Quotes: “I got gathered head.” – Chuck swears that this is what his mother called an ear infection. Lisa and I said he was full of shit, which made him mad. So I’d say it was a successful conversation.
SIARPC: The Blair Underwood Project
It’s about a 7-hour drive from Boston to Baltimore. We seem to have slipped back into the bad habit of not really getting on the road when we should. And even with it being a Saturday, travelling the eastern corridor is a halting process. So we were late again. We were revisiting another spot from the spring break leg, the house known as Club 603. While Chuck and I were napping, I with my head on his lap and he gently rubbing my lower back in that fatherly way he has, a plan was hatched. The predicted reactions to this plan were as follows: I would be thrilled and Chuck would be horrified. They were accurate. The plan was to place a bunch of songs in a bowl, and as long as three of us knew the song it was fair game, and let the audience pick our set. I have a short attention span and would prefer our set to change nightly. Also, I truly love the high wire act that comes from putting yourself out there a little ways, the place where success is not assured. I’m not going to say Chuck is the exact opposite because Chuck will take a risk with the best of them. He does not like doing a song he was not expecting though. Basically he’s afraid he’s going to forget it and doesn’t want to look like a schmuck. As far as sets go, he prefers to play the same set on a tour. He likes to hone it so it gets more powerful. I kind of think of his approach as being akin to the Japanese aesthetic approach to art. And I do know that sounds like a freshman college boy at a coffee shop trying to get in the pants of the dark-haired, dusky-skinned junior semiotics major who’s got a mad crush on the poly-sci dude who says he’s going to drop out and work chopping down trees with an axe at a sustainable growth tree farming co-op that provides free writing paper to refugees so we don’t lose a generation of poets, but mostly feels like he could never have a job where he has to wear a shirt. Sometimes when he bends over to give individual raw sugar crystals to the ants congregating as equals to the human beings at the little creamery station in the coffee house, she can catch a glimpse of a butt cheek through the thready rips in his dirty chinos. So of course the freshman boy doesn’t stand a chance, going so far as to spurn the advances of the senior girl back at his old high school who thinks he’s so worldly, and if he’d only take her to the prom she would let him cup her breast.*
Anyway, back to the Japanese aesthetic. I read through as many of the different ideals of the aesthetic as I could on Wikipedia before I got bored and feel like the one called Iki, besides being a delightful homophone for our subject, gets pretty close to it. Well, actually I’ve changed my mind, but I didn’t want to lose the icky joke. Still, the Japanese thing was cool to read about. I liked the wabi-sabi ideal as well.**
No, I think what I am struggling to get at here is maybe closer to monochromatic painting. I’ll paraphrase the internet for what I’m going on about: “In the exploration of one color, the examination of values changing across a surface, the expressivity of texture, nuance, expressing a wide variety of emotions, intentions, and meanings.” You know the idea of getting a set of songs down to its purest form, where in theory it is most powerful. Keep in mind Chuck's favorite song to play is "Teenage Wasteland" because he plays one chord in one pattern the whole song. The downside of this approach in rock is of course boredom. As soon as you lose the ability to be present in a song you run the danger of going through the motions. And if you’ve played the same set a bunch you can go through the motions without fucking up. For myself I have to be reinventing the song in some way every night or my little spider monkey mind goes off in a million directions. Fortunately I’m still so perplexed by the notion of linking everything the band is doing rhythmically while still moving melodically that I have no problem most of the time trying to move towards some better version of our performance. Chuck is always present in the song, and I find that admirable. I wont speak for the rest of the band in this sense because I guess I don’t realty know what it is they’re pursuing. Everyone is restless and generally unsatisfied so I think we’re in good shape there.
Regardless, Chuck knows when he’s beaten so he agreed to the song in a bowl thing. It was simultaneously silly and intense. I know we should know our whole catalog, and of the rarities we played most of them sound just fine after a practice or two, but in this context, with no chance to even listen to them beforehand there was a real chance of things falling apart. I think “Tiny Spiders,” and “Motorcycle” went well, the rest were OK, and only “Crooked” died. Afterwards Chuck realized he’d had the capo on the wrong fret but I’m not sure that was entirely to blame. It also created a flow of songs no sane person would ever choose. I think at one point Lisa sang 8 songs in a row. Not everyone in the crowd loved it, but I kept thinking that if I could see a band I loved in someone’s living room playing a set which will never be repeated, then I would be pretty psyched. Also we figured there would be a fair number of repeat attendees from the last show there in April, and if we’re going to do these things we should really try to provide something unique.
It bears repeating that our hosts are two of the nicest people on the planet as well as having encyclopedic knowledge of current rock and Americana bands.
* Of course when he sees the error of his ways as a virginal senior and clumsily woos her with tickets to “Big – the Musical!” she’ll wonder what she ever saw in that pathetic weedy little man. He then ends up marrying a women he meets on a church mission to help rebuild neighborhoods in post-Katrina New Orleans and who, after only four childless years begins to despair at his complete lack of adventure, begins to poison him slowly so as to run off with her Salsa instructor and the insurance money.
** The whole reason I went down this rabbit hole was I was trying to find what it’s called, in what I think is Japanese art, where an artist will try to use the fewest strokes or colors to express some ideal. I find that a fascinating concept.
Tomorrow is a day off.