Sunday, January 27, 2013

100 Albums

100 Albums, In Roughly The Order I Thought of Them:

Memphis Evans posted this idea, and made it seem like yet another meme that --were I cooler-- I'd be aware of. But I'm an idiot, so as far as I'm concerned, Memphis gets the credit for the idea.

  1. Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour
  2. Beatles: Sgt. Pepper
  3. Beatles: Abbey Road
  4. Beatles: White Album
  5. Beatles: Let It Be
  6. King's X: Dogman
  7. King's X: Faith Hope Love
  8. King's X: XV
  9. King's X: King's X
  10. King's X: Ear Candy
  11. Boom Crash Opera: These Here Are Crazy Times
  12. Boom Crash Opera: Boom Crash Opera
  13. Sting: Ten Summoner's Tales
  14. Sting: Soul Cages
  15. Sting: Nothing Like The Sun
  16. Police: Synchronicity
  17. Police: Ghost in the Machine
  18. Motley Crue: Dr. Feelgood
  19. Motley Crue: Motley Crue
  20. Motley Crue: Theatre of Pain
  21. Def Leppard: Hysteria
  22. Jonatha Brooke: Plumb
  23. Jonatha Brooke: Steady Pull
  24. Seal: Seal I
  25. Monte Montgomery: Mirror
  26. JET: Get Born
  27. Tool: Aenima
  28. Failure: Fantastic Planet
  29. Ani DiFranco: Back, Back, Back
  30. DelAmitri: Twisted
  31. Charlie Hunter: Right Now Move
  32. Charlie Hunter: Copperopolis
  33. Suzanne Vega: Days of Open Hand
  34. Suzanne Vega: 99.9F
  35. Suzanne Vega: Suzanne Vega
  36. Van Halen: 1984
  37. Extreme: Pornograffiti
  38. Mr. Big: Mr. Big
  39. David Lee Roth: Skyscraper
  40. Bonham: The Disregard of Timekeeping
  41. Jeff Beck: You Had It Comin'
  42. Darius Tx: Revelator and the Twilight
  43. Lyle Lovett: Joshua Judges Ruth
  44. Chris Whitley: Living With The Law
  45. Abra Moore: Strangest Places
  46. Garbage: Garbage
  47. Garbage: v 2.0
  48. Aerosmith: Get A Grip
  49. Alana Davis: Fortune Cookies
  50. Wire Train: No Soul, No Strain
  51. Yes: Big Generator
  52. Yes: 90125
  53. Varttina: Kokko
  54. Robert Plant: Now and Zen
  55. Joan Osborne: Relish
  56. Liz Phair: Whip Smart
  57. Steve Reich: Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint
  58. John Scofield: Uberjam
  59. John Scofield: En Route
  60. Charles Ives: Central Park in the Dark
  61. Jimmy Eat World: Jimmy Eat World
  62. Great Uncle Helmer: Old Man Will Travel
  63. David Wilcox: How Did You Find Me Here
  64. Dave Potts: County Line Road
  65. Erin McKeown: Distillation
  66. Kaptain Karl: Art Is A Lie
  67. Alex Arrowsmith: Variations in the Pattern
  68. Memphis Evans: Music is My Soul
  69. Annie Lennox: Diva
  70. Audioslave: Audioslave
  71. Baby Animals: Baby Animals
  72. Bang Tango: Psycho Cafe
  73. Bela Fleck: Live Art
  74. Shotgun Messiah: Violent New Breed
  75. Shotgun Messiah: Second Coming
  76. Shudder to Think: Pony Express Record
  77. Tin Machine: Tin Machine
  78. Tin Machine: Tin Machine II
  79. David Bowie: Earthling
  80. David Bowie: Let's Dance
  81. Al Andalus: Illumination
  82. Sun60: Headjoy
  83. Samples: Autopilot
  84. Stone Temple Pilots: No. 4
  85. Start: Shakedown
  86. Radiohead: OK Computer
  87. Paula Cole: This Fire
  88. Paula Cole: Harbinger
  89. Pearl Jam: 10
  90. Soundgarden: Superunknown
  91. Sara Bareilles: Little Voice
  92. Sarah McLachlan: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
  93. Saliva: Blood Stained Love Story
  94. Reda: Peace is Heaven
  95. Red House Painters: Songs For A Blue Guitar
  96. PJ Harvey: Rid of Me
  97. Perfect Circle: Mer de Noms
  98. Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes
  99. Norah Jones: Feels Like Home
  100. Medeski Martin Wood: Tonic

And for good measure, my favorite 10 of my own:

  1. Least Significant Failures
  2. Haardvark
  3. Flame Cow
  4. Guitool
  5. River Dreams
  6. Pronounced Snausages
  7. Less Yackin' More Snackin'
  8. Cinema
  9. Checkmate
  10. Fortnight

Sunday, December 11, 2011

XMas Videos

Happy Holidays!  Here's our latest XMas video.

"Go Tell It On The Mountain"
Tim & I like to play our duo gigs kind of loose, switching instruments, changing arrangements, and throwing new songs at Tim without rehearsal (yes, Tim likes doing that, too --why would you doubt me?).  This song was no exception.  I threw together a simple alternate arrangement of modified chords, but the soulful flourish is all improvised by Tim on the spot.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh, THAT Yellow Room

I'm relieved that the Yellow Room Video Blog I signed up to perform for wasn't actually the one I came to believe it might be (based on a thorough skimming of 7 results of a top-10 Google search). I was preparing myself for some kind of hard-sell or con straight out of Mamet (because as long as I'm prepared, you can't possibly trick me --I'm simply that street-smart). Fortunately for the sketchy denizens of the other Yellow Room video blog, me & Ricky Jay didn't need to turn the tables on them with the complex reverse double-con we'd prepared, on account of this new Portland doppleganger is exactly what it seems: a video blog featuring short performances and interviews with top local songwriters... and also me.

I don't know what came over me prior to my segment, but I could not think of a single articulate thing to say as we chit-chatted before rolling tape. 100% mumbo-jumbo. Even to myself, I came across as some sort of mildly-nuanced schizophrenic as Peter Rodacker, host, asked me his rejected "surprise question":

PETER'S QUESTION: What's the tallest thing you can think of?

IN MY MIND: a skyscraper made of giraffes.

OUT OF MY MOUTH: Hmm. That thing.

PETER'S VERBAL RESPONSE: (beat) Yeah, see, it just seemed like the "surprise question" angle wasn't such a good idea.

PETER'S EYE LANGUAGE: I'm not drunk or high, but I see now that you are, yet I can't dismiss you entirely because we need to do something, and I'm hoping you're just functional enough to pull this off, but I'm ready to shut you down, just in case.
Thanks to Peter & the Yellow Room staff for making me look good and feel comfortable alongside the likes of Tyler Stenson, Luke Redfield, Lew Jones, Tony Garcia, and Will West. Check out the full selection of excellent performances here:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Longstanding Nuisance Now Logically Rationalized

Ron Howard. Director. Auteur. Baseball cap wearer. Anyway you slice it, he's a pro's pro. I mean, Apollo 13, right? To achieve weightlessness for filming, he built an exact replica of the Lunar module inside a 747 and filmed during over 600 30-second intervals of actual free fall. The actors were trained in the genuine operation of the module by --among others-- the real Jim Lovell. He built an exact replica of Mission Control. They used a real battleship (USS New Orleans) to re-enact splashdown. Meticu-flippin-lous details. I mean, had it not been for one talking pig (an honest to goodness cinematic miracle), he would've won an Oscar.

So why is he just the latest Hollywood director to misrepresent the true process of studio recording?

It seems any movie or TV show that includes a character in the recording studio inevitably looks like a recent Howard-produced "Parenthood" episode I stumbled across:


All the MUSICIANS are gathered in one big room. They are spaced and grouped exactly as they would be on stage, facing an imaginary audience instead of each other. Each instrument has one NEUMANN U87 MICROPHONE above it. BACKUP SINGERS fill a CHOIR SHELL, hips a-rockin and each demurely clasping but one ear of the STUDIO CANS in place --you know, professional-like? No more than FIVE FEET away from these backup vocalists, we have a FULL HORN SECTION. There is something subtly wrong with both the spacing and constitution of the DRUM KIT, but it is overshadowed by the WEIRD GRIP the DRUMMER employs.

A PRODUCER observes the action from behind a large glass window to the BOOTH, with little eye contact, but NODDING APPRECIATIVELY nonetheless.

The entire ensemble commences a performance together, from the top. As the take proceeds, either the PRODUCER or the LEAD SINGER becomes worried, as if they had inadvertently swallowed a FRUIT FLY and waves the whole production to a grinding halt.

What's wrong?

I don't know. I'm just not feeling it yet.

Let's take it again from the top with no real idea of what we'd like to do differently. Sorry everybody --all your effort has been and will continue to be wasted until we can get all 15 of you to play this perfectly from tip to tail. Incidentally, good thing you guys all have perfect time. Must be the weird grip!

And... scene.

Strangely, this fiction has become the de facto representation of the recording process in dozens of instances from "More Cowbell" to "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." In fact, the most accurate representation of the actual process I can think of was "Boogie Nights" (no, not *that* scene), and that was intended to enhance the awkwardness of Dirk Diggler's naïve dreams of rock stardom (then again, maybe that's why it seemed so accurate).

Long has it bothered me, but like the noise of lasers in space, the ink is in the water of our collective perception, and there's probably no use cleaning it now.

Not that it's stopped me from complaining.

But now, forced to reconcile my respect for Ronnie Boy with my perplexed Caesarian horror (et tu?), I finally may see the true force behind the fiction. The truth is that recording is... well... boring to watch. And complicated. And counterintuitive. And most importantly, accurately depicting recording would take a lot of time.

So rather than show layered recording, punch-in/punch-out fixes, discussions of performance strategy, and the like, it is probably just easier to make the lasers go PEW-PEW!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Turns out you can't throw Tim off the trail with a bunch of songs he ain't heard --even if you make him play piano for some of 'em. Continuing in the swashbuckling, fancy-free spirit of our other recent "Cody & Tim" shows, I veered steeply off the beaten path with Saturday's set list for Elevated.

With Steve & Evan unavailable, Tim texted me in what might have been an exceptionally well-disguised panic, asking what instruments to bring. Playing his fear like the harmonica of which I am master, I told him to surprise me. [Insert "Mwah-ha-ha" here]. He showed up with no bass, just guitar. Touche, Krajcar, touche.

All kidding aside, one of the things that connects Tim and me musically is our multi-instrumental spirit of heady adventure --just like British school chums! Speranza once explained to a perplexed recording engineer that Flip Nasty's style was "playing four feet past the edge of our ability," and that still holds true today with The Men Your Mama Warned You About. My goal is to play the songs differently each night, and to that end, I favor bandmates who are bold and improvisatory, and I particularly value multi-instrumentalists. And Tim's no exception. While not a flashy player, he is nonetheless a great foil, taking opportune risks without completely abandoning the illusion of familiarity. He is unflappable and in on the con at every level.

So on this slow, rainy night, we wound our way through familiar songs with new twists (e.g., "Coyote" with Tim carrying on piano, "Puppy" in 6/8, building on the Leaky Joe arrangement), favorite rarities ("Love Is All The Gold" in its vaunted drop-C, "Along") and songs I don't think I've ever played live ("Rain Today," "Garbage," "Dance With Me Anyway," "Daughter of Our Enemy").

I figure I can keep playing for maybe 10, maybe 15 more years. And as I slowly set down the dream of somehow catapulting into a spectaculr rock star fantasy, and instead embrace my love of music as simply part of my balancing act of identity and spirit, it's these gigs where I became immersed in the task of performance that ultimately yield my fondest memories.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sub Sandwich

(l-r) Me with 3 subs: Nate, Will, Scott
Rusty Grape, 2011

This past weekend, I played one of my favorite venues with a band made up entirely of short-notice subs.

One of the original selling points I offered to the players who became The Men Your Mama Warned You About was flexibility. As much as possible, I try to book shows that I could ultimately play solo, and let the boys join in as they may. However, some situations and/or venues require that we appear as a band, and in those cases, if someone can't make it, we have to adjust.

Our first choice is to make do with a smaller lineup, which is typically possible if any one member of the band can't make it. Steve's role as lead guitarist is the easiest to compensate for in absentia. In the event that he can't make it, Tim, Evan, and I simply fall back to our old trio lineup and fulfill our "band obligation." Evan's absence is also easy to work around --provided that both Tim & Steve will make the gig-- since I can resume my Flip Nasty role as singing drummer, and let Steve handle the chord changes as a Speranzesque hybrid rhythm/lead guitarist.
John Speranza on guitar, me on bass,
Paris on the Platte c.1992

Tim is the hardest player to replace.  The bass player has to know the songs inside out, hit every chord, and fit every groove.  In theory, if Steve & Evan were available, either Steve or I would cover bass (probably Steve, since my ability to sing and play bass live has been "kind of" sketchy when tested previously in The Stunt Beatles and ROQUE).

But if 2+ players drop out of a show, I have to find a sub if the venue's expecting a full band. As mentioned above, normally, I wouldn't try to find a guitar sub --lead parts are optional in a pinch, and my rhythm (chord) parts are too complicated to master in time. Drums are the easiest element to sub, provided we have time to line someone up. As a drummer (and erstwhile sub, myself), I know how to evaluate players for the critical qualities our situation requires (great clock, decent chops, range of basic styles), and also how to modify our set to make it friendly to a cold player (no odd- or mixed-meter, I count off & keep time so they can just follow & react). Bass is a problem. As with drums, it helps to simplify. Lead time is even more important, to allow the player to get familiar with the material. But ultimately, the pool of available bass players is very small, and the burden of learning 20-30 unfamiliar songs (you know, besides my big college radio hits) is steep. My first choice would be a known pro, if the share was sufficient to entice them. Jonathan Chase subbed a 5-hour gig for Tim with minimal advance prep, and was fantastic, but expensive. My next choice would be anyone who already knew my material by ear --even if bass was a second instrument to them. But I don't have access to a John Speranza, Derek Sanchez, or Memphis Evans here in Portland. My next choice would be someone whose musical sensibilities I trust, with some familiarity, and a knack for winging it. Alex Arrowsmith would fit the bill here in PDX. Past that, I'd be looking for recommendations from other players I know, then turning finally to Craig's List, hat in hand.

So returning to my pickle from this weekend, here's how the events unfolded. First, Steve dropped out because of work. This was fine, as with our Tim/Evan/Cody trio, we could still cover any song in the set and also meet our obligation to the venue to provide full band "entertainment" for their outdoor series. The scramble began in earnest when Tim had to pull out 2 weeks prior to the show because of a scheduling conflict. First I ran it by Jonathan Chase, but the share was too far below his rate. Then I asked Alex Arrowsmith, but he wasn't available. Then I asked Tim for a recommendation, and he said his friend, Will, could pull it off. I floated the idea by him, and he was up for it. I crafted a gentle set list, sent him recordings & lead sheets of each song I planned to do, and scheduled a runthrough. In a situation like this, I don't really expect the sub on bass to reproduce the recorded bass lines of either my arrangements (the John Fried parts or what I played on LSF)--I just need them to hit the roots, maybe dance around the 5th or a passing tone here & there, and find some way to lock in with the drums. But it's still a lot to handle.

With about a week to go, Will gave me a heads-up that he was concerned about how much he'd have under his fingers by the gig. At our runthrough on the Monday prior to showtime, he was solid, but wisely conservative. To take some pressure off of him, I decided to find a lead guitar sub for Steve after all. I'd shared a few bills with Scott Brockett in the past and knew he was friendly, dependable, and a top-notch player. He was up for it, and I sent him the same stuff as Will in case he wanted to listen through. At this point, I'm picturing Evan & me locked in and burning, Scott creating some freely-improvised counter-melodic interest, and Will holding down the pocket. In my mind's ear, this was going to work out just fine.

Day before the gig, Evan gets orders that take him out of the picture.

So I turn to my list. With 24-hours, it is thin. First, I offer it to Jen Brockett, Scott's wife and drummer in his band. I've seen Jen play, and she's just what I'm looking for: someone with an unshakable clock and good chops. But she's only been playing for a few years, and doesn't feel confident to play the gig cold. Next, I turn to my neighbor Bill McDonald, current drummer for Budget Airlines, former drummer for Camper Van Beethoven, and someone who has played with me several times before. His response: "Well, I've got another show next night in Astoria. I could do it, but you might have to put me up for a few weeks when my wife finds out."

At this point, it's hours until the show. I read every ad on Craig's List for "drummer looking...." and try to make some evaluations.

And now, a Public Service Announcement for "Drummers Looking":
It would be helpful if you'd include a link to some kind of sample of your playing. Possibly even more helpful than the 30-band list of influences that is the current centerpiece of your resume. That's how I picked this awesome dude, once upon a time:

So I filter through those with samples, find players who have suitable chops and clock, look for clues that they're not afraid to wing it, then send them emails asking if they want work TONIGHT. I offer an equal share plus I'll provide drums, set-up, and tear-down. In other words, show up, play, get paid. With each, I ask that they call my cell immediately if interested. As the time grows short, I send the same message out to a few players who have no sample, but some other factor that gives me at least nominal confidence in their ability (beyond their influences, that is).

4:30 rolls around, and nary a nibble.

At this point, I decide to load up my drums anyway, just in case, and head out to the gig. I figure maybe someone will call, or maybe Jen will have a change of heart, or maybe Evan will go AWOL. These all seem like reasonable probabilities.

As I'm dropping my kids off with Grandma, I get the call.

"Hey, man, this is Nate from Craig's List. Do you still need a drummer tonight?" I remember his ad. No sample, but 11 years playing, and looking to do something with more jazz crossover.

"Yes. It's in Battle Ground, starts at 7:00, and I'm headed there now. I've got drums, and I'll set 'em up and tear 'em down. You got the address in my email."

(pause) "Cool. Cool."

"So, Nate, here's the deal. I'm a drummer, and this is going to be a follow-along type gig. I'll be playing guitar and holding it all together. So I'm going to let you self-select, here. If you watched the links I sent you, you know what I'm all about. If you feel up for it, let's do this."


And with that, I hung up and hit the road. I was relieved that the scramble to fill out the band was over, but nervous at the prospect of playing a show with so much unfamiliarity surrounding me. Will was comparatively the grizzled vet, having played with me for one hour in my living room the preceding Monday. On the drive, I tried to plan for disasters and anticipate where we might hit snags.

But then it all went off without a hitch. Scott was brilliant. He soloed with flair and endless sensitive creativity, bringing a captivating new dimension to the performance. Will was rock-steady, knew the route through every song, and needed no life jacket. Nate (formerly with All the Apparatus) kept the pocket neat and found good grooves with Will. What could've been a catastrophe turned into a truly special show.

And now I have three new names at the top of my sub list.


Friday, August 26, 2011

"Christopher Walken" prefers his scat-rock sans flim-flam

Strictly speaking, there is *no reason* for you not to record yourself on your fancy video-ma-phone, reciting a blurb from my music calendar in your best Christopher Walken voice. None. Go.

And that is why Memphis Evans is a person I like.