See The River Rise

I attended the Sunshine For The Blind release party for their new (and first) album, See The River Rise last night. Lorenzo's Music opened the show. I arrived after Lorenzo's had already started. I've heard their latest album, Solamente Tres Palabras and it's great, but I think they really shine live. Mark Whitcomb's easy-going stage manner and off-the-cuff brilliance as a guitar player is extremely engaging. Plus he's playing a vintage Sunn Stadium amp these days. Leslie West for days!

Sunshine For The Blind played second. I'd only seen them once before a couple of years ago and hadn't been impressed at the time. Since working at DNA, I'd heard bits and pieces of the new album. They surpassed all of my expectations last night though. Absolutely great rock music! They sounded great. Their drummer, Daphna, is absolutely rock solid. I hope I get the chance to play in a band with her some day! I talked to Brian earlier in the day and discovered that the album has been nigh on ten years in the making! Congratulations to him and the band!

I left the show with a bit of an emotional high. It's inspiring to hear original music performed with such passion. Just what I've needed lately. Thursday night I sat around with my roommate listening to Sonic Youth and System And Station. I've been going through my CD collection and listening to albums I haven't touched in years. Nick wasn't familiar with Sonic Youth and I wasn't familiar with System And Station. We were both impressed with the other's choices. I have to say I'm looking forward to the next time S+S is in town. I'll definitely be at that show.

All for now...


Quick Update

The Dorothy Heralds played a few gigs last week. Thursday we were at the Blue Chalk Club in Middleton. It turned out to be one of the most fun gigs I've played with the band. We opened the show for the Thursday night house band, Avengers Assemble (sorry, no link). Afterwards a jam session ensued. By the end of the night the group was ploughing its way through '80's classics such as Journey's "Separate Ways", Night Ranger's "Sister Christian", Van Halen's "Jump" and Styx's opus "Come Sail Away". We were in stitches!

Friday night took us to The Klinic in Madison. Our friend and co-worker Marcus opened the show with his new group, The New Clear Solution. Very interesting band. The drummer used nothing but an electronic kit and the bass player did double duty on groove boxes and mixer. Next up were our friends Spin Spin Coupling who are no longer all about sensitive arena rock. They're all about the sloppy rock apparently. Great band. Loud. Very Loud. But a great bunch of guys that write good songs. We finished out the night with a great tight set. The band is really developing a new persona on stage and in our playing. We're becoming much more comfortable stretching out on songs. I'm getting this sneaking suspicion that the next album (yes, we're already planning the next one) will bring the rock in a way we've yet to do.

In other news, I went to the Sol LeWitt show at the MMoCA last Saturday. The show was great. I found the works displayed eye-opening. However, the best part of the show for me were the two hand-written Steve Reich scores on display. As my roommate Nick would say, "it's awesome because it's real, ya know?!". I guess it's strange to have something affect you so deeply and yet never feel connected on a certain level. I know that Steve Reich is a real person, but seeing the scores gave me a different sense of connection than I'd ever experienced. I suppose it's akin to seeing your favorite artist in concert for the first time. Not quite, but somewhere in the ballpark.

I'm starting to do some production and engineering at DNA now. It's a bit nerve-wracking running a session (even if it's just one other person aside from me), but enjoyable in the end.

So that's all for now. Look for part two and three of my rant about the Madison Area Music Awards soon!


Madison Area Music Awards

Over the past year or so I've been a party to a number of conversations about the music scene here in Madison. From musicians and promoters to retailers and club owners, every single person or entity has expressed some form of disappointment and fear. Most of these conversations begin with how the music industry has changed with the advent of file sharing, cheap home studios and the internet. They then proceed to other issues such as increased energy costs, the economy and other such big picture issues. In many ways I agree with much of what people have had to say, however I'm surprised that the conversation rarely, if ever, addresses the changes in our culture and more specifically, the changes in our values as a society.

I've spoken with many people that were of age during the so-called "Golden Age" of pop music. Namely, the 60's and 70's. A time when music "meant something". The point I try to bring up in all such conversations is, what has changed exactly? My theory is that music and the economy haven't really changed all that much. It's the perceived value of live performance that has changed. When I ask what was so great about seeing a performance during this Golden Age, people have many different answers. I then bring up the communal experience of attending a performance. Without exception, every person has agreed that being in the same place as five or fifty thousand of your closest friends was a tremendous benefit of seeing live performances. Can you imagine being eighteen, hanging out with your friends and having every other stranger be willing to share their beer, weed or board tape of the band's last show in Omaha? Or better yet, having a great chance of hooking up with someone of the opposite sex for the night? What other benefits were there to be had?

I won't labor over why these things apparently don't happen (or at least with the frequency they used to according to most) anymore. The point is that either a) we as a society don't desire (value) these types of experience anymore, or b) the conditions that enable these experiences don't occur, or don't occur in the right proportions. If a majority of those consuming the live performance experience were of the eighteen to twenty-five age bracket, what are people of that age doing now? Is it that video game consoles, DVDs and social networking have really moved in to fill the role that the communal experience once did? If so, why? Are these avenues really safer or more fulfilling? Do they just fit more conveniently into our busy schedules?

I don't know that I can answer these questions. At the MAMAs Registration Kickoff tonight, I spoke with some people about this. I asked, "If the communal experience is so undervalued now, then why the advent of the so-called 'super-church'"? The best response I received was, "cult thinking". So then, how do we as performers implement this "cult thinking"? How can we make people feel that seeing a band, or heaven forbid, following a band provides them with some form of identity? Is it possible for anyone to do so? It seems that multi-national corporations have been working at this for some time. Is there something that the independant artist can learn from the taste makers at Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola?

In related thoughts, this post on the Daily Page forum caught my eye. Unfortunately, I think the discussion has missed the point. I don't think that it's possible for Madison to have a healthy music scene in the traditional Seattle, Haight-Ashbury, East Village sort of way. Firstly, it's too small. Second, contrary to popular belief, Madison is just as blue collar conservative as most every where else in Wisconsin. (Yes, there are pockets of old fashioned hippiedom, but this faction really seems to be dying out and slowly replaced by the Westside liberal fashionistas) My challenge to the bands in Madison for 2007 is that if you're not good (i.e. you suck), then stop trying to impress your friends by booking shows that you're not going to promote and no one aside from said friends is going to attend. Or, on the other hand, find a place where you and your friends can all hang out and play and have a good time. That's how scenes start, bar none.

And my challenge to club owners, suck it up and change your format. I personally don't like playing shows with two or god forbid THREE other bands. But I sure as hell am not going to go watch three or four bands play for thirty minutes each and spend thirty minutes each setting up and tearing down equipment. I hate to break it to everyone, but nobody wants to pay to see that. So, here's the plan. One band (maybe one opener, ONE I said), three one hour sets, no cover, charge an extra quarter a drink, band either gets a guarantee or gets the extra cash. Everyone wins in this situation. Bands that draw people who patronize the venue get paid. The venue isn't out any extra cash. More people would be willing to just walk in and check things out. Hmmm.... doesn't seem like rocket science to me. Other things that could be done, let's beef up the "safe ride home" service that the tavern league provides, or maybe have an all-night shuttle service downtown and in the surrounding area.

I could really go on about this, but it is 4:30 AM. I'm going to start researching how to implement this "branding" thing. I'm also making a resolution to go see at least two local shows every month starting now. I have no excuse, I need to be checking out the competition. What about you?

P. S. Blogger's spell checking function doesn't seem to be working in Safari since they've upgraded the service. I apologize for any creative spelling that may have occurred in this post.


New Perspectives

I love teaching.

I had a lesson with a friend, Eric, who has written some really good music. Normally, I would have been a bit cautious of agreeing to giving lessons to someone whose work I admire. However, since his main instrument is the keyboard I was much more receptive to the idea. He was interested in finding a new way to approach the guitar, and I thought if nothing else I have a slightly unorthodox approach to the instrument. The few hours we spent together was really amazing for me. What started as a discussion of how I approach the fretboard and writing guitar parts developed into an exploration of what are really the governing principles of music.

I'll probably wind up writing up a lesson on my site (which is sadly in need of some updating) that covers some of what we talked about. But what was so amazing about the lesson was that, as I talked about how I approach the guitar, I began connecting a lot of the divergent ideas I've been exposed to lately. It was a bit like one of those fabled eureka moments drawn out over the course of three hours. I really feel as though the act of exposing someone else to these ideas I hold to be true helped me to grasp them in an experiential way. To not just believe them to be true, but to experience them as true.

Unfortunately, most teaching encounters don't produce these results. At least in my mind. I wonder if there is a way to increase the possibility of this happening, both for me and my students. It's obviously harder when the subject matter is of a more mechanical nature, and when the student isn't prepared or lacks the interest and drive to explore the subject matter for themselves. So how does one overcome these obstacles? Is it my fault for being unable to find the approach that allows the student to connect with the information? How does one go about learning to do this? Maybe this is where I need to focus my energy.

In other news, I just found out that there's a show of Sol LeWitt's (sorry, no homepage and I'm tired of linking to Wikipedia) work at the MMoCA. I'm not intimately familiar with his work, but I'm definitely fascinated with the New York scene at the time he was there. I'm hoping to have the time to see it this weekend. From what I understand, his work is concerned with structure in many different ways. As this is a concept I'm dealing a lot with in my writing, I'm hoping to find some inspiration, or at least discover some interesting questions.


¡Nevermind the Bollocks!

Firstly, I think I'm addicted to the upside down punctuation. ¡Thanks Apple for making it so easy to use Unicode!

Second, my roommate Nick is a pretty big fan of older punk music. So I've spent quite a bit of time watching documentaries on his two favorite bands, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Last night I watched a pretty good one on the Sex Pistols. I was not only surprised to find out just how much of the whole "punk" thing really came from John Lydon, but also just how influential reggae was to the band. I suppose when you record one album in your career, and it's when you're still learning to play an instrument, the chances of expressing your influences are pretty thin. It's also surprising to discover how close the band were in their early careers.

I have to admit that the malaise I feel about music right now is, at least in part, inspired by being exposed to the history and music these people made. The honesty and passion with which they performed is at once inspiring and terrifying. It's hard to see that and then listen to music today (or yesterday) and stomach the lack of dedication to an ideal. Whether it be a social, political or spiritual idea. That belief that things can be better and the hope that through artful criticism the world can be made better seems so vital to truly good art. While it would be narcissistic to imagine that this is the first time in human history that art has been so closely aligned with commerce, it certainly feels that way at times.

I really wish that something would come along and turn my head around the way that Coltrane, Pollock, or Nabokov did. Perhaps this is just a wish for some external catalyst to force a change in either my art or my life in general. On the other hand, perhaps it's the realization that the study of music is truly and endless pursuit. Imagine how many songs have been written with the same three chords (most of rock 'n' roll, the blues, folk and a surprising amount of Western classical :). And people are still writing new songs with the same three chords! Composers have been exploring the possibilities of the violin for over four hundred years, and the guitar has yet to gain prominence as an instrument worthy of attention.


Little updates...

Not much happening right now. I've been working at DNA a lot recently. I'll be getting together with Gary and Timatron 2.0 on Saturday to run down some new charts I've been writing. I'm hoping to get the pieces in order for a recording, if not for some performances in the near future. Actually, I'm more hoping for the chance to perform before an audience in a non-pop music context. The biggest difficulty is what to call the group. Maybe ¿La Tortuga?

The new pieces are actually pretty old for the most part. I'm hoping that working through them with Gary and Tim will spark a new direction for me. I've been reading Arcana: Musicians on Music, in addition to some interviews with Marc Ribot. All of this reading has been very inspirational, but I feel as if I need some auditory inspiration to really jump-start my writing again. I've been listening to the new Frisell record with Paul Motian and Ron Carter and some older Tim Berne discs. Unfortunately they're not providing the inspiration I'm looking for. I may have to spend some time this weekend searching out some new music. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!