Nod was playing “Summertime,” the first song from their 1992 debut as we entered Abilene on Tuesday night, one the last official summer nights. We hear Carbon Records is planning an lp release of that classic. Nod has added other players over the years, Hugh, Larry, Chris, Jack but they have always sounded best as a trio, the essential parts. Better to hear their unique brew off off kilter rock and roll.
Speaking of off kilter, Peggi and I listened a 45 minute, edited version of Wednesday’s Margaret Explosion gig on the way downtown. The last time Ken couldn’t make it on bass we played with Tim (pictured above with Nod.) This time we went without a bass player and were at first alarmed by the void. But by the end of the gig we were enjoying ourselves. It is always more fun out on the edge. I made a cover for the mp3 and posted it here.”
Tom and Jan really know how to throw a party. They reserved Abilene for Jan’s biggish birthday. There was an open bar, plenty of food and two bands. The Fox Sisters were playing on the patio when we arrived. Their sound was echoing through the empty streets downtown as we parked. They have a classic mid sixties sound like the bands we used see at all those teen dances in Rochester. Except they don’t cover Smokey or Jr, Walker or Mitch Ryder, they write their own material and the one Phil wrote was a beauty.
Inside the vibe was darker. The Stew Cutler Trio got right down to business with their barrelhouse blues. Cutler has worked with Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Fontella Bass, Earl King, David Sanborn, Bill Frisell, Lester Bowie, Charlie Hunter and Jimmy Dale Gilmore. They reach full boil in minutes and didn’t stop.
We got to the Little Theatre Café n time for the second set of the Debby Kendrick Project. Debby is so good, so soulful, so sweet, she attracts the best musicians in the city. The drum chair is waiting for Pete Monacelli’s return but it was amply filled last night with Tony Hiler.
Margaret Explosion played for the Highland Park Conservancy in Highland Park Friday evening. Bob Martin, pictured on the right above, was back in town for the gig. Pete LaBonne, shown above on piano, Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet weren’t there but Melissa joined us on cello. Phil Marshall, our primary guitarist, played on the opposite end so I enjoyed stereo guitars from my perch. The temperature was in the mid-eighties when we started playing but cooled down as the evening went on.
Our walk on Saturday took us down a dead-end where every house on the street was having a garage sale. The house at the very end had a big box of pencil sharpeners, the steel covered kind they used to have in grade schools. I said, “Wow, that’s a lot of pencil sharpeners” loud enough for the proprietor to hear me but I didn’t get any reaction. On the same table were two brand new, black 14″ Evans 360 drum heads like the one I have on the front of my kick drum. The proprietor told me his son bought them and then changed his mind on the color. I bought them and plan to put them on my snare and floor tom. All three of my drum heads will now have black heads.
We were both sitting at our computers when one half of a rain soaked double oak came down about thirty feet from our window. This one didn’t take out any power lines or stop any traffic so it will sit there for a few years before we have room for any more firewood.
Its good to see Sinéad’s “Nothing Compares” racking up seven million more views in the days since she passed and headed to half a billion. And it was good to watch something other than Sparks” smash on YouTube.
We make a point of playing music for an hour or so every day when we have a gig coming up. It is my favorite configuration, Peggi on sax (without her pickup or amp) and me on drums. Not that it would work as entertainment but I find it extremely satisfying. We usually just start playing and let a melody develop and take hold. Peggi has an endless supply. Lately we’ve been drifting toward circus-like themes with stops and starts for punctuation and today we found ourselves playing ABBA’s “Fernando.” Near the tail end of our sessions we sometimes revisit a few Margaret Explosion themes and then call it a day.
Propeller Recordings releases a collection of early New Math songs today and the band will play at 3 Heads tonight. We won’t be able to make the record release party but we caught the band on Wednesday night at the Record Archive’s back room. The place was packed with familiar faces. We were standing next to Rick Cona from the Chesterfield Kings and Brian Goodman from Projectiles. I was New Math’s first drummer and lasted almost two years, long enough to record this classic with Howard Thompson.
Despite reuniting without the original lead singer, Kevin Patrick, the band sounded great, one song after the next. Gary, the bass player in this lineup was saying something into the mic when Roy, the third and best drummer, cut him off and said, “my friend Gary wrote every one of these fucking songs.” Some great songs for sure but just after that they played “Can’t Get Off the Ground,” the best song of the night. Dale Mincey wrote that gem.
On the way home we caught our brother-in-laws’ radio show, “Magic Records” on WAYO and cruised home to some early Curtis Mayfield..
Peggi and I got to the Bop Shop a half hour early to insure we could get a seat down front. The show was sold out but that doesn’t mean much when you can stand in the aisles of records. We found seats behind the counter just off to the left of the stage, close enough to the PA that I went back out to the car to get our earplugs. David Murray was out front smoking a cigarette and after he stubbed it out I asked if I could take his picture. He looked so good in this blue suit.
Kahil had a problem in sound check. His thumb piano kept feeding back. We have seen him so many times I could tell he was a little rattled. Despite that they opened at full tilt with a rousing number, Murray reaching for the stars on tenor sax and Kahil pounding his drums. Kahil started the second song with a beautiful melody on thumb piano. It didn’t feedback but it was no match to Murray’s sax. They settled into their trance-like groove on the third song, “In My House.” Both Kahil and Murray sang, Murray played bass clarinet and Kahil the Cajon. In Kahil El’Zabar’s house you can pray, reach to the soul, sing and dance… day or night!
I’m thinking the Nduduzo Makhathini Trio’s performance last night at Kilbourn Hall was the best thing you are going to see at this year’s Jazz Fest. I don’t know how anyone could top it. They had it all, in the tradition of the giants like Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra.
We arrived about twenty-five minutes before the show but we were still able to snag front row seats. We forgot our earplugs and the woman sitting next to Peggi gave us a Kleenex to fashion some plugs. We didn’t need them. Nduduzo Makhathini’s melodies were propelled by Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere’s bass while Francisco Mela closed his eyes and played the most beautiful, delicate drum parts. The sound was luxurious. A celebration of life and an offering to the gods.
Our neighbor, Rick, is a dj. He had a weekly slot on WRUR for years, he substitutes on “Open Tunings” when Scott is out of town and he has a show on WITR in the Fall. He builds his shows around artists’ birthdays and he plays music by the artists and versions of their songs by others. He buys tribute collections, cds of cover versions of Leonard Cohen or Neil Young or whoever and he would say, “You like Doug Sahm. Check out this collection.” Or “You like the Velvet Underground. Check this out.” I finally told him. I like the originals, by the original artists. I have a hard time with covers.
That paragraph was all a set up for the experiment Peggi and I did this afternoon. I lined up all six songs from the brand new “Bewitched – A Tribute to Luna” record by Angel Corpus Christi with the original versions. Even though we’re friends with Luna’s lead singer’s sister we are not familiar with the band’s music. I created a setlist that interleaved the Luna version with the Angel version of each of the six songs. The first thing I noticed is that all six of the Angel versions are shorter than the originals.
The abbreviation suits the cleaner pop approach. The songs are airier with more dimension in the production. The voice is much sweeter. Angel removes the removed quality of the Luna songs and loads them with personality. The six songs are pop classics in her hands. Lovedust is our favorite, the Angel version.
For twenty years Margaret Explosion has played Wednesday nights at the Little Theatre Café. A few weeks back we played our first Sunday night gig there. There were many familiar faces in the crowd but the vibe was different. Here are six songs performed Sunday March 16th for the first and only time.
Listen to Cloud Library
Listen to Evidence
Listen to Lake Effect
Listen to Pawpaw
Listen to Readymade
Listen to Reconnoiter
Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Phil Marshall plays guitar, Ken Frank plays the double bass, Melissa Davies plays cello and Paul Dodd plays drums.
For the last Margaret Explosion record (a cd) Arpad set up a work station in our home and we piled up the tracks. This time, like most of the other ME cds, we are simply compiling songs that were recorded during our live performances. But this one is being released on vinyl only so the tracks need to be mastered. And that’s where Arpad comes in.
Arpad’s home studio is mostly analog. He is toying with writing our recordings to tape with his tube amp and then bringing them back to digital. He would be happy if the whole world was in mono. He has suggested that we just hang one mic over the band the next time we play. We might just do that.
Already one week since the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was here, a yearly affair for the last twenty or so. Our first time out after Covid. This performance was their sweetest yet. They had just played in New York and were and in the middle of a month long tour. Their last record was nominated for a Grammy so they are on a roll. They played the London Jazz Festival with Don Cherry’s siblings and their upcoming record will be dedicated to Cherry. It also includes a reinterpretation of my favorite Pharaoh Sanders song.
At the Bop Shop they opened with Kahil’s “A Time For Healing” and then Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” Coltrane’s “Resolution” and “Great Black Music” which Kahil wrote for the Art Ensemble. This trio is amazing. I love how they cover so much musical terrain with a skeletal crew. Their room in their sound for you to savor how masterful each of these players are. Kahil’s kick drum, no port in the front and tuned as low it would go, sounded so good in that space. It is a joy to see how much fun they have with it all.
I have been thinking about recording methods from the past as we set up our new Scarlett 2i4 interface. The first records we made were well rehearsed songs, banged out live in a studio. The early eighties brought in all this technology – electronic keyboards, midi and the ability to trigger prerecorded samples for a so-called “big sound.” Then in reaction to that we got caught up in the DIY movement. In 1986, with a gig playing three months of weekends in the Rochester Planetarium, we were tasked with syncing our music to a laser light show. We bought an Atari ST at Leon’s Typewriter on Clinton Avenue (there were no Best Buy’s or Apple Stores at the time) and an EMU SP12. We collectively wrote (Fournier, Dodd, Martin, Edic) songs based on improvisations, sequenced the basic tracks and then performed live, playing additional instruments and singing on top of those tracks. We put two of the songs from the Planetarium Show on the Personal Effects cd compilation released in 2008.
At the Colorblind show this weekend Chris Schepp told us he played a song of ours on his WAYO show and someone Shazamed it but didn’t get any result so they called the station. The song, “Melting Pot,” was one of those Planetarium songs that were only released on cassette. I put it online this morning.
In Netflix’s extras for the new Pinocchio, Guillermo del Toro’s shows us some of the puppets used in the making of his retelling. Many are at different scales to suit the character that Pinocchio is being stop-motion-filmed with, but there are dozens at the same scale, each with a different facial expression. Del Toro says the models were printed so I assume they are plastic. I had a Pinocchio mask when I was young that I wore on Halloween. I loved the Disney version, the trip to the bad boy island especially, and I am almost afraid to watch it again. I’m quite certain del Toro’s is much richer, no matter what your age.
The Colorblind James band, the classic lineup without its leader, performed again at Abilene. There are no new songs in these performances as there was in the heyday, when Chuck was consistently churning out classics, but these songs have a whole lot of life left. They transcend Chuck’s self-described “circus rock” genre. I took that as classic, old world aspirations. Chuck was a troubadour and his poetic lyrics transcend time. His songs, performed by his band, sturdy musicians who have only gotten better over time, continue to touch your soul. Chuck’s songbook is in the most capable hands of his son, Mark. Mark is a better singer than his father. Chuck would love that! He handles the material respectfully and the same sly, wry humor shines. Long live Colorblind!
I’m quite sure that early on the shutters on either side of a window could be closed and latched to protect the inside of the home from the elements. But a some point in the relatively recent past shutters on windows became entirely decorative. Without hinges or latches, they were just nailed to the wall. Furthermore, if they did swing shut they would not be big enough to cover the window. We still see examples of functional shutters on old houses and it is always a treat.
Peggi and I finally got our Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 set up. It allows us to record two tracks of instruments or vocals, one for each of us. Of course we could layer to our hearts’ content. The red box had been sitting next to my computer for the past two years. It has been easier to just catch the whole band in one live take.
I predict the future will be really exciting. This morning’s paper had an article about Deep Fakes that included this nugget. “Some experts predict that as much as 90 per cent of online content could be synthetically generated within a few years.” Critical Thinking will be more important than ever and that is where the fun comes in.
We helped Jeff and Mary Kaye clear a path along the river for cross country skiing (if we ever get snow again.) It started snowing on our way back but it quickly turned to rain.
I saw the drummer for Sadistic Mika Band and Yellow Magic Orchestra died. That set us off on rabbit hole dive that ended with this mash-up gem, their version of Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up” performed on “Soul Train.”
We stopped by Aman’s on our way out to Brad’s house yesterday. It was raining when we stepped out of the car and the parking lot was electric with a mix of oil and water. I bought a clean copy of “Clear Spot” at the House of Guitars on Record Store Day and we were saving it to play at Brad’s, on the giant speakers he inherited from Gary Bennett. It was like the old days, sitting in comfortable chairs with our eyes closed, while Beefheart’s voice filled the room. Brilliant lyrics, phenomenal playing and a voice that makes all others sound small and lacking in expression, there are easily five Top 40 tracks on this album for small parallel universe.
Brad was sitting with us when we saw The Captain at Red Creek in 1977 and you can hear him shouting as the band starts “Low Yo Yo” from the Clear Spot album. Here’s my cassette recording from that show. As a bonus it includes Beefheart’s explanation for why Drumbo left the band.
I guess it was that podcast about Scorgies that planted the seed, the host talking about New Math at the Electric Circus. A couple of years ago Gary Trainer dropped off a cd of old New Math tracks, something labeled April 1977. It was recorded in our rehearsal space above the adult bookstore in the Cox Building, just a block from Scorgies but before he opened his doors. And I knew I had some old Super 8 footage that Peggi shot of the band from back then, dark, live footage from the Orange Monkey without sound, Kevin, Gary and I in front of the first Record Archive store on Monroe Avenue and then some goofy stuff from Mount Hope Cemetery. I put it all together with some crossfades. Duane Sherwood wasn’t doing lights yet so we’re pretty much in the dark.
There weren’t many places to play before Scorgies, the Penny Arcade up at the lake, Electric Circus on Dewey, Big Daddy’s, some place along the river that Howie from Six String Sales booked and the Orange Monkey on Henrietta Town Line Road, down the road from the Red Creek Inn. Pierre ran the Orange Monkey. It was a glam rock palace. Cheap Trick was playing downtown one night when were playing the Monkey and Rick Nielsen joined us on stage after their gig. We did Gloria and something else. He was wearing the hat.
I quit New Math shortly after the first single was released and Peggi and I formed the Hi-Techs. Our first gig was opening for New Math at Scorgies.
Mike Russello contacted me to make us aware of a podcast he did about Scorgies. I would probably recognize him if I saw him because it sounds like he was at many of the same shows we were. He starts this episode before the Scorgies scene with a description of the a New Math show at the Electric Circus on Dewey Avenue. I was playing drums with them at the time and Mike brought me right back there.
He played three Personal Effects songs after that, when he back announced “Fascinating Game,” he said, “I think that song sounds better now than it did back then.” I think he might be right. I love the dreamlike, hypnotic pace and Peggi’s exotic Farfisa organ and snake-charming soprano sax. Martin Edic wrote the lyrics which were based on a dream.
We might try an instrumental version of the song tomorrow night at the Little Café.
Joe from Paperface Magazine brought Wreckless Eric to town last night for a show at Lux. I was surprised to see Steve Grieve there because I remember him getting caught up in a ruckus at Lovin” Cup when Eric and Amy were playing. It was so long ago I can’t remember the details but I think Steve was trying to get a group of people to shut up so he could hear the band when the owner threw him out!
People were loud as hell last night but it didn’t matter because all the crowd by the stage could hear or see was Eric. And the five dollar cover charge that the other ninety per cent of the crowd paid went right in Eric’s pocket. I was standing near the doorman and I could’t believe how many people filed in. It was such a nice night most probably wound up out back on the patio.
We have seen Eric ten times or so now and as much fun as those early shows were he is better than ever now. Not many people can hold the stage at a rock club with only a guitar and his voice. Not many performers let their work mature with them. The sound was perfect last night and Eric’s words are very descriptive, of place, people and emotions. His set was perfectly paced and once he had the crowd he created a ruckus with feedback and noise. He finished with his anthem which deserved the shot in the arm Expedia’s Super Bowl ad gave it.
Eric stayed next door with Rick so Peggi and I stopped by this morning to talk before he left town. We told him how much we liked the set and Peggi asked if he got a recording of the night. He went off on obsessive documentation and virtual experiences verses in person, in the moment, lived ones. It doesn’t take much to get Eric going. He was thrilled with the way the night went. He had a few recent gigs in NYC that went flat and he told us, “Rochester is full of surprises.”
We had just read “The Transcendent Power of Walking” before heading out so we were primed for automaticity. We entered the park on the short path at the end of the longest street in our neighborhood of dead ends. A music stand was set about ten feet away from an array of percussion instruments as if it was awaiting a conductor.
The Eastman Wind Ensemble had set up their instruments in a dozen clusters all within earshot of one another. The students, all dressed in black, had gathered on the picnic tables after finishing their sound check. We asked one of them what was going on and he told us they were performing the premier of a Robert Morris piece commissioned by the Eastman School of Music in celebration of their centennial.
There were two performances, one at 1:30 and another at 3:30. We missed them both but we thoroughly enjoyed the setup.