Posts Tagged This Charming Band

Benjamin: Doer Of Things!

28 December 2012

With the focus on my recent retreat last time, I neglected to get into general updates and current events.  As you may have noticed, I don’t use this blog as the detailed journal I used to.  The highlights though… my last TCB show happened at the end of September, and that was nice.  My favorite moment was the closure of getting to announce, “in our seven years together, we’ve performed 71 of The Smiths’ 72 songs” to some cheers… and then playing Golden Lights and getting to announce, “make that 72 of 72.”  So that’s a big chapter of my life behind me.  In the meantime, I’m on somewhat of a Smiths detox.

What else?  The Rumble Strippers spent a weekend (give or take) in the studio recording a half dozen songs.  For real this time.  Perhaps an EP in the near future?  And how about us getting a spot playing Viva Las Vegas 2013?  And signing with Tanoa at A-Town?  The hits just keep on coming!  Jared came to town for a few days, and it was so great to catch up with him and think about how life would be different if he lived here.  Oh and it’s December which must mean car trouble.  In the last couple years, it’s been drunk drivers, lightning strikes, and wild turkeys.  This year, it was me getting rear-ended and pushed into another car.  Sandwiched, if you will.  So it’s a rental for me for a while…

Recently I’ve been going out more, and all this going out has led me to explore the “spirit” world again.  Over the years, it’s often occurred to me that bartending seems like fun.  I guess I should probably confirm that with some of the bartenders I know.  I don’t see myself ever actually doing that for a living, but it couldn’t hurt to have those skills.  And maybe even fill in somewhere part-time just for fun?  The classes are more a time commitment than a significant monetary investment.  I’d like to know more about making drinks and what all the gadgets behind the counter are for.  I also have a minor fascination with the art of beer tap handles and of tiki mugs, though I don’t guess that would help me be better at the job.  And am I correct in assuming that serious bartenders generally aspire to have one of their own signature cocktails catch on nationwide?  I don’t know about taste, but in terms of pure cleverness, I’ve already got a couple up my sleeve.  First, the “Edwyn Collins,” which is similar to a Tom Collins, but also includes orange juice (get it?).  More recently, I had the idea for the “Ovaltini,” which would of course be a variation on the martini, but would include either Ovaltine, or maybe malt powder and some other creamy component… Bailey’s, Kahlúa, etc.  Maybe the malt flavor could even come from something malty like Guinness?  I’ll need to get into a bartending class and experiment.

UPDATE (December 2013): During my trip to Cuba, I had another great idea for a drink.  It’d be a shot.  A “Tetanus Shot,” which of course would have to be rust colored.  More research needed.

By the way, I just saw some interesting variations on my main drink: the White Russian.  Did you know there’s such a thing as a “White Mexican” made with horchata?  And a “White Cuban” with rum instead of vodka?  Yum!  Or that there’s actually a name for the White Russian variant I often end up with when bars don’t have cream?  It’s called a “Blind Russian,” and it involves substituting Bailey’s for cream.  Interesting…  I could see nerding out on this kinda stuff, but I’m guessing the local mixologists would just roll their eyes if you started throwing  terms like “White Cuban” around when ordering.

So anyway, as I said, I’ve been trying to get out more lately.  Throwing caution to the wind, and throwing myself to the wolves a bit.  And really just trying not to control every little aspect of my life.  Pushing myself to ignore the voice that always tries to shoot down new ideas, and then take it easier on myself when I fail.  Just cut myself some slack in general and let myself be imperfect and human.  A few very small experiments with this have taught me very quickly that life can drop some amazing things into your lap if you just let yourself be open to possibilities.  Putting myself in unusual or uncomfortable situations (at least for me) has paid off almost without exception each and every time I’ve tried it over the last few months.  Back-to-back days of back-to-back weekends of countless good times, new friends, and uncanny coincidences that would have never happened unless I loosened my grip on the reins a bit.  It’s incredible what’s out there waiting for you — all those possibilities — when you just take your damn hands off the wheel for a second.  It makes me think about all the opportunities I’ve wasted in life so far by being so rigid.

“For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.”
— T.S. Eliot

You Know I Couldn’t Last

27 September 2012

On September 28th, 2012, I will play my 140th show with This Charming Band (not counting two radio appearances, an acoustic one-off with Orlando, and a Britpop set that 3/4 of TCB did under a different name).  That constitutes every performance TCB has given since its inception in 2005.  But this will be my last show with them.

You see, while I continue to love the music of The Smiths and Morrissey, the pressures of life and time management have made continuing simply impossible for me — at least at the level of quality this music deserves.  For some time now, I’ve found myself occasionally weighing the amount of time, effort, and dedication it takes to hold up my end of TCB against the joy I get from being a part of it.  For years and years, it was a no-brainer.  This Charming Band has been one of the best parts of my adult life, without question, and for a long time it was worth any amount of energy I could muster.  For dozens of reasons.  But it’s become clear to me that over time, the balance has tipped in the other direction to where the practices, the website, the flyers, the promotion, the Facebook, and even at times the weekends of shows… it’s like a second job.  It takes a ton of time and energy to keep that going.  And after seven years of doing it, I could feel myself starting to resent how much of my life it takes up.  Patience was wearing thin, and it was only a matter of time before something broke.  (That internecine moment finally came when we played a club ironically called “The Catalyst.”  Ha!)  I wanted some time back in my schedule and some relief from the commitment of giving my all to this project.  I love it, and I love the people I get to play with and for, but I know I’d never let myself phone it in for TCB.  So the only way out for me is to let it go completely.  And as it turns out, Paul and Michael are both leaving too, each for his own reasons.  Rather than watch as crowds dwindle over the years and we overstay our welcome, I feel like this exodus gives us a chance to burn out instead of fade away.  Disappear before we jump the proverbial shark.  End on top like The Smiths did.  I didn’t always think so, but I believe that TCB has grown into the best Smiths tribute that has yet existed.  And now we won’t be around long enough to lose our edge and let some up-and-comer pass us.  They’ll be chasing our ghost for years.  At least that’s how I imagine it.  :)

At this last show, Paul and I have planned out the set list, filling it with our own favorites.  Above all else, it’ll be a chance to say goodbye to all the great fans who’ve supported us over the years and made TCB what it is.  I’ll be absorbing as much of the night as I can, letting it cap seven long years of great experiences and rewards for what has been a lot of hard work.  Our friends For The Masses will be joining us, which I couldn’t be happier about.  They’ve always been my favorite band to share a bill with.  For those of you who are into mementos, I’ll bring whatever I have… I think I have a stack of postcards from the last few Slim’s shows, some picks, and maybe some other stuff.  It’ll be there for the taking if anyone wants a keepsake.  (I’m always embarrassed whenever people actually want and ask for set lists or picks, but hey it does happen occasionally, and so if you want them, they’ll be there.)

As I was weighing the decision to leave, I went back and watched old videos of our shows all the way back to 2005.  Many that we never posted for one reason or another.  Some were better than others, but even with their rough spots, seeing us do the obscure ones… Suffer Little Children, Pregnant For The Last Time, I Don’t Owe You Anything, etc.  We killed on those tunes!  I’m proud of that work.  Maybe part of that is just the novelty of hearing the songs I used to have memorized but haven’t played in years.  So many of the “hits” I have played now so often that when I hear the songs in my head, I hear TCB rather than The Smiths.  At the time of my leaving, This Charming Band will have performed all 72 Smiths songs and 35 Morrissey solo songs, for a total of 107 songs.  I have the list, but I figured it would take up too much room here.  Instead, I’ll share my favorite song nicknames we used behind closed doors (and I’m amazed how perverse many of them are now that I see them all together like this):  Accipitycept Yo’self, Axe, Back To The Out House, Barbie-ism / Babarism, The Boy With The Thorn In His Pants, Shirtlifters, Sweet And Sour Hooligan, This Chairman Mao, Unlubbable, (That’s) What She Said, Wonderful German, You Just Haven’t Urined Yet Baby, Boy Chaser, Certain Peepholes I Know, Jack The Tripper, November Spawned A Lobster, Now My Pants Are Full, Sling Your Wife, Mañana, and Fattycake.  There were many, many others, but just not as colorful, and I’m surely forgetting some too.

And while I’m at it, I’ll randomly dump some TCB ideas that were never used.  In the time TCB has been together, I’ve seen some of my favorite original ideas for tribute band names from way back in 2005 go on to be used by other new tributes, including my very favorite: “Unruly Boys.”  If tribute bands were judged only by cleverness without regard for recognizability and marketability, I would have added to the running: The Hated Salford Ensemble (which I still think is genius), Orchestrazia Ardwick, Duane Tremolo, The Paris Valentinos, White Dice, Freak Party, The Nosebleeds, The Tee Shirts, The Sulky Young, and Helen Wheels.  All have connections to The Smiths, honestly!  Go read up!

Suddenly, Last Summer
There were a lot of developments over the summer worth mentioning if only for the sake of having them be a part of my chronicling of TCB history.  We had the extreme honor of opening up for The Polecats, and Boz Boorer himself snuck out on stage to join us on “Jack The Ripper” and “Now My Heart Is Full.”  Afterwards, I got to talk shop and gossip with him a bit.  Truly a thrill.  (Later in the summer, I also caught up with his guitar tech Lloyd Tripp and talked more shop and gossip!  And it turns out a certain “quote of the week” was a memorable moment for all involved.)  And that same month, I spent an evening backstage with Andy Rourke at his Popscene DJ night.  In terms of music, we finally got to pull off some of the clever tricks we’d imagined in the past as well as some new ones.  We performed “Wonderful Woman” in its original “What Do You See In Him?” form.  We managed to seamlessly medley “These Things Take Time” with “Accept Yourself” and “You’ve Got Everything Now.”  We concocted a “Ballroom Blitz” intro for “The Loop.”  I finally got to do my recorded “you are sleeping” intro to “Asleep,” which includes a full minute of the original source recording of that sample (though technically, that happened last summer).  And we added “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” to the end of “Now My Heart Is Full,” taking a page from Boz ‘n Alain’s book.  Our own Michael pushed it even further by instead adding the coda of “I Won’t Share You” into the mix.  Brilliant!

We got to hit some of my favorite places over the summer, making it an ideal last blast.  We made it out to SoCal, where even tribute guitarists get on-stage cheek kisses (from boys and girls).  In Riverside, I was reminded how much the Moz Krew magic can really make the show.  Getting home after dawn.  It was just like old times again.  Then we returned to Portland and Seattle for a memorable trip.  Great restaurants, a Lovecraft-themed bar, and a couple of packed shows with excellent bands that both rank among my favorite TCB nights of all time.  Even got to play a bit with For The Masses which is always a hoot.  Both of those nights were incredible all around.  The summer also included Slim’s and The Blank Club, two of my favorite venues to play.  And we’re wrapping it up at Du Nord.  TCB, this is your life!

A Crutch And A Cage
I’ve been honored to humbly attempt to share these songs and experiences with everyone who’d listen over the past seven years, and I will not soon forget the countless fond memories of playing shows and meeting all of you.  It’s a truly singular experience playing with TCB.  I hope my reverence for this music, first and foremost, is beyond question given my track record… but you’d have to be made of stone not to be exhilarated up there, pretending to be Johnny Marr, fans cheering and singing along to every word, anticipating every note.  But it’s a tether, too.  It’s both a crutch and a cage.  I was constrained by it in that the music, the arrangements, the expectations are all already laid out for me, with very few exceptions.  There’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do it.  It’s limiting.  But then I leaned on it as well.  It’s hard not to get addicted to the guarantee of a big crowd for TCB, which makes the prospect of slugging it out doing smaller shows with other musical projects less appealing.  I had intended my stint in TCB to be a stepping stone to an original project, and instead it kept me sedated when I should have stayed hungry.  I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s a strange relationship.  You depend on it, but you feel constricted by it.  And both too much.  In short, I knew it was time for me to move on.

And no sooner had I made that decision than something unexpected happened.   A weight was lifted off of me.  I could suddenly enjoy listening to Smiths songs again.  Of course I’ve never not enjoyed them, but after the relief of letting TCB go, it was like life as a civilian again.  I could listen to a Smiths CD and just enjoy the magic in those recordings, rather than analyze them into oblivion as I’ve been doing for the better part of a decade.  I could just be a fan again, because I knew that soon, it wouldn’t be my job anymore.  That small change of perspective made a huge and instant difference.  It moved me.  I had my Smiths back.

Things I’m Proud Of Accomplishing

  1. I’m proud to say this was my first band ever.  Not too shabby, eh?
  2. I’m proud to have gotten through all of The Smiths’ songs.  As much as I love The Smiths, to have really spent that kind of time unravelling the mysteries of each one I feel like was time well spent.  And with Moz solo, 107 songs is a mind-boggling number of tunes to have played, even over seven years.
  3. I’m proud of the reputation TCB has built up.  We made quality of performance priority #1, and I think it showed.  Pretending to be another band is a tricky business when you’re trying to maintain some dignity about it.  I think we all did a great job of being respectful of the legacy of The Smiths and doing them justice.  And then the connection that we’ve had with crowds, and making our shows a celebration shared with everyone… that’s something that TCB excelled at in contrast to the posturing of some of our competitors who took themselves far too seriously and suffered for it, reputationally speaking.  And with this reputation, we now hear from venues and bookers all over the world who are interested in booking us.  We heard from instrument manufacturers who want us to use their products on stage.  I can only dream of someday getting that kind of attention in future bands.
  4. I’m thrilled that we were able to help bring the music of The Smiths to a new audience.  We all know that Smiths fans are a small and dedicated bunch.  But we brought those people out of the woodwork and built up an audience that supported some big shows, even outside of our home base in the Bay Area.  It’s one thing to draw a crowd covering Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.  It’s quite another to succeed covering a little niche like The Smiths.  A lot of things had to fall into place for TCB to become what it has whereas many others have failed to thrive.  And we heard regularly from people who didn’t know or like The Smiths, but who were turned on to them by a TCB show.  The ultimate compliment!

Things I Wish We’d Done (“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”)

  1. We never got a chance to go head-to-head with our biggest rivals in the Smiths tribute scene.  There was never any competition with non-Smiths tributes because The Smiths are an unassailable choice of subject matter among most other musicians, and the fact that we did it well and had the success we did… we just couldn’t be judged by the same criteria as tributes to other bands.  We were in a class of our own.  But we had a nemesis or two among other Smiths tributes, and I maintain that in a face-to-face Pepsi Challenge, we would have objectively out-shined them.  Now I guess it’ll be left to the scholars to debate.
  2. We never played Tijuana.  We had an opportunity this year, but it wasn’t meant to be.  From what I hear from other tribute friends that have played shows down there, the fans are insane, and they love Americans.  Who knows what stories we might have brought back from a trip like that?
  3. We never toured Europe.  Granted, that would have been a colossal undertaking, with logistical nightmares that only a Virgo like Sus could have tackled.  And I’d probably have been too anxious and wound up to pull it off.  But can you imagine the fun that would have been?
  4. We never pulled off a reunion.  To explain, Orlando had the bizarre idea — but brilliant in its own way — to reunite Andy and Mike from The Smiths to play with us as a hybrid tribute band.  A show like that, those guys playing Smiths songs again, it could have been material for The Fillmore.  Sounds far-fetched and arrogant, I know.  The crazy thing is that he pursued it and got as far as discussing dollar amounts with both of their respective agents.  So crazy as it may have been, it had legs.  You gotta give Orlie credit.
  5. After my final show, we will have performed all 72 Smiths songs, which was my main goal.  Still, I wish we had gotten around to doing a few more of my favorite Morrissey solo numbers: Driving Your Girlfriend Home, I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me, The Operation, Spring-Heeled Jim, and maybe Late Night, Maudlin Street.
  6. We didn’t reach everyone.  It’s an impossible target to aim for, but I meet people all the time who love The Smiths, live in San Francisco, would love to see a TCB show… and have never heard of us.  I met such a person today as I write this.  We did an admirable job bringing people out to our shows.  Way better than anyone ever expected us to.  But it’s always disappointing to hear about potential fans that were out of the loop.  Where were you seven years ago, dude?

Things I Will Miss Most About Being In This Band

  1. Road trips.  All the travel and hotels, there are just too many memories to begin to describe.  But I think travelling together and sharing accommodations — while there’s good and bad there, and it can certainly be trying at times — does amazing things for bringing the band closer together.  I can’t think of many things to compare it to in adult life.  A band road trip is a special thing.  The camaraderie among bandmates in general is great, and a good road trip is the height of spending quality time, in my experience.
  2. I’ll miss late night eats with friends and bandmates.  There’s nothing better after a long show than a 3am dinner/breakfast at Sparky’s or Denny’s (or most recently Mini Gourmet and their bleu cheese buffalo jack sticks!).  And then of course getting to bed around sunrise.
  3. I so appreciated all of the fun people, new friends, and memorable characters I got to meet at our shows and just because of TCB in general.  It’s sad to think I won’t have an opportunity to see many of them again or meet the many more that are waiting out there somewhere.  There are the friends that come to many shows, and the friends whom we’d always see in certain towns.  And the people we all know and recognized time and again but had never actually met.  I’ll miss that zoo of nightclub dwellers and Smiths fans across the country.  Surely, I will see you again in far off places.
  4. I’ll miss the clockwork precision with which we were able to nail some of these songs in recent years.  Nick is an excellent drummer, and when the rest of us all weave our parts in… well, it’s an incredible feeling to be locked in with other great musicians who really know what they’re doing.  Of course credit is due to The Smiths for writing this stuff and having the textures be so rich to begin with, but participating in playing it and getting lost in it, even just at practice, it’s really satisfying.
  5. The weight TCB had in the world of tribute bands.  I watched as Nick did all the booking and built us up to bigger and better gigs.  He did it all himself, and that gave us a ton of autonomy so that TCB could go headline some big shows, pick whomever we wanted to be on the bill with us, pay what we thought was fair, and had to answer to virtually no one.  We built up a reputation with many venues and bookers to where we could count on cycling through each of them a couple times a year, year after year.  Calling shots like that and writing your own ticket doesn’t seem to be the norm, and I imagine I’ll come to miss that kind of power in my future bands.
  6. I will miss playing the first few seconds of “How Soon Is Now?” and hearing everyone cheer.  It’s hard to have that experience as an original band because not only do you need to draw a packed house of people, but they all need to know your songs really well.  And then you need to have written a song that is recognizable and iconic enough that the whole crowd knows it immediately and is absolutely thrilled to hear it.  So yeah, how many bands ever write a “How Soon Is Now?”  And really this points to getting to play to large crowds of superfans.  TCB shows were what they were not because we were there, but because there was a rabid crowd of maniacs hanging on every note of the songs that saved their lives.  It’s not gonna be easy to build that up again, or maybe ever have it again period.  I’ll be sorry to lose that.
  7. OK… the ego will show here a little.  If I’m being honest with myself, I guess I will miss the prestige, what little there is to be had.  I’m talking now specifically about the very narrow world of “playing Smiths songs on guitar.”  But being really good at something, and being regarded as somewhat of an expert in it.  Feeling important to that community.  That’s hard to walk away from.  Any amount of recognition for that stuff would be appreciated, but to be recognized and stopped in public at clubs and other bands’ shows to take pictures… or asked to sign a set list for someone… or for a total hack like me to be asked if I give lessons… I know it’s silly not to just brush that off, but I’m only human.  Or when people — musicians or no — would meet me for the first time, hear that I’m in a band, and then assume it’s some shitty little bar band like everyone else… and then getting to be like, “Actually we’re headlining Slim’s on Saturday.”  Oh, that feels good.  But in contrast, there were times back in the golden age of 2006 and 2007 when there were people who seemed to adore us and would come to see us regularly, or would clamor for us to return to this or that town.  I’ve watched over the years as those same people have settled down or disappeared.  They’ve moved on and forgotten us.  Of course, why wouldn’t they?  It’s definitely the sobering side of that same coin.  One moment you’re letting your ego get inflated, and the next you’re reminded that dude… nobody cares.  Ha ha!
  8. Along the same lines, I must also admit that I’ll miss the reaction I got from other musicians.  Typically, they’d know The Smiths and they’d know how complex the guitar work can be.  Being able to pull it off at the level I can now is a great way to show off some chops and — as Katt Williams would say —  show I ain’t bullshit.  Now I’ll have to rely on making an impression in other bands with other material (which is sure to be less impressive by virtue of the fact that it is something other than The Smiths).  I will no longer have the automatic cred.  And that confidence is worth something.  I’ll miss being able to walk into a new venue in a new town, and already have a following of curious locals who know us by reputation and/or love The Smiths, and then confidently exceeding their expectations.  I remember at our second show ever, I got totally psyched out when two guys stood right in front of me just before we started… they crossed their arms and said skeptically, “alright, let’s see it.”  Cut to: at a recent show, someone who hadn’t yet seen us came up to me and said, “I’m a guitarist.  I’ve heard good things about you, but you have some big shoes to fill.”  I smiled and said, “Wait and see.”  And after the show, unsolicited, he came up to me enthusiastically saying, “You were right!”  That’s another experience that will be hard to replicate anywhere else.

I think the current lineup of TCB is one of the strongest, if not the strongest we’ve ever had, and it’s not easy to leave something that’s so successful.   And so of course I’ll wonder if we could have taken it further.  I guess if Nick is successful in carrying on, we’ll get a glimpse of that.  Just as I’m burning out, I feel like TCB is getting renewed exposure in a variety of ways.  I wish it had come a year or two earlier, as I might have been along for the ride.  A lot of hard work went into learning these songs, promoting the band, building the name, etc.  It’d be a shame for any of that to go to waste.  I hope TCB’s reputation stands the test of time.  I also hope that some opportunity arises in the future to use my Johnny Marr knowledge again in some way.  Maybe some sort of reunion one day, if only for a birthday Slim’s show or an L.A. weekend.  Maybe filling in for another Smiths tribute somewhere.  Maybe some new one-off thing in the future.  Who knows?  I’m not bored of The Smiths, I’m just tired.  But I’m open.

Orlando once told me “bands get ugly.”  He was talking about the infamous Smiths court case, but that’s universal, and he had the personal experience to know.  Bands do get ugly.  Friends become enemies.  We may not all get along anymore, Orlie, Nick, myself, and some of the others… but we had an adventure in our time, didn’t we?

There’s probably more I could say about how honored I am to have carried the torch, and grateful for all the great people I’ve met, but I think I probably covered it more eloquently when I told the whole TCB story for our Five Year Anniversary.  It’s all still true, and that’s a good long read if you have the time.

Thank you to The Smiths and to Morrissey’s solo band for all of the great music we’ve celebrated and “borrowed” over the years.  It’s been amazing learning and playing the art you’ve created.  Thank you friends, fans, supporters, and especially bandmates past and present: Orlando, Wally, Nick, Peter, Isaac, Cameron, Dave, Paul, Virgil, and Michael.  It was a hell of a ride, and for a time, it meant everything to me.  I’ll be sad to go, truly.  TCB has been one of the most important things in my life for nearly a decade!  But you know I couldn’t last.

Hurtling towards the inevitable end,
With love and respect,

Soul Purpose

22 May 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to life lately.  Asking myself if I’m really making the most of my time on earth, or if I’m mindlessly going with the flow because it’s easy or because I assume I have no other choice.  I was reading the April 2012 issue of Guitar Player magazine a while back — bear with me — and the editor (Michael Molenda) offered up a gem, just the latest great quote encouraging us to be present and mindful and take the time to sit down and savor life’s great moments.  As he put it, “‘Live every day as if it were your last’ often gets rewritten as ‘Make sure every day is crammed with meaningless, self-important crap that allows you to feel busier and more valuable than the person next to you.’”  And that pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling about a lot of the things that I spend my time and energy on.  I have this increasing sense that it’s time for some big changes.  Some once-every-ten-years kinda changes.  That could mean a pretty big shake up.  Maui might be one part of it, and just think of all the consequences that might have.

Before I get too deep, how about some more lighthearted updates?  I’ve seen some great shows lately.  Most astonishing was The Darkness at The Fillmore.  That show was jaw-dropping.  The ease with which Justin Hawkins seemed to set the stage on fire with his soaring falsetto, acrobatics, and guitar mastery… I mean it was stunning.  I saw him drop a plectrum, kick it back up sideways hacky sack style, catch it, and start his solo, all while looking not at all surprised it worked.  It is a contender for the best live show I’ve ever seen.  Other highlights include Devo (looking very old but not caring… oh, and also sounding amazing), The Buzzcocks, Pulp (another fantastic show), and a one-time reuniting of our old friends Dead Souls.  After dragging my feet about it, I finally broke down today and got tickets for Morrissey in Stockton this weekend.  Happy birthday, you old diva.  You get my money again.

My own music has been good, too.  The Rumble Strippers have had a few successful shows and seem to be climbing the ladder a bit.  Our name is getting out there.  We’re working on new songs.  We recorded four songs in an actual studio (which was new to me), including one I wrote.  It’s all very promising.  And then TCB has an incredible new singer (Michael) who is possibly the best I’ve ever heard outside of Mozzer himself when it comes to those songs.  He’s got the moves, the voice, and is a terribly nice person to boot.  We’ve got a ton of shows coming up this summer, including trips to Portland, Seattle, and SoCal, and even a date opening for The Polecats.  Not to mention the great shows last weekend at Slim’s and The Catalyst!  Slim’s had some epic moments like walking on to “Imperfect List,” playing the “Subway Train” intro to “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as well as having David’s help on keys.  He also joined us for “Jack The Ripper,” and Nick took on an acoustic guitar for “King Leer” and “Seasick, Yet Still Docked.”  We closed with “Now My Heart Is Full,” which Michael ingeniously medley’ed with “I Won’t Share You” and then bowed and walked off while we continued playing.  It was perfect.  But come to think of it, the last couple months were brutal in terms of shows.  I think at one point I had six or seven straight weekends of shows, alternating between TCB and The Rumble Strippers.  But I guess that’s a Cadillac worry, as they say.

I had a minor surgery which was new for me as well.  No stitches, but dealing with caring for it led me to have my first panic attack in ages.  It happened at the hospital.  Good times.  But at the end of the ordeal, I was left with a better sense of my own resilience and confidence in what I can deal with, and that’s the ultimate antidote for anxiety.  Let’s see, what else?  Had a fun time at the pinball museum in Alameda thanks to Eden’s surprise party for Margaret.  Damn, there was a ton of stuff in past months I never got around to mentioning, including my brief attempts at ice skating and Bikram yoga, as well as ongoing vocal lessons.  Then there were two big trips.  One was Europe (yes, Europe!), but more on that next time.  The other was Viva Las Vegas, which after all these years I finally attended, along with my expert C-Po.  I’d intended to write about it last month, but preparing for Europe kept me swamped.  I’ll do my best to recall it now…

I’d been waiting to go to Viva since around 2004, but the right situation just never presented itself.  C-Po calls it “rockabilly summer camp.”  And specifically for vintage-lovin’ girls, it’s the “Fashion Olympics.”  Both descriptions are totally accurate, it turns out.  We spent most of the time within the Orleans Hotel, as that’s where all the events were anyway.  We perused the many, many booths of clothes, jewelry, pomades (where I picked up some Layrite swag), stickers, etc.  There was a vegan custom shoe maker from the U.K. that I plan to work with in the future.  We gambled and won and then broke even.  (Penny slots, dude.  It’s the only way to go.)  We didn’t stick around for the whole of Elvira’s show, but we caught most of one of Charles Phoenix’s hilariously-narrated slideshows.  We took advantage of several free dance lessons, and though I’ve forgotten many of the steps already, I was a damn decent jiver and bopper for a few days there.  We skipped the car show due to time constraints, and limited our time at the pool party to a quick walk around it just to get the feel.  We took a walk through a fancy mall full of only the highest-end designers’ storefronts.  We saw tons of friends and spent a good amount of time with the drummer from Quarter Mile Combo.  I heard there were something like 8,500 paid attendees this year.  Then there was that damn wristband, pretty and detailed as it was… I did not appreciate having to keep it on 24 hours a day for four days.  The “rockabilly summer camp” vibe was really all about all these scene people under one roof, staying in the same hotel as if it were a giant dorm or a sleepover party.  And of course everything is open 24 hours a day.  Everyone getting all dressed up to be seen each night.  It was fun, I can’t deny.  And as for that “Fashion Olympics” aspect, I don’t doubt it now.  There were countless unique and wonderful outfits.  Obviously I don’t know what I’m looking at, but C-Po  and her friends all know and recognize who’s bringing it and who’s a poseur.  I actually held my own, poseur-wise.  You know, part of me was staying away from VLV just to avoid being anonymous in a sea of people who look just like me, and that’s valid.  But if I’m being honest with myself, I suppose there was also the fear that I would feel like an imposter among people who are rockabillier than thou.  But there was none of that.  If anything, I saw more neophytes than veterans, and I felt totally confident and comfortable in my own skin there.  It probably helps that I’m old now.  In fact, from what I saw, there were lots of badly dressed people, and I looked comparatively great.  It was interesting to see all the different directions the neophytes and the veterans alike have taken a relatively small amount of cultural reference and tried to make it look flattering and authentic.  What I saw ran the gamut from cherry print everything, to just a flower in the hair, to totally immaculate vintage from head to toe.  I saw full-on cat suits, incredible dresses, and even overalls.  For the record, I lost track of how many compliments C-Po got on her outfits, from friends and strangers alike.  It was an embarrassing amount though, so apparently she really brought it.  In terms of this scenester posturing that we’re all guilty of, my favorite moment was in an elevator when a wannabe queen bee — who didn’t know who she was talking to — responded to a casual compliment from C-Po with, “Yeah I don’t know if you know this, but my purse is like super rare.  It’s worth like $1300.”

Over the course of the weekend, the dining was hit or miss.  Right there in the Orleans, there’s a T.G.I. Friday’s, which disappointed us twice.  However, there was a decent Denny’s-esque diner and great Asian place there too.  The in-house food court had a Subway and Baskin Robbins, neither of which I took advantage of, but I got the obligatory veggie burger at the Fuddruckers there.  Their facade was decorated with jukebox record streamers, a cardboard cut-out of James Dean, and a cringe-worthy banner that read, “Fuddruckers loves rock-a-billy’s.  Welcome back!!”  There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t even know where to start.  We ventured away from the Orleans twice, and it resulted in the best and worst meals of the trip.  I’m fairly certain that food poisoning from Garduño’s is what led us to have to stay in sick one night.  But then brunch at the Mon Ami Gabi bistro at the Paris was one of the best meals I’ve had all year!  Warm brie with black pepper, honey, hazelnuts, and croutons?  Crisscut fries with blue cheese dip?  Some kind of amazing salad that I can’t remember now?  Yes, ma’am.  I even did my share of drinking over the weekend, mainly to collect the commemorative mugs, including a boot, a skull, and a bowling pin.  I vaguely remember some delicious Sailor Jerry punch.

Music was the main attraction for me, of course.  I got to see most everything I intended to.  Seeing Duane Eddy and The Ventures in person was definitely something I’m glad to say I did.  The “legends” show featuring older stars on the verge of senility was interesting.  J.D. McPherson was alright.  Saw our friend Irving play in The 454’s.  I forget who else now.  The highlight was The Polecats, who were just full of energy and sounded great.  Awesome to see Boz cutting loose and really playing!  We even got to meet him and Tim Polecat after the show!  Now with all that went on during the weekend, it’s just impossible to see it all.  The bands that — in hindsight — I wish I’d seen include:  Si Cranstoun (who is apparently Jackie Wilson-esque and amazing), Voola & The Jayhawks (which are all but a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tribute), Jinx Jones (whom Paul has seen locally and has raved about), and Blind Rage & Violence (a Link Wray tribute).  There were tons of other bands too that might have been nice.  C-Po knew many of them, but I did not.  Seeing the massive list of events for VLV meant seeing a lot of rockabilly band names alongside each other.  And that led to some observations, and ultimately to us creating this:

So that was Viva.  I’ll definitely be doing it again next year.  Which I guess brings us back to the bigger “life” stuff…  I didn’t do a “New Year’s” blog this year the way I’ve done in the past, but that’s not because I haven’t been reflecting.  As I mentioned, I’m considering some big changes.  And I mean big.  Virtually no sacred cow is safe.  This public forum isn’t really the place for me to get into it, but I’m pondering things.  They’re not quite formed into specific resolutions, but instead loosely arranged into areas of my life that are due for an overhaul.  A while back at work, it was suggested that each of us take a shot at creating a personal “mission statement” to succinctly sum up what we’re all about.  At first, I thought it was kind of a silly exercise, but I admit that when I sat down and really gave it some thought, the end result was pretty valuable.  This is what I settled on.  My “mission” is:

To search for meaning and understanding, strive for absolute integrity, actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, and do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same.

I wrestled with the precise phrasing of that statement, considering alternatives for nearly every word, and making sure the connotation and message was exactly what I meant to say.  Now that was written sometime back in 2011, and though I didn’t intend it, it really fits well as a kind of framework for me to work with as I do some life overhauling to get more aligned with my real goals.

  • So to search for meaning and understanding makes me think of Spirit Rock, the Buddhist retreat.  I’ve been thinking about doing a week out there for almost a year now, and I just know it would be helpful, but I may have to put it off (depending on my vacation time situation what with Europe burning up two weeks).  Spirituality is something that I had a real awakening with while I dealt with anxiety a few years ago, and I know that there would be a tremendous benefit to pursuing it further.  I really have to make this happen.
  • Then to strive for absolute integrity, that comes naturally to me.  It may not surprise you to hear that “Responsibility” was my #1 strength according to StrengthsFinder.  It isn’t always a good thing though, as I hold myself to an unrealistic standard sometimes.  That’s where the word “strive” comes in.   That’s to remind myself that I should shoot for perfection but remember that I am human too.  Another big thing for me here is to continue to get comfortable with anger — allowing myself to experience it, express it, and let it go, rather than tamp it down like I’ve done for years.  My progress and small victories there have been kind of amazing.  To see how fast you can let something go after you express it.  It’s still so foreign to me as I’m used to holding it in until it hardens into resentment.  There are many great quotes on that subject.  Anyhow, I feel like I’m still making slow progress in this area.
  • And then to actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, that’s a loaded one.  A lot of key words there.  “Actively” because it takes attention and effort to see (or “recognize”) the value in everything you experience.  You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you view it.  Easier said than done, but that is the ultimate power to have in your own life.  That’s the ultimate goal.  Originally, instead of “recognize,” I was playing with variations of “pursue.”  I’m at least putting some of this into action this year by travelling.  Already VLV and Europe are behind me.  With my remaining vacation time, I still would like to try to pull off Cuba later this year, maybe combined with a Florida manatee stopover.  New Orleans is off the table for a number of reasons, but I’ll see it and the G.I. Joe convention eventually, even if they’re not at the same place in the future.  I’d like to make time to relax and rest and ponder and redistribute my time based on true enjoyment rather than just trying to use it to efficiently complete and endless list of tasks.  I want to feed ducks more.  I want to finally get an Ocean Beach bonfire going with friends, and throw more events like that to expand the circle of friends.  I want to finish my massive house clean and purge of all non-essential material things.  I want to purge non-essential commitments and usages of my free time.  I want to do something for a living that excites my passions and feels real.  I want to live somewhere (Maui?) that helps me “be here now” rather than silently prods me to work on a to do list.  That “be here now,” that idea of mindfulness is the really the key.  Pursuing happiness through vacations and simplifying my schedule, it’s certainly a valuable use of my time, but it’s too limiting as an overall goal.  It’s not enough just to try to improve what happens to you, because you can’t really control everything that happens to you.  Vacations are nice, but no amount of vacations or material things is going to guarantee your happiness.   The happiness comes from your mindset.  It’s easy to be happy on vacation with your friends, but that’s not where you spend the majority of your life.  It’s more important to find how to be happy the rest of the time.
  • And finally, to do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same.  For this one, I struggle.  I need to find something meaningful to do here, and if it doesn’t come in the form of a new career in that field, it might at least be some volunteer time.  Ideally though, I would do for a living something that leverages my talents towards a noble cause that matters to me and to the world and makes a real difference, rather than just the accumulation of wealth.

So those are the big plans, somewhat mapped to more actionable items.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by day-to-day life and commitments while your big plans… your important plans… your life plans… all stay on the back burner.  In some ways, that’s the biggest obstacle.  Some of these goals have been on my mind for months with no progress or answers yet, but hell if I’m not trying.

The quote of the week is just a question for you to ponder:

“If your life had its own board of directors, who’d be on it?”

You got some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.

18 May 2011

Well friends… I see that it’s been about two months since my last post.  You might be wondering what gives. I could tell you that I’ve been super busy with work and two bands and shows happening and more coming.  And all the while, my house is a mess and has needed to be cleaned for weeks.  And that’s all true.  But you’d think I could have found some time to sit for an hour and write this in a span of two whole months.  And yet, I didn’t.  Have I lost my zest for blogging?  It could very well be.  Whatever it was that used to drive me to want to document my current events and be clever… somehow it’s not driving me anymore.  I could have filled a dozen blogs with all that’s happened lately.  Instead, you’ll get the short, short version.  And I will have forgotten some things by now.  I feel like I should be sad that this thing might be winding down.  Maybe temporarily, maybe forever.  But it’s just not sustainable.  Should I expect to have time to blog every week the rest of my life?  And if I don’t, will my memories fade away because I didn’t record them?  And will my progeny someday read this and be disappointed that the blog starts to fall apart here?  I don’t know.  But I guess I ought to just go with my instincts, and right now my instincts are telling me to hit the high points but not spend too much time on it.  Let’s see how that approach works out for us…

So last time, I mentioned that I was about to embark on digitizing my music collection.  Well I’m off and running, and it’s going even better than I hoped.  Sure, it’s taking a lot of time and will probably take several more months.  And sure, this pursuit has put a halt on my MySpace archiving project.  But it’s what I’m motivated to do at the moment, so I’m going with it.  Apparently the legality/morality of keeping a digital copy and selling the original is up for debate, so with that in mind, of course I’m only selling the things I’m not keeping a digital copy of. And I keep an eye out on Amazon to see what’s out of print and going for a high price, and I’m keeping that stuff for now. But hypothetically if everything else were to go to Amoeba, an estimated 30% of my collection I’ve gone through so far would have hypothetically netted about $750 in store credit!  Using what credit I actually have gotten, I’ve picked up (often used) CDs and artists I’d been waiting on.  My OCD about CD collecting often kept me from buying collections that were not definitive on their own, but with my new digital approach, I have no problem what collection(s) the songs came from, as for all my purposes, they all live in the same digital bucket.  And having it all digital and organized and at my fingertips is bringing me way more in touch with my collection.  I’m listening to stuff I forgot I had.  This whole thing is a win/win… win/win/win/win…

Despite my busy schedule lately, I have managed to squeeze in some time with friends.  Back to the Haight with Shel like the good old days.  There’s a Dr. Marten’s store there now that sells all manner of Docs… gold, white, powder blue.  If they were something non-leather, I’d be broke from all the shoes I’d have bought there.  Even caught some movies (Insidious scared the piss out of me for days!).  And I’ve managed to hit a few Smiths nights, a Haight Street Hop, and Booze, Broads, & Hotrods.  That’s actually not a bad list.  Now mellow out, watch this, and realize the we’re really all just clinging to a speck of dust floating through the cosmos…

Lake Tahoe Milky Way Night Time Lapse from Justin Majeczky on Vimeo.

I’ve been to a couple of great shows lately.  OMD with a bunch of good friends, and then Paul Simon at The Fillmore with mom.  The latter was a pretty special show as you might imagine.  I got the tix at face value the day they went on sale (thanks to Sus), but they were fetching upwards of $500 each on Craig’s List.  It was nice to be able to go to a show with mom.  Reminded me of doing that when I was little.  I think my first concert ever was Don Henley with her on the “End Of The Innocence” tour.  Coming up soon is Bootsy Collins at The Fillmore, and Reverend Horton Heat at The Independent.  2011 has been good for shows so far.

And it hasn’t been bad for TCB lately either.  There was a wild night playing that Smiths night at Milk Bar in San Francisco.  Though it’s a smaller place and the rain was pouring, we got a nice big crowd of die-hards who helped make the night one of our best in recent memory.  Some good greenroom stories, too.  Sacramento was fun as usual, and our Petaluma debut was interesting.  That night, I heard about how Tenacious D once opened for Super Diamond, and a young Jack Black was all over the band talking about his Neil Diamond obsession.  Not long after, Saving Silverman came out, which prominently features a fictional Neil Diamond tribute band.  Gee, I wonder where that idea came from…  Then this last weekend was a Modesto debut (the highlight of which had to be the DJ starting a song through the PA during one of our songs; not between songs, and not our first or last song… but right in the middle of a song right in the middle of our set).  Then it was Fresnope, and though the show was rocking, the next day brought me a double whammy of 1) Claim Jumper being closed permanently and 2) my car getting hit by a U-Haul just before leaving town.  But hell, I’m alive, aren’t I?  Guess things aren’t that bad.

Speaking of music, a random bitch I’ve had on my mind lately.  Anyone know what’s up with the trend of musicians naming themselves with numbers?  I don’t know who the first one to do it was, but that was probably clever at the time.  But everyone who came after… I mean, how lame is that?  After the first guy, it totally loses its cleverness and instead looks like an unoriginal gimmick.   John 5, Adam 12, Nick 13.  At least come up with a clever one like “Claude 9.”  You’re welcome.

The quote of the week comes from Virgil, as we watched Davy Jones on Pirates Of The Caribbean in a Fresno hotel last weekend:

“As an Asian, I want to eat his face.”

Home Taping Is Killing Music

15 March 2011

This week’s all about music.  And a little about pasta.

My Strippers
So as I mentioned before, after more years if frustration than I care to remember, I finally have an original project off the ground.  My new rockabilly band The Rumble Strippers has now played two shows!  The debut was at Grant & Green in North Beach.  I’d never been there, but it was an ideal place for a first show.  A small room, low pressure, but still nice.  The DIY sound situation was refreshing too.  (We’re not in Kansas anymore!)  We got a lot of great feedback, and I immediately felt the difference.  There seem to be different standards (and of course expectations) for an original band versus a tribute band.  I loved the feeling that there were no wrong answers.  TCB is like a math class, where there are right and wrong answers.  Every note of every song is predetermined, and there is a correct way to play it.  Crowds won’t like it if you deviate too much.  But this new band is more like a creative writing class.  Sure there’s a craft to it, but there’s also a lot of leeway in terms of content.  With covers, we can take any artistic license we want, and with originals… well whatever note I play is the right note.  

This last weekend we played our second show at El Rio, this time to a much bigger crowd.  Again it went over well, and my own private victory was that for the first time ever, a song I wrote was performed in public!  It’s called “Let’s Drink Alone Together” and damned if people weren’t dancing to it.  A new experience for me to be sure, and one I’ve spent many years considering.  So all in all, this thing is shaping up to be pretty exciting.  It’s not exactly Madison Square Garden, but it’s fun to be in and play to a different crowd.  They’re more forgiving and encouraging than I’m used to.  But that must partially be ‘cos they don’t know what to expect.  It’s interesting to not be 100% confident my every note is knocking socks off… which is how I usually feel (courtesy of Mr. Marr, of course).

My Smiths
Of course TCB is still doing its thing.  We’ve had a lot of shows lately, but it’s been mostly “all killer, no filler” shows where we more or less have to play the hits.  But it got us into Bimbo’s 365 again and hopefully got us on a few new radars.  It’s all been smooth sailing of course, minus a rare capo flub on “Stop Me” causing us to have to restart the song.  (Whoa, double intro… what does it mean?)  Needless to say I’m looking forward to the upcoming shows where we can play some of the deeper cuts.  This Saturday is the new “Queen Is Dead” Smiths night in the Haight, where we’ll be playing a set.  Then April and May will see some new places and some familiar ones.  Might even get “Golden Lights” in there somewhere.  And then there’s Moz’s birthday to look forward to…

Their Smiths
Last night I went out to Du Nord to see rival tribute “The Smiths Indeed” from the U.K.  I’m sure they’re very nice guys, but let’s just say they’re not much of a threat to what we do.  Their fake Morrissey is far and away the best I’ve ever seen in terms of dress and dance and charisma.  If you want someone who does the whole impersonator thing, you’ll do no better than this guy.  But as for the rest of the band… well, no contest.  I understand they play several dates a week every week and have for years.  It was not evident.  The surprise of the night came when I snuck over to the Castro Safeway to stock up on Ovaltine ($20 worth; my local Safeway has stopped carrying it during their construction!).  In line right in front of me at midnight?  Danny Glover.

Speaking of celebrities, did I ever tell you how much I wish I were Mick Ronson sometimes?

What else is going on?  Eh, all boring stuff.  I ventured into cooking.  Whipped up some whole wheat penne and added pine nuts, crushed garlic, sun dried tomatoes, capers, olive oil, basil, and feta.  Wasn’t as good as it sounds, but it’s a start.  Also, it’s been freezing in SF the past couple months.  I guess they call that “winter,” but it’s seemed especially uncomfortable.  I installed my first set of  flannel sheets since I was a teenager living at home.  What a difference!  If that’s not right bitches, I don’t know what is.

I’m about to embark on a serious undertaking.  Inspired by Shel, I am taking small steps toward digitizing my music collection to FLAC in an effort to 1) save space, 2) save money, 3) go green, and 4) become more efficient.  A lossless digital song file is 99.9% of the value I get out of buying a CD.  Why waste all the plastic which will just take up space and degrade over time anyway?  And hell, the time when CDs have any value at all is rapidly running out.  If I don’t move them soon, they’ll be landfill.  A couple of redundant external hard drives and I could have my whole music collection in a space the size of a paperback novel.  I’m on the fence, but I’m seeing a lot more pros than cons.  The major con is the time and effort to convert it all, but maybe a little at a time over the next year or so?

I realize a lot of what’s in here tonight is Facebook rehash.  What can I say?  Facebook feels fleeting.  Statuses come and go.  Disappear forever.  This feels more permanent.  Even though no one reads it anymore.

And in closing, Sleeve Face is some clever shit.

Your band sucks.

1 February 2011

Wouldn’t that be great on a t-shirt?  I’d wear that to shows all the time. 

It’s been an interesting few weeks, and I am overdue for some quiet time.  TCB played a sold out show at The Blank and then turned around to play to 350+ at Rickshaw.  There were a ton of friends at both, to the point where at Rickshaw it almost seemed like I knew everyone in the room.  Good times.  A new Smiths night also started up in the Haight called “The Queen Is Dead,” and it seems to be taking the place of the former “Louder Than Bombs” club night.  I went to this last one, and it was tremendous.  You’ll be hearing more about it soon.  Viva Haight!

Somewhere in all that mess, I snuck away for a short L.A. vacation to see Wanda Jackson and Jack White play the El Rey.  It’s a tiny place (explaining why tickets were so hard to come by).  Once we staked out a killer spot, we didn’t move around until it was time to leave.  We stood next to a nice couple of locals who took brought their teens to the show.  Total rock and roll parents.  We chatted with them for a bit until the show started.  Wanda sounded great, the band was top notch, and Jack was appropriately featured without taking anything away from Wanda.  The two of them had a fun chemistry on stage that seemed genuine.  And as expected, the high profile show in such a small venue attracted some celebs.  In the crowd, we saw Patricia Heaton and Alan Tudyk, and it sounds like Nick recognized Beck, Josh Homme, Clem Burke, Pamela Des Barres, and James Intveld.  Looks like someone posted a few songs from that show:

Other highlights of the trip included my first visit to Medieval Times, which was a total hoot and highly recommended if you’ve never been.  Basically, it’s a decent prix fixe menu that you eat while jammed together in a small indoor stadium.  You wear a paper crown and root for one of the pretend knights that battle it out in the arena.  Obviously a kids / family vacation type attraction, but whatevs.  At some point, I got in some Claim Jumper too.  A waitress there came by our table to compliment our “look” and as us about rockabilly.  Turns out she was from Chicago and also happened to be black, so I took the opportunity to in turn ask about the fashion I noticed on a lot of young black girls in Chicago (see  #4 here).  She confirmed that it’s generally referred to as the “Motown” look, and it’s quite popular there.  I wish that would catch on around here!

Incidentally, I’m typing this on my new computer, which I spent the better part of this last weekend getting up and running.  See, I’d been hobbling along on the same machine that crashed on me not once, but twice for the last seven or so years.  Just the same, the idea of moving to a new one… learning a new operating system, reinstalling all my old software (if it even still works), moving over all my stuff, getting everything reconfigured and set up just so… well, it’s a headache I was all too happy to postpone.  But rather than wait for a third crash, I figured I’d take the bull by the horns and at least do it on my own terms.  After hours of frustration and exploration, the pain is mostly behind me, and I can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that this screaming fast new PC should last me another several years.  Despite the once-a-decade hassle of reconfiguring and relearning where everything is in a new OS, I gotta admit that Windows 7 has some pretty slick UI features.  (Any idea what to do with my old machine running XP?)  And then I also finished a brand new pedal board for my new rockabilly band.  Which involved drilling actual metal!  And like, wiring stuff.  ‘Cos that’s what men do (I’m told).  We’ve got a couple of gigs in the next month or so, and I promise to share the info on us as soon as we officially “launch.”

So yeah, that was supposed to be my relaxing weekend to recuperate.  I’ll be trying again this weekend.

Oh, and by the way, your scene sucks.

Five Years Of This Charming Band: A Retrospective

31 October 2010

Just by chance, today is Halloween and also Johnny Marr’s birthday.  How many more reasons do you need to celebrate?  More for the latter, it’s a good day to finally finish and post this.  Enjoy!  (Or suffer through, as the case may be.)  Friday, November 12th, This Charming Band will be playing Café Du Nord to celebrate our anniversary.  We’ll be joined by our old friends Depeche Mode tribute “For The Masses,” who played with us many times in those first couple years.  I hope you can make it out to join us in reminiscing and reliving some fond memories.  Come party like it’s 2006 (when we were ourselves pretending it was 1986).

November 16th, 2010 will mark five years to the day since This Charming Band first took the stage.  As I look back on five years of my life, it seems like an appropriate time to sum things up, tell a few stories, and see what we’ve learned.  You’ll have to forgive me if I get a little lofty or dramatic.  What can I tell you?  I take this stuff seriously.  And apparently I have a lot to say about it.  I don’t know how it will come off to you when you read it, but I just felt like telling some back story for anyone interested.  And by the way, these are all my own thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect the feelings (or memories) of any other member of TCB, past or present.

The irony is not lost on me that we’ve now been around as long as The Smiths were, and that’s hard to accept.  Should we be proud?  Ashamed?  I’m not sure.  In those five years, TCB has gone from practicing acoustically in living rooms to headlining big venues all over the country and playing for hundreds of people at a time.  Our intentions were pure.  Our mission was simple.  But we started in a city that — unlike Los Angeles — didn’t have the automatic audience of a huge “out” Smiths fanbase.  We were going to have to carve out a niche for ourselves.  We were going to have to twist some arms and play our balls off to make people pay attention.  And to our amazement, it happened even sooner than we could have hoped.  In our time together so far, we’ve played 101 official shows, along with some radio and acoustic appearances.  Performed 67 of the Smiths’ 72 songs, as well as dozens of Morrissey solo numbers.  Had two singers, two guitarists, five bassists, and one drummer.  Visited seven states.  Stayed in more hotels than I care to remember.  With that  many shows and almost as many road trips under out collective belt, there are more fond memories and inside jokes than I could ever hope to recount here.  But I’ll do my best to give you as much as you could possibly want to know about This Charming Band.

A Brief History Of TCB
In April 2005, I happened to be looking on Craig’s List trying to find a band to join.  I was settled in the city and finally felt ready to take on a musical project.  I had never been in a band before, and there was so much I didn’t know.  I wasn’t looking for a tribute band, but I must have been searching for “Smiths” to find a project I would fit in with.  But when I saw an ad for a Smiths tribute band that was trying to start up, the wheels started turning.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  I knew in my bones that this was something San Francisco desperately needed.  I answered the ad and met up with Orlando.  Originally he wanted to play guitar and get our local Moz-alike Tom to sing.  But the way it worked out, Orlando decided to take a shot at fronting a band, and I took a shot at just being in one.  After a couple of meetings at my apartment to run through a few songs I thought I knew how to play, we found a bassist in Wally.  Super solid player, able to handle Andy Rourke’s craziness.  Not to mention the most mature and level-headed member TCB has ever had, to this day.  A few more living room sessions later, we started trying out drummers.  No luck until Nick came along.  I didn’t know it at the time — I was green after all — but Nick was a rare catch.  A real pro, lots of experience, perfect time, and encyclopedic knowledge of pop music (and culture).  Within a few weeks, we’d also unexpectedly picked up Isaac and Peter.  Isaac being a trained pianist who gave us early renditions of “Asleep” and string sections where they were called for; Peter, a second guitarist who turned out to be the author of much of the internet tablature I’d been working from!  We picked a band name, and it wasn’t long before the six of us were ready to take on the city…

Our second show was Popscene, a break which I gather is unheard of.  From there we played some smaller pubs (like our home away from home Ireland’s 32) and some bigger places like (San Jose’s Blank Club).  Even in those early days, we were fortunate to rarely have to open for anyone, or even share a bill withanyone.  It was easy to get spoiled, and the boys kept telling me not to get used to it because this was not how things normally went for a band.  I had nothing to compare it to, but I did my best to absorb the message.  Of course we did (and do) occasionally open for bigger bands at bigger venues, but it makes sense in the tribute band pecking order.  Zoo Station and Stung were good to us in those days, and we shared a lot of bigger bills with peers like For The Masses and Japanese Baby.  In just that first year, there were so many adventures.  Some unforgettable trips to SoCal.  But by our year anniversary, Isaac had left to pursue jazz (keyboardin’ in a Smiths tribute is a strange gig) and Peter had bowed out too.  This left us as a lean and mean four-piece band, and it left novice me alone to face Johnny Marr’s legacy.  In December of 2006, we played our Brixton anniversary show, recreating the Smiths’ final concert song-for-song.  It was my trial by fire to see if I could handle guitar duties alone.  I was rough in those days, no question.  I shudder to think what I sounded like.  But in any event, we were forged as a foursome and never looked back.  Just after Troubadour a month later, Wally and his voice of reason made their exit.  He recommended Cameron to us.  A nice guy and excellent bassist (who eventually went on to play with Rogue Wave).  After his departure, we took on another bassist Dave for the remainder of 2007.

Now 2007 was an interesting year for us.  By this time, we were coming into our own.  Orlando was finding his feet when it came to really working the crowd, and he knew it.  Nick was spreading his wings as a tenacious booker, getting us amazing shows and really building our success in a way that other tributes couldn’t match.  Here we were, a tribute to the relatively obscure Smiths, and we were playing shows that tributes to world famous acts couldn’t get.  I myself had played enough shows that I was gaining serious confidence.  My playing was improving all the time, and it was even getting a bit old hat for me.  We had a summer of great shows, venturing out to Vegas and Arizona and making a name for ourselves in Sacto and Fresno.  We were getting our foot in the door at big time venues like House Of Blues and Bimbo’s 365.  This was the year I started to feel like we were invincible.  We weren’t.

As 2008 got rolling, Dave departed and Cameron came back for a short while.  TCB had always had the occasional argument, but we started having some serious knock-down-drag-out fights around then.  You’ll have to wait for the “Behind The Music” to hear any of that dirt from me, but suffice it to say that we all got into it with each other for different reasons many times.  The cracks were starting to show.  We were fortunate enough to find Paul when his Joy Division tribute opened for us at Café Du Nord in May.  By July, he had cut his dreds and was playing with TCB and has been ever since.  Great player, super nice guy, and a real positive energy that we needed to balance out my stone stage-face.

Just after Paul joined us, my nerves cracked.  I barely made it through our August 2008 Slim’s show (our biggest headline in S.F. to date), and in fact we only played two more shows that year.  Things gradually picked up in 2009, but we didn’t do any real travelling again until Portland and Seattle in May.  By that time, we were back up to a good clip of shows, and hit a lot of our old stand-bys.  Still bringing out fans locally.  Still finding new hamlets to visit.  The SoCal market had cooled considerably.  Band fighting continued over 2009 and through the first half of 2010.  Ultimately, this all culminated with Orlando’s departure following our 2010 Morrissey birthday show — clearly the most significant change  to our lineup ever.  We were left with original members Nick and myself, as well as our longest-running bassist Paul.  We continue to search for our new frontman, but in the mean time we’re aided by Virgil, the excellent singer in San Diego’s Smiths tribute “Still Ill.”  We’re less tense these days, and the chemistry is stable.  And to my ears, we sound better than ever.

For all the shows we’ve played, the scores of hours spent promoting, and the thousands of people who’ve seen us, there are still many Smiths and Morrissey fans even here in San Francisco who’ve never heard of TCB.  I meet them all the time.  It’s just hard to get on their radar, I guess.  And to be fair, I guess I never really thought about tribute bands either until I joined one.  The “market” for tribute bands has ebbed and flowed in the last five years.  At the moment, the economy is sucking air, and Morrissey isn’t touring.  We’ve seen better times and worse.  But as long as you guys keep coming to see us, we’ll keep doing our best to keep the flame alive for the songs that saved all our lives.  This has been one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity each and every time I get to step on a stage and help play the music I love for the people who love it too.

Everyone has their own story, but for me, I can’t tell you what The Smiths and Morrissey meant to me.  I didn’t grow up with them, but when I did discover them, I immersed myself almost to the exclusion of all other bands.  But I thought I might be the only one.  Living where I did and with no connections to hip crowds of any ilk, my only glimpses into other fans like myself were in dim gossamers on mysterious websites.  The world of Smiths super fans seemed unreachable.  It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in Jessica that I realized maybe I wasn’t the last of my species.  She was from the O.C. and was hooked into that loose network of Smiths fandom.  And from there, I was able to branch out further and further until I found my place (such as it is) in our small community.

I imagine a lot of Smiths fans have that experience.  Feeling like they’re the only one.  And if we’re being honest with ourselves, Smiths/Moz super fans are by and large a catty/skeptical/snobby bunch.  We all feel like Morrissey somehow belongs to us a little bit more than anyone else.  Like he’s somehow speaking to me more than the guy next to me, who happens to also have a pomp and dress like me, and knows all the words, and is also singing along.  No no, somehow I’m the outsider and the insider, the one who really “gets” Moz.  But the sense of community is still here, maybe partly because that mentality works on another level to make us all feel like brothers and sisters who love Moz together against the rest of the world who doesn’t.

The way I always saw it, TCB was a band of Smiths fans for Smiths fans.  We wanted to help bring those outsiders together to find other outsiders like them.  To help gather a community in San Francisco (which the Louder Than Bombs dance night was also doing around the same time).  And even more, we wanted to try to demonstrate the fire that exists in this music when played live, to introduce the uninitiated folks (and those who never paid attention to The Smiths the first time around) to the best band that ever lived.  And we wanted to do it respectfully and withclass, so that long-time Smiths fans could relive some of the excitement of a live Smiths show.  Quality control is always key with us.  Put simply, “good enough” isn’t.  We treat this music reverently.  We’re working with a paying audience’s precious favorite songs, and we take that awesome responsibility seriously.  I don’t mean to sound like a religious zealot, but it is kinda like that.  You can still go see U2.  You can still even go see Morrissey.  If you want to go see them live, you can.  But The Smiths are gone.  And if you want to see them live, you need someone like us.  In a way, I feel like TCB is a public service.  Keeping a lost tradition alive and preaching the good word.  Bringing the message to the people.

It was also important to be humble (yes even me!), at least with respect to keeping what we’re doing here in context.  No matter how popular TCB has been or will be, what little notoriety there is to be had isn’t ours.  We are not the stars of the show.  The Smiths are the stars of the show.  People are there to enjoy the music of The Smiths and share in a group experience of celebrating it with others.  TCB is merely a vessel to try to make this happen.  Do I have pride in the TCB and the job we do?  Of course!  But I always keep in mind that for the most part no one is there to see Benjamin.  They’re there to see fake Johnny Marr, who just happens to be played by Benjamin.  (Except maybe a few friends who are actually there to see me.  :))  I have no illusions about the fact that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants here, and I only hope it’s clear that I got into it and stay with it for noble reasons.  Would I be headlining Slim’s with some shitty little original project?  Not bloody likely.  We’re extremely fortunate to get to play to the crowds we do at the venues we do.  It’s something a lot of bands never get to do, and we have The Smiths and their fans to thank.  We only hope we’ve done justice to their memory.

Of course all of the rhetoric, practice, and promotion really just comes down to one thing: the shows.  Behind the scenes, it’s arguing about the content and order of the set list.  It’s showing up early and loading in, sound checking and dealing sometimes awesome sound guys and sometimes… not.  It’s getting cleaned up and ready for the stage.  Sitting in the green room and trying to mellow out.  Watching the opening bands and monitoring the crowd.  How’s the turn out?  Are my friends here yet?  It’s the lights going down and the intro music* playing.  Nerves grabbing you, walking out to (hopefully) some cheers and an energetic crowd.  Kicking into an upbeat number to start off, and a few more after that.  Then taking it down a notch.  Peppering in the deep cuts among the hits so we don’t lose the more casual fans.  Ending the show with a few huge danceable songs, and then possibly a quiet ballad to send them home with.  (The mix-tape approach to set list making, I guess?)  It’s floodlights and flowers.  A noose for “Panic” and a picket sign for “The Queen Is Dead.”  It’s tambourines and maracas for the crowd.  It’s a crowd-controlled Kaossilator for the bridge of “Suedehead.”  It’s cupcakes for birthday shows.  It’s two and a half hours of the band playing our asses off and Orlando connecting with the crowd.  Saying we’re here for you, this isn’t our music, it’s all of our music, and this is your stage.  A whole room dancing and singing together, throwing flowers, grabbing the mic, sweating, drinking, laughing and yes even crying.  By the end of the night, people would be on stage dancing and singing along.  If there was time, we’d do our best to take requests and keep playing until the club made us stop.  We’d say hi to our friends, occasionally weather some drama or break up a fight.  We’d sheepishly ignore the flower petals and stems that had exploded all over the stage.  After packing up, we’d inevitably all end up with friends at a nearby Denny’s (or rarely, another 24 hour place), “This Charming Slam” being the preferred menu item.  (This is a “Moons Over My Hammy” sans the hammy.)  And then it was home or to the hotel.  There you go, one exciting night in the life of TCB.

*Intro music is another tricky thing.  We’ve done the Smiths’ own “Montagues And Capulets” as well as “Dance Of The Sugar Plumb Faeries.”  We’ve done Elvis and nods like Twinkle’s original “Golden Lights.”  We’ve done a relevant clip from the film “Rock Star” about tribute bands, and even Moz’s approved “Imperfect List” from the 2007 tour.  We’ve even considered making our own imperfect list naming our own enemies, but oh well.  My favorite was sadly botched during the last Slim’sshow, but we may try it again next time: kicking off the show with the full movie clip that spawned “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty” and jumping directly into a live “The Queen Is Dead.”  A clever and epic intro that we didn’t quite pull off.  Doh!

I thought about doing a timeline of significant shows and moments in the band’s history, but I think that’s maybe too much.  Instead, I’ll just mention some of my personal favorites.  Our first show was definitely our most humble.  A shared bill at El Rio that included a one-woman Huey Louis tribute called “Huey Louise,” as well as The Cock-Tees and a number of other questionable acts.  Then was Popscene which was amazing, not to mention that Aaron, Omar, and Nako were great to us and we’ve gotten to work together many times since.  I had seen The Cardigans and Loquat there the year before there, and to my suburban mind, Popscene was about the pinnacle of hip culture in S.F.  It’s where I first heard Franz Ferdinand, The Postal Service, Pulp, and many others.  Coming from where I had, to find myself on that stage was unreal.  Ireland’s 32 was always one of my favorite places to play since it was so laid back.  We made a lot of friends there, and in fact I believe that was the birth place of The Choir Boys — a lovable group of Bay Area Moz fans who have befriended and supported us over the years.  Returning to Ireland’s 32 for my 30th birthday show in 2009  was such a great idea, and it’s among my favorite TCB shows ever.  Going to SoCal that first time was probably my favorite road trip of all time.  The first night, we got to play “Suedehead” with Alain Whyte himself!  The second night was a massive 500+ person sell out at The Hully Gully (another of my favorite shows ever).  The third night and introduced us to Club London at Boardner’s (my fave place to play down there) and to the famous Moz Krew — a lovable group of SoCal fans who have given us huge support and travelled all over to see us.  San Jose’s Blank Club has been another home-away-from-home for us, and there are tons of great memories there with the South Bay’s amazing fans.  I think my favorite show there has to be the St. (Steven) Patrick’s Day show we did, where the Moz Krew showed up in green Moz Krew shirts.  They wanted “Sing Your Life” and our bassist didn’t know it.  We improvised.  The Troubadour was another big show for us, one of our first with top-notch lighting and sound.  Plus so much history at that place… that was good times.  Slim’s is the biggest place we headline in San Francisco, and of course that’s always a big event for us.  With a crowd that size, it’s hard not to have a great show.  And speaking of big crowds, I have no complaints about the few times we’ve been fortunate enough to play The House Of Blues.  We got a huge crowd at that New Wave City show for the Brixton anniversary, which was another crazy night I’ll never forget.  Playing out doors in Las Vegas was a great change of pace.  And then surprisingly, Fresno’s Club Fred is among my favorite venues we ever get to play.  The audience there is just as good as it gets in terms of love and energy.  OK, that’s probably enough.  There are just too many memories to mention.  For a while, I was in the habit of trying to chronicle the details of these shows and trips in my old blog, but it’d take forever to get through it.  You’ll have to check back on those yourself if you want the details.

As for me, remember this was my first band ever.  So I was completely green starting out and had much to learn.  I was terribly nervous before every show in the early days.  My hands would shake and seize up, which isn’t helpful for live guitar playing.  Chewing a toothpick, the blank face while playing, all of those aspects of my on-stage demeanor came from trying to zone out in an effort to calm my nerves.  Doing my best to look cool as a cucumber even though inside the panic was raging.  It was a good kind of nervous though, and of course in time it subsided almost completely.  These days, those habits have stuck with me, so that even though I’m relaxed up there, I still end up looking disinterested or even angry.  (I promise, I’m not!)

What else?  I do my best to not wear the same shirt to a show ever if possible, or at least never to the same venue twice.  Always a darker color so as to hide sweat.  That’s all Sus’ influence.  I know tee-shirts aren’t exactly dressy, but the hidden reason is that I need something with a smooth front (no buttons) so I don’t scratch up my guitars.  That’s the real story behind it.  Though in all these shows, I’ve gotten a few nicks and scratches on some of my most precious guitars (none my fault, sadly!).  I even had someone accidentally break the head off of my #1 guitar earlier this year!  Experiences like that, painful as they were, have helped me relax a little bit about damage to my gear.  It’s just a fact of life I guess.  Along the way, I sure received an education in equipment.  You can see in the picture below (on the beloved Ireland’s 32 “raft” stage), I started out using a pair of turquoise Epiphone Casinos — which at the time I thought was a pretty slick signature look, ha ha!  (The aforementioned danger of damage is exactly why you never see me with it these days… my remaining Casino took a beating and now it’s not allowed on stage anymore.)  Over the years, I’ve tried many guitars, amps, and pedals as I’ve honed my sound.  I’ve also improved my playing quite a bit (I hope), and become more comfortable on stage as I mentioned.  It all came together in the end, didn’t it?  What an arc from the nervous little me of 2005 to the veteran I am now, with monster tone and serious six-string expertise.  Not.  :)

In terms of theme shows, we’ve had a few.  We’ve done “album” shows for The Smiths (eponymous), Meat Is Murder, and Strangeways, Here We Come.  The idea always sounds good, but in practice, I think lots of people have trouble sitting through all the less popular album tracks.  We did a rockabilly show where we played an entire set of all and only rockabilly-influenced Smiths and Morrissey tunes.  We did a little acoustic show which included some different takes on songs (my favorite being our bossanova Bigmouth immortalized here).  My favorite theme show though has to be our December 2006 New Wave City event where we celebrated/mourned the 20th anniversary of The Smiths’ last ever concert at the Brixton Academy on 12/12/86; we played their exact set list from that night.  There have also been some other themes we’ve kicked around but have yet to do, such as a chronological night that follows the history of the Smiths and Morrisseysolo, hitting the high points and performed in chronological order.  We thought about a live karaoke night where we have a bunch of songs ready and people from the crowd sign up and sing for or with us.  We considered an outdoor “tribute-palooza” where we’d gather the best and brightest tributes we know to play an all day event maybe in Dolores Park or something.  Could be free or supported by vendors maybe?  Oh, and then there’s my secret plan to have a marathon of either a Fri/Sat/Sun night trio or a three consecutive weekend residency where we play one set of 24 songs each night, adding up to all 72 Smiths songs.  Can you imagine playing The Smiths’ entire catalog live in one weekend?  No?  Too much?  Some ideas are bigger than others.

We’ve had guest musicians to add cello here or keys there.  We’ve brought back former members like Peter and Wally to join us for “reunion” shows.  We’ve had merch on rare occasions, which is to say we’ve made large orders of green/pink shirts and later brown/orange shirts but been so lazy about selling them that over time we’d just give most of them away.  The band and a few close friends also have limited edition black/white and black/pink shirts.  Each had the TCB logo on the front and a different lyric on the back.  But yeah, we were never really a merch band.  Let’s see, we’ve raffled off a Morrissey painting from one of our flyers.  Once upon a time, we’d meant to do a promo video to parody the video for “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before.”  We were all going to dress up in hats and glasses like Orlando and follow him around on bicycles.  I think it would have been hilarious, but since he’s no longer with us, I don’t see that happening.

We have some massive shows these days, big sell outs, tons of fun.  But I do sometimes miss some of the shows in the good old days.  There seemed to be a golden era of tributes around 2006-2008 where people were discovering it for the first time and we could do no wrong.  Things are different now.  Could be the economy.  Could be a reduced public interest in Morrissey for the moment.  There is more competition for us out there.  We can’t play L.A.  without some other Smiths tribute playing the same night across town.  Its’ all slowed down a bit.  And I guess things aren’t as new to me as they were in that era.  At that time, every show was such a brand new and mystical experience for me.  Every show was prom night.  Things are different now of course, but different isn’t always bad.  Our mission remains the same, and I’m confident that we’re still helping to bring the Smiths to a new audience.

One of the most valuable things that has come out of This Charming Band is the amount of quality people we’ve met.  My bandmates were new friends themselves, then I met their friends.  And then every show we’d meet new people.  All of them Smiths fans.  I guess maybe that’s what being in a band is always like, but again I didn’t know that.  It just seemed like I was meeting new people all the time which for a shy boy like me was quite a switch.  This holds true even today, and I continue to marvel at what a great way it’s been to socialize.

I’m tempted to start listing off all the great friends I’ve made directly or indirectly from my relationship with TCB, and though it would include some of my closest friends to this day, I know I would inevitably forget dozens and then feel like a jerk.  So my blanket statement is: you know who you are, and I’m glad that because of TCB or otherwise, you came into my life.  Bay Area fans (including The Choir Boys), SoCal fans (including The Moz Krew), and everyone else… thank you!

But there are two people who require special mention.  Sus and Shel came to our third show (at Edinburgh Castle, not one of our best), at which time I met Sus.  Then our next show (at Blank Club) I met Shel officially.  The two of them went on to attend nearly every one of our shows up through 2009, present at something like 78 of our first 80 shows (I forget the exact figure, but that’s not far off).  One or both of them travelled with us to SoCal many times, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Portland, Seattle, Reno, and more.  It just doesn’t feel like a TCB show unless I look out and see them in the crowd.  They’ve become two of my closest friends, above and beyond the endless support they’ve given to the band.  Tireless advocates, helping us spread the word, bring people in, make travel arrangements, and even feed us.  Sus has captured video of almost every song from every show we’ve ever played including nearly every video you see of us on YouTube.  Shel’s photography skills have helped us capture so many moment on stage and off over the years and make up almost every picture you see on our website.  (They’ve done all this for free.)  There have been countless post-show Denny’s meals.  And beyond just our band, there have been untold concert outings, movie outings, roadtrips, Morrissey shows, brunches… well, one paragraph isn’t nearly enough to chronicle all they’ve meant to me and to TCB over the years.  They’re woven tightly into our history.  Thank you both for all you’ve done and for being such a big part of my life these last five years.

I remember the second TCB show ever.  We were at Popscene, a club which at the time intimidated me as it was.  Add to that it was TCB’s second show ever.  It was my second time on stage ever.  And after having practiced all these songs with Peter on second guitar, for some reason he couldn’t make it, so I’d be playing alone.  We took the stage, and I was plugging in my guitar, double checking my cables and all, and a couple of guys about my age came and stood directly in front of me.  They crossed their arms and one of them said, “alright, let’s see it.”

That experience helped form and now sums up my attitude about playing the music of The Smiths.  Most people are skeptical of tribute bands in general, and snobby Smiths fans especially so.  If you play the guitar and you like The Smiths, then no doubt you’ve spent some time trying to work out a few of Johnny Marr’s tricks.  And if you’re like most people, you eventually throw up your hands and give up.  I did, several times.  It’s hard and unusual music to figure out, and there are few guides out there to give you a starting point.  And even those are mostly wrong it turns out.  So with all this in mind, I try to imagine our audience.  I think to myself, if I were out there, what would I be focusing on?  And I realized that I’d be watching the guitarist and waiting to see how far he got learning before giving up.  I’m sure the reality is there are maybe one or two guys in the crowd at any given TCB show that actually fall into this camp, but those are the guys that I’m personally trying to win over.  Those are the guys whose respect I’m trying to earn.  The guys who know guitar and know The Smiths, and know what it means to get this stuff right.  The guys who inevitably aren’t expecting much from any Johnny faker, and instead get damn near the real deal.  Or at least that’s what I’m shooting for.

I’ve spent more hours of my life than I care to admit analyzing Smiths songs and the guitar work of one Johnny Marr.  Don’t get me wrong, every song was a labor of love.  I won’t bore you with the process (which I discussed at length on Morrissey-Solo once, if you care), but I’ll just say that each song involves a lot of research in many areas (books, articles, interviews), as well as a lot of time spent poring over studio and live bootleg audio and video.  We’re talking hours and days for some songs.  All in the name of absolute accuracy.  Friends have pointed out that unless you’re a guitarist and super fan, most of our audience isn’t going to be able to tell the difference between my 100% accurate version and some other band’s 85% accurate version.  And that might be true.  So then why bother with all those details if it’s lost on most of the crowd anyway?  In short, because these songs deserve it, and because the details do matter.  If I were in a tribute for virtually any other band, sure, who cares?  But this is The Smiths.  Every note is golden.  The guitar work of Johnny Marr is like a magic spell.  And if you want the spell to work right, you have to get every little word right.  I still believe that even if the crowd at large can’t put their finger on it, the overall effect of TCB is more impactful because of that attention to detail.  And I admit my ego is involved in this quest too.  It’s important to me to feel like I’ve got these songs down.  Not just “close enough,” but seriously note-for-note.  That’s one of the few areas in my life where I have a competitive streak.  I want to know that I’m doing my job here better than anyone.  And if you think you know of a fake Johnny Marr in any other tribute band or YouTube video who’s more accurate than I am, I’d like to know about it.  :)

At the time of me writing this, I have learned and deciphered (to my exacting standards) 70½ of the 72 Smiths songs and will probably finish off by the end of the year.  I don’t know what I’ll do after that.  My compulsion will be fulfilled.  What then?  Even though it was a huge time commitment, it’s made me a better player by leaps and bounds.  Part of that is the playing regularly with the band, but most of it is all the technique and tricks that I’ve picked up from trying to be Johnny Marr.  And this quest even led me to learn piano from scratch!  In fact the only three songs I know on piano are Asleep, A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours, and Oscillate Wildly.  And though I am completely untrained, I still strive (and hopefully achieve) note-for-note accuracy even on the ivories.  Amazing, but true.

No discussion of learning Smiths songs would be complete without a tip of the hat to Peter, former guitarist with TCB.  He is the only person I know who shares this Johnny accuracy madness with me, and that we happen to live in the same city is uncanny.  I privately doubt there is anyone on the planet who knows some of this stuff better than Johnny, Peter, and I.  (Damn, there’s that ego again.  Sorry!)  Over the years, we’ve traded hundreds of emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings to argue over open B’s vs. fretted B’s, and all other manner of minutiae concerning Smiths recordings.  I bet Johnny himself didn’t give as much thought to some of his own slides and ghost notes as Peter and I have.  Seriously, no compromises.  Someday when I’m out of the tribute circuit and no longer consider them trade secrets, Peter and I will combine our notes and publish to the world our meticulous transcriptions.  More often than not, whatever I’m playing was the result of a combined research effort by both of us, so he is due half the credit.  Thanks for all the years of friendship and consultation, Peter!

It came at a price though.  Learning and deconstructing Smiths songs to the extent I have is a little like looking behind the Wizard Of Oz’s curtain.  Before TCB, I would listen to a Smiths song and, as a novice guitarist, be absolutely baffled by what I was hearing.  My ears couldn’t make sense of it.  It didn’t sound possible.  It was this incomprehensible magic, right in my ear holes you understand.  I don’t know what made me think I could ever recreate that.  The ego of my 20’s I guess.  But in time, little by little, I started to unravel those mysteries.  In an effort to understand, and from a desperate desire to emulate, I dissected those songs in excruciating detail, one by one.  And in the end, yeah I can play them.  And I’m proud of that of course.  But when I listen to a Smiths song now, I don’t hear it the way I used to.  In the same way a magic trick isn’t the same after you know how it’s done.  I still love those songs.  I just appreciate them in a different way now.  But sometimes I miss what it felt like to hear “This Charming Man” and want to just put down my guitar forever.

Actually, I should add to all of that — and Peter will attest — that in truth this is a never-ending journey.  No one ever really knows every little part of a Smiths song completely.  I don’t purport to have Johnny Marr all figured out by any stretch.  There’s always a note or a part to refine and argue about.  Until we can lock Johnny in a room and make him tell us all his secrets, there will be no shortage of work to be done learning Smiths songs.

Morrissey’s solo work was a different animal.  With Johnny, after learning enough of his songs, I started to feel like I have gotten into his head a little bit.  I kinda know some of his tricks and could anticipate certain things when learning a new song.  But with Moz solo, there were so many different writers and guitarists to contend with.  The music is less complicated and easier to work out, but it almost always requires two guitars to execute appropriately (as opposed to Smiths stuff where Johnny wrote guitar parts with a “one man orchestra” approach).  I love Morrissey solo stuff too, and there have been some killer guitar parts no doubt, but it doesn’t always have the same magic of The Smiths.  And in general, I was often less jazzed about the task of learning a new Moz tune than I would be taking on something new from The Smiths.  Interestingly though, I found that dissecting and learning a Moz solo song would typically give me a whole new appreciation for it.  I can’t tell you how many times I started loving a song only after I learned to play it.  Contrast that with what I just said about The Smiths and killing the magic.  But that’s how it goes.

On Being Clever
If you know me, you know how much I value cleverness above all else.  That theme crops up at a few different points in this retrospective, but I wanted to focus here on just the music.  I’m always pushing for ways we can do something special for each song, even if it’s something that only the most die-hard Smiths fans will pick up on.  In general terms, it could be that the chorus was played slightly different on the album than it was on the Peel Session / Hatful Of Hollow version.  So I might alternate, playing the “album” version the first chorus and the “Hatful” version on the second chorus.  Little things like that to show that I’ve got all the bases covered.  Sometimes we do the “live” versions of songs, and sometimes we stick to the studio.  Usually the live version’s influence just shows up in how we intro and/or outro the song (too many of those to name), but there are tracks like The Draize Train, Meat Is Murder, and Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others where we pretty much just mimic the live version start to finish.  We’d do the medleys The Smiths did like London / Miserable Lie, Rubber Ring / What She Said, His Latest Flame / Rusholme Ruffians, and even Ouija Board / November Spawned A Monster for Mozsolo.  Then we also had some experimental medleys like throwing in Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” into the middle of Sweet And Tender Hooligan or Chic’s “Good Times” into Barbarism Begins At Home.  We started and ended songs with the appropriate sound samples (the Salvation Army Band on Sheila Take A Bow, the animal cries on Meat Is Murder, etc.).  And in case you missed them when we played, here are a few of the more obscure nods we’ve snuck in over the years:

  1. Back To The Old House — This was always a hybrid of the studio, radio session, and live bootleg versions, all of which had significantly different picking patterns.
  2. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle — We’d start off playing it straight like the album, but quickly jump in to the completely different original version from the Troy Tate sessions, which is rare even by Troy Tate bootleg standards.
  3. Jeane — For a brief period of just a handful of live shows, Johnny played The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” riff in the bridge.  I do that too.
  4. Miserable Lie — During the Meat Is Murder tour, Johnny added a pretty little descending line to the intro.  We do that too.
  5. Pretty Girls Make Graves — We play the bouncier Troy Tate version, which is easier to find now but was still a rarity when we started playing it.
  6. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out — On  rare occasions, we’ve added the line “there’s a light in your eye and it never goes out,” which we got from an early demo version of this song where Morrissey was more explicit about its meaning.

There are other things we’ve intended to do, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  The next time we play “Asleep,” I’ve got part of the original full sound clip that “you are sleeping; you do not want to believe” comes from, which should make a stellar intro.  At some point I’d like to do the original intro to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”  Then there’s an extra verse in a long lost demo of “Paint A Vulgar Picture” that would be nice to slip in (as it explains the title of the song).  When we get around to doing “Wonderful Woman,” it might be fun to perform it a few times with its original lyrics as “What Do You See In Him?”  And given its genesis, “Panic” is just begging to have a few lines of “Metal Guru” added.

The old me would have been paranoid about our competition stealing these ideas (as they have others in the past), but at this point, I say fuck it.  I don’t have anything to prove anymore.  And if you’re a rival about to nick one of these ideas for your own band… well you and I both know where you got it, don’t we?

Creating our flyers is work to be sure, but doing them is also one of my favorites on the (surprisingly long) list of “all the things you have to do to keep a band going other than just play music.”  Between the logo and the flyers, I always felt like TCB had a recognizable brand.  Clearly the main influence is the body of Smiths single and album covers.  We’ve tried to glean some of the class and relative obscurity of those Morrissey-designed sleeves, choosing pictures that capture a poignant moment, using people that meant something to Morrissey or meant something to us.  And there were subtle nods to those of you who looked deeper.  Like a boxing Elvis for our big Troubadour show in the heart of our competition’s territory (here).  The full image from Morrissey’s “Interlude” single for our show with a Siouxsie tribute (here).  Morrissey’s original choice for “The Headmaster Ritual” single which graced our last Café Du Nord flyer (here).  A quiet tribute to Dennis Hopper, using a picture he took himself, which you may also recognize from a certain singles compilation (here).  For adjacent shows and mini-tours, we’d recolor the same image or use complimentary halves of one image, not unlike The Smiths did with their singles.

Somewhere along the line, I started including song lyrics which struck me as somehow fitting for each picture.  Innocuous enough, but I’ll confess that they often doubled as vague statements about what was going on in my life at the time, or comments on memories associated with that city, or even occasional indirect missives to certain people I know.  And on rare occasions, it was all three.  In addition, I tried my best to never reuse the exact same color scheme on any flyer, and in 101 shows, I think I’ve succeeded so far.  But show #102 is our five year anniversary, and so I specifically revived the colors from our first flyer.  (Another subtlety that no one but me likely noticed or cared about, ha!)  Anyway, I hope what we’ve ended up with is a style that’s aesthetically pleasing, decidedly “Smiths,” but also recognizably “us.”  (And in fact we have seen that TCB style imitated — to put it lightly — on several occasions in other tribute bands’ flyers, websites, and artwork.  But a great man once said “genius steals,” right?)  In the last year or so, we’ve moved to a new format which is a little easier to work with, is more standardized, and leverages our full logo… but retains the essence of the early flyers.

Along the way, there have also been a number of guest flyers.  In the early days, a handful were well done by Peter, in a similar Smiths-esque style.  Nick’s brainchild was the Manchester / Sgt. Pepper tribute for our Rickshaw Stop show (here), which has too many sly references to list, but have a look.  Can you name everyone and everything in that picture?  Then for our big Slim’s shows the past few years, we’ve brought in such ringers as Jenny Wehrt and even R. Black (here) — which to me was just the coolest thing ever.  I’d long been a big fan of concert poster art.  I’ve got them hanging in my house.  I’ve collected many books on the subject.  But to see our band’s name on these professional flyers by a respected artist… little old us… well, it was one of the many “I never thought I’d be here” moments that color my whole experience with TCB.  That artwork later adorned one of Nick’s bass drum heads, succeeding the previous TCB logo one.

When we were first starting out, we were aware of a few of the big Smiths tribute bands out there.  We knew we were upstarts, but we had the idea that we could do a better job than what we’d seen.  But the intent was always to be friendly with the “competition” since we all presumably have the same goal.  There’s no reason to fight each other.  Hell, we might even find ways to work together, or at least keep a positive relationship.  We reached out on several occasions and got no response.  And in time, we heard things.  Smiths fandom is a small community, and we share a lot of the same friends.  We work with the same bands, clubs, and bookers.  The same fans that see and talk to them also see and talk to us.  It became clear in no uncertain terms that we — and perhaps all newcomers — were not welcome by the competition.  That there was a sense of entitlement that left no room for any other Smiths tributes in California.  Aside from the issue of who the better band is, it’s just the attitude that kills me.  I would (and have) happily befriended any other tribute out there doing their best, be they better or worse than TCB.  But the attitude of entitlement when this music doesn’t “belong” to any of us, it boggles my mind.  I can’t and won’t recount all of the peculiar run-ins we’ve had both directly and indirectly with a certain established tribute band to the south, but I feel confident in saying that in my experience they appear to be every bit the bores people paint them as.  At least such fans as have not drank the proverbial Kool-Aid.

Now I’ve written and said much over the years on this topic.  Often in searing indictments against other Smiths tributes that I feel take their audiences for granted, honor themselves above The Smiths, and generally fail to treat the music with the respect it deserves.  Those that seem to see themselves as above their fans… instead of united among their fans in the greater love of The Smiths.  I’ve long said that if I felt the existing tribute bands had been doing it right, I’d be going to their shows instead of playing my own.  I guess I was always the militant member of TCB.  Our ministry of defense, as it were.  I wrote in many old blogs and Moz-Solo and its forums discussing various angles of my views on all of this stuff.  It’s tempting, but I won’t try to dig them all up now, or even try to quote from them as I don’t know if I even really feel the same these days.  But you can go find them if you’re interested.  I think I made a pretty strong argument on those occasions.  You can see, even here I couldn’t resist taking a few shots.  I’m only human.  But I’m also old and tired, and I care less about what people think.  People are free to prefer the lesser band if they so choose.  :)

TCB always tried to focus on the music and the shared experience with the audience.  We didn’t get caught up in the dress up component, so there was no Morrissey drag involved.  That aspect seems to be the main focus for some other bands, perhaps at the expense of the music.  Some people liked that we didn’t dress up, that it gave us credibility and kept us from being silly.  Others missed that aspect and thought we looked silly because we weren’t dressed up.  Whatever our formula, it seemed to work for us.  We were able to connect with fans in a way I would have never thought possible.  From my perspective, it seems like we blazed some trails with respect to that audience participation, our attention to detail, even our flyers and website.  Thanks to Nick, we’d travel to all corners.  Towns and venues that no tributes played, we would go there and carve out an audience.  We’d ferret out the Smiths fans hiding in the woodwork.  And before long, other tribute bands (Smiths and otherwise) would start trying to get in there too.  That must sound pretty pompous to make all these claims, but I’m just telling you what I saw.  They’d try to force the crowd interaction that developed organically for us.  They’d follow us to the venues we “discovered.”  They’d try to devise their own artificial “army” in a Petri dish to match the Choir Boys and Moz Krew that just happened naturally at our shows (though those groups happened on their own and were not “ours”).  Their guitarists would watch our hands.  You get the picture.  The old guard trying to co-opt the fresh ideas of new blood.  I guess if nothing else, I think we made everyone up their game.

Final Thoughts
If you actually read this whole retrospective, bless you.  I had no idea it would end up so long.  Hope it was worth it.  :)

TCB may have saved my life.  Maybe that’s dramatic, but I think it’s true.  Where I grew up, there wasn’t a scene of any sort, or at least none that I was hooked into.  All the cool clubs and cool kids you all have grown up with… I mean, I liked good music I think, but I was pretty alone in my little world.  I moved to San Francisco with my best friend, and didn’t branch out much.  A year later, he left the country and I was facing a potentially lonely existence in a big city where I knew almost no one.  That’s the exact moment TCB came into my life, and not only did it help to open me up, but it gave me an opportunity to meet a number of quality people with similar interests.  Many of my closest friends have come from my relationship with this band.  Without it, who knows how long this introvert would have lasted in S.F.?  I may have moved back to the ‘burbs, never to be heard from again.

Being in a band is funny.  I used to go see live music and the people on stage appeared to me as untouchable.  I never thought I would ever get there.  What magical creatures must these people be to be worthy of taking the stage and having all these people come to see them?  Somehow in the last five years, I have ended up on the other side of that looking glass.  It has its highs and lows and sacrifices.  I’ve spent Saturday nights on stage at The House Of Blues, and I’ve spent Saturday nights at home with a guitar, a Smiths bootleg, and a notepad.  And it’s changed the way I watch a show.  I go see someone at The Fillmore and I look at them like a colleague more than anything else.  They’re just people.  They’re arguing about set lists and dealing with crappy sound guys and looking for water in a dirty green room just like me.  So I guess it killed some of the magic for me there too, but that one I don’t mind.

Things I could have never imagined have happened to me directly or indirectly through TCB.  I’ve gotten to play venues and even turn down (!) venues I used to see my heroes play at.  I’ve seen Morrissey front and center, shaken his hand, been given his microphone, appeared in his video, and owned a shirt scrap.  I’ve shaken Johnny Marr’s own hand, stolen his pick, and accused him of making his songs too hard.  I’ve played a song on stage with Alain Whyte and met Boz Boorer in a casino after a show.  Hung out a bit with Gary Day.  A recording I played on appears on a CD you can buy at Amazon and Amoeba alike (which reminds me, somewhere there is an mp3 of 3/4 beat “sea shanty” outtake version of TCB doing “Hand In Glove” which you will probably never get to hear).  Anyway, I don’t mean all that as a bunch of name-dropping or bragging at all, but I want to illustrate the stark contrast.  In just over five years, I went from being a secret Smiths fan who felt more or less alone in that, to joining a community I never knew existed and meeting heroes that may as well have been unicorns to me before.  So whatever magic I may have lost along the way, I got back in spades.  I became, in my own awkward way, one of the cool kids.

I’ve got so many wonderful memories of playing shows, hanging out with the band, travelling, and making great friends.  It’s an absolute honor to play this music, and I can’t thank enough all of you who made it possible… bandmates past and present, friends who supported us every step of the way, and most of all the fans who love this music as much as we do and have found our efforts worthy of their time and money for the past five years.  The queen is dead.  Long live The Smiths.

The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Fresno

20 October 2010

Another quick check in, kids.  I keep getting behind on writing here, and then you just get a theme-less mass update about a bunch of random stuff.  Sorry about that.  Could it be that I’m just running out of steam on this thing?  Wouldn’t that be something.

There have been a few great shows lately, such as The Drums at The Independent, which also introduced me to Surfer Blood.  Then I hit a couple stops on the indie-bands-I-really-liked-in-the-mid-2000’s-but-never-got-around-to-seeing-live tour, including Arcade Fire at The Greek in Berkeley and Interpol at the new Fox Theater in Oakland… both great shows!

Other than that, I continue to sort through my living room full of storage unit clutter.  It’s taking longer than expected, but I’ve also found some unexpected treasures.  I’ll write about all that when I’m done with it all.  Let’s see… I got my first “24 hour bug” which resulted in me being completely bed-ridden for a full day, too weak to eat or drink.  Then it was almost completely gone the next day.  Very strange.  Oh, and I attended one of the more interesting weddings I’ve ever been to.  Held at the DNA Lounge, the wedding of Sparkly and Bones was more a theatrical and produced nuptial even than I was expecting.  It was not unlike a Hubba Hubba Revue, but with cake.  Fun stuff, and huzzah for the happy couple!  My attendance (as well as Nick’s and Charlene’s) was immortalized in the upstairs photo-booth run by John Adams:

This Charming Band had a pair of central California shows this last weekend.  A road trip with the boys, who were all obsessed with quoting “Gimme Pizza” all weekend.  First, it was out to sweltering Bako, and later Zingo’s truck stop for dinner.  Again, we stayed in the swanky Padre Hotel, and for whatever reason, this time I got much less of a “Jersey Shore of the West” vibe from it.  Then it was off to tropical Fresno, where not only did we get to play our beloved Club Fred, but we also made the traditional pilgrimage to Claim Jumper.  Not to mention dinner at the highly-recommended New Stars vegetarian restaurant.  I had orange “chicken” for the first time since going vegetarian, and it was delish!  Along with several other items we shared.  I hear they’re moving to Davis though, so beware!  Something else too… during that long drive on Highway 99, I kinda found myself wanting to road trip along there for a few days and stay in a bunch of those creepy roadside motels.  Is that weird?  My whole thing is just that whenever I’m out in that rural area, I wonder what it would be like to live in one of those farmland hovels on the side of the road or even in one of the nice ranch houses. What is that life like?  I think those Bates Motels and spending several days in the middle of nowhere is as close as I’ll ever get.  Anyone care to join?

TCB’s five year anniversary show is coming up on 11/12, and I definitely have some thoughts to share on the last five years with this band.  It’s coming soon, I promise.  Until next time…

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

— Philo of Alexandria

Just Keeping The Population Down

17 September 2010

Have I mentioned how much I love love love the fog?  San Francisco’s Indian summer fog has arrived, and not a moment too soon.  It’s half the reason I live where I live.

Damn, Gina… I haven’t posted anything on here in over a month!  What can I say?  I go through spells of not having anything interesting to share (assuming I ever do).  It’s not that I haven’t been busy.  If anything, maybe too busy.  I figured I ought to at least check in with you, though.

Been to a bunch of great shows and events the last month or two.  Crowded House at the Warfield, The Blasters, Reverend Horton Heat’s 25th anniversary show at The Fillmore (filmed for a DVD), Wicked with Shel, Conan O’Brien live, disco dancing in stretchy gold bell-bottoms and white platforms, and Phantom Of The Paradise (spawning a minor obsession).  Had a couple of fun TCB shows in San Jose and Sacramento, where we got to debut “The Draize Train” and I got to go all guitar hero.  Got on a go-kart for the first time in over a decade, which was way more fun than I expected.  Got hit with a nasty computer virus (which I’m normally ultra-vigilant about).  There may have been more exciting events of note.  What am I forgetting?

Oh, and I finally finished watching the full Brisco County, Jr. series I remember from my youth.  Such a good show!  Such a tragedy it was only around one season (1993/94).  A quirky, sci-fi western with the incomparable Bruce Campbell, the late Julius Carry (a.k.a. Sho’nuff), and the delicious Kelly Rutherford… all written by the guy who went on to produce “Lost.”  I’m not a big DVD watcher, so this was an accomplishment for me.  Let me know if you want to borrow it.  ;)

Coming up, I’ve got a few weddings to go to, including one this weekend.  Friends which also happen to be exes.  By this time next month, the clear majority of my exes will be married, if the hitched don’t already make up the majority.  It’s too depressing to do the math, but I’m pretty sure.  They’re all breeding too, or will be soon.  Good for them.  I won’t lie… it does make me feel behind the curve a bit.  I am now older than my dad was when I myself, the youngest, was born.  I’m used to feeling, frankly, more mature than most people my age (which could be horsefeathers, but hey, it’s how I feel).  Settling down is the one area where I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on something essential.  I know there’s no “right” answer or path I have to take in life, but did I somehow fall behind my peers here?  Do they all know something I don’t know?  Or is it vice versa?  Much to ponder.

In lighter news, I’m also going to clean out my storage unit once and for all this weekend.  That means a pile of dusty crap on my living room floor for a few weeks while I sort it all out, but I think I’ve at least got a plan now.  If you have little ones who might be in the market for free toys from the 80’s and early 90’s, be sure to let me know.  It’s almost all gonna be up for giveaway.

Lots of stuff on the horizon.  TCB has a few shows in central CA in October, starting out on the tropical shores of Bakersfield (10/15) and ending in giddy Fresno (10/16).  By then, I should have my new signature guitar picks in use, woo hoo!  Then November will mark TCB’s 5th anniversary!  There’s a good chance we’ll be doing something in SF to celebrate that, so stay tuned.  I think I’ll need to write something about that, you know, looking back on the last five years and all.  And if all that weren’t enough, I’ve started playing with a few different original bands — one on the Smiths side of things, the other a rockabilly band — so we’ll see where those go.

OK, I think we’re sufficiently caught up.  Onward and upward…

… in which I see the world!

21 June 2010

And by “world,” of course I mean “Bakersfield.”

Well, it seems Old Man Hudson’s birthday is coming up.  And what better way to celebrate than to relive some of my fondest memories of the few decades?  By which of course I mean running down the last few TCB shows…

Bakersfield / Fresno
It’s been over a month now, so my memories are fading.  I meant to write about this earlier, but alas.  That Bako/Fresno weekend was a hell of a trip.  I drove out to pick Nick up at the farm and got the whole tour, goats and all.  Loved it.  Saw a bunch of meerkat-looking things on the side of the freeway just standing and watching cars drive by.  (This was a little north of Morgan Hill on 101.)  Blazing hot Bakersfield, as a town, was interesting.  We stayed at the newly renovated Padre Hotel, and though it was pricey, it was totally worth it.  I wish we had more time there, because it was pseudo-Vegas and gaudy, but undeniably comfortable.  One of the nicer rooms I’ve been in, honestly.  Downstairs was a different story, because it was packed to the gills with locals.  The prevailing style and attitude of the town was as douchey as I expected.  A lot of big pickup trucks, awful club clothes, and general meathead-ery.  Like our own West Coast Jersey Shore kinda.  The overall effect was not unlike Biff’s casino in Back To The Future II’s alternate 1985.  There’s just a weird vibe in that city.  But that doesn’t apply to everyone.  We had a good crowd at Fishlips, and after a little while, we even got some of that seated room up dancing.

On the way out of town, we visited Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace museum and had Macaroni Grill for the first time in years.  I myself even made a detour to see C-Po in Visalia, tucked almost in the shadow of what I think were the Sequoia National Park mountains.  Saw the Moz-friendly Velouria Records.  The place we played in Fresno (the all ages Starline) was actually great, and the show itself was probably the best of the last few months.  The crowd was way into it.  Nick rocked his electronic drum-kit.  I joined For The Masses for “Personal Jesus.”  I’m hoping we get to play there again.  Have I mentioned how much I love playing Fresno?  That town just fits us!

And so does its Claim Jumper, which of course we hit the next morning.  So yeah, great trip.  Special thanks to For The Masses.  I’m so glad they’re back together.  Such nice guys, and they sound amazing.  That “Pain That I’m Used To” intro gives me chills.  The shows were fun, had some side adventures, and saw a lot of California roads I’d never driven on before.  Me gusta!

Slim’s (San Francisco)
The Slim’s Moz birthday show was another huge night, with 450+ in attendance.  Fascination Street’s San Francisco debut went every bit as well as we all expected.  I’m sure they’ll be back soon.  Love Vigilantes put on a great set, and TCB overcame several obstacles to have a killer show.  We had to cut some songs, our big intro video plans were botched at the last minute, ans some other drama too.  My brand new Les Paul got a big gash in it at some point during the evening, but I didn’t see it happen.  But despite it all, it was good times.  The Jenny Wehrt raffle situation went over well, and I think she sold all of the paintings she brought.  Hope to have her back next year!  I’m telling you Bay Area folks, our annual Slim’s show is the one not to miss.  It’s been pretty consistently epic if I do say so myself.  :)

It was always going to be a quick trip.  Barely 24 hours, but in that time, holy shit did we eat some good food.  In just one day, we accidentally found Beth’s Cafe which turned out to be some hip locals place.  Among other things, I had the best blueberry muffin.  So good in fact that I assumed it would be the culinary highlight of the trip.  How wrong I was.  Before the show was a delicious arugula salad with chevre and pistachios.  Then after the show, we were looking for a 24 hour place.  A punk rock girl at the venue directed us to The Night Kitchen, a place so hip that no one we asked on the street could help us find it… despite us thrice circling and asking around on the very block it’s located on.  We eventually found it, and with it the true culinary highlight of the trip.  Everything we had was amazing, but the prize goes to the fried cheese curds.  Delicious and revolting at the same time.  Picture bits of fried mozzarella sticks where the batter is like salty donut batter.  My mouth said yes, but my conscience said no.  Whew!  OK, so then the next day we hit up Luna Park, and with a few hours to kill before heading home, a waitress suggested Full Tilt in White Center.  This is a homemade ice cream parlor (that serves beer floats) and has old arcade and pinball games.  (Operation Wolf!)  Despite being stuffed from Luna Park, I managed to squeeze in some salted caramel ice cream.

Sorry for “fooding out” there, but believe me, this trip warrants it.  Now, the Yang to that good food Yin was, without question, our dirty hotel in the meth part of town.  Let’s just say I chose to lay down some towels to avoid too much contact with the sheets.  The show itself at Tractor Tavern was great!  We played solidly and drew a big and fun crowd.  Our friend and fill-in singer Virgil helped us out and did an amazing job, with some real vocal chops and showmanship.  A total success!

I’ll leave you with some new music.  When I was in Chicago a while back, I heard a song playing in the background while checking out some antique shop.  Mainly I noticed the glammy guitar tone, and I knew I had to find out what it was.  Turns out it was — quite unexpectedly — Monsters Of Folk.  And that killer guitar work was not at all representative of the rest of the album.  But just the same, it ended up being a great find, and believe that I am no fan of most modern folk music.  My assessment?  A lot of the singing reminds me of Yes.  I hear a Simon & Garfunkel influence in songs like “Magic Marker.”  But the glam factor is in there too, where you hear a Bowie sound in many track, including the one that boasted the aforementioned killer guitar solo “Say Please.”  Other standouts included “Ahead Of The Curve” and “Dear God.”  At the end of the day, I wasn’t blown away or anything, but it’s certainly worth a listen.  I love how that happens sometimes where you come across new music when you least expect it and occasionally end up finding a gem.  Hell, it’s how I’ve found some of my favorite bands over the years… including The Smiths!

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