Review: Tune-yards @ The Bell House

Tuneyards 1
After my initial encounter with Tuneyards, expectations were high.  Any time an opening band who you have never heard of shows up a headliner, its always a nice surprise.  I think all of New York felt the same way, since the band sold out The Bell House in advance.  This was their largest headlining show to date, I think everyone who saw them open for the Dirty Projectors was also at this show.   Well, at least every person I know, and a few hundred others.

So on a Friday night with a heavy snow prediction, we trekked out to the Gowanus, ready to hear some worldly jams.  I have always enjoyed the Bell House.  Even when sold out, its not overly crowded, its always easy to get to the bar, I’ve never seen an overly douchey crowd in attendance, the sound is consistently good.  This may be because its in the middle of nowhere…but I’m ok with that.  Sometimes you have to think outside the box.  That box being easily accessible by public transit locations.  They do have minimal lighting though, which explains the blurriness of my photos.

Lets get right down to it, I’m getting over a stomach flu, and there is no time to waste.  This is a solid band, who in the future will do even greater things, but they do have a few obstacles to overcome. Tuneyards is primarily Merril Garbus , who plays ukulele, drums, and sings, accompanied by a bassist…and that’s it.  Its very stripped down, but sounds quite full due to the use of loops, and her fantastically huge voice.  Surprisingly though, I think she was suffering from some stage fright!  When it comes down to it, she is the show.  500 people are standing there, waiting for you to do something completely awesome, and you have to deliver.  She even said “I’m a little nervous right now, I’ve never had this many people know they’re here to see me!”  You could just feel the nervous energy.  Her voice shook at times, she seemed a little self conscious.  You wanted to just shake her and be like “You’re fucking awesome, stop thinking so much, just go for it!”

Even through the nerves…there were some shining moments.  She without a doubt has that special quality in a front person where you re like “yep, I can see why you’re going to be successful”  She has two tones of voice, there is one quiet and one loud.  The quiet…well, its quiet.  That was mostly where you could hear any apprehension, or maybe she justwasn ‘t warmed up, who knows.  But as soon as she opened up, it jumped about 50 decibels, and she just belted out the jams.  It was fantastic. It was like watching Aretha Franklin or something.  It makes you wonder how a person could produce so much sound.

Tuneyards 2

It was interesting watching her craft loops during live performance.  This basically means, she records a few seconds of sound, plays it over and over while adding more sound to it, eventually creating the sound of a full band.  Her percussion ideas were pretty interesting.  Itwasn’t always just Boom-Chick stuff, there were some ghost notes, some interesting fills, I was enjoying it.

I do hope she can accept the fact that shes amazing, and worthy of a crowd’s attention, I think that’s what it comes down to.  While the last performance was a straight up 10, i’d give this one an 8.  While still good, they are going to need to turn it up for next time.  And there will be a next time!

Notice the mic drilled into the book case...
Notice the mic drilled into the book case...

Moving on, here’s a quick note.  At a studio I was in recently, there is this little card on top of a speaker that says “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have”  And I really think those are words to live by when entering into any production endeavor.  DanielLanois frequently mentions that no matter the scenario, you have to work with your situation.  He records Bono live in the control room, no headphones with an SM58.  The Traveling Wilburys vocals were recorded in a pool house (bob dylan ‘s pool house, but that’s beside the point)  with 1 microphone in the center of the room.   This weekend I had the chance to adapt to a situation, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.  The band was recording some vocals, at my wonderful chateau in beautifully historic downtown Jersey City.  About 10 minutes before the session, I was setting up.   Mic, MicPre , Converter, Headphones……..mic stand?  no.   There was no mic stand in attendance.  OK, there had to be a way around this.  Broomstick?  no.  Tie a rope to the ceiling and hang it down?  nah.  Stereo Mic Bar?  That had to work.  That’s basically a 6″ flat bar with a mic mount on it.  So, I removed one end of it, leaving a threaded hole, found a piece of flat metal in a tool box, and drilled that shit into my bookshelf.  The results?  Perfect.  Well, i mean, its not like it had an impact on the sound.  But it certainly did the job, it added a bit of an improvisational style to the session, and that’s always a plus.

Steve Liveblogs Lady Gaga

Today dear reader, lets take a journey together. A journey into uncharted territory. I will now attempt to liveblog a Lady Gaga Album.

LadyGaga_TheFameMonster

Who is Lady Gaga? Chances are you know better than I do. I have no idea. Her name is thrown around by pop culture fanatics and esoteric hipsters alike. She apparently is the new Madonna? I don’t know, you don’t come here to hear about Lady Gaga. In all this hubbub, I feel the need to be in on the action. Steps have been taken to clear my mind of all preconceived notions, I’ve done some stretching exercises, my subscription to Lala.com has been created (this site seems absolutely kick amazing, thanks to Eric Tarn for the recommendation). I will listen to 30 seconds of each song from whichever album I find first, then do about a minute of stream of conscious writing. Ok, the album will be Fame Monster. Ready? GO.

BAD ROMANCE: This seems like the opening of a meatloaf album. I feel like some giant guy is going to descend from the ceiling in a cage carrying a red rose and pluck a woman from the top of the empire state building. After that fog will fill up the stage and various scantily clad dancers will come out until suddenly the action stops and that song “Ya’ll Ready For This!” comes on and Lady Gaga appears in an 18th century ball gown, which is being carried at the ends by various doves, all dyed different colors and glowing in the dark. NEXT SONG.

MeatLoaf-Paradise-EllenFoley1978L

ALEJANDRO: Ok this one i had to extend to 35 sec since the first 30 is all intro. She puts on a french accent, some violins are playing. We’re on a dark street corner (not an actual corner, but some type of film set) and the fog machines are once again blasting. Meatloaf, who is still in the cage from the first song is the subject of her desire, after a wardrobe change, she makes various hand gestures, maybe in Kabuki style makeup perhaps? When she tells our beloved Loaf that she just can’t be with him anymore, the cage explodes in a fantastic pyrotechnic explosion of glitter, and Loaf is now her dance partner, in some type of tuxedo with a rose in his teeth. Lady Gaga is in some type of S&M getup (ok, shes basically Madonna, even after 1:05 of music I have come to this conclusion) and various backup dancers each dressed as a different historical figure shadow their every move. There is Napoleon, Einstein, Patrick Ewing, and Andy Warhol…NEXT!

MONSTER: How is it that every song so far fits into my idea that Meatloaf is a constant character on this album? Meat is now back in a different cage…a jail cell! He has been re-incarcerated after his glittery escape from captivity, at least he got to enjoy a night on the town with his lady, Gaga. He sobs, as she looks on longingly, yet with an heir of confidence, that her life will now be free and easy without a giant Meatloaf/gorilla shadowing her every move, preventing her from getting in taxicabs, things like that. As the auto tune of “He Ate My Heart” comes in, the prison guards turn out to be her backup dancers, the dramatic lighting kicks in, you know where it goes from here.

meatloaf

SPEECHLESS: Oh my god, its a meatloaf album. Seriously, this song is like Rocky Horror Picture Show. Loaf remains in the cell as Gaga has run off, and left him a single red rose. A spotlight appears and a piano is rolled out next to him. As the power ballad drums come in, he dramatically switches back to tuxedo, the single rose in a vase atop the piano. I’m only listening to 30 seconds of each song, but I’m willing to wager that this one ends with a dramatic piano/vocal outro, which in our imaginary live Broadway production, Loaf would remove the rose, give it a dramatic sniff, and a single tear would run down his cheek. (again, the fact that Lady Gaga is singing is irrelevant, this song clearly belongs to Jim Steinman and Meatloaf)

DANCE IN THE DARK: Gaga now begins her dark descent into the seedy underworld as her one true love has been taken away. The intro carries her through various back alleys, with our trusty fog machines working full force (they really are helpful with this album) She becomes more and more disheveled as these first 30 seconds of the song continue. By the end she looks like one of those heroin chic models from the mid 90’s, with that crazy black eyeliner. Shes in a bad part of town with a sketchy clientele as the music kicks in, and the various vagrants once again become her backup dancers. When this goes to broadway, we’ll save a lot of money by just using the same 5 backup dancers, but dressing them as prison guards, historical figures, homeless junkies, you get the idea.

TELEPHONE: She is in the midst of embracing her 2nd act life struggles. Shes in the club, as the lyrics state, blocking out memories of one Meat Q. Loaf, remaining alone in captivity, for reasons we do not yet know or understand. The lyric “I Got No Service In The Club, Sorry I Cant Hear You I’m Kinda Busy” is clearly a metaphor for her running away from her problems and embracing a life of crime and substance abuse. She has various visions of scary things, maybe theres even a guy in some type of demon suit (a la that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the hotel lobby) Yet in the midst of all this, there is a sure to be classic dance sequence on the club floor. This will rival both Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and Jackson in Thriller. I’m willing to bet the next song will be some type of ballad….lets see.

SO HAPPY I COULD DIE: Ok, i should really look at titles before I predict the next song. But this is truly live, no preparation or extra time has been taken. Lets call this one Conflict Resolution. Shes getting her life back together. This could be where the Training Montage comes in, various scenes of her becoming independent and powerful, taking life by the horns. Buying expensive clothes, having high powered meetings, volunteering with young children, shes on the path for success. She passes by some of her old associates on the street who are not doing well, she doesn’t even stop to look. She has business to attend to. And that business sang Paradise By The Dashboard Light. NEXT!

TEETH: Man, Whats with this last track? It just doesn’t make sense with the rest of the album. There is no conflict resolution, no final romance, no triumphant ending (well at least in the first 30 seconds) I Hate to leave this unfinished, so maybe we can come up with some type of ending? Maybe its a really artsy film where the end doesn’t have to make sense? Or like Kubrick where he says “you won’t understand this for 20 years” I don’t know. Gaga, I mean, its a catchy track, but you’re really not working with me on this one. Mabye Jim Steinman who seems to have wrote most of the previous material we have discussed took a lunch break, and while he was having a sandwich she finished up the album. That’s what I’m sticking to.

meatloaf

Whew! Well that was grueling. I guess after a look back (I made no edits, that was truly live) this was less of a live blog and more of a “Live Dramatic Interpretation.” As a closing thought, I would agree with the Madonna comparisons that are so present in her media criticism. But I really think they’re missing the boat with her Meatloaf influence. The obviously put on drama, the introductions, its all there.

Lets discuss, shall we?

Wow, where did my blogging go?    Ok, we don’t have time for that now, much to discuss.  Well, not that much, but some.

There will be some upcoming shows, which will then be reviewed, all of which I am very excited about.  The first will be Tuneyards, Feb 5th at the Bell House.  If you read my original tuneyards review opening for the Dirty Projectors, you understand that this is a significant event.  I believe it is their first large headlining New York show, and I expect nothing less than pure genius, 100% mind blowing ukulele jams.

The next will be Wilco at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair.  If you know me personally, you know of my great love for all things Jeff Tweedy, so this will be an important day.  But like any true obsessed fan, I’m just as ready to denounce anything new in favor of the old which will never be recreated.  In other words, I’m just a loose cannon, accept me for me, thank you.

Then, Nada Surf at Music Hall of Williamsburg.  This is a band I am not that familiar with, but I have been encouraged to check out by a trustworthy source, so its on.

badplus_wide

Also, if you’d like to take a listen to the Bad Plus New Years Eve broadcast, as written about in a recent post, it has now been posted here.  Although I did not take this photo, John Rogers did, this was our view the entire evening.  Also notice the ghetto sound foam we gaff taped to a mic stand next to the drums.

Much has been happening in the music world recently.  Our band continues to record various demos, and the results are overwhelmingly positive.  We’ve gone head first into the Logic world.  My goal for this project is to never be tainted by the evil of Pro Tools for as long as the songs exist on a hard drive.  We’ve overdubbed shakers while fighting the heinous bleed of a drummer practicing out of time lame ass fills in the rehearsal room next to us, we’ve eaten many a box of Entemans mini cookies, the bridge pickup is dying on both my SG and Telecaster, we’ve triumphed in the face of adversity.  And I still don’t know how to punch in using Logic, so nearly everything has been one complete take.

matthew_lesko_list_view

In Addition to band recording, I took part in a film scoring session last night for a documentary on that guy in the question mark suit who tells you how to avoid paying taxes or something, I’m not even going to google his name, because I was told he is one of the least trustworthy people in America.  Anyway.  We were emulating the classic 70’s guitar sound, and it was the perfect opportunity to break out the seldom used, often secretly desired, Wah Pedal.  Now dear reader, I’m about to blow your mind with the eternal secret of guitar tone.  Are you ready?  Sit down, have your feet on the ground, and relax.  Take a small amp, we used a 50’s Danelectro, turn it to 10, plug in a phaser, and turn on the wah.  Thats it. You’re done.  You might as well burn everything else you own.  I have no doubts this tone will never be recreated again,the battery on the phaser was nearly dead, and as we all know from esoteric message board posts, that is essential for the sound and is as elusive as the white rhino and giant squid combined.  You know what?  Don’t even try it.  I take it back.  Lets leave it mysterious.

Recording Guitars: Logic, Pro Tools, And Apogee Walk Into A Bar.

Recording music outside of a traditional studio is like capturing a wild rhino, using only a laptop.   Its possible, but not easy.   I’ve struggled for years with this issue, moving from ADAT’s to Pro Tools, to Logic Pro…the entire time considering throwing it all out and getting a reel to reel tape machine.

My band has recently begun recording demo’s for our upcoming EP, and budgets being what they are (0$)  We’ve decided to start the process on our own.   I’m a gear whore.  Always have been, always will be.  I am not confined by the finite space of my living quarters….I will find a place to put it all.   But, our modest rehearsal space in Williamsburg does not agree with me on this.   We have about an 8×10 room that we share with 2 other bands, surrounded by others, without proper ventilation, sound treatment, or lighting capabilities.  But still, we will make it work.   Coming from the old school, I prefer everyone to be in the same room at the same time, but sometimes that’s just not practical.   The approach we decided on, was to record drums live with a scratch track of guitar and bass, then overdub said stringed instruments at a later date.

We took advantage of this long holiday weekend, tracking drums last week, guitars on the day off Friday, and bass this weekend.   Now, just for a second, lets discuss sounds.   When I lived in LA for one hot minute, I was lucky enough to work on a few sessions in an all analog studio called Rotund Rascal.  I’m not sure if its still there, but it was fantastic.  Weeks earlier, Jenny Lewis, my future jewish wife, recorded parts of Rabbit Fur Coat there, and the place was alive with vibes of wonderfulness.   The artist on the session, a singer named Jay Nash, brought in 2 cd’s to demonstrate the bass sound he wanted, and it pretty much changed my life.   The first was Jackson Browne’s first album- Leland Sklar on bass, and Ray Lamontagne- Ethan Johns on bass.   This was the first time I had heard Ray, and it was just plain religious.  But the point is, these are the greatest bass sounds ever recorded.  Go listen to them, and tell me you don’t start weeping instantly.  Go ahead, do it, i’ll wait here….

This is Actually Leland Sklat
This is Actually Leland Sklar

OK.  Now that you see my point, lets discuss getting these sounds.   Every day we hear how awesome modern technology is.  The Internet, Cell Phones, Global Warming, its all just fantastic.  But the one place we have genuinely not advanced up until very very recently, is the sound of modern recordings.  They just don’t sound as good, its a simple fact.  Maybe we’re getting there, maybe we’re not, who knows.  For a long time, i’ve recorded many instruments onto many hard drives.  And I can honestly say, it never really stuck.  It was never a solid hit, the bass sounds didn’t even approach the above recordings by a long shot…Until this very moment.  I think I unlocked some magic door to the unknown, and i’m afraid to ever close it.  This door is called “Using A Fucking Awesome Converter and Pre Amp”  I recently invested in a new recording rig, for a new archive project happening.  This includes

1.  Logic Pro- software by apple
2.  Apogee Rosetta 800 Converters
3.  Apogee Symphony Mobile system- running on its own cards, there is no Firewire or USB BS involved here

This is really the secret.  Most home studios use an “all in one” interface.  This may be practical, but it just puts too much stress on one ingredient.  The external converter, thats where it’s at.

The Rig In Action:  Recording Guitars At Our Rehearsal Space
The Rig In Action: Recording Guitars At Our Rehearsal Space

We recorded at what’s known as 96k, which has come a long way in recent years.  This means a sound is being sampled 96,000 times per second when being recorded.  The first experience i’ve had with this technological wonder was an extreme failure.   Web Master Eric Tarn and myself did time in a Ska band for several years.  Our first album was recorded in a matter of days, to 2″ analog 16 track tape, was painless, and sounded pretty good.   Our 2nd album took years to complete, cost many thousands of dollars, and really didnt sound that great.  It was also recorded in 96k, and in 2003, that shit was just not up to snuff.  Everything sounded muddy, it just wasnt working.  This could be due to 3 factors:

1.  Our engineer sucked.
2.  We were not that good as players (eh, we were pretty good)
3.  Digital Recording Technology in 2003 was not that great.

This sort of blows my mind, because I can honestly say that I’ve seen an improvement in recent years.  This was also my first personal project recorded on Logic Pro, after being stuck in Pro Tools land for the last 7 years.  Really Pro Tools, WATCH YOUR BACK.  Logic is coming for you, bitch.  But let me just say this, to any perspective recording engineer out there, and i’m going to do it in all caps, on its own line, just to make a point (like that scene in Kill Bill where Lucy Liu speaks in english after she cuts off that guys head in front of the mobsters)

WHEN YOU’RE SETTING UP A STUDIO, USE AN AWESOME EXTERNAL CONVERTER AND A SOLID DIGITAL CLOCK.

Without this, its just fucking bush league psyche out shit man.  You just won’t do it.  OK, this has been my sunday night rant, I hope you all enjoyed the long weekend, now get back to work, you’re making us look bad.

Banjo Time, All The Time.  Apogee In The Background.
Banjo Time, All The Time. Apogee In The Background.