Thursday, August 30, 2007

Screw rock n' roll

Rock is dead. It's so dead you couldn't get electrocuted playing it in an outdoor shower built in the middle of a substation during a lightning storm.

Disco is where it's at!

And so is hip hop, yo.

Read some shit. Blow some dough. Tell me you like it. And maybe if you're lucky I'll give you some more!

This bit of drivel was made possible by the fine folks at Bullz Eye, the young and talented producer Calvin Harris, the chart-topping rap artist Common, and myself. The former three are responsible for all the greatness, and I'm just lettin' you know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stevie on Sunday

Another 13 days gone by… I’d rather forget they even happened. Except for last Sunday – Stevie Wonder was up in Concord, stopping by on his first full tour in 17 years. I was there, with my good friend and co-worker Julie. And as anyone who knows Stevie’s music can tell you, it’s full of good vibes. The man himself is just overflowing with genuine positivity. And he gave us loads of it, all directly to us, with us, and for us.

Stevie had his daughter Aisha Morris at his side as he walked out to center stage. Before he began the actual concert, he told us about the effect his mother’s death had on him last year, and how he nearly canceled all appearances he had lined up. But he went ahead with an appearance he had at a wedding in Hawaii, and carrying on in his strong, bull-headed fashion, he’s out there now telling all of us ‘thank you’ for listening and for essentially giving his mother a much better life than she would have had otherwise. It was a personal, heartfelt introduction, in which he concluded by saying we’ll remember the night as a night we all spent together. And he was serious – he’d really involve us in the performance.

And then, he solemnly and softly began the show, after making it through some sound problems on his microphone during his opening talk to us, with “Love’s In Need Of Love Today.” Starting off accompanied only by his piano, Stevie was joined by Aisha on backing vocals in the first chorus, and then gradually the rest of the band joined in – one drummer, two percussionists (one on either side of the drummer), two guitarists, a bassist, another keyboard player, and a total of three backing vocalists (including Aisha).

From here, we got three songs in a row – the first three in order, in fact – from Innervisions, which is my personal favorite of Stevie’s albums. “Too High” was especially well done, sounding almost exactly like the recording, right down to the tempo and keyboard tones. “Visions” was arranged a little differently – electric piano was prominent along with acoustic guitar, and Stevie nearly doubled it in length as he extended the coda into a full-on preach against the violence we’re inflicting upon each other across the globe. He had us join him in chanting “stop it!” And then, “Living For The City” came next and got the biggest response from the crowd up to that point, being that it was the first big hit of the night that he played.

From here, the mood lightened considerably as “Master Blaster” came next. There’s no better way to get people moving than with a pure party song paying homage to Bob Marley. But it got even better – before returning to Innervions again for that album’s biggest hit, “Higher Ground,” Stevie proceeded to lead the band through a lengthy jam in which he played some funky clavinet, and then… the talk box came out. Stevie had been using it well before Peter Frampton made it famous, and I think we had all forgotten about Pete after Stevie jammed on “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” into almost all of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” And then, he vocalized the rhythm for the band and gave us a verse and chorus of “Billie Jean” in which he faked the words. But even fake words sound cool on the talk box.

The intensity level came down a bit after “Higher Ground,” with the beautiful, mid-tempo piano-based ballad “Golden Lady,” again from Innervisions. This segued into a solo piano and vocal medley of “Can’t Imagine Love Without You,” “Too Shy To Say” and “You And I.” It was the mushy moment of the show, the one that was for the lovers who were already smitten by the appearance of the rising moon up above us. The rest of the band rejoined Stevie for “Overjoyed,” and then Stevie had to take a quick break to refresh his throat. He sounded a little hoarse during his introductory speech, but his voice was clear as ever when he sang. He explained to us, and had us cracking up as he did, that the “nasty” tasting stuff he was drinking to coat his throat (or “th’oat” as he told us, reminiscing along the way about his mother and father used to say it) consisted of cider vinegar and honey. He gulped it down, the percussionists jammed on for a bit, and then, on into…

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” would be the last of the six tunes he pulled from Innervisions. The only other album so heavily represented was Songs In The Key Of Life, and at this point I actually expected to hear that album’s “Another Star” based on the percussion rhythms I was hearing. But that would actually come later.

It was back to party time again with “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” At the conclusion of the latter, Stevie joked about how it could have been a country song and proceeded to mess around with country-sounding arrangements that came off almost like Ray Charles. And then he even played and sang, quite beautifully, a little bit of Charlie Rich’s big early ‘70s pop-country crossover hit “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.”

From here out, the order of the songs is a little fuzzy to me. But I know we got to hear a flawless “All I Do,” and got another funny story about a girl Stevie was dating who barely registered a reaction to a song he wrote for her. They broke up, but he got “My Cherie Amour” out of it. We were led through some call and response, which actually might have preceded “My Cherie Amour.” And there was a super funky jam on “Superstition” which folded in Parliament’s “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” at the end, which again, had the audience singing along. We got “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” And we got the three big hits off Songs In the Key Of Life – “I Wish,” “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” Aisha was standing by her father’s side on the latter, and gave him a big hig – this is her song, the one Stevie wrote for her when she was just a baby, and in fact she is the baby you hear at the beginning of the recording.

“Do I Do” showed up towards the end, which if I’m remembering correctly, was the song where Stevie got behind a drum kit towards the end for a little duet with the band’s regular drummer. He’s more known for his harmonica and piano playing, but Stevie is actually a fine drummer, and sounds better now than he ever did.

As the show wound up, we all helped Stevie on a stripped down arrangement of “Part Time Lover” in which the guys sang Stevie’s rhythmic vocal part, the girls sang the synth hook, and Stevie sang the leads and played piano. And we all shouted along the title throughout. It’s kind of a corny song, but this group participatory arrangement was pretty awesome. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was played in a truncated version, and then I believe this was the point where we finally got to hear another new-ish song, “So What The Fuss,” from 2005’s A Time 2 Love. He had us all clapping along on it, before the song I was expecting to hear earlier in the set – “Another Star” – finally closed us out.

I probably speak for more than just myself when I say that I left the show feeling a lot better than when I went in, and not just because I heard so many of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs. The guy really knows how to engage an audience and make them feel like joyful participants. And though he preaches love a lot, he means it, and it comes across as completely genuine and meaningful. He chose the right time to get back out there and show us some love, and truly, there are few pop performers who can do it as well as he can, with as many amazing songs as he has. Thank you, Stevie. You got me smilin’ again!

Songs performed (not necessarily in order):

Love’s In Need Of Love Today
Too High
Living For The City
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Clavinet/Talk Box Jam (with Mary Had A Little Lamb, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Billie Jean)
Higher Ground
Golden Lady
Ribbon In The Sky
Can’t Imagine Love Without You
Too Shy To Say
You And I
(voice tip – cider vinegar & honey)
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Country renditions/The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
All I Do
My Cherie Amour
Sir Duke
I Wish
Superstition/Tear The Roof Off
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
Isn’t She Lovely
Do I Do
Part Time Lover
I Just Called To Say I Love You
So What The Fuss
Another Star

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Safe for crackers!

Yesterday I received a last-minute request to write an entry for jefitoblog's ongoing "Safe For Crackers" series, which honors the 21st anniversary of rap crossing over to the pop mainstream. Back in '86, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, among others, finally ushered in the hip hop era for the white suburban masses, and as I was one of those people, I was more than happy to share some stories associated with that time.

My "Harmolodic Edition" of "Safe For Crackers" runs today, so check it out at your leisure. And, as a bonus, see if you remember this great video from the early days of Yo! MTV Raps - MC Lyte's "Lyte As A Rock."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New band videos! Part 5 - "Fake Tales Of San Francisco"

...and here we have the fifth and final "Lost The Plot" video post - our closing number, the Arctic Monkeys' "Fake Tales Of San Francisco." Christina chose this one, and it turned out to be the perfect set closer. Julie had fun working her way around the English flavor of the vocals, Christina got some cool bass fills, Djuna and I joined in on those fun background vocals towards the end... it's just a fun song to play all around, and fun for the audience too.

Not sure when my next performance will be, as my musical plans are up in the air at the moment. So enjoy these in the meantime. Better yet, get out there and start playing yourself!

Friday, August 10, 2007

New band videos! Part 4 - "Shut Your Eyes"

For the fourth installment of this video series... here we get a mostly good performance of Snow Patrol's "Shut Your Eyes," which drummer Barry chose. Aside from the end, I think it was one of our best performances as a band. We got the laid back feel of the rhythm down well, and the vocals were pretty tight (just plug your ears during my parts at the end). I never paid much attention to Snow Patrol, and the first time I heard them I was not impressed. But this song is alright, I'll give 'em that.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

New band videos! Part 3 - "Somewhere Across Forever"

The good thing about spreading these videos out one post at a time is that, if I forget to mention a relevant factoid one day, I have another chance to remember later. In this case, I wanted to mention that our drummer, Barry, was the one who came up with the band's name - "Lost The Plot." Factor in yesterday's little blurb on the band and I'm sure you'll agree it was an apt name.

The song performed in today's video had, in Spooner's words, a "lame ending." In spite of his criticism, which irked Julie considerably, we kept it as it was and it got a good response. I had never heard this song or the band that originally recorded it, stellastar*, until I signed up for this workshop. This was another of Julie's picks. She sang the lead, and Djuna and I supplied backing vocals and shared some indie-riffic lead guitar lines during the instrumental break.

The laugh here for me is this: before the show, Barry took me aside and asked me to set the tempo at an easier pace than I had been during rehearsals, as he found it difficult at times to maintain the tempo at the pace I was setting. Imagine my surprise when, after strumming the intro at the requested laid-back pace... well, watch and see for yourself what happened:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

New band videos! Part 2 - "The View"

Before we look at the next video, a little background on the band and yesterday's video:

This is the fourth band workshop I've played in since I began frequenting the Blue Bear School of Music, and the third I've played in with Bill Spooner as band leader. There were five of us rehearsing together for ten weeks -- myself on guitar and occasional vocals, Christina on bass, Barry on drums, Djuna on guitar and vocals, and Julie on keyboards and vocals. Christina and I had the idea of playing in a workshop together when we started dating, so we signed up together. Julie I had played with before in my last workshop, and we're also co-workers and friends. The three of us all knew each other already, and had played with Spooner before on separate occasions, so we all got along well. Barry and Julie did not mix, however, and Barry occasionally butted heads with Spooner as well. Suffice to say, it was an interesting group that had its fair share of drama, drunkenness and sexual tension. In other words, it was a true rock n' roll experience. Only things we lacked were hard drugs, a tour van and paychecks.

Anyway, yesterday's song was a tough one for Christina going in, but in the end she pulled it off rather well. It was the coolest sounding bass line in all the songs we played, and a song chosen by Julie.

Today, we get "The View" by Modest Mouse. I chose this one. Nobody in the band cared much for it right away, but after a while, everyone warmed up to it and it became a favorite. I take the lead vocals here, and I'll let you be the judge of their quality.

And before I forget to mention, the same guy who filmed the videos of my last workshop did these as well -- Damon Molloy of Dirksen-Molloy Productions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

New band videos! Part 1 - "Texarkana"

On June 28, a little pay-to-play rock band called Lost The Plot took the stage at San Francisco's Red Devil Lounge and made some enthusiastic drunks get all crazy with rock n' roll convulsions. Or we just soundtracked their inebriation. In any case, I was there, playing a barely audible guitar and groovin' hard.

Yes, it was yet another Blue Bear School of Music rock band workshop, focusing mostly on the music of "contemporary" bands (though R.E.M., Prince and U2 are all "classic" by now... but they're alive, so whatever).

I'm going to share five videos from our eleven-song set with you. First up -- our version of R.E.M.'s "Texarkana."

More video (and more text) in the coming days...