Tag Archives: rock and roll

Reunion Show

The Knights of Columbus parking lot was smaller than he remembered. It fit the same amount of cars — two rows of twenty on the side, and four rows of twelve in the back — but it looked more like an outgrown toy than something real. He remembers the way it used to look on the night of a show, like the busiest joint in town, the countercultural hub of the universe, with kids shuffling in from all across the state to catch the next new punk rock band that would blow up on the scene like a roman candle before their chords would dissipate into the air as the reverb faded away into hushed suburban legends of what could have been.

Kevin found a parking spot one block away on the street behind the venue. He immediately flashed back like a war veteran to that irrational panic of getting his car towed by the fascist neighbors hellbent on shutting down the show, but his fears subsided when he noticed that his was the only car on the block that wasn’t covered in stickers of some obscure bands, as well as the only one that looked like it could actually run. He double-checked to make sure that he locked the doors. When he did he become such a grownup, scared of what the freakshow ruffians might do behind his back? When did he become The Man, and so afraid of what he used to be?

As he shuffled between the cars and made his way towards the door, Kevin took note of all the fresh familiar faces that filled the parking lot. He didn’t know any of them specifically, but he knew their types — the smokers, and the older kids pounding PBRs in the back, the unhappy but supportive girlfriends who can’t stand the crowds, the kid who’s pacing around in hopes that he won’t have to pay the five buck cover, and what he could only assume was the Scene Queen and her flock passing judgement on their subjects. He wondered if he looked as alien as he felt, returning to the place he once called home.

Then he noticed the sign on the door: “Epidural Colonic Brigade Reunion Show – One Night Only!” and he wondered why he came, why he told the rest of the band he wouldn’t play, and why he still decided to show up tonight, return to the world he thought he’d left behind. Kevin heard the back door to the club swung up open with a sudden bang, startling the collected drunks, and he watched as a pair of sweaty, sloppy teens struggled to carry a Marshall half-stack across the threshold. The boys both glowed with that post-coital radiance of young love. But it wasn’t for sex; it was rock and roll. And then he remembered the feeling, that adrenaline thrill of shitty sound levels, playing on the floor on the same plane with the audience, and for that brief flash of time, ruling the world.

Set List For A Washed Up Rock N Roll Band

1. Open up with a deep cut from the first (successful) album. Let the crowd know that you know that your first album was totally fuckin’ awesome, even though you wrote all those songs when you were like 20 and now they’re kind of embarrassing.

2. Poorly received single that is still loved by diehard fans.

3. The 3rd best song on your 3rd album, which was a return to form for the band but an absolute critical failure that got you dropped from your major label deal.

4. Lead track off the 4th album. Not that anyone gives two shits about your creative output past the first album, but now that you’re in your 40s and married you might as well play that song you wrote that one time when you were actually sober about the woman who would later be your wife, right? Which totally won’t alienate your crowd at all, I swear.

5. Third track from the 2nd album which was a miserable failure as you tried too hard to capitalize on the success of your first album by releasing some contrived over-produced pop bullshit, but the third track still stands out as being a half-way decent effort despite how terribly Disney-fied it sounds on the record.

6. Bring it old school with an updated version of a song from your debut EP, or other slightly obscure work that pre-dates your mainstream success. Make sure you mention that “We’re gonna bring it old school right now” in the introduction to the song.

7. Drop in a live favorite, something that’s enhanced by the crowd, preferably with a sing-along or clap-along section. You know your fans love the clap.

8. Lead single from the 3rd album. Dammit, that really was a good record, looking back on it. Too bad it didn’t take off the way you wanted it to.

9. Now is a good time to play that new song you guys just wrote that no one in the audience has heard yet. They’re in a good mood, so they’re more willing to forgive the miserable ennui they’re about to experience for the next 4 minutes.

10. Ease the crowd out of their nap with either a re-worked version of an acoustic song that builds in dynamics, or a quiet version of one of your more rockin’ hits that doesn’t actually get rockin’ again until the very end. They’ll be that much more excited once the good part finally happens.

11. First track off the first successful album. This is an abusive relationship between you and your fans, and it’s time to remind them why they love you.

12. That Other Good Song From The 4th Album

13. A cover song, but not one that you’ve previously performed. Try an ironic cover of a presently popular song, or a real old school throwback to your influences’ influences that you used to lie about being influenced by but now that you’re older you actually listen to them.

14. A fan-favorite B-Side, or maybe a song that was only released on a soundtrack or something.

15. That Other Good Song From The 2nd Album

16. One more gem from the 3rd album

17. Just play the god damn single already, that’s all they wanted to hear in the first place and by now they’ve put up with enough of your narcissistic bullshit that you may as well give in.

Scotty, or, That Time I Wasn’t 21

My favorite memory of Scotty was in 2005, the summer after my freshman year of college. I was 19 years old then, and there was a band I wanted to see that was playing at Rudy’s that night (I think it was the Plus Ones, but I’m not entirely sure). I was walking around downtown New Haven with a friend, and we decided to see if we could get into the bar to watch the show, even though neither one of us was of legal drinking age. We over-rationalized a complicated scheme, as you tend to do when you’re not yet 21 and trying to get into a bar: “I heard Rudy’s doesn’t really card anyway” “Plus it’s a week day, they definitely won’t be carding” “I bet they card at the bar, so let’s not buy any drinks and just watch the band instead” etc.

As we approach the patio in front of the bar, who else but Scotty Lucca bursts through the door, drunk as drunk can be and fumbling with a cigarette and lighter in his hand. Of course he sees me immediately. “Thom Dunn! Holy shit!” he shouts as he runs over to give me one of those great big Scotty bearhugs. I introduce him to my friend, whom he embraces with just as much enthusiasm. In turn, he introduces us to the doorman at the bar — because it’s New Haven, and Scotty may as well be the mayor of this town with all the people that he knows. The doorman lets us follow us follow Scotty back onto the patio, no questions asked.

We stand there chatting for a bit, catching up while Scotty has a smoke. He finishes the cigarette, stomps it out, then turns to me and says (at a delightfully drunken volume), “So what are you up to tonight, man? You’re not 21!”
…at which point my friend and I look at one another and try mumble an excuse about, oh, well, we’re just hangin’ out, just kinda walking around…
And almost immediately, Scotty realizes what he’d done. “Oh. Fuck. I just totally blew your cover didn’t I?” My other friend and I (I don’t even remember who I was with) look back to the bouncer, with that awkward-nervous smile and wave that never covers anything up, and abruptly leave the bar.

Thanks for that, man.

A year and a half later, it’s my first night home in New Haven since turning 21, and I end up hanging out at Rudy’s with some friends. I start to tell them this very same story, when sure enough, Scotty shows up. He brings me a beer and apologizes profusely for that night, but we just laugh it off and catch up on each others’ lives. I think pretty much every time I saw him after that, he’d apologize for that night as well. We never saw each other all the often, but it become our kind of running joke whenever we did.

Rest In Peace, Scott Lucca
11/10/78 – 10/18/12

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Paul sat in his darkened room, alone, but not lonely, with his favorite blue sheets pulled up over his head, enwrapping him in sky. Two large, cushioned cans hugged his ears like clouds, billowing as he in turn wrapped his arms along those sleek vinyl curves. This was the way that Paul preferred to listen to his music. It was an absolute immersion, one that enabled him to get lost between the thuds of the deepest rhythms and drown in seas of reverb, stripping his essence bare until that warm, familiar Telecaster twang reached out its hand to save him -— a solace that smothered him in ecstasy.

But Paul forgot to close the door. A trapezoid of white light from the open crack bisected the room, its radiance the white heat of a candle in a dripping black cavern. It was enough to expose his sweaty body as it rustled between the sheets.

“Paul?” a voice spoke from the shelves, interrupting the throes of his atmospheric passion. “Paul, is that you?”

Paul pulled the sheets down just enough so could see, while still covering the rest of his exposed being. “Wilco? Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Oh God. Listen, I — it’s not what you think, I —”

“Is that —,” Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot swallowed hard, afraid to speak the truth that it already knew. “Is that the new The National album?”

“No! Well, yes, it is. But — I can explain!”

It was too late. The trapezoid of light from the door fell precisely on his bed, theatrically illuminating Paul’s infidelity. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could clearly see his right hand rubbing and caressing the grooves of The National: High Violet‘s coarse plastic flesh.

“After all we’ve been through, Paul. After all these years together, this is how you treat me?” cried Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with a shrill of a turntable needle scratching its soul. “You just…throw it all away when some other hyped-up indie band’s follow-up album comes along? Is that it?”

Paul looked over at The National: High Violet, trembling, hoping to find support. But all he saw was black.

“Where was The National when Chloe dumped you, huh?” continued Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Or when you had to move back to your parents’ house for that year. Do you even remember what I told you? I said I’ll love you, baby.”

“Look, it’s…it’s not you, okay? It’s me. I’ll always love you — I am the man who loves you — but The National just connects to a different part of me, and…I wanted to feel that part come alive.”

There was a pause, as the two lovers stood in gridlock, both unsure of what to do next. Finally, Paul broke the silence:

“If I could, you know I would —”

But Wilco cut him off. “No, Paul,” it said. “I’m sorry. It’s too late. But who knows? Maybe distance has a way of making love understandable.”

And that’s when the record stopped spinning.

Why I Don’t Love the Beatles

Do I have your attention now? Good. Because I like the Beatles. I do, I really do. And I absolutely love a lot of their songs. I love The White Album and I love Sgt. Pepper’s and I love Let It Be (but only the naked version. I only like the Phil Spector Wall-of-Mono). I really like Rubber Soul and Revolver and Abbey Road, too. Overall—and call me radical, call me profound, call me revolutionary—I’d say that the Beatles were a pretty phenomenal band.

But I don’t love ’em. I don’t get excited about them. I don’t seek them out, memorize their class schedule and just happen to be in the hallway right outside the door and act surprised to see them. I don’t seek out obscure versions of songs and demos. I don’t bring them up in conversation when I meet someone—”Oh, you like the Beatles, too?! No way! I like the Beatles! Let’s be friends!” Beyond the three aforementioned albums, it’s actually very rare for me to actively and consciously choose listen to the Beatles. I own every album, and I enjoy them immensely whenever they come on, but I rarely think, “I want to listen to the Beatles right now.” Hell, just between you and me—seriously, don’t spread this around—but a little tiny part of me judges someone in my age bracket if s/he refers to the Beatles as his/her favorite band. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely met people my age who do genuinely love the Beatles, and mean it when they say it with the full-fledged passion of wedding vow, but I’m not talking about them. They’re fine by me. I’m talking about the people who say it, as far as I can tell, because it’s easy. Because it’s what they think they’re supposed to say, supposed to like. Because they lack a real passion for music. They’re the greatest rock and roll band of all time, without a doubt—but that doesn’t mean they have to be your favorite.

You see, the Beatles aren’t my band. They’re not my band, because, in a way, they’re everyone’s band. We all lay claim to them, in our own way, but as a result, we all have to share them (It is different for the people who were alive for that brief dimple in time when the group was actually active because they were there. They were a part of it). Maybe it’s some subconscious monogamy thing, but if I can’t claim the Beatles as my own, then I can’t love them. I love the songs, but not the band as a singular collective entity. It’s not about popularity; there are plenty of bands that I claim to love who are popular (not as popular, sure). But with these groups, it’s still something I can be there for, and it’s not nearly as universal. Maybe the Beatles are like air; it’s not very often that I really crave air, or desire it (except when I’m having an asthma attack. But that’s different) the way I do bacon, or beer, or a milkshake. It’s just a fact of life.

Maximum Overdrive

Several years ago, after my Great Uncle passed away, his wife returned my father’s old guitar amp to him, a 1962 Sears Silvertone, with the original tubes and speakers still intact. My father had all but forgotten about it, after 40+ years, and surprised me with it, uncertain of how it might sound.

But the tone was incredible: there was no distortion or overdrive channel to be found on such an old piece of equipment, but the amp itself would naturally distort when pushed past its limits, resulting in a tone that was at once cleaner and more crisp but still dirtier and harder than I ever could have expected. No matter what I tried to play, I sounded like I was in one of those old Rolling Stones albums, where even clean guitars had balls and drive.

That was when it started becoming clear to me that no amount of reverb or flange could make up for the aural truth that bleeds so clearly from strings slammed and strung with the desperate, futile passion of a performer lost in song. Whether it’s the ear-piercing screech of fingers sliding up the neck and shifting position or the scratch of a pick or fingertips against the winding of a string, there’s something to be said about the drive—the natural gain—of an acoustic guitar or a clean, dry amp channel being played like there’s no tomorrow. You can lightly pluck an electric guitar played through a Marshall JCM2000 Half Stack on the OD2 channel (I endorse this product, especially the TSL60), with the gain, EQ, and volume cranked enough to piss off Brenda upstairs (or crank it to 10 like Johnny Ramone, or crank it to 11 like Nigel Tufen), and sure, your shredding might be awesome, but the sympathetic frequencies will never resonate quite like they do when that dreadnought body is played hard enough to break the strings or rip the callouses off your fingertips without remorse or hesitation.

And so it seems that the higher the Gain, the more subtlety is lost, the more nuance obscured and destroyed. The performance, the personal art of the song is so often lost by the rip-crack of speakers and tubes and air pushed over the edge of comfort, of sound they can control. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to be said about a great distortion tone, the kind that really drives a song. The opening chords of “You Really Got Me” would have never grabbed the world like they did if Ray Davies (or was it Dave Davies? And who names their kid something so cruel?) hadn’t sliced up the speaker cone with a razor blade, but even then, the sound was so analog.

Truth is, I never heard much of a difference in Bob Dylan’s music after he went electric. As far as I was concerned, his fingertips and downpicks distorted his acoustic guitars much, much earlier in his career. There was something dirty about his sound, and that’s what made it good; plugging in was just a shortcut. That meticulous, almost artistic control of dynamic attack on wound metal strings creates something so undeniably human and true that no high-gain, detuned Ibanez (I do not endorse Ibanez anything, ever) could ever hope to compare. It is the harmonic nuance of the physically overdriven tube amp or acoustic guitar generates sympathetic vibrations that make these songs, however small or powerful, truly affect us and stick with us like they do.

I leave you now (over the word limit) with a brief excerpt from Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman:

    We started talking about how the best parts of songs are usually accidents; [Jeff] Tweedy [of Wilco] mentioned that the most transcendent moments in pop music are inevitably unintentional, because listeners reinvent those mistakes and give them a personal meaning no artist could ever create on purpose. This segued into a conversation Fleetwood Mac, and I told him about the way Quincy and I would incessantly play the opening five seconds of “I Don’t Want to Know” at maximum volume, This is because—if you play the song loudly enough—you can hear Lindsey Buckingham’s fingers sliding down the strings of his acoustic guitar. His sliding phalanges make this unspeakably cool squeak; it sounds organic and raw and impossible to fake. Q and I would play this opening sequence over and over and over again, and we were convinced that this was the definitive illustration of what we both loved about music; we loved hearing the inside of a song.

And that is rock and roll.

Reunion Tour (1.1)

I think it was Dylan who found it first. I say this because he was the only other one with keys to the ambulance, since we don’t have to worry about him staying sober. At least not anymore. When I got back with Stuart from grabbing breakfast inside, the ambulance was gone, and he and Alex were gone with it. Gabriel was gone, too, but in a different way, as we’d quickly discover. I’m not entirely sure what drove Stuart to look in the bathroom of all places, but midgets are compelled by all kinds of weird, outside forces that those of us at normal heights will never understand.

I’m not sure what killed him — he could have drowned for all I know, since we found him face down. There was a trail of blood flowing from his nose, but it had mostly stopped by now. Maybe that had something to do with it. I don’t know. I was a little surprised at first when Stuart asked me to join him in the shower; it’s not that I have a thing against midgets, I just thought, you know, that Stuart had a thing against guys. But then again, I think he’s European.

The water was still running. I asked Gabriel what was going on, and why he was sleeping in the shower, but he didn’t respond, so I gave him a kick. He and I have always had that kind of relationship where you can just kick each other for whatever reason and it’s usually cool. Not with Dylan, though; he was always uptight. Personally, I liked him more when he still drank. Then at least we could get fucked up, and he’d stop being a prick for a few minutes anyway.

Stuart did the right thing and called the police. He always makes good decisions like that. That’s why he’s our manager, because he calls the cops when he finds one of our band members dead in the shower while Dylan leaves the crime scene with our tour ambulance and abandons us at this ghost town truck stop. See the difference? We don’t really trust Dylan with anything except the car keys, and clearly even that was a mistake.

Although, I guess we trust him to sing, too. He’s good at that at least.

The cops were convinced that Alex and Dylan had killed Gabriel together, and had taken off in the ambulance. I told them that the whole theory was ridiculous, although I guess it explains why they left. Dylan’s temperamental and impulsive and all, but I can’t see him killing anybody, and Alex, well, I think she did all the damage she could when she lied about the miscarriage.

It took me a while to explain to the police that our tour van was actually a converted ambulance, but they caught on eventually. I’ve got to say, as far as reunions go, things could be going a lot better.

(to be continued)