Good and Great

I’ve been reading the Lefsetz Letter a lot recently, and its made from some inspiring reading.  Sure, it paints an accurate picture of a dying industry which is apparent to anyone not employed by or signed to a major label, but it seems to get at the true nature of creation.  Besides my favorite recent quote “U2 are tax exiles who like money,”  Lefsetz constantly makes the point that if something is amazing, it will break through.  There are plenty who are simply “good” but that’s not nearly good enough in a landscape filled with approximately 600 Quadrillion Mediocre Bands using every aspect of social media to push themselves further into your face. Anyone else have to de-friend several people on Facebook because of their constant invites to see their sub par to mediocre band?

It gets me thinking of how many bands leave me feeling truly blown away.  The percentage is certainly low, but don’t we all live for that moment?  Last weekend I went to see the Tuneyards at the Williamsburg Music Hall, a band I’ve written about on several occasions, and mid set I thought to myself, “if this is the standard of performance a band has to live up to, we are all going to need to work WAY harder.”  The show was phenomenal, the band was simultaneously raw and incredibly polished.  It seemed like it could fall apart at any second, but it was so enjoyable, we all just willed it to continue.  The crowd was all smiles the entire time, even the elusive Jeff Mangum, and the overly present Sean Lennon, who were both in the crowd, mingling with us non-beautiful people.

Conversely, the night before at the same venue, I saw Thurston Moore perform an acoustic set.  And while certainly above average, it did not approach the level of greatness that one would hope for…even with a full Harp on the stage.  Tons of shows turn out this way.  Perfect venue with great sound, excellent musicians, good crowd…and the results are just standard.

But much harder than passing judgment on a show we attend, is turning the camera on ourselves.  Occasionally you may find yourself asking “are these phat beatz i made using garageband far superior to Timbaland or whoever the fuck makes that type of music these days?” And perhaps your answer is yes.  But….perhaps it should be no, and you shouldn’t spring those sounds on the world just yet. And with the constant facebook invites, lets establish a rule, right fucking now:

If you have more than one show within the same city/state, less than 1 month apart, don’t send out separate invites for each one.  One email at the beginning of the month is fine, or if its a special show, you get maybe 2 opportunities to group spam before its irritating as hell and makes everyone want to delete any record of you ever communicating with them.  So please keep that in mind.

Rehearsals have begun with a new band I am a part of, and more than any other time in my life, I am attempting to put a magnifying glass over my own playing.  It certainly has room to grow, but perhaps knowing that is the first step towards beating mediocrity?

Review: Tune-yards @ The Bell House

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.