Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Good, The Bad, and The Unplugged

Another weekend of gigs...here we go:

But first--more keyboard stand stuff!  I think that The Great Bencuya and I have settled on a keyboard stand that doesn't feel too flimsy, still holds the keyboards at good heights, and breaks down for travel in an acceptable amount of time.  My/our next quest:  how to protect these suckers when they're in a trailer full of gear.  A road case with slots for each keyboard stand would be ideal, but the size of each stand would necessitate a large and heavy box (each stand is 51 x 26 x 6 inches) that would cost several times more than the $100 stands they were protecting, and who's to say that the stands might not still break in the usual spot where the second tier arms connect to the main part of the stand?

My compromise:  padded bags, each costing $125 to give the stands some protection.  A bit awkward to deal with, but better than a mover's blanket and a bungie cord.  I also bought a third bag for protecting a backup keyboard stand, which we'll also carry.  All of this seems kind of dumb, I know, but it's the most cost effective way to bulletproof this part of our setups.  Anything that will assuage my fear of pulling our gear out in the middle of nowhere, only to discover that one of our stands is no longer functional!

Friday:  Yacht Rock landed in Chattanooga for our third public show, this time at Track 29.  Unlike our previous trip, this room was much roomier for both the audience (1,800 capacity) and us (nice big stage).  It's a pretty cool place (though one of the local crew told me the room "sounds like shit...like a big warehouse").  Chattanooga feels like it's got something to prove.

After soundcheck, Greg Lee and I headed to our favorite cajun spot for some food.  As we passed through the parking lot, there was some kind of car convention going on.  Check it out!  Lots of Hudsons and some Grahams.

Blue Orleans was moving at their own pace for a Friday night, and we waited for a table for a half hour.  Greg Lee finally leaned on them to hurry because of our show, and they squeezed us in.  It was totally worth it.  Jambalaya!  I could've tried to eat two portions, but we were in a hurry.

Back to the gig.  Nick's set list for this show felt pretty perfect, and the crowd ate it up.  We had 624 in the room with us, but their energy felt like a thousand people.

Going down the list:  the intro to Sailing will forever scare the shit out of me because I blanked on it at a Variety Playhouse probably four or five years ago, but it's a scar that will never heal.  Somehow, I got through without error tonight.  I had a rare mistake in Baker Street right before one of the riffs--the band got so quiet before the build into the riff, I totally lost my place and had to wait for the downbeat before I came in.  That felt really stupid on my part.  Monkeyboy nailed the solo on Hotel California.  There's a pentatonic scale walk-up before the choruses of She's Gone, and I think I nailed two out of three--it's right on the edge of my piano technique (which is really pathetic!)  I played what felt like a terrific sax solo at the end of Africa (on the Flashlights section)--the progression of ideas that I played felt strong and logical, as opposed to the sloshing musical diarrhea that I have been known to spew.  

Yay!  All in all, a triumphant first night of the run.

Saturday:  We meandered to Nashville.  Lunch at Peg Leg Porker BBQ.  I've been thinking more and more about going vegetarian in the past year--eating a big piece of meat as the centerpiece of a meal kind of grosses me out these days.  Nevertheless, barbecue smoke still holds its power over me (fried chicken does the same).  I had a pulled pork sandwich and baked beans.

The Great Bencuya destroyed a chicken.

Our gig was a wedding reception at the Musicians' Hall of Fame in Nashville.  After load in and soundcheck, we still had enough time (four hours), to wander the exhibit.  I thought it would be lame, centered around guitars and country music.  Not so!  Way cooler than that.  I touched a lot of instruments you weren't supposed to touch--gotta have some of that mojo!

The Memphis Sun Studios/Stax exhibit included the instruments of the Memphis Horns.  Super cool Super 20.

Neat!  Andrew Love's Super 20.  I'm pretty sure he was not a Dukoff guy, though.  That mouthpiece should probably be a Berg.

Al Jackson's drum set!  Damn!  Also, what idiot set his toms up like that?

More cool stuff:  Jim Horn's flute, used on Good Vibrations, God Only Knows, Lowdown, Turn Your Love Around, Little Jeannie, Strangers in the Night, Shaft, and probably a bunch of John Denver and George Harrison stuff that wasn't listed, as well as Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, and the Rolling Stones.  Daaaaaaaaaaammmn.  It looked like a Gemeinhardt student model.  Right below it was his alto flute, which was a well worn Armstrong.

Side note:  the sign says that George Harrison wrote Turn Your Love Around instead of George Benson and Dirty Low Down instead of Lowdown.  Next to his alto flute, it says he played on California Dreaming' by the Mama's and the Papa's (their what?  as opposed to the Mamas and the Papas?).  The same person who set up Al Jackson's drums must have proofread the cards for this display.

Moving on...the conductor's score for The Wichita Lineman.

The handwritten chart for Still Crazy After All These Years.  Why is there no indication of where to activate Michael Brecker?

Anyway...more waiting...

Finally, we got to play the gig, and then my brain started melting.  First dance:  I Want to Dance With Somebody--I played a pretty gruesome cluster in the intro.  Nice going.  Intro to Rich Girl:  played a the major seventh in an ugly, major pentatonic spot, and later played a sharp four in a bad spot.  Towards the end of the song where it wraps around, the string part reverses, but I didn't.

Second set:  when we started Africa, I was getting no sound from my EWI.  The lights were on (the EWI was working), I could change patches (the MIDI convertor and laptop were communicating), but no sound.  With no time to play with it, I chose to restart my computer.  After I'd already set that in motion, I figured out that the MIDI cable wasn't all the way plugged into the EWI.  Damn.  An easy fix, but I wouldn't be able to get everything back in time to play the solo, so I had to play it on flute.  The notes are different on flute.  I sounded a bit...rusty, let's say.  Not my best playing.

Later on in Take on Me, I made more of a mess--I started the middle section in the wrong inversion and then had to stop and think about what the chords were, and I basically got run over for that section.  Sang some ugly low notes in the chorus, and then messed up the chords at the end.  Booooooooooooo.

On to Call Me Al:  I could no longer keep it together.  After noodling on rhodes behind the vocals (why was I doing that?),  I capped off my contribution to the gig by playing on the downbeat of the bass break.  Umm, no.  I was a sloppy, brain dead mess by the end of the gig.

Sunday:  back to Atlanta for a Yacht Rock Unplugged show.  No Pete and no Cobb for this one, so Ganesh Giri Jaya of the Yacht Rock Schooner filled in, providing percussion and vocals.

First up in the set list?  Sailing.  Instead of strings, it was on organ, which made things feel really weird, and thou shalt not use the sustain pedal when playing organ!   I played a wrong note in the intro.  Practicing it to death is probably only making me more uptight about it.

We revisited Young Americans for the first time in a while.  Playing that song hasn't been as fun as I always thought it would be.  I guess it's because the language of the sax part/solo is so restrictively pentatonic and so mindless (KEEEEEEEEEEP SOLOING FOREVER!!!!!) that I don't even feel connected to anybody else on stage.  It's like they're playing and I'm playing a bunch of crap to check my mic, and then we come back together for the bridge, I actually stop playing for a second, and then I play a bunch more crap in the new key (and hope that I can figure out where the break is).

At least the Africa stuff on flute was solid on this night.

I'll try again this week--gigs Friday at Kennesaw State (after the lacrosse game), Saturday at Lake Oconee, and Sunday at The Fred in Peachtree City.  All three are outdoors, so my brain will probably melt either way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Florida and the Midwest

Yacht Rock had an usual weekend of travel this past weekend, with two dates in Florida, and then a night in Indiana and a night in Chicago.  Every gig was very different from the others, making the daily question "What are we in for today?"  Here's what I remember of the trip.

Thursday:  our gear left in the van and trailer Wednesday with Hans at the wheel.  We flew down to Miami to meet it.

Last minute phone time before take off.

We got into South Florida just ahead of the day's first pop up shower, which hit right as we parked to go find lunch.

After an OK lunch (the food was good, but it took almost forever for it to be served), we headed to the venue, a very modern hotel in Miami Beach.  Unfortunately, the shipping and receiving guys didn't quite know what to do with us, and we had to hang out for a few minutes before our path was cleared.  More phone time (except for Zach).

This was one of our worst load ins ever.  From the loading dock, it was down the hall, into the freight elevator, down the hall, through the parking deck, down another hall, and finally into the room.

The evening's event was some sort of corporate party.  They seemed pretty into it, which made for a fairly painless event.

The post show load out was almost as difficult as load in--Hans figured out that we could cut across the parking garage and then use the garage exit ramp, and we'd be right in front of the loading dock.
Tricky, especially because yet another quick rain shower had made the ramp very slippery.

Friday:  we were able to sleep pretty late before van time.  Our hotel breakfast included the usual coffee, fruit, and waffles.  Nothing says Miami like a waffle in the shape of Texas.

On a gas stop, Greg purchased a large quantity of watermelon.  I tried to share it with him, but it was tough.  When no one was looking, I also drank the juice.

Another burst of rain somewhere on I-95.

Hats?  Thankfully, he bought neither.

We stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Fort Pierce, where Kip demonstrated his latest trick.

So Orlando...we played at The Plaza Live, which was opening for the first time since the shootings the week before.  It's a nice room--big stage, big room.  I like it.

The memorials for Christina Grimmie, shot and killed by a deranged fan after performing at The Plaza last week, were still there.  In addition to the massive security presence, the local news was also out covering the reopening.

This show was pretty heavy for me--in addition to the pressure of playing our first show in what is more or less my hometown, the band was very conscious of the need to help heal Orlando.  There were a few cancellations, but most of the 200+ people who'd purchased tickets showed up, desperate to get things back to normal.  I hope we did our part.

One last thing:  I met Mark Dannells' childhood friend tonight.  His name is David Freeman, too.  Weird.

Friday:  another fairly early lobby call for the airport shuttle.  We flew Southwest to Indianapolis while Hans drove our gear back to Atlanta.

We boarded the plane, and the stewardess was parked right in the row where I wanted to sit.  When I asked for the seat, she told me I could sit down, but refused to move, so I had her butt in my face for a while as the plane filled up, which was very awkward.

She eventually moved across the aisle.

We landed in Indianapolis around lunch time with hours to kill, so we parked the rented minivans and headed out to find lunch.

Greg, Monkeyboy, and I headed to Yats, our/my favorite New Orleans restaurant in Indiana.

First, I had a plate of red beans and rice.

Then I had an 8 oz. cup of gumbo.

The food was fantastic, but we all ate waaaaaaay too much.  It's a good thing we had a mile walk back to the vans.

Bicycle tire art.

Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut.  Monkey is holding up his phone while singing a ditty about Kurt to the tune of Bobby Brown's My Prerogative.

We still had some time to kill before load in, so we hung out downtown.  Indy is a pretty perfect city, and the weather made it even better.

A grumpy old man yelled at us as he passed by--something like "Every one of you is on a device!", to which Monkey replied, "You should see the device I have up my ass!"

The evening's gig was a birthday party in Carmel, Indiana.  What a house!  The party was in a big tent in the backyard, and we were given the basement as a green room.  Check this out--this is all basement!

Movie room!

The bar:

The trophy/memorabilia room with the poker table.

The wine room:

The party was in a large tent in the backyard.  A tent strong enough to support those lights is a quite a structure.  Bugs (gnats) were a major problem during set up, to the point where we thought we might have to go and buy bug spray in order to make it through the gig.  After the sun went down, the bugs went away.

The backline company on this gig really nailed it.  Their gear is really well maintained, and they had everything pretty much set up when we arrived.

Zach posing for his magazine ad?

The view out the back of the tent.  It's definitely Crooked Stick Golf Course hole #9, according to local golf legend Brad Allen.

Check out these wind chimes!

Not a huge crowd (maybe a hundred people?), but they were into it from the beginning, and the female members of the audience were easy to look at.  A nice night and a nice gig.

Saturday:  we slept pretty late again, and then it was time to drive to Chicago.  There's not a whole lot to see between Indy and Chicago, but the farmland and tiny towns along the way are picturesque.


I can't explain why, but the I-65 wind farm is still fascinating every time we drive through this part of Indiana.


Lake Michigan.

Our gig for the night was a fundraiser in the ballroom at the end of the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Right off the bat, Bencuya's rented keyboard stand went down, and by chance I happened to have an eyebolt.  I don't know if the SIR Chicago backline guys were impressed with the "Dave mod" to the Quiklok 642, but I can tell you that I nearly drowned in my own smugness.

The clip art I chose for the night's setlist was pretty clever, but got no reaction from the band (Kip liked it, though).

This room looks great, but the sound is...not so good.  Maybe it's ok on the stage, but we were at the opposite side of the room, and the slap of the sound coming back was very strong.

Soundcheck was tough!  Chicago is always very difficult when you need radio frequencies for the wireless packs, and the end of the Navy Pier has a giant cell phone tower on it.  There was some weird stuff going on--my pack ended up on the same frequency as Monkey's pack, giving me a very different mix.  It took a couple of minutes for Zach to troubleshoot it.

Following soundcheck, we ventured into town for food.

What the hell is that?

Nick found a good pizza place (not deep dish, but "NY style").  One of the more unusual ones we had:  pizza of prosciutto, arugula, and grape tomatoes.  It tasted pretty good, but there was nothing to glue it together.  One bite, and it all fell into individual ingredients.

After eating, we still had a couple of hours to kill, so several of us went for a walk around town.  It was a beautiful evening in Chicago.

This dude was playing Dust in the Wind on vibraphone.

One of the best things we came across was the symphony playing a concert in Grant Park at Millennium Park.  This whole thing was super badass, and sounded great.

On to our gig.  The auction before our part ran long, so we only got through six songs before we had to take a break for the fireworks.  Those first six were tough, though.  We were basically in the back of the room, and I'm sure most of the people didn't even realize there was a band playing.

Fireworks over Lake Michigan.  Nice!

We went back to work for a second set, which was a bit better than the first in terms of an audience.  We did fine amusing ourselves in spite of them.

We spent the night at an Aloft near O'Hare.  I like the layout of these rooms, but the beds are not that great.  Somebody else pointed out that it was basically a futon.

Sunday:  one more early lobby call, this time for our flight home.  Four bananas and a medium coffee at the gate helped me get going.

Careful with that ax, Eugene.

Shows this weekend:

Friday night in Chattanooga at Track 29.

Sunday night at Venkman's in Atlanta.