Archive for the gig log Category

In C

Posted in gig log on October 6, 2009 by dukewisdom

About 10 days ago my good friend and sometimes (though not frequently enough) musical collaborator M. Stover wrote to ask me if I’d be interested in joining the People’s Liberation Big Band of Kansas City (in which he plays pedal steel guitar, among other stringed things) in a performance of Terry Riley’s In C. After a quick glance at the score and about four seconds of deliberation, I said hell yes.

The PLBB, a collective led by keyboardist Brad Cox, is KC treasure–a 14-piece (give or take n) ensemble with a repertoire that includes pieces by well known and obscure composers alike (the show on which I was to play featured a John Zorn piece arranged by a local guy and a work by a member of the band). The group celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first LP release of Riley’s minimalist masterpiece with an auxiliary cast made perfect sense. The more I thought about it, the more enthused I became about taking part in the event. Would there be a rehearsal? Yes – one. (Does this sound familiar for me of late?)

And where else would a forward thinking band of musical renegades practice but a puppet studio? That’s right, the home of the Paul Mesner puppet troupe hosts the PLBB rehearsals. I suppose I’ve mentioned how much I love my strange life, haven’t I? So, off to the puppet studio I went on a Tuesday evening to play guitar with a group of mostly strangers.

What a thrill. Sitting amidst brass and reed players reading manuscript is not exactly an every day occurrence for me. I found it very exhilarating. Before we gave In C its proper treatment, it was decided that we should, as a group, play through each of the piece’s 53 phrases together. This led to a few starts and stops and discussions. To be privy to a five minute dissection of one measure of music is something I found awesome. Given, we’re not talking about playing The Black Page here, but still the shifting metrical nuances of In C gave rise to some debate.

Brad Cox pondering subdivisions.

Brad Cox pondering subdivisions.

We eventually made it through the piece in a manner that Terry Riley wouldn’t likely hate. I broke a sweat, but not in the way that I normally would when playing. In my normal context I’m often working hard, moving around, physically and emotionally giving it my all. At this rehearsal I was counting my ass off, trying not to get lost in a labyrinth of eighth notes (Brad decided we should play at about quarter note = 52, or “Stayin’ Alive”). I think I held my own with this herd of sight reading motherfuckers.

Sam Hughes, a sight reading motherfucker.

Sam Hughes, SRMF.

Riley business dealt with, we ancillary members said, Seeya Sunday and headed out. I drove home with a slightly fried brain–in a good way, of course. As I tried to fall asleep, some night bug outside my window was keeping pretty good time and I eventually passed out thinking of some phrase in 10/8.

The gig itself was, by all accounts, a success. We wound up with 23 players (there were maybe 12 at the practice session – see, SRMFs), creating a beautiful swarming mass of sound. I was situated between a tenor sax (one of my favorite instruments) and a bass clarinet (one of my favorite instruments) – how cool. I found one  interesting consistency between this performance–essentially a jazz show–and my normal milieu (yeah, I said it) of a rock show: the tempo was a little faster than rehearsal and the development was a little rushed. (Riley notes that performances generally last between 45 and 90 minutes, but that some may be as little as 15 minutes–we clocked in at about 19.) Even with this collection of seasoned players the energy of the live show pushed the band to a more excited level.

Somewhere in there is my silhouette.

Somewhere in there is my silhouette.

It was a helluva lot of fun and very inspiring to stretch beyond my comfort zone and step into a world that is out of my ordinary and to join great musicians with whom I normally wouldn’t have the chance to play.



Posted in gig log, observations on October 1, 2009 by dukewisdom

In a quick reprise of Further Adventures in Whiplash, I recently wound up spending another rather entertaining weekend driving hither and yon playing music.

Picking up where that episode left off, first up was another gig with Mr. Jim Stapley, this time (wait for it) at the Oklahoma State Fair. How the hell do I wind up in these situations, you might ask? I know a guy. Anyway, Jim (or “Pops,” as I like to refer to him) flew into KC from Atlanta just to experience the van ride down I-35 with “the band.” Actually, it was several hundred bucks cheaper to do it that way. But ride with us he did. Being from Tunbridge Wells, Kent UK, Jim had understandably never been to a state fair. We had a great time trying to prepare him for a variety of foods-on-a-stick and funnel cakes (to a Brit a mystery food which we took pleasure in never explaining).

In the van. Photo: Tyson Leslie

In the van. Photo: Tyson Leslie

We had a laugh pulling into the fair grounds in Oklahoma City, envisioning some “authority” peering into the vehicle containing an international and integrated collection of musicians and saying, “Well, just what in tarnation do we have here?” Luckily no grief was given. At this point.

Of course, this group isn’t really a “band” at all–we’re an assemblage of sidemen hastily assembled a few weeks earlier for what we figured was a one-off show. So, with a total of one rehearsal and one show under our collective belt, we were tasked with opening for Jackyl (we know a guy) on a large stage again. And again the set went swimmingly. It turned out to be one of those sets that felt a little “ehh” at the time, but perspective (and a few clips on YouTube) have revealed that it was pretty damn good.

We had a good time hanging around after the show for a while before heading back north. There were a couple of drinks and various items were autographed. Now, I didn’t witness it, but I’m told Jim signed a body part belonging to a woman old and/or frail enough to require a cane. Ah, youth.

Incidentally, I’m constantly amazed at the skill exhibited by all of the musicians I’m lucky enough to work with. I could never have guessed the caliber of players I’d fall in with when I was a 16 year old playing .38 Special and Greg Kihn covers in the band room in Iowa. Thanks, Fate, I dig this.

Being a hired hand is all well and good, but it left me with a strong urge to get back on stage with the boys and let it all go. In the former setting I had to pay more attention to working with a fairly unfamiliar set of players on a set of songs that had never been allowed to go through the process of new to rote to stylized. So, a Saturday night show with Federation of Horsepower in Ottawa, KS was sure to get me back inside my game.

It was a beautiful evening as I made the hour trip from home to the gig, listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album. (Ok, I actually started out listening to In God We Trust by Stryper but it didn’t take me long to get through all the songs I actually wanted to hear.) Downtown Ottawa (don’t laugh) was absolutely packed with the remnants of a car show. Oh, this was going to be good.

FoHp at Wicked Sister's. Photo: Aaron Dement.

FoHp at Wicked Sister's. Photo: Aaron Dement. See the orb in front of my guitar? That's the spiritual manifestation of Dave Pritchard from Armored Saint.

We’re very well taken care of at Wicked Sister’s. There’s a sort of brown green room downstairs in which we were treated to beer and barbecue made by our host, Earache. And yeah, it turned out to be a pretty hellacious show too. With no time constraints we went for the kitchen sink set, including the songs Legba and Indiana. Mmmmm yeah. AND we were coaxed into a real live, not at all contrived encore for which we cranked out the one-two punch of Where Eagles Dare and London Dungeon by the Misfits.

Dating back to the August Austin trip I kind of felt like I’d been on the run for six weeks between real life and band life. It’s been a hell of a summer.

Further adventures in Whiplash

Posted in gig log, observations on September 12, 2009 by dukewisdom

News flash: Goddamn,  there is SO MUCH incredible music out there in the world! Like most people I associate with, I listen to, seek out, devour a wide range of it. Art Tatum, Art Zoyd, Art Garfunkel–it doesn’t matter to me: if I like it, I like it. Consequently, I’ve always been interested in playing in a variety of styles too. Occasionally these styles intersect, not only in actual playing, where a technique developed for one application might inform that of another–but also on the calendar. Playing multiple gigs with different bands over the span of a few days is nothing groundbreaking. But when I’m required to genre jump, I have to say it keeps me on my toes. The past week or so has been a doozy.


It’s one thing to head out to a couple of shows from home where your various gear and garb lives. It’s yet another kink, however, to have to travel to the shows from a remote location. To set the stage (ahem), I was working long, peculiar hours for my day gig at a trade show in downtown Kansas City, hence staying in a hotel near the convention center. This meant I had to take some of my junk with me when I left home a couple days prior to the shows. So I tossed some outfits (gotta have outfits) and the Fender Hot Rod Deville 410 into my car at 6:00 a.m., confident that the amp would be the heaviest thing I moved that day (it wasn’t). And away I went.

After working a couple of 10-12 hour days, it was time to head out to the first gig: The Cass County Lamenters at Holden, Missouri’s Fall Fiesta. The Lamenters specialize in old school honky tonk: songs about lying, cheating, drinking, smoking–real sad stuff. And we were made for these small town festivals where the streets are blocked off and wicked fried foods are ample. It was about an hour drive from my hotel to Holden, so I had time to switch gears, listening to a Prince compilation and Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista (good gawd, will that switch your gears …). Following the scent of funnel cakes, I navigated to the center of town and the bandstand to locate my band mates, including my angel-voiced wife.

Holden is your typical one-Casey’s-General-Store style of town. This translates to approximately 2.3 bars in the downtown area. I generally like to sample the local flavor, so to speak, but with my tight schedule that wasn’t an option. Voicing my dismay at such a predicament, I noted I could really go for a shot of Jim Beam. Not ten minutes later I was covertly handed a suspicious Coke can by our gracious host and hookup, Heather Phipps. She advised me to drink with caution. My wishes had been answered. Locating my honky tonk mojo, my comrades and I set out to spin our weepy numbers into the August night.

"Sound check," if you will.

"Sound check," if you will. You can see a grain elevator in the distance.


Bandstand! Photo: Beck Ireland.

We played some Patsy Cline. We played some Lynn Anderson. We played some Loretta Lynn. It was all very sad. Something else that was sad: the “sound man’s” idea of … everything. The only things benefiting from microphones were vocals and the upright bass. Given, those needed it, but at an outdoor show … things could’ve been better. Alas.

Fall Fiesta.

Fall Fiesta.

After loading out, visiting a mausoleum (yes, that is another story) and hanging around a bit, it was time for me to get my ass back to the city. Wending my way through Pleasant Hill, Blue Springs and a settling fog I eventually made it to I-70, downtown bound tuned into some uninterrupted raw rock on KC’s KKFI (they even played some Cretin 66!).

Friday ended late and Saturday began early–about 5:00 a.m. I had another 12 hour shift before my next show: Federation of Horsepower at the Midland Theater. Man, do we get to play some cool shows in some cool venues. I often shake my head at the opportunities I’ve been afforded. And this was another one. The historic theater has recently played host to some rock and roll shows and this evening found us opening for the barely describable Steel Panther. Here is something that has never happened before: I walked to the gig. The Midland is right around the corner from where I was staying. So I hoofed it. Here is something that rarely happens: we had a dressing room. I found great amusement in the fact that Friday I’d changed clothes in my car and Saturday there was a room of our own backstage at a legendary venue. The mind boggles sometimes. Quite often, actually.

Kriss Ward and soundman extraordinaire Paul Malinowski.

Kriss Ward and soundman extraordinaire Paul Malinowski.

We played a torrid set to warm up the house. It was quite an honor to play on this stage, a surface that has played host to untold legends (I’ve personally seen the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Elvis Costello there) … and now me.

Super intent on an F#5. Yep - same hat V was wearing Friday.

Super intent on an F#5. Yep - same hat V was wearing Friday. Photo: Slimm Adkins.

Twin Scarlett rig for maximum maximumness.

Twin Scarlett rig for maximum maximumness. Photo: Slimm Adkins.

Our set ended, as if often does, with a pile of racket and near onstage scrum during which Gregg knocked over the microphone (bulls, China shop, etc.). He was shortly thereafter informed, haughtily, that, “that was a brand new mic, man,” by a member of the sound crew. Gregg himself was not too put off, but I took it upon myself to belligerently bang into the guy with gear or body every chance I got while loading off. I don’t know what the hell gets into me sometimes. Rock and roll testosterone misdirection or something. Sorry, sound crew guy–just looking after your gear, I know.

During our set the dressing room fridge was restocked. Bud Light. Oh well. Quickly observing that this was not going to be touched, I snagged it and later set out, on foot of course, back to the hotel. So, if you were wondering, “who’s the jackass in a cowboy hat walking up 13th Street with a 12 pack of Bud Light?”–yeah, it was me.

Somewhere in there I was asked if I would be part of a pickup band backing a young vocalist from England, Jim Stapley. Sure–what the hell else did I have to do? When’s the gig? Wednesday. Huh. I was living downtown until Tuesday and Jim was to arrive in KC on Wednesday. Basically it amounted to one group practice to put together five songs in order to open for Jackyl (you heard me) at KC’s Power & Light District.

(Now, don’t even get me started on the P&L District. Ok, I’m started. I’m not a fan. A few nights prior to the Midland gig someone stopped me for trying to pass through while carrying a camera, as though I might profit greatly from snapping a photo of whatever cover band was playing outside that night. Fuck off, P&L.)

Did you hear something?

Anyway, I spent a day or two listening to the songs I was to learn and an evening in my room learning the stuff via headphones and unplugged guitar.

Cramming at the Aladdin. Note confiscated Bud Light sadly being employed.

Cramming at the Aladdin. Note confiscated Bud Light sadly being employed.

Wednesday came and rehearsal-one-and-only was smooth. Immediately following, it was off with the gear to the P&L for the gig. Federation has shared a bill with Jackyl numerous times, so I sort of felt like a dirty little whore at this show. The set went off hitchlessly and was well received.

Jammin' with Jim.

Jammin' with Jim.

When it was all said and done I’d played something like 40 different songs in three venues to maybe 6,000 people. Not a bad week for a random dude like myself. It was a thrill to take part in putting some (hopefully) great, varied music back out into the ether.