimate thing.

and it went there in a whole new way with the last song.

instead of there being an intermission like last time, we just kept going, and eventually we/i had been playing for close to an hour and-a-half. i discovered one of the guitars i meant to bring with me got lost in the shuffle (turns out i forgot it at home, though at the time i was convinced i brought it with me and someone must have taken or misplaced it), making it impossible for me to play a few covers by the likes of nick drake and the blue nile that might have been show highlights, had i been able to throw them in there. i was thinking about tossing in “heaven” by the talking heads at some point too, but again, without that guitar it wasn’t happening.

by this point i’d exhausted everything i wanted to play from my setlist, played a few unrehearsed requests and a kind of ludicrous take on one of my favourite elvis presley songs, and had no idea what more to do. there needed to be a definitive ending or comedown. “to be frail is to begin to be free”, as much as i like that song, didn’t feel like it was climactic enough to do the job.

i asked liam and dan if they felt like jamming something out and seeing what happened. they were game. i suggested the key of E-flat, because it’s fun to play jazzy stuff using that as a key center, and off we went. they got a nice, tight groove going. i noodled on top.

about a minute in, i knew i didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to pull off an instrumental piece. i kind of played myself out with all the extended soloing that got jammed into a lot of the other songs. so i opened my mouth and started forming a silly story, using my missing guitar as a jumping-off point.

almost right away, the gravity of the situation hit me. “what the fuck am i doing?” i thought to myself. “i haven’t improvised an extended spoken word piece off the top of my head in probably a decade now. i used to do this all the time back in the papa ghostface days, but i’m way out of practice. and i never did it in front of an audience. ever. what was i thinking? i have no ideas. this is going to be embarrassing. i just set myself a trap i won’t be able to get out of. why did i open my mouth? why?

there was no turning back. i figured all i could do was follow it as far as it would go, and hope it didn’t turn into too much of a train-wreck.

then an interesting thing happened. i don’t know if it was a case of some long-dormant machinery dusting itself off and sputtering to life again, or what, but what started out as a tongue-in-cheek tale of potential imaginary romance turned into something a lot more personal. i started talking about myself, how i’d just made a breakup album overflowing with bitterness, and the struggle between wanting to connect with people but not enjoying being let down by so many of them so many times.

after a while the whole thing got even more reflexive, with me critiquing my own performance in the middle of the piece itself, railing against myself for getting lazy and using the word “like” as empty syntax. it turned into something like a stream-of-consciousness-pseudo-jazz confession. the deeper i got, the more words came pouring out, and liam and dan just kept playing with the groove in wicked-cool ways.

at some point it struck me that i’d probably lost the audience. it was almost a given. this wasn’t even a song anymore. it was more like me getting naked in front of a roomful of people while playing a piano and amplifying a few of my hang-ups and insecurities for them to examine. how entertaining could that be?

i don’t look at the audience much when i’m performing. i’m too busy concentrating on what i’m doing. so it’s hard to gauge how they’re responding to something while it’s in-progress. i could just feel in my gut that i’d gone too far off the map, and i was sure i’d look up from the piano to find maybe only 10 or 15 people left.

i looked up. everyone was still there. that revelation became a part of my rant too.

it ended without any clear resolution, with me asking dan where i was supposed to go from where we’d ended up.

somehow, this ended up being the highlight of the show for some people. at the time i couldn’t understand why. it was some pretty scary shit for me. like i said, i set myself a trap without thinking, and i had to find a way out of it. i didn’t for a second anticipate delving into some amount of silly/serious self-examination in the process. that just happened. but the audience stayed with me, and they got into it.

it was only when i sat down and listened to it later on that i was able to understand how that could happen. i guess it’s a pretty unique thing for a live show. it belonged to that moment, and those people, in that room. we conjured it out of nothing. that collision of music and psyche had never happened before, and it’ll never happen again.

now that i think of it, if i went to see someone play live and they did something like that, i might find it pretty cool too. but for me, it was more like the ultimate test of my ability to create something out of nothing. and i was able to pull it off, with some help from my friends. it just turned out that everyone who was there got to watch it happen in real-time.

another special moment was when grace and kaite got up and literally did the mountain hop during “do the mountain hop”, dancing the whole song through — even during the long improvised jazzy outro. and when a guy and a girl started singing the little scratchy percussion part that comes in for one brief part of “water to town”, in just the right place…i don’t know who they were, but i wanted to get up and hug them. talk about really listening to the albums.

who the hell ever gets to hear two strangers in the audience singing their own percussion part to them in the middle of a song? that’s special stuff.

i’m not sure i want to put up video of the entire show this time. it would eat up server space like mad. but here are some of the highlights — in the order they were performed, except for the first video here, which i took out of sequence to put at the beginning.

i’ve always had a special fondness for this song as it appears on CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, but i never thought it would be something i could pull off live, let alone something that would turn out to be a highlight of the show. if i had to pick one song to stand for the whole performance, it might be this one.

after the 4:00 mark, it’s all improvised. by this point i knew i wasn’t going to play my solo take on “i put a spell on you” (it was meant to be a delay-drenched solo electric guitar workout played on travis’ sexy telecaster), so i dropped it in the middle of the jam instead. it fit in better than it had any right to. dig dan smiling when that happens. and check out how i go off on the piano, and liam and dan respond immediately to every dynamic shift i throw out there.

as much as i loved having a band when i was full of rage and dreams of facial hair, this is at such a different level it’s kind of insane. one of the most exciting things about playing in a band, at least for me, is when the other musicians are so good they allow you to play to your full potential, and then beyond it, making you better than you thought you could be. that happened more than once back in the guys with dicks days. i feel like it happened here too.

i missed a line in the first verse, but you probably won’t notice unless you really know the song.

this was maybe a bit of an odd song to start with, but it seemed like a good way to warm up. something stopped me from really digging in and improvising at the end like i planned to. i made up for that later on.

this was probably the biggest surprise for me. when we started rehearsing, i gave liam and dan a CD with about ten different songs i thought might be worth tackling. one was “anthropomorphism dance”, the closing track on CREATIVE NIGHTMARES. i only threw it in on a lark. it didn’t seem like a good candidate for a live three-piece, what with all the clattering percussion and layered sonic touches in the recording (electric guitar, ukulele, warped synth/organ), with two frenetic electric bass parts driving the whole thing.

at one rehearsal, dan surprised me when he said he’d been listening to it and he thought it was worth taking a crack at. i have no idea what i was playing on electric guitar on this song anymore, and it was more atmospheric guitar than anything. i didn’t think it would fill enough space. so i thought i’d try figuring it out on the piano. within ten or fifteen minutes, we were running through it for the first time. it sounded like the tenth time we’d played it. it was that tight already.

of course, the one time i finally trip up — and not in a small way, but losing the beat altogether at the beginning of the song — is when we’re playing it in front of an audience. figures. lucky for me it happened right in the opening seconds, and i recovered pretty fast.

liam’s drumming is really the star here. he’s playing some deliciously complex polyrhythmic stuff. we took what was sort of a skittering borderline rock song (truth be told, it’s always made me think of early 1990s experimental-period U2), and turned it into some sort of latin-tinged jazz-pop instead.

when i apologize for dropping the beat at the end of the song, dan consoles me in the voice of john travolta. does it get any better than that?

the thing that’s wild to me is, a song i thought would be impossible to translate live turns out to be one of the most fun to play. even when i miss a line in the lyrics at the very beginning (again).

the album version of “like a lover does” on GIFT FOR A SPIDER is much more languid and dreamy than this, with no percussion. dan had the idea to twist it in a different direction and make it swing, like so. i was supposed to play some slide guitar during my solo, but forgot i stashed the slide in my left pants pocket (and i put it there so i wouldn’t forget where it was…d’oh).

i’ve yet to really get comfortable enough with the tuning that 12-string is in right now to solo with confidence. every time we rehearsed i would hit some bum notes. the one time i played a really solid solo with no awkward moments was at the show when i just said to hell with it, improvised, and hoped my thumb landed on the right frets. and it did.

it might have been an idea to go for a less “electric” guitar sound here, but the distortion felt appropriate to me at the time. jackie’s magic is all over this one, and that last harmonized repetition of “light sleeper” was a fun moment for me. normally i would sing those last two words in a soft falsetto. here i just belted them full-voice, jackie wailed along with me without even knowing what i was going to do, and it was dead-on.

this felt like one of the stronger solo performances. i cooked up a version of the song that was very different, more mournful-sounding, owing quite a bit to the cover of the clash song “bankrobber” i worked up for CJAM’s joe strummer day. at the last minute i decided to stick with the original arrangement, but i played it on the martin 00-17 instead of the regal i wrote the song on and recorded it with, half a step down.

i could hear a few people singing along to this one. people singing johnny west songs in the audience is nuts. it’s almost like i’ve got “hits” or something.

i think some of my singing could be a little better here, but check out how it swings. and check out the dancing. how often do you see anyone dancing at a show to a song that’s in swinging 6/8 time?

my playing isn’t as busy in the jam here. part of that’s because i was enjoying what liam and dan were playing so much, i just wanted to listen to them swing it low. part of it is because i know when i’m improvising in a key with this many accidentals scattered around the keyboard, i’m going to hit some bad notes sooner or later, so i try to be a little cagier about where my fingers go. and part of it was just not being sure what to play there, because i was winging it.

this one might seem like an odd choice for a live track, but i thought it would be a good excuse to get some audience participation going on via call-and-response singing. the video doesn’t do justice to how great it sounded with that big mass of voices coming at me while i was singing back at them. i thought about making this a band song. it could have worked. i think it works just as well solo.

i felt like my performance of this one was a little dodgy at the time. now i’m not sure what i was hearing, because aside from one or two duff notes on the piano it sounds fine to me. while the improv at the end is more restrained and subdued than what happened in some other places, i think it suits the song. and dig how liam plays with the rhythm, underlining how the song isn’t as simple as it seems to be at first blush.

here’s the potential train wreck that turned into a weird highlight of the show, against all the odds. in some ways it feels like a glimpse into what guys with dicks could have done, if that adventure hadn’t ended when it did. it also stands apart from all of that, and it’s driven by a different kind of energy. in case you can’t make out all the words in the absence of more robust sound, i’ve transcribed them:

he was a hairy guy…with a missing guitar, which prevented him from being able to perform a nick drake song requested by his friend travis reitsma. he wondered if someone perhaps had taken his guitar hostage and was holding it for ransom at some undisclosed location. he waited patiently for the ransom note to arrive, at beautiful mackenzie hall, on a saturday afternoon. eventually the crowd had left and he was alone at the piano, crying in his long, sweaty hair, wondering whatever became of that guitar. of course, conventional wisdom would dictate that he would just return to his home and find it sitting in his bedroom, mocking him and saying, “ha-ha…if you had thought to take me with you, you could have played that song that you rehearsed with such half-assed passion.” but no. he just sat there, weeping in a disgusting, miserable way.

then the light changed, there was a slight chill in the air, and a woman wearing a low-cut purple dress sat down beside him on the piano bench and said, “you seem troubled. can i help to ease your weary mind?”

he said, “well, i…i don’t hook up with strangers, you see, i’m not one of those…one of those alpha male types. i’m one of those nice guys who finishes last — you know, who always gets the sharp end of the popsicle stick rammed into his left cornea. and i just made a breakup album, for god’s sake…giving it away for free at this show. it’s got dirty words and vindictive bile on it. you’d think i would have learned by now. you’d think i would have got the message. but no; i keep on putting myself out there, i keep falling for the wrong people every single time, and i end up crying in my smelly, sweaty hair on a piano bench, pouring out my heart to some woman in a purple dress trying to proposition me for some meaningless fun, when i should have been taking up the girls who were propositioning me for meaningless fun back in high school. i mean, maybe…maybe i’d be living in a trailer park with leprosy. maybe i’d have a couple kids who look a lot like me. maybe i’d have nothing much to do but grieve.”

she said, “man…you’re just a baby. what are you so bitter and cynical about? you got your whole life ahead of you. your hair may be sweaty and stinky, but it’s pretty when you wash it — i can tell. and you can play that piano in a kinda okay way. and you can kinda sing, and people understand what you say. and…why you gotta be so down all the time? i don’t even know you and i’m getting turned off. i think i’m gonna leave before you start to shake and maybe make me feel bad about myself.”

man, i blew that.

but you know, she was right. i mean, i got a lot of good friends…some of ’em playing up here with me onstage, some of ’em in the audience listening to me improvise this ridiculous spoken word piece where i’m suddenly kind of being honest about myself. what the hell is that shit about? but maybe there’s something therapeutic in that. i mean, maybe…maybe there’s some value in that. maybe there’s something someone else will get from that — some kind of catharsis, or they’ll feel like they’re relating to a friend.

it’s good to have friends on whom you can rely. i think it’s better to have a couple friends you know you can really trust, as opposed to a large group of people who call themselves your friends but wouldn’t help you out if you really needed it. but you only learn through experience — by getting burned and putting yourself out there. if you’re too afraid to try, maybe you miss out on something really great, and of course it’s probably gonna go bad somewhere down the line…what did i say in that song? “marriage is something that sick people do when they want to destroy something beautiful.” what about that something beautiful before that marriage comes? maybe it doesn’t even have to be a woman and a man. it can be pouring out your guts to your favourite garbage can. why did that rhyme? i don’t know. i don’t like to rhyme. sometimes it feels right. just this one time.

look at me pretending i’m a jazz musician. i don’t…i can’t play that shit. i mean, i can’t do some thelonious monk, oscar peterson stuff. i ain’t got those kinda chops. but i got my own kinda thing going on, you know — like “plink-plonk, plink-plonk, plink-plonk”. and some people find some value in that. man, i gotta get me another cat; they listen to what you have to say. and they’re so cute and furry and fun and friendly…except for when they don’t like you because, unlike dogs, sometimes they just don’t want to have anything to do with you. “get away from me. had a hard day being a cat. i don’t wanna hear your bullshit.” you just got them their favourite catnip, too. i mean, why they gotta be so cold?

but i mean, pete’s here…i’ve been friends with peter since the second grade. that’s a friend. we’ve been friends almost our whole lives. we’ve got history, man. it’s great to have that history with somebody. just to…to have that connection never die. if you have one friend like that, i think — i would wish that for anybody. anybody that i actually like, anyway. and the original johnny west. the big JW. always, always there when i need a helping hand. always there when i need a brother man.

i don’t even know where i’m going with this anymore. it turned into some, like, purging of my insides. why am i doing this crazy “eyuh”, going up with my voice? sounds kinda stupid. i should just talk. like, be conversational. and not say “like”, because i don’t like to say “like”. “like” is a lazy word. it’s space, it’s noise, it’s pollution, it’s FILLER! i don’t like that stuff. i mean, learn to use the english language, johnny west! that’s your currency! that’s what you use to get your point across. you don’t want to spit out some meaningless filler, dross…

listen to liam and dan laying down that groove, man…that’s sweet.

i guess the point, if there is one, is that all the bad stuff that happens gives you some perspective — teaches you something about who you are or who you wanna be. even if it hurts like hell. i mean…if you just lie down and let it slay you, then what the hell…what’s the use in that? to paraphrase a great man from a television show, “there’s a lot of pain and punishment in life. stand it like a man — or a woman — and give some back.” so i’ll give some back.

how weird was that? i thought i would have cleared out half the place with that rap there. people are still here. that’s messed up! that’s what happens when you don’t look at the audience. you don’t…you don’t…you don’t see. but maybe you connect, by stripping away that stupid wall that usually stands between the performer and the audience; talking to people. taking off your shoes. damnit, i forgot to take off my shoes! that’s the source of all my trouble. you gotta be in your bare feet or in your socks. you gotta get comfortable. what are shoes anyway? it’s like a car for your feet, but the car don’t run. it needs an oil change. wow, that was profound…

where do i go with that?

oh yeah — sarah interviewed me after the show, in a dressing room i didn’t even know was there, for the windsor scene program on CJAM, which is hosted by someone who never plays my music and seems to have contempt for me and what i do (but that’s a whole ‘nother story). because you’re special, you can listen to it right here.

while my brain was a little frazzled after all of that music, i sort of managed to make some sense. it cracks me up that she chose to end with my ridiculous elvis bit. and just to be clear, all my little hip hop artist parody is meant to insinuate is that i find it amusing how many people working within that genre seem to enjoy asking if we know what they are saying, with an almost alarming frequency.

sarah axes me stuff

it’s true, what i said about feeling less confident at this show than the last one in some ways. and still, i took more chances, i sang harder and with more energy than i have in a long time, and i went off on a number of potentially precarious improvised runs on whatever instrument i happened to be playing at the time, before we even got to that epic evening-ending improvisation.

i wonder why that is. i think playing live is just a nerve-wracking thing for me even at the best of times. i had a lot of fun, and i’m told i didn’t seem nervous, but the nerves were there from time to time. whenever i play guitar live, for instance, i feel like half my skills go out the window, and the piano says, “come home to me. let that wooden harlot fall from your hands.”

instruments can be evil, messing with you like that.

anyway, i hope everyone who came had a good time. i know i did. maybe we’ll do it again in 2014, if the world doesn’t end next year when justin bieber marries barbra streisand.

as for the availability of the new album — i wasn’t kidding when i said you should come to the show if you wanted a copy. i need to fix the typo in the booklets before i start circulating it at the usual places. but i’d say by the end of this week, or the beginning of the next one, it should be out there for whoever wants it. i’ll keep you posted.

(for more pictures from the show, go HERE)

hairy dude in the hall.

holy shit, batman. last night was insane. i haven’t felt so exhausted since…well, i can’t even remember. but there’s bad exhausted, when you just feel like garbage, and then there’s good exhausted, where you feel like you accomplished something and “earned” your exhaustion. this is definitely the second kind.

let me give a little preamble to set the stage for how completely my expectations were obliterated, and what a ridiculous success the whole thing was, in the face of the very real possibility that it could have been a complete disaster.

i asked a bunch of people what they thought about my idea for the show a month or two before it was scheduled to happen. pretty much no one whose opinion i asked thought it was a good idea. some of them said in no uncertain terms, “you CAN’T do that. you’re going to fail.” playing twice as much music than is customary when a local act plays a live show was a bad idea. not charging a cent for anything was a really bad idea. having no opening act, no one else on the bill, and no other musicians to flesh out the sound was an especially bad idea.

i took some of this to heart for a little while, before deciding i didn’t really care about getting a larger draw from having a sparkly opening act, and i couldn’t for the life of me think of anyone who would (a) want to play for free and (b) make sense musically. in hindsight, i can now think of a few people who might have been up for it and fun to get involved, but at the time i was preparing for the show, i was at a loss.

i didn’t feel like i could play any less than an hour if i wanted to feel like i’d made anything approaching a valid musical statement. and it would feel wrong to cash in on the support i’ve received by saying, “well, the CDs have been free, but now you have to pay to come to this show.” if i was going to play a show that was all mine, the only way it made any sense to do it at all was to do it my way.

i put up some posters, told some people about the show, posted about it here, on spyspace, and on facebook. i probably could have promoted it more aggressively, but promotion is not really one of my strong suits. it makes me feel too much like a pimp.

a lot of friends spread the word, CJAM (always a source of incredible support) plugged the show a lot, dalson chen wrote a really nice article in the windsor star calling attention to it, murad wrote some really nice stuff promoting the show in the new issue of WAMM magazine, and some buzz seemed to build up, but i still realized there was a very real danger of not a lot of people showing up. lots of people say they’re coming out to something to be polite when they have no intention of coming, or they really do mean to come but something just comes up and prevents them from getting there.

buzz does not necessarily translate into a large audience. the fact that it’s an all-ages, alcohol-free show means some people who want to drink and prefer a bar atmosphere probably won’t come. it’s oscar night. there’s another show happening at phog at 9:00, which still gives people time to catch my show and then go there if they want to see both, but some might prefer to hang out at phog all night instead. some people disagree with the “everything is free for the taking” credo, and the way i go about things in general, to the point that they may not come out as a form of silent protest. i have no idea what kind of a draw i am, and this isn’t a place where people show up on a sunday anyway regardless of what’s going on. if you’re there, you’re there for one reason — to see the show.

i’ve also been trying to get over some sort of non-contagious viral throat infection or something over the past few weeks. it hasn’t effected my vocal range or tone, but the fact that there’s some pain there sometimes makes me reluctant to push too much, which leads to feeling like my voice is not at its most flexible. singing and talking seem to irritate whatever this thing is, and i wasn’t sure how well i would be able to sing or for how long, but i wanted to try my best. if the singing really wasn’t going well, i would at least be honest with the audience and explain why.

going into the show with this throat thing still not all the way gone didn’t do a whole lot to ease my anxiety.

in the days leading up to the show, i filled a huge cardboard box up with a bunch of copies of the last five proper full-length albums, and put together five “johnnybox” sets. all told, there were well over 200 CDs there. i figured maybe i would go through half of that at the most, and it would be convenient to have a bunch left over. we had a ton of bottled pop and coffee available too.

mackenzie hall is, it has to be said, an amazing place to play. the second we walked in at 5:00 pm when no one was there, but chairs were set up and the piano was ready…the hardwood floor glistening…i said out loud, “even if it really is a train wreck and i end up sucking horribly, it’ll still be fun. look at this place! this is beautiful!” rick (who tunes my piano) made sure the grand piano was tuned a few days before i played, at the behest of wise bob, and it sounded phenomenal. the acoustics of the space are phenomenal. the people who work there are phenomenal, and endlessly helpful.

for what it costs to rent the space for a night, and what you get, it kind of surprises me more musicians don’t consider playing shows there. i imagine the price might rise a bit if you’re not playing a free show, but i still think it would be a deal. that place is beautiful. i wish i’d captured some video of what it looked like walking in before anyone showed up. alas, i was distracted by the task at hand.

i had no idea how many people to expect, since no tickets were sold and i didn’t create a facebook event to gauge the number of “planned attendees”. a lot of people who said they were coming didn’t end up showing (or maybe in some cases they were there, and i just didn’t get the chance to see them). at about 6:30, there were maybe fifteen people there.

i figured it wouldn’t be so bad if only that many people ended up coming out for the show. might take some pressure off. might be fun. at the same time, i didn’t want to only have the first row of seats half-filled and end up with egg on my face. then all the people who told me i couldn’t do this sort of show would be able to say, “we told you it was a bad idea.”

by 7:00, i heard someone shout, “we need more chairs!” i started playing about ten minutes after the hour. lots of people actually came on time, which surprised me. more people came after that. by the time i was a few songs into the first set, i looked up to find the place was PACKED. sergio (a great guy who works at mackenzie hall and was a huge help all night) told me they started out with about 80 chairs set up, bumped it up to 120 when those were filling up too quickly, and before long most of those seats were full. there were also people standing in the back because a lot of the seats were taken. this means there were 150 people or more there at the peak of it all. there was no opening act, and no other entertainment. just me. so all these people showed up specifically to see me.

that is absolutely insane.

if everyone who said they were coming had been there, it would have turned into a radiohead song. you know the one. it involves sardines packed together in a crushed tin box. somewhere around 50 people i was expecting to see were not there at all, and i imagine i really did lose certain potential audience members by making the show all-ages, alcohol-free, and not having it happen in a bar. and yet the place was still packed. some people had to leave during the break after the first set for various reasons, but quite a few of them (probably around 100) stayed until the very end.

my box sets were gone before i even sang a note or announced to people they were available. before the end of the night, every single CD was gone, every single bottle of pop was empty, and the gigantic pot of coffee was completely exhausted. people listened. people applauded. when it was all over, people stood up and clapped their hands. i guess some folks call those things standing ovations. i call them surreal.

the whole thing was demented. i’ve never felt such an overwhelming sense of appreciation and communal goodness in a live music setting. i felt like people actually had a good time, and i did too.

i took on a ridiculous workload, with no one else to lean on musically and no safety net, and i didn’t fall flat on my face. i proved to myself that i can play a one-man show in a way that is comfortable for me, and i can pull it off. i did it the way i wanted to, and it wasn’t a train wreck after all.

i’m not thumbing my nose at the people who told me i was asking for trouble. i know at least some of them meant well, even if the whole “i was with you all along” thing where you pretend you were supporting me the whole time after the show is a success, when a few days ago you were pretty much telling me i was an idiot to do it this way…not cool. but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in being told you can’t or shouldn’t do something, and then doing it anyway, and instead of having it end in embarrassment, it turns out to be a success.

in some bizarre ironic twist, somehow, this was maybe the least nervous i’ve ever been playing a show, when it was also probably the largest gamble i’ve ever taken with my music. i’m not quite sure how that happened, but there you go.

huge, huge thanks have to go out to travis for letting me use his p.a. system (which sounded like it was made for mackenzie hall), to jay zeman for doing a great job with the sound and taking a gigantic amount of stress off of my stress-bearing body parts (right away, he knew exactly the kind of ambiance that was needed and gave me just enough volume to hear myself well without the uber-sensitive ears being at all offended), to johnny smith for making sure everything ran smoothly and working the merch/refreshments table along with greeting people and getting the entire show on video (talk about multi-tasking), to adam peltier for being the very first person to show up (he drove all the way from chatham to be there) and one of the last to leave, to dalson chen for taking these pictures, to josh kolm for also getting most of the show on video, to everyone at mackenzie hall, and to everyone who came out.

the response was far, far beyond anything i was expecting in my wildest dreams…and i’ll seriously tell you about a dream i had that relates to this show in a little bit. i messed up all over the place and felt like an athlete out of shape, but my voice surprisingly enough didn’t let me down at all (after 90 minutes of full-on singing, i felt like i could have done more if i’d had another short break and some amphetamines, and i think the singing might have even become better and more dynamic as the show progressed, when it tends to work the other way as vocal fatigue sets in), and i ended up re-jigging the set list on the spot, throwing out songs i planned to play, pulling out songs i hadn’t rehearsed at all based on what people said they wanted to hear and what i felt like doing, and just kind of winging it.

i’m not sure i’ve had such a positive experience playing my own stuff live since back in high school. even then, it was never quite like this. in high school, you’re obligated to attend an assembly, especially when it gets you out of class for a period or two. in this case, no one was obligated to come at all. it’s a pretty cool feeling to look out into a gigantic sea of people and see at the same time a lot of friends, and a lot of faces you’ve never seen before in your life. and then to realize all these people are here to see you, for one reason or another. and then, on top of that, to have them applaud enthusiastically and laugh at your random banter.

it’s a gigantic cliché to say this, but you really could hear a pin drop in the place. i made the somewhat scary (and potentially dangerous) decision to sing one song a cappella with no musical accompaniment at all, and the silence in between the words was electrifying. that’s right! i’m pouring on the hyperbole! hell, the first song i sang included the word “hyperbole” in the lyrics. that could have been a train wreck right there, because it was designed as an open-ended vehicle for improvisation. but i think it turned out pretty well, and once that didn’t fall apart, i knew i was going to do alright.

i took some chances, and some things turned out better than others (“the sun is a red ball of lies tonight” doesn’t work as well in a solo live setting as it does on the album, while the spontaneous decision to add some percussive harmonic slaps to “knee-jerk howl” worked out pretty nicely, i thought)…but the unpredictability is kind of the fun of it all.

i’d scan and post my handwritten set list, but i think master peltier took it home as a memento, with my blessing. i hope he gets a few bucks for it on eBay or kijiji. you could call it “the set list that didn’t quite happen as it is written” and really turn some heads.

thanks (in addition to those already mentioned, and in no particular order) to bob ouellette, dr. sinclair, bree, amanda goodface, derek, sergio, joey ouellette, uncle brian, richard langlois jr., leesa, mary-lou gelissen, matt rideout, beverley irene anger, katie (my sister from another mister) and matt and nik and mary, murad and stefan (who, like many people, i didn’t get the chance to talk to), my old partner in musical mayhem gord thompson, adam fox, ryan fields, the nice girl with blonde hair who had to leave during the intermission, tara and jonathan, samantha, my partner in smoo, josh kolm and his friend whose name i can’t remember but who is a master behind the lens (i haven’t yet seen the footage they shot, but i have feeling it looks pretty cool), max, stephen hargreaves for suggesting mackenzie hall as a place to play…the list goes on.

thanks to everyone, for all of the support, all the people i’d never met before who said nice things, all the people who stayed home to watch the oscars (i know you’re out there!), everyone who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it for one reason or another, everyone who grabbed some CDs, the nice photographer fella who fixed the piano’s music stand for me, and on and on. i got to talk with some people during the break, but wish there had been time to do more mingling. i was up for more at the end, and some chatting did ensue for quite a while, but a lot of people had to leave when the music was over. sunday night and all, you know.

for those who were not there, or those who just want to revisit some witty piece of something i said about tree frogs, here is the entire show in sequence, minus a few bits of banter and the beginning of one song. the camera being used changed after “wait all morning” at the beginning of the second set, as you’ll see. the sound is better with the first camera (the trusty flip), but the second camera allows more closeups so you can see my exciting facial expressions and such. i also worked in as much of josh’s footage as i could, which probably features the best sound quality.

that grand piano is a beast. the audio doesn’t really do it justice. if you were there and you heard how that thing sounded in the room completely unamplified, you know what i mean. it didn’t make me want to trade in my piano (i still think my upright is pretty special), but man, is it ever nice to play a perfectly-tuned, beautiful real piano like that in a live setting, instead of the usual digital piano sounds. i could have just noodled around on that thing all night long. i found out it’s a yamaha S400 that cost about $60,000 when it was purchased back in the 1990s. not too shabby.

what impressed me, though, was coming home, immediately sitting down at my piano (which is not a grand, and cost nowhere near that amount of money), and discovering i didn’t feel like i’d moved down in the world. it takes a pretty spiffy upright piano to hold its own against a grand like that.

there are some songs i meant to get to that i kind of wish i’d played (chief among them a few possibly interesting covers, including a britney spears song, and a few CREATIVE NIGHTMARES tracks), and i missed a few requests because it didn’t look like the requestees were there. “requestees” is so a word, because i said so. shut up, firefox.

sadly, i did miss a few requests that i wanted to play for people who couldn’t be there…my apologies to maya and my sweet popsicle of smarf. i’ll just play private concerts in your homes for both of you to make up for the oversight. i also forgot to bring posters and my harmonica holder, though travis saved my arse there. why did i never think to type “arse” instead of “ass” until just now? it’s such a fun substitute.

thanks again to everyone who came out and was a part of it all. it’s surreal to feel so appreciated, but i appreciate the appreciation. hopefully the gratitude came across. that’s what the whole show was about, really. it was intended to be a giant thank-you to everyone who has supported the music, enjoyed CDs, given them to other people, used them as coasters, or whatever. when i did some rough calculations to figure out how much money might have been made if i’d charged even just admission at the door and still kept everything else free, it kind of frightened me. but i’m glad i stuck to my guns and did it my way, all the way. one of my missions in life is to keep money and my music as far away from each another as possible. i may even have to take out a restraining order someday. but we haven’t quite reached that point yet.

onward to the video action.

the original set list as i envisioned it looked something like this:

first set:

an avalanche in hell / analyze the oven
beneath the darkening sky
wait all morning (anna atkinson)
someday our children will give us names
water to town
knee-jerk howl
creepy crawly things
you’re missing (bruce springsteen)
i have the touch (peter gabriel)
stay (u2)
it’s okay
the cost of allowing yourself to remain living
wind chimes sing with her (travis reitsma)

BREAK

second set:

peculiar love
the sun is a red ball of lies tonight
blue cheese necklace
thief of idle breath
no reason to get out of bed / how these things tend to go
new oyster blues
i’ve got you under my skin (frank sinatra)
bent bird, broken wing
abandoned house burning down
a fine line between friendship and baked goods
revenge is sweet
excuse me, miss…where might i find a bandana like yours?
in my time of weakness

somewhere in there, i was going to work in “maya x 3”, “highest G”, the clone high theme song, and maybe throw “condensed journey of a tree” in there along with “take me home tonight” by eddie money. that’s right. eddie money, bitchez. i was iffy on the idaho song and didn’t think i would do it. i was tempted to do “wuthering heights” by kate bush and “be my baby” by the ronettes, but a lot of the covers ended up getting cut. a lot of the more uptempo material fell by the wayside as well. i was feeling the mellow vibe, or something.

as you’ll see, things didn’t exactly end up sticking to the script, and the order of things ended up shifting all over the place. there were instruments i didn’t end up getting to (the ukulele! the national resphonic! the lack of bluesy slide guitar! no!), but hopefully there was enough variety to keep it interesting. it was kind of fun going back and forth between two different areas to play different things. and i know i shouldn’t apologize when i make mistakes, because most of the time no one would know if i didn’t say anything, but i can’t help it. it’s a knee-jerk howl i can’t contain. i will eventually get around to giving the second set the same single-video treatment given to the first set, with the best footage and sound synchronized for maximum sex appeal.

LIVE AT MACKENZIE HALL (sunday, march 7th, 2010)

first set:

second set:

encore:

(thanks to larry girard for saving the day once again with the digitizing of the show’s second half)

some of the highlights, for me:

— the improvised percussion at the end of “someday our children will give us names” coming off better than i expected.

— the springsteen song, which i always wanted to try playing. even when i managed to completely forget the chords for the first part of the bridge section, it didn’t fall apart.

— “it’s okay”, which i think ended up inspiring some of my best singing of the whole night and came off better than i thought it would.

— every time i played that 1940s martin oo-17. holy richness. the other guitars trembled in awe on their stands.

— singing the a cappella u2 song and hearing dead silence between the words. in general, it was so quiet, when someone coughed it sounded like a thunderclap.

— singing travis’ song a lot better than i did a the green bean show.

— spontaneously getting people to sing along during the 7/4 section at the end of “revenge is sweet”.

— “no reason to get out of bed” not degenerating into a mess this time, unlike what happened when i played an opening set at the field assembly CD release show back in the summer.

there were some less magical moments as well, like the roughness of the completely unrehearsed “crustacean cancer survivor” and mucking up the end of “peculiar love” to cite just two examples. and i kind of wish i’d thought of more exciting things to play for the encore. i guess “a well-thought-out escape” made sense to close with, since, if i had a “hit”, that would probably be it (i love how tara cracks up when i make reference to that in my introductory spiel), but it seems like a bit of an odd version. whenever i’ve played it live before, i pretty much belt it out and hold notes at the end for a crazy long time. this version is more muted, without much in the way of belting. i was pretty spent by that point, so maybe it was a fitting comedown after all. who can say in these troubled times?

on the whole, i feel pretty good about the performance, warts and all. some people told me they actually enjoyed the fact that there were mistakes, because it made it feel more authentic and involving. score one for butterfingers! if only the camera had pulled back when i sat down before the encore so you could see the sitting ovation as it happened, and then more of the standing ovation at the very end. if only.

you thought i forgot about that dream i mentioned, didn’t you? but no. i was saving it for the right moment. a night or two before the show, i had a dream some middle-aged guy was complaining about how, if he was going to pay to see me play live, he wanted to hear all new material that hadn’t been released anywhere beforehand, so he would feel like he was getting his money’s worth. lady gaga explained to him that the show was free, and he was left flabbergasted, with nothing more to say.

who knew lady gaga would turn out to be the voice of reason?

on an unrelated note, what the hell happened to hawksley workman? that guy used to make some interesting, creative music. i’m really not feeling what he’s been up to since lover/fighter, though, where it felt to me like he jettisoned all the weirdness that made his music different and exciting in exchange for what sounded like a bid at more mainstream recognition.

i just heard a new song of his called “we dance to yesterday”, and unless it’s a piss-take on poppy stuff (which i don’t think it is), it’s…not encouraging. if i had a large european following and was invited to film a live showcase on bravo’s “live at the rehearsal hall” program, i would feel like i was on the right track with blazing my own idiosyncratic path, instead of following that up by trying to mold myself into someone more appealing to pop radio. then again, maybe hawksley just decided he wanted to try different things, and this is really the music he wants to make for himself…in which case it simply doesn’t do it for me. but if it makes him happy, it can’t be that bad, right? sheryl crow? bueller?

on another unrelated note, i haven’t seen tim burton’s take on “alice in wonderland” yet, but what the HELL was he thinking when he got avril lavigne to contribute the titular song to the soundtrack? talk about a mismatch. talk about wrong. talk about…dear god, make it stop!

these, my friends, are the painful things i think about in random moments of self-inflicted pop badness.

oh yeah — i almost forgot. i have a ton of posters leftover. if anyone wants one, let me know.

finally, LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS is still in the top 20 on the CJAM charts. that’s three weeks in a row. i think that could be a new record for me.

the waffle man gives you waffles.

sorry for dropping the ball a bit in the blog updating department. things have been pretty busy lately.

the show at green bean was a lot of fun. i somehow found a way to mess up in just about every single song, which is some sort of record for me, but at least some of the mistakes weren’t too ugly. i find it kind of hilarious that one of the few songs i didn’t mess up on at all was the one we didn’t really rehearse at all. my most obvious mistakes came in songs i was pretty comfortable with.

it’s odd. i got these impulses to just improvise things in the middle of songs. that usually worked out well, even when i was taking some pretty big risks. it was during the more straightforward songs that worked well in rehearsal where i ended up hitting most of the ugly notes. but only on piano. when i was playing guitar or banjo, i was fine.

i guess that’s just how i roll. if i’m playing live in any capacity, i’m going to hit ugly notes here and there.

kind of wish i performed my one spotlit vocal moment better too, but the audience seemed to like it, so maybe i did better than i thought i did. travis sure sounded good, at least. the response was positive, and i didn’t hear one person talking during any of the songs. it’s a little surreal sometimes having such an attentive audience, but it’s a nice feeling.

bree took a lot of great pictures (at a few points i looked to my left to find her crouched down a few feet away from me, taking pictures of me mid-banjo solo). here are a few.

travis is in black & white

my friend the national resophonic…

travis is lookin’ sly…

maybe i really do have a proper beard after all…

elsewhere, lots of stuff has been mingling with other stuff, making stuff babies. i should probably keep some of what’s going on a little hush-hush until i check with the other parties involved to see how much information we want to divulge at this stage (how mysterious).

one thing i can tell you: i was hanging out at CJAM the other day, guesting on murad’s show productive confusion. is it just me, or is that a great name for a radio show?

murad sometimes does these “album spotlight” things where he’ll devote a show to playing an entire album by a local act, along with a song-by-song interview. i don’t think anyone else is doing that around here right now. for fun, i asked if he might be interested in doing that sort of thing with my new CD while it’s still fresh, and he said as long as i agreed to be photographed with my uncle kanye, he was game.

okay, so that’s a lie. you won’t be seeing me posing with my uncle kanye anytime soon, for he is a busy man, with many more people in the world he needs to interrupt at awards shows before he can start thinking about photo shoots with his nephew johnny.

still, i thought it was fun, and hopefully people aren’t tired of the new songs yet. we didn’t have time to play the whole album, but we did get to some key tracks that haven’t been given much airplay yet.

as a rule i tend to feel pretty inarticulate when i’m talking about my music. it feels like i say a whole lot while saying nothing at all. but if you wind me up well enough i can get going pretty good. i gave some pretty long-ass answers and didn’t even touch on half of what i wanted to say. i joked with murad that we should just take over the station for the rest of the day and keep going until we covered all the relevant bases.

example: given more time, i would have talked about how “animal altruism” was inspired by reading about random acts of animal kindness (apes saving children, dolphins saving people from drowning, and these fascinating impulses animals have to help not just one another, but different species as well). or i would have mentioned how the dirt-cheap old archtop guitar on “kings” sounds better than it has any right to, and how that guitar “solo” came out of real anger, which isn’t something i’ve been able to say about a guitar solo of mine in almost a decade. or how there isn’t actually any electric guitar in “you make me feel like an impotent squadger” (it’s just fuzz bass and a bit of synth squealing at the end). or how part of the whole point of the upcoming mackenzie hall show is to try and shoot some gigantic holes in this image i have as a “reclusive genius” (that ain’t me, babe) and make it clear i’m just a regular guy who happens to make music. and i might have played a scott walker track, and talked a bit about how hearing tilt was maybe the single most important musical moment of my life — something that completely reshaped my ideas about what music could and should be (maybe someday mojo magazine will have me do a bit about it for their “last night a record changed my life” feature…ha…ha). i might have played an old papa ghostface track from a decade ago, to offer a tiny sliver of insight into how much things have changed over the years.

but time flies when you’re rambly mcrambles, which is what they call me in ireland.

i think we did manage to touch on some meaty stuff in there in spite of not having eight hours for me to talk myself hoarse (you know you want to hear that happen), and i did get to throw in the heretofore undisclosed factoid about how “in my time of weakness” has some serious autobiographical truth in it, albeit truth that’s wearing somewhat cryptic clothes.

anyway, it was a fun afternoon. hopefully my rambling was somewhat interesting for anyone who was listening. i have to say i felt more comfortable than i usually do when talking about myself. i credit murad for asking good questions, letting me take ten years to answer, and being an all-around good guy.

so thanks to him for having me on his show, and thanks again to everyone at CJAM for the continued support. this week LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS is at #2 on the charts, while travis’ new album is at #3. there we be, side by side.

here’s the interview, minus most of the music, split into a few different parts:

where i came from, marketing through anti-marketing, letting go, and starting in one place to end in another

doing it yourself, subverting the normal, the urgency of overabundance, and cutting money out of the equation

playing with structure, playing live, not playing live, letting it be, figuring out what works well without clothing, and breaking down the wall

“self-indulgence”, appreciating appreciation, and humour in music

final words

one thing i really wish i remembered to mention on-air is a recent thought i had that i think relates to a bit of what i do, and why i do it this way.

caleb deschanel (renowned cinematographer, and father to the luminous zooey) once worked for a while with john cassavetes on a brilliant film called a woman under the influence, before he either quit in protest or was fired. this comes from ray carney’s cassavetes on cassavetes — one of the most absorbing and fascinating books i’ve ever read, and one i need to pull out for another read. it’s one of the few books i’ve been moved to read more than once, and every time i get new things out of it.

anyway, caleb said (and i’m paraphrasing) he felt cassavetes never had any real interest in the mechanics of making movies — the technical process and all that went along with it — and would have processed the film through his brain if he’d been able to. for some reason that bit came back to me, it got stuck in my head, and i realized how much i relate to it. if i could just transpose the music that’s in my head from brain to CD with no work necessary, i’d do it in a second.

i work fast because i have to work fast. if i get bogged down in over-thinking things, the music suffers. if i take too long to work on something, not enough gets done. there’s too much to get out, and not enough time in my life to get it all out. there’s this feeling of urgency, especially over the last little while, to get as much out while i’m virile and able.

so i think i understand that drive to just get to the meat of something, and not getting so caught up in the technical aspects that are, to be fair, a necessary part of the process. my ears have matured and i’ve got some good equipment at this point, but in some ways maybe i’m still the kid with the stop-watch, writing song titles on tape jackets, coming up with fake names for imaginary musicians, caught up in the sweaty rush of it all. the same drive to get things from brain to finished album while they’re new and exciting is still there. it’s just that the methods and the medium have changed a bit, and the music has continued to evolve.

thinking about that book, and about all cassavetes went through to get his movies made, also makes me realize how lucky i am. here was a guy who had to act in mostly shitty hollywood movies in order to bankroll the films he wrote and directed himself (most of them made without any studio assistance) that went against everything those hollywood movies were about. these are brutally honest, human, visceral films about how difficult love is to find and give and share and maintain, how we almost never say what we’re really thinking or feeling, and all the different ways we destroy ourselves and the people we love, often without even knowing it.

people didn’t want to see themselves on the screen, though. they wanted to see idealized versions of themselves. they wanted escapist fluff.

aside from a few brief brushes with critical and commercial success, cassavetes was vilified, and he fought his whole life against indifference and outright hatred to make the movies he felt he needed to make. for some of the movies he made with studio backing, whole chunks of the films were excised by studio executives who objected to how uncommercial his work was, and his widow gena rowlands has treated his legacy with such a staggering lack of respect, it defies belief (just because you acted in some of your husband’s films, does that entitle you to recut one of his movies because you object to certain scenes? does it give you the right to block the release of important work he did that was discovered posthumously? does it give you the right to try and rewrite the story of his life, stripping it of anything real and raw and pasting on a phoney happy face?).

but those films are there, and most of them can be found without too much trouble. they’re not for everyone. not by a long shot. some people would find them dull, self-indulgent, and too raw. for me, it’s a bit of a different story.

the first cassavetes film i ever saw was a woman under the influence. it seemed a little slow at first. nothing much was happening. then it sucked me in, and it hit me that everything was happening. i felt like i was eavesdropping on someone else’s life.

it scared the shit out of me. it made me want to walk through the television screen and protect some characters, and throttle others. no movie i’d seen had ever made me feel so emotionally involved. i felt things. i thought things. some of them were pretty tough things to feel and think.

i sat motionless for about a half hour after the end credits were finished crawling across the screen, whispering “holy shit” to myself a few dozen times. then i tracked down most of the rest of the films.

they don’t all do it for me in the same way, but there isn’t one i don’t get something out of, and there are at least a few cassavetes films i consider masterpieces. this stuff was the oxygen i’d been looking for without even knowing i needed it until the moment i was breathing it in.

my point, if i have one, is that here was a brilliant, flawed artist who had to fight against adversity that would cripple lesser, saner artists in order to get his films made, only to sometimes have them taken away from him and butchered by people who didn’t understand them. he was ridiculed and denigrated for daring to ask audiences to think and feel for themselves, and not giving easy answers or spelling everything out in conventional, simplistic, brain-dead movie shorthand. only a few of his films ever turned a profit, and he lost millions of dollars of his own money making them.

when he died, he’d mortgaged his house so many times to raise money to pay for his independent films, he owed the same amount of money on it as he did thirty years earlier when he and gena first bought the place, only a few of the films had been released on home video, and all of them were out of print.

today you can find most of the films on DVD in their intended cuts (when i was getting into cassavetes it wasn’t so easy, and i had to dig a bit). but the belated recognition rings a little hollow to me, and a lot of people still resist his kind of filmmaking. he still doesn’t fit.

to be savaged by critics when you’re pouring your heart and soul into what you do, and to be repeatedly misunderstood if not ignored by the people meant to comprise your audience…there’s no way the indifference, the struggle, and the rejection didn’t hurt. but he found a way to do the work he needed to do. it didn’t matter that almost no one would see it, and most of those who did wouldn’t “get” it. what mattered was getting the work done.

and i just think it’s delicious, the way he took roles in other people’s films — some of which were awful, and he knew it — did what he could with the material, and in a quiet way turned the system in on itself by using the money he made to make movies that really meant something, that were about something.

if i could do something similar and, say, make generic instrumental music for car commercials anonymously, i probably would, because it wouldn’t mean a thing to me, it would be easy money, and it would live in a separate universe form the real music i make that’s mine, that has meaning to me.

there’s a world of difference between producing a product for money with your eyes wide open knowing you’re going to use that money for something that’s the complete antithesis of what you’re getting paid to do on the one hand, and compromising your art, dumbing it down and stripping it of its soul in an effort to turn it into something palatable that will give you a nice little career.

but that’s an argument for another day.

i am not a filmmaker. i make music. and i’m fortunate enough to be in a position where i don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make an album. i don’t have to mortgage a house. i don’t have to try to get sponsors, or apply for grants, or talk other people into playing on my albums, or depend on anyone else for much of anything. i have all the equipment i need. i do everything myself.

the only expenses at this point (aside from new instruments and gear from time to time) are the CD inserts/booklets (which i pay to have printed at a higher quality than i could produce myself), the physical CDs i duplicate myself, the jewel cases that hold the CDs, and the ink cartridges for the printer i use to print text and images onto the CDs.

if i paid someone else to master my albums, things would get a lot more expensive in a hurry. but i don’t do that.

i’m able to do whatever i want to do, with no thought given to whether or not it will sell (because i don’t sell it) or how it will be received (because i don’t give a shit about that), and put it out there in whatever form i choose. in my case, i give CDs away for free to whoever wants them, and this simple act is partially responsible for saddling me with a reputation for being at least somewhat insane. no one has the power to take my work away from me and mold it into what they think it should be. i have “final cut” and complete creative control over every aspect of everything i do. i haven’t been raked across the coals by critics (i don’t spread the stuff around enough to be on the radar of any critics who have any great influence).

but i know very well what it’s like to be rejected and ignored while trying to share something you believe in with other people. i lived that for a long time.

at some point, people started sitting up and paying attention to what i was doing. now i have an audience. it’s mostly limited to this city. and i’m not going to be the next windsor artist to break into the mainstream and leave this place behind for fame and glory. i don’t think that could ever happen for me, even if i really wanted it, in spite of what a small group of people who believe in what i do have told me.

but i don’t want that anyway. the mainstream is a boring, bland, uninspiring place. dark corners and odd crevices are a lot more interesting to me. i seem to have carved out some sort of niche for myself, while at the same time being free to try different things and rewrite the script as i see fit. i don’t know if anything is expected of me at this point, now that people are actually listening (for a long time no one was paying any attention to what i was doing), but i don’t feel the weight of any expectations to do anything in particular.

i do what i feel like doing. people seem to enjoy it for some odd reason. i put out an album where i try to push my own envelope a bit, not thinking anyone will like it, and some people tell me it’s one of their favourite things i’ve done.

it’s as if i’m being rewarded for doing what i want to do and not caring what anyone thinks of it. it’s very strange.

some people have to fight to be heard, and when they finally do gain an audience they’re ridiculed, only recognized for their courage and talent after they’re dead. some people never get to be heard at all. meanwhile, some people never really have to struggle, and success just falls into their laps, through good luck, or good timing, or being able to buy their way into the good graces of the people who have “pull”. the “artists” who are created by marketing teams and manufactured like living barbie dolls don’t apply, because they were never real to begin with.

there’s no one clear cut path to follow, or to be led down, or to be forced down. we are all like the tears of an angry prostitute with eyes that are forever structurally rearranged. no two tears fall the same.

that wasn’t the point i intended to make at all, but several tangents wrapped up in a dish towel have led me here, so i might as well keep going.

we don’t all do the same things. we don’t all want the same things. there’s amazing art of all kinds being created in basements and bedrooms that will never be seen, heard, or experienced by anyone. in some cases, that’s the whole idea. it isn’t made for public consumption. in others, it’s not for lack of trying, but the art just never finds the audience it deserves. and of course, there’s the soulless plastic drivel that sells millions of copies and servse as the disposable wallpaper of our lives.

maybe it’s necessary for it all to co-exist in a confusing mess that can never be known or understood on more than a very tenuous, incomplete level.

and really, the people who create something because they have a genuine need to create — they’ll find a way to do it, no matter how much adversity they’re up against. i’m lucky enough to be in a position where, after spending an ass-load of money on instruments and equipment and learning through doing, i have the ability to follow whatever musical impulses i have, wherever they lead, whenever the feeling is there. not everyone can do that. a lot of people have to pay for studio time, and hope that the engineer/producer is in tune with what they’re doing, and then hope the same thing all over again when it comes time to master the album, and with graphic design, and then they have to pay for manufacturing, and promote the stuff, and try to make some of that money back.

for me, none of that applies (and again, i realize how fortunate i am to be in this situation). some people have a problem with this. in particular, it seems a few people feel there’s something wrong with me giving my music away for free, and they have this strange need to know where the money comes from that allows me to keep doing this.

instead of asking me that question, they try to be coy and snoop around behind my back for information, nudging people who are genuine friends of mine, thinking they might have some information. meanwhile, the people who are really my friends don’t care about any of that stuff.

why this is important to anyone is beyond me. if you don’t have the decency to ask me yourself and you’d rather fish for information behind my back, you deserve whatever frustration comes out of that. it’s none of your fucking business. what i do and how i do it has nothing to do with you.

so i’ll do what i do, and you do what you do, and we’ll do what we do. shooby-doo.

i’ve given up on trying to get across whatever i was trying to reach for here. but there’s the seed of something in there somewhere that makes some amount of sense, believe you me.

talk about making up for lost time. i haven’t rambled like that in at least a week or two.

we’re lit, sir.

i put this up in a secret place just to see what it looked like, but thought i might put it up here for the moment too. last night’s show was a lot of fun, and i even got to keep my ears intact for a change. here’s the pudding-proof. thanks to ismal for handling the camera.

FIELD ASSEMBLY, live at taloola (saturday, august 8, 2009)

adam fox 
voice, guitar, master of ceremonies

stephen hargreaves 
snare drum, melodica, brushed melodica, bass, terminally cool hair

yours truly 
wurlitzer, harmonies, a bit of ill-advised melodica at the beginning of one song

funny how the last song wasn’t even remotely rehearsed, but we nailed the harmonies anyway. and i was almost trapped into playing something of my own as a post-encore encore. really…there was an amp blocking my way out of the little performance area so i couldn’t run away. entrapment!

but seriously. it was a good time.