Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Authority Song

April Fools Day, by and large, passed me by without any fooling, given that I didn't wake up until about three in the afternoon for a short shift at work. Following a fantastically boring night in the Tarzhay Photo Lab, also known as The Pen, I changed into more appropriate clothes and set out for Plainfield to see the official opening gig for Small Shiny Things, which is three-quarters of the old Five Year Jacket, which gives you some idea of how much credence I give to the current Five Year Jacket, in which everything that was old is new again, like the Ford Mustang, but using the mid-Eighties body style and a four-cylinder engine.

I hate Kevin Trudo, and I don't say that often enough. He makes it all look so damn easy, and I spent most of my early Five Year Jacket shows watching his hands to see if I could pick up someof his guitar skills through osmosis or convection or something. Over the course of a show, I would inevitably get drunk enough to think, yes, I think I got that, and then go home to my guitar that's desperately in need of some work and, lo and behold, nothing. And that's when I'm sober; drunk, I'm totally clueless, half a beat behind even when playing rhythm on songs that only have three chords and require little coordination. But Kevin just does it: Plays guitar, sings, actually remembers the words to songs -which is a skill that always eludes me- and I hate him for it. Yes, my sin of the day is Envy.

I walk into O'Sullivan's on Route 30, and the band -Kevin on guitar or mandolin; Ron Donovan on guitar; and Jay Olazcek on an upright bass, his picking fingers wrapped in enough medical tape to suffice an entire football team- is on their second set. I get a beer and hang out with former classmate and auxiliary guitarist Chris Bauler, and the band begins playing "Drivin' My Life Away." I turn to Bauler and say, "Eddie Fucking Rabbitt?"

I'm not certain what Eddie Rabbitt means to Bauler, but to me it's representative of two things: Endless cross-country trips with my family in either a station wagon or a Volkswagen Rabbit, and the fact that Eddie Rabbitt represents the last time country music was good, back when all of the songs were about either being a cowboy or driving your big rig. It strikes a huge contrast against today's country music, which is full of overly sentimental drek, pro-establishment songs of "let's kick their ass" ultrapatriotism, and whatever the fuck "Who's Your Daddy" qualifies as. How is it that in twenty years we've gone from "I Love A Rainy Night" to "Who's Your Daddy," a phrase that is only at home in porno and as the subject title of an episode of The Maury Povich Show.

But I digress. The upright bass is amplified, but all the rest (vocals, guitars) is being routed through what is probably the hottest microphone I've ever heard, picking up the mandolin, guitar, and vocals, and routing it all through a terribly nifty piece of hardware which functions both as amplifier and speaker system. Whereas setup and takedown each used to be an hour-long chore, I'm told this takes all of about five minutes. I suppose I'll miss the Sovtek amp, Jay's bass stack, and Ron's Telecaster, but this is the price of progress.

Is it progress? Or is this a Back To The Egg kind of thing? Stripping everything down to the boys, a handful of stringed instruments, and the songs, the show plays like more of a good time than the twice-weekly shows of the last couple of years. There's no more Beatles medley, no more drum solo, no more Chumbawumba, none of which I particularly miss. But at the same time, there's no "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" surreptitiously inserted into the "Sweet Jane" guitar solo, making the uninitiated members of the audience question their own sobriety.

Given the venue, its patrons, and the approximately sixteen square feet (4' by 4') of real estate for the band to set up shop in, the new bluegrass vibe fits the establishment and -more importantly- the audience digs it. The band has a good time, the audience has a good time, is there really more to it than that? Probably not, and yet it seems to be the simple answer to a simple equation that's been eluding those involved until now.

So I need better bootlegging equipment. (Is it really bootlegging if it's sanctioned by the band?) The last two times I did this, I taped Five Year Jacket using a Canon MiniDV camcorder with mixed results due to acoustic issues of the two venues. Note to self: Don't record a loud band in a room the size of the Denny's A.M. smoking section. Fat Daddy'z, the bizarre biker bar in Seneca, worked out extremely well, though I still had to re-balance the stereo separation and had some equalization issues (and I still want to re-work that recording for the third time) to contend with, but in the end the results were good enough to earn most of the bootleg a number of permanent slots on my iPod. The camcorder idea, which is probably more of a viable option than ever, given the current setup and sound output, should still work quite well because it's digital from beginning to end, going through FireWire rather than an analog and back-to-digital conversion. The file sizes initially end up pretty huge, but I'd been looking for a reason to get a 120 GB hard drive. */end technical crap

At one point during the night, the band plays "Sweet Georgia Brown," also known as the Harlem Globetrotters Theme, and it works, which would have shocked me had it been playing when I walked in, given that the last time I saw these guys they were a rock band. Instead, I chuckle to myself as I light my cigarette, hating Kevin Trudo as he plays the vocal/whistle part on his mandolin. And then there's A-Ha's "Take On Me" which just works. I don't know why or how, but that Eighties new-wave song seems to translate quite well to the new vibe.

It's not until the drive home that I realize how fundamentally different the band is, summing it up in three words: No broken strings. Here, everything old is new again, like the 2005 Mustang with the classic Sixties body style and an engine under the hood that isn't being pushed to its limit, but, damn, it's still nice to just cruise down the road next to it.

Tonight's In-Class Work
Prompt: Write a scene between two people, using only set directions. I have to wonder what drugs they put in the meatball sub I had for dinner.

Bob and Jane are having a beautiful moonlit stroll on the beach. Jane kicks water at Bob. Bob kicks water at Jane. They embrace and fall to the sand From Here to Eternity style, the waves crashing against them. Bob, on bottom, looks over and sees a crab crawling toward him, so he rolls over with Jane. She sees the crab crawling toward her and looks to scream, but can't, given her severe case of laryngitis. She knees Bob in the crotch, precluding him from speaking in anything but a voice only dogs can hear, and Jane gets out from under him. She then kicks sand in his face and Charles Atlas makes his appearance. Exit Charles Atlas. Bob staggers to his feet in the manner that only a man who's recently been kicked in the crotch can, and shambles half-blind toward Jane. She backs away as he slowly walks toward her, his arms forward like Frankenstein. Jane looks around, still backing away. Just then, a group of rogue zombie-hunters from Pittsburgh drive by in their pickup truck. They spot Jane in distress, mortified by this stumbling corpse that appears to have just risen from its sandy grave.

And then time ran out. I'm sure you can imagine what bloodshed came afterward, and give yourself a point if you got the Charles Atlas reference.

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