VFW

Let’s talk about nostalgia.  We chase it more and more as we age, and this past weekend reminded me of a particular period in life.  I’m not sure if this phenomenon exists outside of the northeast, but I’m going to assume it does not.  I don’t even know if it currently exists!  As this may have been a one shot reunion deal. We are talking about the American Legion/VFW show.  (lets refer to them as VFW)

VFW 1

The band was asked to play a 30th birthday party, at which the birthday haver (new word) would eat a hamburger for the first time in his life.  While this concept is too fantastically mind boggling for me to get into, let’s just say I support the eating of hamburgers.  He rented a VFW hall in central New Jersey, and invited several bands to play.  Everyone there had gone through this routine.  A good portion of our collective childhoods were spent in rooms just like these, filled with sweaty people and half stack amplifiers.  Before we get into specifics, lets cover some history.

Now, this history is mostly assumed, but I’m going to guess most of it is true.  And on the internet, well, that’s as good as any bibliography I’ve ever encountered. This is oddly appropriate, considering it was memorial day weekend.  VFW(Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls are little social organizations for veterans, usually containing a bar and some type of performance area.  They need a place to get together and do what social organizations do, kind of like the mafia.  Come to think of it, it’s exactly like the mafia, only the government recognizes VFWs and doesn’t get mad if they don’t pay taxes.

Perhaps the most unlikely yet signifigant  supporters of independent music.
Perhaps the most unlikely yet significant supporters of independent music.

Somewhere along the line, bands realized these rooms could be rented out, by people less sketchy than promoters and venues, to hold local shows.  Black Flag and Fugazi notably pioneered this cause in the hardcore music scene, a tradition that we hope will continue long into the future.

It was a huge breakthrough.  All you need is a PA, and you’re set.  Contrary to popular belief, kids don’t want to go around fucking things up and ruining everyone’s day. They just want a place to congregate.  Admission is cheap, and you likely know at least a few of the bands or people putting it on.  Everyone has a stake in it, because if it goes well there will be more, if it doesn’t…there won’t.  Where as at a club of some type, you don’t really care at all.  They’re not nice to you, you’re not nice to them.

Where as a previous generation might have been able to play in bars to “cut their teeth” and learn to play live, this is what we had.  Bar owners would make you buy tickets in advance to sell to your friends (a concept known as “Pay To Play”) so really, nothing gets accomplished.  You’re playing for 10 of your friends and maybe some parents, no one from the venue wants you there.   Shows are most likely not curated at all, so any friends of the other bands don’t give a shit about you or your music, Its just not a welcoming environment.

VFW 2

Independently run shows were the polar opposite.  If a kid puts up a few hundred dollars to rent out a hall, they’re going to take great care to put on the best show possible.  Bands are of a similar style, people actually have a good time the entire show.  It’s an incredibly supportive environment, and I genuinely feel band for anyone who did not experience this.  I sometimes attribute my concept of adult responsibility, the fact that I have an income, have not been to rehab, and have no police record, to this era of my life….but then I realize just as many fuck ups were in this scene as well.  There goes my government funding.

Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia
Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia

My first experience at a VFW show was somewhere in Patterson NJ, yes, the one from the Bob Dylan song.  I had gotten my license mere days before, and drove down to sit in with a band I would join later.   The ambitious decision was made to drive there after my bank teller job, with hand written directions and no passengers.  This dear readers, is what we call “Good Decision Making.”

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I got incredibly lost.  Patterson was a frightening area, not the most friendly looking place do a dumbass white kid driving for the first time.  I definitely scraped a concrete wall trying to make a 3 point turn, and arrived just as the last notes were being played, lugging in my 50lb Fender Twin in one hand and a guitar in the other.  That sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happened.

Experiences were far more good than bad though.  I’m trying to think of the worst shows I have ever been a part of, and none of them have been of the VFW type. The PA was always terrible, but somehow you learned to play without monitors. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, a lot of ground was covered at these events.

Death By Audio in Williamsburg
Death By Audio in Williamsburg

It’s hard to have these places in cities, especially in NY, but Death By Audio in Brooklyn certainly captures that aesthetic.  Most likely a fire hazard, not the best sound, but you feel like you’re truly flying under the radar.  There is that VFW in Hoboken that you walk by on the way to Maxwells on Washington Street, with a giant deer head hanging, but they’re probably wise to the real estate, and no punk ass kids can afford it.

Our experience this past weekend may not have been exactly as we remembered it…the music of this band is a lot quieter than previous projects, none of the amps have a distorted channel…people just kind of sat on the perimeter on folding chairs.  There was very enthusiastic applause though, much more so than at a random bar show.  Maybe its true that you can’t relive your childhood, even you buy a giant ranch with an amusement park or trade bodies with Judge Reinhold.

Not a Moch Trial.
Not a Moch Trial.

I really do wonder if these shows are as present today.  The youth of America has far surpassed anyone in their late twenties when it comes to using technology, they probably have entire shows just made up of status updates.  I’d like to hope though, that somewhere out in the sketchy backwoods of Southern NJ, there are some dudes loading a half stack Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and a 9 Piece Orange County Drum Kit into a partially dilapidated shed, with no mid range in sight.

Trends..Musical, Economic, and Whatnot.

I had some interesting experiences last night, why not share?  I believe I’m at the forefront of this new technique called “sharing your personal observations with the internet”  a patent is in the works.

This definable era of bands will soon draw to a close.  How do I know?  Because trends are emerging.  And once a trend emerges, it’s only a matter of time.  “No!” you say.  “The trend of pop punk Emo/Screamo bands with sleeve tattoos and vented snare drums will continue forever!”  Yes, it very well may, but not in the eyes of the general public.  Except that vented snare thing, what was that all about.

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Last night, the band I’m in played a show after a short hiatus.  It was at a downtown Manhattan venue, known for their indie rock type aesthetic.  As we loaded equipment in, this is what the stage looked like

Keyboards

Notice anything?  Yeah.  That’s without the 3 keyboards we added.  Several years ago, in the aforementioned pop punk era, every guitar player had a half stack with a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier.  Do they even make those anymore?  Every bass player had an Ampeg SVT 8×10…which is still in use, but only for appropriate occasions, like a venue which requires a bass amp the size of 2 people.  Drummers had elongated cannon type kick drums, toms hanging with RIMS mounts, all sorts of elaborate crap.

Is it ironic this photo came from myspace?
Is it ironic this photo came from myspace?

All of that is gone.  Every band had at least 2 keyboards.  There were 6 Blackface Fender combo amps, every single bass player had a Fender P Bass (it used to be the Musicman Stingray!) There were 3 Fender Jazzmasters between 4 bands, and shit tons of Reverb.

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Gibson Les Paul’s have completely vanished.  This could also be similar to the original Punk era, musicians just buy what’s cheap.  A Gibson Les Paul Standard costs $2,500.  That’s just plain ridiculous.  In this economy, what musician can approach that?  Pre housing bubble, I’ll bet a lot more were sold, perhaps dude to less worry about taking on credit card debt.

You see a ton more of Gibson’s less expensive model, the SG (for a used one, you can spend $800-1000 for a standard!) And Fender Guitars have pretty much taken over.  Jazzmaster prices are on the rise though,  same as the Strat’s in the 6o’s, which Fender used to have to cut prices on repeatedly, until they were popularized by that dude with the bandana/Afro and the British guy who played Layla on Unplugged.

(This concludes my economic report)

When one looks back on this era, it will certainly have a definable sound.  Yes, the lo-fi thing is very present, but it’s a very clear type of lo-fi.  We all got so used to those super balanced, scooped mid, high wattage, predictable giant tube amps, that everyone revolted.  You don’t necessarily know how those low wattage amps will react when you turn them up, but they really do sound so much more natural.  Everyone probably also got tired of carrying a 4×12 speaker cabinet up a flight of steps.

And the reverb….oh the reverb, how we love it!  Think of those late 90’s, early 2000’s vocal sounds.  There was so much compression!  As the gold standard of slightly alternative yet poppy records, think of Jimmy Eat World as an example.  We just don’t want to hear things that clearly anymore!  We’re literally washing it out!

Its not as extreme as Hair Metal to Grunge, but it is similar.  Screaming metal wails…..mumbled hoarse vocals.   Scooped mids wall of Marshall full stacks….whatever old crap you could get your hands on (hence the resurgence of the Jazzmaster!)

It’s just a slight rebellion against what was popular before.  What will come next?  Who knows.  I’m gonna say shit gets stripped down even further.  Back to the economics of it, touring is the #1 source of income for musicians.  If you have to travel constantly, you need to be light on your feet.  More overhead is more money lost…so why carry 3 keyboards, 3 combo amps, and a 4 piece drum kit…..when you can play all acoustic, kick and snare, with just some more focus on the PA effects?

Just throwin’ it out there.  Someone get me a show on CNBC, after Cramer.

We saw Andrew Bird at the Beacon theater earlier this month, and a good portion of the show was the entire band unplugged, with ONE SINGLE MIC at the foot of the stage.  It sounded fantastic.  Its also a rebellion against the over-processed pop music available.  Auto-tune has invaded nearly every recording produced today, we’re dying to hear something natural, without a net.

If our generation loves one thing, it’s being cynical.  But the optimist in me fully believes, that we love being proven wrong, and amazed by artistic endeavors.  When the next round of independent bands begins touring the land with solely a guitar case each, I will be first in line at the show.

Well, maybe a guitar case, and one of these…..GRAIL

Review and Rant: Nels Cline and Thurson Moore, Rockwood Music Hall 1/13/2012

OK, we’ve gotta discuss an ongoing epidemic at shows.  No, not the loud talker, not the drunk girl yelling at her friends, not even the guy texting.  We’re talking about photographers.  I understand you would like to capture the moment.  At times, I would too.  But here’s the difference.  I take out my phone, snap a few quick pictures, then I put it away.  I.  Put.  It.  Away.

Nels Thurston
I Took Two Pictures. This Is One.

Friday night, as part of the New York Guitar Festival, Nels Cline and Thurston Moore played as a duo at Rockwood Music Hall.  They called it “Pillow Wand”  maybe because it feels like being hit with a magical pillow.  These possibly the two most widely known Avante Garde leaning guitar players, who have crossed over into the mainstream world.  Cline as a part of Wilco, and Moore founding Sonic Youth.  Needless to say, lots of people were in that tiny room.

This was my first time at Stage Two of Rockwood Music Hall, a lovely addition.  It seems to be reserved for more well known acts, were as on Stage One, there’s always the chance that dude with a weird Jew Fro will go on right before your friend’s band and play the entire Plastic Ono Band album front to back.  Its a cozy space, the sound was great, and despite it being packed, it was not that hard to obtain a beverage.

Oh right, it was packed.  It was definitely over fire department capacity.  People would walk down the entrance stairs, see that there was nowhere to go, and literally just set up camp on the stairs.  That can’t be safe.

Now, before we get to the problem of people preserving their memories on compact flash cards, lets talk about the music.  They played a continuous set of sound….not really just noise, but not melodic compositions.  It was basically a fucking giant explosion.  Tons of effects pedals, lots of volume, several Jazzmasters.  They played like they meant it.  I would compare it to some type of experimental painting.  You see some weird shit thrown on a canvas and you think “I could totally do that.”  Well maybe in the case of some phony artist who just wants the image, you could.  But look at one of those giant Jackson Pollock canvases, and there is no way you could.  That’s what these guys were like.

Every sound seemed like they meant it.  There was no phoning it in.  It’s a wonder their guitars didn’t just fall in pieces to the floor.  They put these instruments through incredible abuse.  Cline plays the strings with a little kitchen whisk, Moore sticking a drumstick under the strings on the neck and thrashes back and forth.  They hit the tremelo so hard, it would be no surprise if the bridges just popped off. Yet somehow, they did not.  But that was the good part, lets get to the other thing.

There seems to be a rule with professional photographers.  They respect those around them.  And when they don’t, its brief.  A guy asks you if he can switch spots for a minute to get some shots, then moves along.  Its a mild inconvenience, but you live through it.  When I was about 11, we went to see Slash at the now defunct NY Club Tramps.  His manager came out beforehand and told all of the photographers, “YOU GET ONE SONG!  THEN YOU’RE OUT OF HERE!”  lo and behold, he came back out after that song, yelling “THAT’S IT!  GET ‘EM OUT!”  fucking professionals.

Somewhere between 1994 and now, things have changed.  I don’t dispute that the iPhone camera is awesome.  I love it.  I use it all the time.  It makes life better.  You can remember any moment, because you always have it with you.  And the pics look pretty good!  But think for a fucking minute.  How many pictures do you need?  Can’t you actually live in the moment and enjoy the amazing things happening in front of you?  You really need to look in a 3″ LCD monitor to experience what’s in front of you?  Fuck you.

The light from all the iPhones and cameras rivaled the stage lighting, which was minimal.  Its 2 dudes with guitars.  The lighting doesn’t change.  They aren’t even switching guitars.  How different is it going to be?  That’s not even the issue, I guess if you want to get all artistic, that’s fine.  But don’t do it in a tiny club.  The amount of dudes with fucking giant DSLR’s with huge telephoto lenses on them was just ridiculous.

We got pushed in front of several times, and the photographers just planted themselves.  Also, those cameras are kind of loud if its not a big rock and roll moment.  If the music gets quiet…..CLICK CLICK CLICK….really?  I’ve heard a bootleg of Neil Young at the Bottom Line, where he asks a photographer not to shoot during the songs, because people can hear it.  Jeff Tweedy would call out anyone with a camera and tell them to get rid of it on Wilco’s last tour.  Just last month at Carnegie Hall, Ryan Adams stopped the show and went on a hilarious rant….to paraphrase  “oh my god, you HAVE to have gotten that shot by now.  You need to keep taking them?  What is your camera from like 1975 and you need to change flashbulbs or something?  Want ME to take it for you?? Just put it away”  They have a point.

At one point, the asshole with the Hubble Telescope in front of me changed cards…because you need to fill up more than one giant flash card during a 45 minute set.  Then he was fucking reviewing and deleting photos!  Are you fucking kidding me? This place is the size of a shoebox and you’re standing in front of everyone just doing that?  And those people with the iPhones who just leave them held up the whole time!  Are your poorly lit out of focus shots going to be that great?!

chinese-pose41

OK, I need to calm down.  I’ve decided next time this happens, I’m going to get right in front of every lens I see, and just give the F.O.B Peace Sign.  Or yell “CLICK CLICK CLICK!” or just point my phone directly in front of their camera, turn the flash on, and just go for it.  We need to do something about this, kids.  Who’s with me?

Frank Zappa

I just saw this post on Dangerous Minds about an un aired interview with Frank Zappa in 1985.  I figured, why not, lets give it a viewing.

Suddenly, before I knew it, I was catapulted back to my early teens, sitting in my New Jersey living room, watching the VHS (!) rental copy of Baby Snakes from Tower Records.  It was long out of print, they wouldn’t sell it, so I just kept renting it over and over.  My neighbor, who was actually in the film randomly on the stage, showed it to me, and forever changed my musical outlook.

Zappa is a musician and figure who doesn’t get much notoriety these days.  This interview reminded me of that.  On the surface to the casual listener, he made really weird, sometimes funny music.  Obviously, the first song I latched onto was called “Titties and Beer”  about a motorcycle rider fighting the devil over his girlfriend.  Yep.  But go slightly beyond the silly lyrics, and all of his music was incredibly complex.  The man was unstoppably prolific.  In his lifetime he released over 70 albums.  Composed music for orchestras, early synthesizers, rock bands, jazz groups, made films, was an early pioneer of clay-mation, and who knows what else.
Oh yeah, he also testified before congress and led the fight against censorship in music.

After bringing my first guitar teacher some Zappa recordings I wanted to learn, it soon became evident there was a lot more going on than lyrics about strange characters.  If you watch Baby Snakes, finally reissued on DVD a few years back, look at the band.  Terry Bozzio is on drums, and looks about 14.  He’s playing some ridiculous stuff, somehow not sounding as annoying as any wanking fill-fueled fusion asshole drummer that came after him.  You get the sense that he’s just trying to do what Zappa envisioned, and there’s no one else on the planet who could do that.  Adrian Belew of King Crimson is on guitar, dressed as a flight attendant for most of the evening.  Nearly everyone in the band has a modular synthesizer.  There is a full orchestral percussion setup.  The vocal arrangements could make your head explode.  And on top of that, it ends with Zappa shredding the face off of all in attendance on several guitar solos.  Who the fuck was this guy?

Luckily, he did write a book before he passed.  The Real Frank Zappa book is 100% required reading.  I haven’t thought about it in years, I’m now going to go back and re-read it.  If for nothing else, the political connotations.  I rarely if ever will get political on this here blog, but I’ve gotta throw out a few things.  Zappa makes the point in the above interview of defending freedoms.  There’s this whole Occupy Wall St movement happening, and say what you will about their methods, but their message is important.  Pretty much no people of note have stood up and outwardly supported the movement.  Sure, some musicians have played short sets, but I mean, come on.  No one comes out in the media and supports it.  We’re stuck with these shitty 24hr news as entertainment outlets. Has anyone of note written a scathing article taking down the financial criminals? Its not like there’s no outlet for it. Like it or not, celebrities have power in our lovely land, why not do something with it. Eh?

When Tipper Gore (wife of the inventor of the internet) decided to form the PMRC (parents music resource center) in order to get those “Parental Advisory” stickers on albums at the time….Zappa stood right the fuck up.  No one could quiet him down.  He led the fight, flaming sword full of unplayable arrangements waving.

Would Bieber do this?  Would ANYONE? Radiohead couldn’t articulate it this clearly.  But Zappa marched right up to the hill and spoke in his own words.  He read the first amendment out loud to the committee trying to censor him, then he said “That’s for reference!” Just watch the video.  How did his balls fit through the door!

I just wish we could see what Zappa would be doing today.  Sure, people say that about any musician long gone…Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, whatever, but all of them would have likely fallen from greatness, sold out, made much worse music, and tarnished their reputations to some degree.  What would Zappa have done with the internet?  Pro Tools?  Youtube?  His output would have made Ryan Adams look like Axl Rose.  Can you imagine Zappa’s blog?  Would you see his music in a Wall Mart commercial?

These are just some things to think about.  Go back and listen to “We’re Only In It For The Money”  then listen to “Sheik Yerbouti”  then watch these videos once more. What we’re really missing is someone who just does not give a shit about what anyone else thinks, answers to no one but themselves, and says whatever they believe it. It’s surprising, because we basically all have our own broadcast networks, the major labels are dead, MTV and Radio are irrelevant, and you can sell your own products without distribution.

Anyhoo, that enough ranting for now. Happy Chanukah!

Tom Petty On Technology.

A friend of mine once told me while negotiating the purchase of a house, that his real estate company will be called “Tom Petty Real Estate”  because The Waiting Is The Hardest Part.  And he was damn right.  Not that I am speaking about a real estate purchase.  Oh no dear reader, oh no.  What I am speaking about is The New iPhone.

jesus

I’ve resisted the smart phone for a long time.  Perhaps too long.  Yes, I still know how to get places based on memory, or direction based intuition, but how am I going to upload pics to facebook while on the go?  How will I check in at Stumptown enough times to become THE SUPREME MAYOR OF ALL TIME?  Eh??  There are many legit concerns, which you can locate elsewhere on the Internet, we all know smart phones are nearly essential to life.

But the question is, do we wait it out?  When is the time to pull the trigger?  Gadgets just freak me out, man!  Lets relate this to something related to my usual repertoire.  Recording equipment.

A few years back, I made a well documented move away from the mothership of Pro Tools, over to the confusing free-for-all software based clusterfuck that is Logic.  I made this move based on hardware concerns, just before Digidesign became known as Avid, and did away with their proprietary hardware model and opened it up to all.  Yeah.  Timing!  Anyway, I made a fantastic purchase of an Apogee Rosetta 800 for all conversion, and was satisfied for a few years.

This satisfaction is now beginning to wain.  Apogee did away with the rosetta 800, as well as the Symphony Mobile System I purchased to integrate it.  Apple will most likely do away with PCI slots on laptops, and this will cause a few problems.  This all goes along with the concern that apple is making its “Pro” gear decidedly less “Pro”.  Yes, we all have the hope of Thunderbolt to resolve all these issues, but that appears to be a few years off.

This has me thinking…what an incredible and shitty gamble buying any piece of equipment is in this age we live in.  At any point, a manufacturer can discontinue a product, stop creating updates, and cease all support.  I emailed Apogee about this specific issue (of whether the rosetta or symphony mobile would be able to work with future Apogee products, and the response was

We don’t really have any plans to upgrade any of our discontinued models

So the question is, will I have a several thousand dollar brick on my hands in a few years?  There is no long term guarantee anything will be supported a few years down the line.  The line between the present and future of technology is a strange blurry one.  People are still using Instruments, Amplifiers, Effects Devices and many other instrument related things from the long distant past. Sometimes exclusively.  These devices were all inter-connect-able regardless of the manufacturer, and usable for an infinite amount of time.

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Technology of this type carried weight.  Heft if you will.  Like Taft.  Well, it just souns like Taft.  And he was a heavy guy.  Yeah.  The point is, are current devices completely disposable?  Is there anything made today that will be heralded for its quality and cherished for years to come?  Or are we better off buying the quickest and easiest, waiting for it to become obsolete, and re-buy.

movie explosion 1 of 1 BWS
We all love the Prius, but you know that thing is going to explode into flames in 15 years.  Then again, maybe I’m completely wrong, Toyota is not the American car manufacturers of the 1970’s who designed cars to turn into giant robotic grizzly bears while exploding mid air at every yellow traffic light they encounter.  (statement based on 100% fact)

My point here?  I’m likely going to buy the iPhone 4, even if the Wall St Journal reports the new one will be super awesome looking and have a better camera. I just can’t take the waiting anymore kids.  As soon as the iPhone 5 hits, the 6 is gonna be THE BEST THING EVER.  It’s so easy to get caught in this cycle of perpetually waiting for the next to come along.  I’m breaking it.  Deal with it.