In England and Wales the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is observed as a holy day of obligation (i.e. you must go to mass). Peter, fisherman, friend and disciple of Jesus, and Paul, a Jewish pharisee and later a self-appointed apostle of Jesus were both martyred and have churches named after them in every major city in the country.
Peter (Monicelli) and Paul (Dodd), local voluntary Catholic exiles, drove out to Nazareth College yesterday to visit the Thomas Merton library (Peter’s agenda) and photograph the stations of the cross in the school chapel (Paul’s agenda). We started with the stations because I was driving. Pete found the lights in back room of the empty chapel and I was able to photograph the fourteen stops. By coincidence, I first spotted the classic, sculpted stations at Father William Shannon’s memorial service last year. Bill, as my parents called him, was a close family friend as well as the leading authority on the writer, mystic, artist, Trappist monk, poet and social activist, Thomas Merton.
Pete Monacelli was in heaven in the Merton Library. Pete is a self described “abstract illustrator” but that sells himself short. He is an artist, a seriously productive and successful artist, as well a great guy with a huge heart. He is very interested in the connection between Merton and the early abstract expressionists. Merton was on the same search as his New York contemporaries when he converted to Catholicism and joined a monastery. Pete showed me many series of works he has done based on Merton’s works, beautiful drawings and paintings and assemblages. He wanted me to pick one to take home and he let me borrow Volume 1 of Merton’s journals. There are seven but he insisted I start with one.
We had lunch at Rocky’s on Jay Street. Pete eats here at least twice a week and can get away with ordering rigatoni as “rig” and calling the waitress “sweetie.” Pete is my favorite drummer in town. He had Rob Storms at Sound Source rig his turntable to run at 16. He says all the guys in his day used to learn guitar parts by slowing the song down, dropping the tune an octave. After lunch we listened to Miles Davis’ version of “Guinevere” and “Pharaoh’s Dance” from “Bitches Brew” on 16RPM. They are both long songs and were twice as long this way but beautiful. You quickly forget that you have changed gears while you hear parts dramatically unfold. He told me with all certainty, the way Pete says most things, that this is what Margaret Explosion sounds like.
The night before Thanksgiving is usually a good night to play out. People are in town visiting relatives and air is festive but then some people leave town. Margaret Explosion guitar player, Bob Martin, is in Chicago visiting his son and bass clarinetist, Jack Schaefer, is picking his son up at the train station so we may be doing this one as a trio. Not the first time. Somebody say, “bowed bass solo.”
A few weeks back Margaret Explosion recorded a session at Rochester’s Community Access TV station for an upcoming series entitled “Pythod Remix.” The Pythod was Rochester’s premier jazz club in the late fifties and early sixties and the MC for this RCTV series is Jose DeCosta from “Exodus To Jazz.”
Pete LaBonne was in town for the gig and Jack Schaefer is back in the band on bass clarinet so we couldn’t all fit on the sound stage. Pete volunteered to set his piano up off stage. The director asked how long the songs were that we were going to perform and we told him we don’t do songs, we improvise. This caused some confusion so we asked him, “How long do you want us to play?” He said he was trying to put together fifteen minute segments so we offered to do two seven minute songs in that period and damn if we didn’t do that four times in a row.
They set mics up all over the stage and took a number of the instruments live and who knows what their mix will be like. We set our little Zoom up in front of the band and grabbed this live stereo mix. Here’s the song we opened with:
Listen to Margaret Explosion – “Passage” from upcoming RCTV Pythod Remix Series.
There are always high hopes for a Margaret Explosion performance but so much of it is in the cards, the work day, the crowd, the mood. Many factors are beyond our control and improvisation by it’s very nature is hit or miss. We try to stay open and explore the possibilities but you can’t beat a good melody to hang the song on and sometimes that don’t show up.
As a rule we sound best earlier in the evening on a night when very few people are there, we are all fresh and more receptive to each others parts, but the last three months have all been bonus nights (more money if the cash register total exceeds X amount). The crowd noise is an integral part of our sound and we’re happy to provide a soundtrack for stimulating conversations but when the place is full and the crowd noise infringes on the band (remember Ken’s stand-up bass has no amplification) we have learned a pretty cool trick. It doesn’t always work but we pull back the volume. I might leave the snare and just play hi-hat and Peggi or Bob will stop playing. The crowd immediately dials back the din knob and the music comes into focus.
Tonight is our last Little Theater show until September.
Pete LaBonne emailed that he would be in town this week which means he’ll be behind the grand piano at the Little Theater Café when Margaret Explosion performs tonight. Jack Schaefer sat in on bass clarinet and addition guitar last week and he said he would probably stop by this week as well and then Peggi talked to Rick McRae and invited him to play trombone with us. None of these parties know the others will be there so the whole thing will be really wong, the future or past participle of wing(ing it).
This song was recorded a few years ago. Bob was out of town so there is no guitar. Pete LaBonne played piano and Jack Schaefer played bass clarinet.
“You can’t reheat a soufflé.” I’ve always liked this quote. It is attributed to Paul McCartney responding to a request for the Beatles to reunite. It is the same reason Neil Young uses first takes on his records. It is never as good as the first time.
Margaret Explosion takes it further than most bands. Every song we do is a first and only take. There is no going back unless someone requests something we’ve done before. Although there are the themes that just keep popping up. Bug Jar Shooting is one. Prom Night keeps coming back when Jack sits in. And then there’s “Beautiful Iraq”, a song from our “Live Dive “cd.
Wisner Road used to lead right in to the park. It still does if you are on foot but it used to lead right into Zoo Road back when there was a zoo in Durand Eastman. Two zoos for one city seems rather extravagant but that was then. Some how the residents were able to convince the town to turn their road into a dead end back in the seventies and I’m glad they did. It took all of the through traffic off the park roads. Most of the traffic on Wisner now is people driving their dogs to the park entrance where they let take a dump on park property.
We were heading back from the park the other day and were just in time to catch an open house on Wisner. The house is made for Mad Men parties with a big sunken living room, big picture widows and a wall of blue stone fireplace. There were a few scented candles burning in the house. I like candles but hate the scented ones and it makes me suspicious as to what scent they are masking. I thought this little shrine in the hallway was pretty cool.
Margaret Explosion “When Saints Were Saints” from last Wednesday at the Little Theater Café.
Bob Martin’s newest guitar is a black Strat but it hardly sounds like one after his artfully applied processing. Guitar players are always coming up to him to talk shop and they are usually looking down at all this gear while they talk. These days Bob sits down while he plays. His pedals are on the floor but the effects units are all on another chair that sits in front of him so he plays them by hand.
I took this shot last week as we were setting up for our Margaret Explosion gig and looked up some of the gear when I got home. I’m guessing most of the magic comes from the M5 Stompbox Modeler but I found the rotating speaker system effect from Strymon pretty intriguing. Bob’s playing has been amazing lately but he’s going to miss tonight’s gig. He’s on the disabled list with a pinched nerve. Jack Schaefer will be joining us on bass clarinet and guitar.
Margaret Explosion “Juggler” with Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet
Don’t know if it was the rain or wind that disrupted our antennae reception of PBS last night since we don’t watch enough tv to know whether our reception is reliable in the best of circumstances but we tried to tune in to the Ric Burns Civil War meditation on death. The carnage was unbelievable but I expected at least some discussion of what it must have been like to commit yourself to standing in a wall formation before the armed forces of your fellow countrymen. Two hours later, still in a couch sitting stupor, “Frontline” jolted us with an hour special on the civil war in Syria. Their embedded journalist’s reporting and interviews with the committed rebels made it perfectly clear why citizens would get out in the street with machines guns blazing.
We always seem to working on the delicate balance of home maintenance and home enjoyment. Always weighing whether to sit on the porch and read or hang that mirror in the bathroom that we bought at a yard sale five years ago, whether to transplant more pachysandra to the bare spot on the hillside or take a walk in the woods, whether to split that pile of wood we picked up or go down in the basement and paint, whether to clean the shower or just go down to the pool and relax. It might be the last warm day for swimming.
Margaret Explosion has released a song for the upcoming Fringe Festival. You can listen to or download it here.
Vinyl does sound better even when it’s an mp3 file made from a 45 from 1967 and especially when the song is by The Creation.
In my reading the newest release from MX-80’s Bruce Anderson and Rich Stim, the heroic “Bar Stool Walker” nods a few times to Rochester’s Margaret Explosion. The music is lyric free, there are songs called “Happy Hour“, a video shot on the Golden Gate Bridge and “Tall Boy” and they have a clumsy drummer.
Bar Stool Walker is a multilayered project and I can’t say for sure that this is the case but we haven’t found any sax in there yet. Rich Stim taught Peggi to play sax. Her first song was “Hava Nagila.”
Rich Stim wrote a popular Personal Effects song, “So Hard.”
Ken Frank has returned from Puerto Rico, Bob Martin flies in this afternoon from Las Vegas. Four band members in one city! I just stepped outside. It’s a perfect day for the Margaret Explosion. 7:30 tonight at the Little Theater Café, free admission.
Listen to Margaret Explosion “Juggler” with Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet
Since we play about once a week and don’t usually do a song more than once we have a lot songs in the kitty. We had this idea to get one hundred downloads up on our site site by Christmas but that took some doing. We spent the last week listening to things like “Prom Night 2” from a few years ago and now retitled “Submarine Races.” And this afternoon at about four o’clock we uploaded the hundredth song.
Pete and Shelley are coming down from the mountains for tonight’s gig at the George Eastman House. Shelley emailed from the library that she was bringing her shakers so we’re in for a special treat. How do you think this tree lost it’s needles?
Margaret Explosion records most shows. We never rehearse (we sound it, I know) and we hardly ever play a song more than once so it takes a while to work our way through the recordings. Some songs survive multiple listenings and stay on the “A List” until we can give them a title. “Strip Club”, from October of last year, is one that wouldn’t go away. It features Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet and Pete LaBonne on piano. I just added it to the site today.
Pete LaBonne joins us for Friday’s gig at the Eastman House opening and Saturday’s gig at the Memorial Art Gallery. Jaffe, former keyboard player with Colorblind James, said he might stop by and sit in tonight at our Little Theater gig. Stop by. Live a Little!
Brian Williams was talking about all the gigs he’s done over the years with John Mooney and Bob Henrie. He was saying how he wished he had taken the time to jot down the the specifics of each gig. Tom Whitmore from Watkins and the Rapiers was there. He lives in Geneseo and Brian asked him if he remembered a place called Gentleman Jim’s. I said I had played there with New Math and someone stole Gary Trainer’s guitar after the gig. Brian said he was on that same bill playing with the John Mooney band. It seems like I have always know Brian but I guess not.
Let’s see, I played in a working C&W band in Bloomington, Indiana and then a New Wave band in Rochester called “New Math”. Both of those lasted a couple of years and then I started playing in a band called the Hi Techs which sort of morphed into Personal Effects. Those bands lasted for most of the eighties and somewhere in the nineties we started playing as Margaret Explosion. Time flies. Tonight we play at the Little Theater Café.
Like a grade school kid Margaret Explosion took the summer off. Rested, fired up and full of mind expanding experiences we are ready to explode. Join us as we kick off Labor Day Weekend on Friday at 6PM in the Village Gate Square. Pete LaBonne joins us on piano. We’ll move the festivities inside if it rains.
Here’s Festival, a song from our gig there two years ago. Pete LaBonne plays piano.
I thought yesterday’s 4 Season’s post on “So Many Records, So Little Time” was cool but today’s was a sensation. Kevin posted Margaret Explosion’s “Purple Heart” What a way to start the day.
We took a long bike ride in the direction of Irondequoit Bay and wandered around in the dreamy little neighborhoods that overlook the bay. We stopped at a few garage sales and rode down streets with “No Outlet” signs on them. Perfect Day so far.
I love the Blindfold Test that DownBeat gives a musician in each issue. Listening with with an open mind, no cover image, liner notes or baggage, can be exhilarating. That’s why I like “iTunes DJ” shuffle mode so much. Knowing what song is going to come up in what order takes all the fun out listening. I’m always running to my computer to find out what it was I just heard come out of there.
I was working at my computer with the iTunes DJ at work in the background when Peggi came in to ask who the last song was by. I was kind of surprised because it was her on sax with Margaret Explosion doing “Sargasso Creek.”