Quality & Quantity, Part 1

Greetings & Salutations!

So, this is a ridiculously long-delayed and long-winded (both of which I apologize for in advance) gig recap. I almost didn’t write it at all, due to a combination of the usual procrastination issues plus a perverse curiosity about whether I could last an entire year between blog entries, and whether a fully blank 2012 might be, er…cl eaner, somehow, than a year with an untoward gap followed by a glut of lengthy entries popping up at the last minute.

No, really. This is my brain.

But since I am embarking on a serious effort to update the blog more regularly, this seemed like tangible territory that would make a good place to start. And really, the shows that we did earlier this summer were just too cool, for a whole bunch of reasons, to go unremarked upon.

To begin with, the shows themselves were delayed by a little over a month. We had initially booked May 26 for this year’s birthday show, but a combination of circumstances forced us to push it off until July 7 – still a holiday-adjacent time frame, but post-Independence Day proved much more agreeable to everyone’s schedules than pre-Memorial Day. Plus we got another two bonuses out of the deal: more time to prep what would turn out to be a very ambitious set list, and an invitation to Matt and I from our friends Roll The Bones to open for them with an acoustic set on July 6, the day before our show. Because both shows were being played at the same venue (Gino’s in Salt Lake City) we also decided to throw in with RTB to provide additional lighting and backline which would be used by both bands over both nights.

This time I chose to drive instead of fly, departing Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon and making my way to Beaver UT where I spent the night before pushing on to Salt Lake the next day. The drive was downright meditative, even with unexpected rainstorms in Death Valley and the occasional traffic snarl. I listened to a lot of great music (albums only on this trip, no shuffle allowed) and was inspired by my surroundings to dictate the occasional lyric idea into my recorder. The long car trip was also a prime opportunity to finally listen to the Rick Emerson Show finale, a four-plus hour affair which I had been putting off since the show actually ended in January. Pulling the band-aid off slowly. It’s what I do.

Full band rehearsals don’t happen too often these days, obviously. Even when prepping for a gig, we usually break into sectionals and it’s rare to get everyone in the same room. I miss that aspect of things, and feel that it’s a chink in our armor both musically and chemically. Fortunately, the folks that we’ve tagged to play with us over the past few years are talented, quick studies who work well under pressure. This last is especially important because my bad habit of constantly tweaking the set list shows no signs of abating anytime soon. So, it was great to see nearly everyone at Matt’s place that night: Tommy Maras on drums, Mike Thiriot on guitar, Marie Estrada on vocals, and Dave Slack on keyboards, basically the same lineup as the Green & Grey release party last year. Only John Flanders, our resident woodwinds guru, was absent.

As I said before, Saturday’s show had a lot on the plate. It was our first all-nighter with no other bands on the bill in several years, with a broad mix of originals and covers spanning the band’s entire history, and a special Pink Floyd set as a tribute to the 10th anniversary of Flyin’ Zion.

10 years. Wow. (I’ve been saying that a lot lately.)

The practice session ran late (well…late for us, see the clock above) but things went swimmingly, especially considering the sheer bulk of material we were tackling. Even the songs we had never played together before seemed relatively smooth and confident. We didn’t quite have time to run everything so we made the decision to leave a few tunes for a brush-up the next day.

Friday morning brought a one on one session with John Flanders, a pre-gig tradition that we’ve built up over the past few years due to the radical scheduling differences between him and the rest of the band. It’s always great to chat with John, catch up on politics and pop culture and life in general, and going over his contributions to our arrangements is a blissfully low-maintenance job. This time we decided that in addition to sax and flute duties, he’d be throwing in some clarinet on “Sunny Day,” and we toyed with the notion of adding baritone sax to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” but decided that the stage was probably going to be claustrophobic enough as it was.

Afterwards, I did some ping-ponging between Salt Lake and Layton to keep up with show prep. I caught my first glimpse of Gino’s while helping the guys from Roll The Bones (as well as the sound and lighting techs who would be bringing some extra zazz to the proceedings) with their load-in.  Once their gear was settled in and the setup underway, I took some time to get a feel for the stage and touch base with the staff about the details for Saturday, then took off for Matt’s place once again. We had a little more work to do with Tommy and Dave, particularly on the Floyd set which was still somewhat in flux, then dashed back to Salt Lake, walking into Gino’s with only minutes to spare.

Matt brought a six-string, and the kind folks at the club had already set up my acoustic bass. We also left a guitar and mic space to further stage right, where guests would be joining us during the set. Because we didn’t have much time to select songs and weren’t entirely sure how long the set was meant to last, I jotted down a couple dozen titles and we called the show on the fly for the most part. The set list ended up being sort of a microcosm of what we’d be unveiling on Saturday — a few covers, a few originals, and a Floyd finale.

The unstructured nature of the show was a great release, and I was happy that we finally managed to play Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies R Good Enough,” all the way through, and our fierce rendition of “Quo Vadimus,” a very proggy tune which we were taking our first stab at acoustically, seemed to go over well with the crowd who were anxiously waiting for their Rush fix from RTB. Mike came up to play on “Saving Grace” and “Eye In The Sky,” and Tim finished things off with “Misery” (a de facto rehearsal, since we we’d be repeating it with the full band on Saturday) and a couple of Floyd tunes, “Cymbaline” and “Wish You Were Here,” both played by request.

Roll The Bones then took the stage and brought the rock both heavily and progressively for over two hours. Goes without saying that I was impressed, but I’ll say it anyway. Every time I see Ray, Mike, and Russ do their thing, they’ve added new songs, new gear, new techniques, and new authenticity to the Rush experience. The crowd agreed, keeping the guys on stage until their catalog was nearly exhausted and still shouting for more. I still think they should have added a song or two from the just-released Clockwork Angels right away and actually scooped Alex, Geddy and Neil on playing them live, but that’s an extremely mild nitpick amid a night of awesomeosity. 🙂

On the way home, I finished off the Rick Emerson Show finale. Must admit, I got a little misty. Not only have I been entertained by his show for over 15 years, but his influence looms large in the way I’ve handled many creative endeavors, from banding to branding to blogging to podcasting. And the fact that he’s willing to walk away from this overwhelming thing he’s been doing since he was a teenager, it’s…humbling, inspiring, and disconcerting all at once. I came out the other side of the listening experience feeling older, not so much wiser, but satisfied. And grateful.

To be continued…