Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Playin' Favorites: Ski Rack Supreme

I need to talk about a person that, in our lives, knows me as fan, capture-er, colleague, employee, awestruck fool, travel agent, archivist, care-taker, driver, writer, host, and special advisor. Better yet, he understood me when I acted short, confused, angry, and distant. Even f I never knew him personally or worked for him, I must still hold him in the light that I do. He's a friend, in the best sense of the word.

Once upon a time, two bands that I loved as a fan and a colleague toured together. Based on attendance, not many people caught that tour, but as both bands' FOH engineer, and as one's tour manager, I saw every date. Critters Buggin' and The Benevento Russo Duo hit the East coast as a package over two years ago, in Oct. '04. The event that causes me to write what I have and will, occurred in Asheville, NC, near the end of that tour, and if no other information survives to illuminate this person of whom I write, I'll make sure that what I captured that night in the Carolina Mountains serves as his eulogy.

If you still need to figure it out: I'm talking about Skerik. I won't bother to grace or burden you with background - you either know or you don't. Lucky enough for me, I KNOW.

That particular evening, at Stella Blue in Asheville, both bands fired on all cylinders, and each of them played perhaps their best show of that tour. As they almost basked in the glory of their performances (I say almost, because no matter how good the show, these musicians do not leave satisfied; they continue to boldly seek more than what they've already achieved), discussion about the evening's encore came to the fore. I refuse to condescend to say we made it happen, but I will say that my crew compatriot Bryan "Bronko" Aiello and I did offer a suggestion for said encore that was seriously considered, and ultimately chosen.

Here in lies the 4 paragraph later sensible segue. You see, Bronko and I both embraced a particular Critters' tune that features Eyvind Kang as the string arranger. And given that both Bronko & I operated at a high level, and made whatever they wanted/needed to happen, happen, the musicians in question trusted us enough to respect that request and play it. I speak about "Panang".

Picture if you will complete vibe, a crew, crowd, room and band caught up in a whirlwind and yet still able to perfectly exist in & capture a moment. The crowd fell silent as they began to comprehend what they witnessed. The entire room hung on every note, as all 6 players created a sonic tidal wave that dared not drown you, but instead warmed, comforted and awed you.

Enough you might say, about both the long winded story and the superlative laden description of this moment. I would completely agree with you if the moment ended there. But as the virtuosity of "Panang" wound down, the 6 musicians refused to abandon the proceedings . A memorizing jam arose from the ashes of "Panang". Apparently, a couple of weeks together on the road provided them with a foundation to support such exploration. As a fan, my attention piqued beyond what my favorite song had minutes ago demanded. Suddenly, and I kid you not when I say, in a moment that weakened my knees enough for me to never forget it, Skerik found John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and the other 5 parts of his pioneering brain on that stage found it closely after.

Since I very much believe Frank Zappa, and his quote "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," I won't even attempt to capture that moment with words. The anticipation and foreshadowing included in this recount provides a firm enough foundation. I feel that detailing my reaction to what occurred says enough. I mix shows, when luck allows, for a living. As an engineer, the performances I've mixed only once caused me to uncontrollably weep as they occurred. As Critters and the Duo found "A Love Supreme", I broke down, as if I carried a thousand burdens and suddenly cast them off, only to find myself bathed in calming light and caressing warmth of my tears.

Needless to say, beyond the hyperbole, this moment lives in my head, heart and soul as the most intensely beautiful musical moment I've been lucky enough to experience. It forever lives vibrantly and beautifully in my head. As such, I can always draw on it to explain my place in this world.

Stay Gold.


Just got back from a little jazz listening hang at Bar 4 here in Brooklyn, where I got to talking with my friend Tommy about the road. I tend to spend a vast majority of my life driving, as a result of my job as a tour manager, and my most recent stint with Jon Cleary found me behind the wheel of yet another Econoline. Its become a point of pride for me, the ability to cover absurdly long distances by myself, and I wear it as a badge of honor of sorts, at least in the sense of being able to name my most ridiculous drives (NOLA to NYC and back 2.5 times, a couple of Denvers to NYC, Dallas to NYC, etc.)

For this tour, I could have skipped the Louisiana shows, shipped gear and just done a little northeast run, but I had some CDs I wanted to listen to, and I wanted to go south and spend some time in NOLA, so I chose to take on the drives. Here's what I learned this time around. In keeping with my personality, I'll start with the bad news....

I'm a cruise control guy, I like to stay at one consistent speed (there's something to be said for consistency, right?) and its that habit that leads me to my first 2 complaints.

1) Numerous drivers across the country aren't into consistency of speed, and therefore, I found myself a victim of the "I'll pass you, slow down, you pass me, repeat" game, especially in Alabama. That game is so much more fun when one drives after a Maple Leaf show, fails at finding a hotel in Mississippi and starts logging their 9th hr behind the wheel with no sleep.

2) However, that game has nothing on what apparently passes for the new Virginia-wide sport of "almost passing", Having someone living in yr blind-spot? Not that much fun. Having someone living in yr blind-spot when yr driving a 15 passenger van, even less fun. Just pass me for fuck's sake.

3) Ok, on to the good news. Having driven out of NOLA 3 times, I'm starting to get used to the fact that there's gonna be an accident very near me somewhere around Slidell. Three trips out on 10 East, 3 near misses, two of them on 2.10. I'm getting good at avoiding trouble. (Knocks wood.)

4) Mississippi as a state has been much maligned, and rightfully so. However, I'm perfectly content to drive north on 59 as the sun rises, so much so that I had to stop and take it all in. Most of 59 is tree lined, and the country morning just smells so fresh. I also had to pee, but that's just between us.

5) People south of Philly suck at snow. I got into northern VA just as the storm did, and while it only dropped 2-3 inches in that part of the country, it wreaked havoc with the driving conditions. I'm lucky that I grew up in the snow belt, where 3-4 feet in a day was a common occurrence. However, when I left my hotel in VA in search of food, and got 500 feet in 38 minutes, literally, I figured driving in bad weather was a skill best showcased at another time.

6) Favorites. I have 'em, and yeah, I play 'em. For the first installment of what I figure will become a regular feature of this here blog, I want to concentrate on my favorite truck stop CD: "Covered by the J. Geils Band". As Acer wrote "Most people under the age of 35 don’t really know how awesome the J. Geils Band was back in the day," and I couldn't agree more. This collection features exactly what you want from good driving music, up-tempo covers played by a killing soul review at the top of their game. Many of the included tracks were recorded live, an extra added bonus for me. Get it for the "House Party" and "Believe In Me", stay for the "Raise Your Hand" and fall in love with a surprising "Truck Driving Man".

Stay Gold.