“A-Side” Tour, contd.

Day 5: Minneapolis, MN. We were staying right by Mall of America and the hotel had a free shuttle, so what else we we gonna do? Besides, I only had one pair of pants, and after my fall at Hogan’s, there was some blood from my knee in them. There’s an amusement park in the middle of the mall, and Sarah had never been on a roller coaster, so we made that happen. SpongeBob’s Rock Bottom Plunge, $6.90 for about a minute of roller coasting… worth it. There were stores for products that I would never have imagined had their own store. Marshmallow Peeps and Friends? That happened.

Peeps and Friends, Mall of America

At the recommendation of two unrelated Portland friends, we checked out Bunkers for some live music. Dr. Mambo’s Combo plays every Sunday and Monday. A Portland friend, Trent Baarspul, is great friends with the keyboardist, Kevin Gastonguay. Whoa, they were burning. The sound was great. Good mix and balance, and not crazy loud. Learning more about the spot and its history, it started to make sense why they were so crushing – the usual drummer is Michael Bland, drummer for Prince during the New Power Generation era (there was a (very crushing) sub when we were there). Prince used to come by Bunkers fairly often and sit in. The Combo has been doing it for years and years. It was a little smooth sometimes, but that’s not always a terrible thing. If it gets to the Kenny G level, then yeah, we have a problem – but this was just playing with a lot of polish. The biggest thing for me is when you get into those 80s keyboard patches. So many of them sound terrible to me, especially when a keyboard is trying to be a Fender Rhodes or something. Somehow Prince could make them work, though – I think if you know the sound really well, and know you want that sound because it’s appropriate, then that will make a difference. Plus Prince’s grooves were so funky it barely mattered.

Dr. Mambo’s Combo at Bunkers, Minneapolis, MN

Kevin uses an approach similar to mine, mostly using the staples – Hammond, clavinet, rhodes, piano. He used a few string patches at appropriate times. He plays slightly different gear from me – he runs a Nord Electro 5D through a Leslie 3300, their latest cabinet that’s designed for gigging. I think it’s around 300 Watts, built in a road-ready case with handles, and has a tube or two in the preamp. The drawbars felt nice on the 5D – some people have complained that they’re “sliders disguised as drawbars” but they felt fine. I always thought that a 3300 would be the way to go for my setup, but with it mic’d and put through the mains, it honestly didn’t sound very different from the onboard simulator on the Nords. I couldn’t tell there was a real Leslie until I got onstage and saw it. I think a vintage tube Leslie can have an edge over the newer ones; my mentor Louis Pain plays his Nord C2D through a 40 Watt model 145 and it’s not far off from the real thing at all, especially when you’re onstage next to it. Louis had a 3300 but he blew the treble driver and paid hundreds for a replacement, and he had (I think) never blown a treble driver in all his years of playing on old Leslie cabinets. He sold or traded it before long. Kevin had blown the driver too, but remembered the repair only costing about $100.

Day 6: We drove to Chicago and had the rest of that day off. It’s always wild going into a new city that you’ve never been to, and by car the approach feels more dramatic than by plane. You get a better feel for the scale of the place. We didn’t have a ton of time since we arrived in the evening, but we managed to get some real deep dish pizza – Lou Malnati’s,
at the recommendation of several people. I took it real easy and got as much sleep as I could.

Day 7: Chicago, IL. We woke up midday and looked for stuff to do before the show. I was the last up and got a donut and coffee from the place on the first floor of the hotel, Glazed and Infused, and then walked to get a hot dog at Portillo’s. I met up with Sarah and Jon at the Planetarium, where we had just enough time to see a half hour film at before they closed. It was on the theories about a ninth planet beyond Pluto. We now know Pluto is part of a much larger debris field and not very unique. The whole program started at Neptune and kept moving out – a huge distance that I still don’t think I quite wrapped my head around. They also had an old Gemini capsule in the planetarium – we didn’t have much time for the rest of the exhibits, unfortunately.

setting up at Tonic Room, Chicago

The gig was at Tonic Room, a spot known by all my Chicago musician friends. I saw the opener warming up – trio of bassist, beat/electronics guy, and MC. The bassist had a sweet pedal setup – I think three Moog pedals, the POG 2, and some other cool stuff. Before leaving for tacos, I said something like, “I’m sure you guys’ll sound great, the bar is set real high in this city.” Turns out they were a joke, and I missed it for the tacos.The MC had never performed publicly before. Everyone said he had nothing prepared and nervously flailed over “beats that weren’t even cool” for an hour. The MC started the set by saying, “I’m gonna let these guys warm up” and sat on stage, messing with his phone. Then he had a few go-to phrases about “I got ideas. I got ideas” and “gonna wake up and read a book.” We have the buyer to thank for all this – he insisted that we go with these clowns, despite having leads from established Chicago musicians. He insisted that they’d bring people out because it was their first show. Nope, that was just as bullshit as it sounded. The promoter/owner was working the bar that night, and apologized several times after the set.
I also got to see an old grade school classmate – I don’t think we’d seen each other since the last day of 5th grade! She’s going to law school in Chicago and is taking the bar in July. Fun to catch up and hear a little more about what people from our class are doing now.
I thought our set went well. It was a shorter one – sometimes those are nice, but it also means we’re going to play a lot of the same material, no extended solos. That’s a good feeling too, though. After a few days off we were all itching to play, and felt inspired by Dr. Mambo’s Combo in Minneapolis to play tight and tasteful. It’s hard to execute some of the ideas on the road onstage, so we’re thinking we’ll try to have a rehearsal at home of just myself, bass, and guitar, and we’ll play to a click. Then we can work out when fills happen and stuff; right now we can accidentally step on each other and play too busy.

so heady, brah. Harmony Bar & Grill, Madison, WI

Day 8: Madison, WI. Wow I had no idea how much of a Eugene, OR vibe I’d get from Madison. That place is crunchy as hell. Tons of white people with dreads. The headliner was a band of four white dudes playing reggae with hooks like “your vibe attracts your tribe,” complete with people spinning those lighted yoyo type things. The venue went from a neighborhood bar and pizzeria to a music festival full of smoke in a couple hours. I didn’t realize how thick it was onstage until I saw Chris leaning in front of the light to hear Sarah say something to him – it almost looked like he was exhaling a cigarette. Fortunately it was a short drive, and it only added a few minutes for us to stop by the house used in Home Alone (hey, something to do). I made a point to try Spotted Cow beer, which I guess is only available here in Wisconsin. It wasn’t much to write home about, it’s a decent light beer. We got up this morning (Day 9) and Terry’s buddy took us to a place called The Old Fashioned for a taste of Wisconsin. Fried cheese curds… oh my god. It was that cheesiness you get in cheetos, but it was real. Fried walleye sandwich. Definitely took a van nap. When we got to Green Bay the next night, I realized I’d forgotten my platform keyboard stand, but Terry’s friend Carley was coming to our show the next night in Stevens Point and going through Madison only added like 10 minutes to her trip, so she grabbed it for me. Phew.

“A-Side” Tour, first couple days.

I’m off on another tour with Dirty Revival. Hoping to keep better track of this one on this blog. Made a few notes on the first few days:

Day 1: Clarkston, WA. We left Portland around 10 AM. I hadn’t slept much because my sleep schedule had gotten pretty wacky right before leaving – so I slept a lot of the way there in the van. We stayed in a Motel 6 right next door to an Albertsons that had the elusive salt & vinegar wings. They were originally discovered by Jon Shaw on a Colorado tour at Safeway, and are probably the best option for deli wings, although many places don’t seem to carry them.
We played at Hogan’s, which holds a special place in the hearts of everyone else – it was the site of their first show outside Portland. It was a fun time, but if it weren’t for that memory, we probably wouldn’t have stopped there. It’s a pretty standard bar with a tiny stage that’s longer than it is wide at the back of the room. I didn’t have room to set up my newest addition, my Moog Sub 37. Because we haven’t really integrated it into the set yet, it was easy enough to just skip it. The biggest disappointment was when I managed to trip over a car stop in the parking lot and scraped up my palms and knees. It was just dark and I wasn’t looking (maybe looking at my phone? can’t remember). My fingers are fine but my palms are still a little tender four days later. It happened on last tour in Vale, CO, but I brought that one upon myself… I was trying to moonwalk on a layer of ice during load out.
I’m always trying to focus on connecting with the audience during my solos. This tour I’ve been holding off on having drinks until after the set (okay, maybe one beer before) and it’s been paying off. I feel way more in the zone while playing, and usually only have a couple goofs. I’m also trying to look up when I solo and not get too into my own zone. Taking breaks in phrasing usually gets a crowd reaction, but it’s hard to check your ego. I’m still self-conscious and want to “prove I can play” by shredding all the time. So, I’m trying to not look at my hands as much. I haven’t been vocalizing as I play (singing my solo as I’m playing it), but that almost always helps phrasing. Sometimes you gotta just play a simple riff and play it a few times.

Day 2: Missoula, MT. We returned to the Top Hat club, which had a new green room that felt very posh. It was upstairs and had some nice couches, and they sent servers to us for food, which was covered on a tab. It doesn’t take much hospitality to make us feel valued as performers! I’m trying to not go crazy on eating everything that sounds delicious on this tour, but they had this Wisconsin Burger with white cheddar sauce and bacon and fried onions that I couldn’t pass up. After that I felt like I was gonna play every song a few clicks slower. Sometime around Missoula my tonsils started to hurt – they’re doing better now, but I had to get in a few hot salt water gargles.
The set went well – we’ve fixed all the mistakes that seemed to happen every time, so the mistakes we did made were random times we drew blanks. Starting sections 4 bars ahead, forgetting to lay out, etc – but we also held it together and rolled with whatever we threw at ourselves. Because I had a chance to set up the Moog this night, I tried using it for my solo on War Pigs (usually an organ solo). I didn’t tweak the patch at sound check because it was a last-minute decision on my part, so it wasn’t quite the lead sound I wanted. The oscillators were set pretty low so I had to use the octave shift up, and even then it could have been higher. The vibrato was also a little too narrow and slow. All things considered it went fine, but I made sure to dial in and save a better patch for the next night. We were opening for Shakewell, a seven-piece funk band from Missoula. I didn’t know what to expect from their set having not checked them out, but it was pretty great! I especially liked their vocal harmonies – something we want to do more of in Dirty Revival. Evan sometimes sings small backup parts, and I’d like to do more of that as well. It adds a lot to every band. Another cool thing they did was that one of their guitarists and their singer played keyboard. The guitarist had a Roland Gaia above a Moog Sub Phatty, and the singer had a Nord Electro 2. Great sounds from both of them. I like to think I can hear the difference between an Electro 2 and 3 or later, but most of the comparisons I’ve done have been with headphones or in a practice space with no other noise. I guess it didn’t sound like a real Hammond, but it was pretty close to the later Nords, which have been close enough for my ear.
I think this was the day we listened to Kendrick Lamar’s new album, DAMN. When you’re traveling in a van for hours at a time, it’s nice to listen to an album start-to-finish. I don’t consume music this way much anymore, but I am always trying to get back in the habit of it. Some of this seems to come from a shorter attention span, what with the instagrams and the vines and twitters that the dang teens are using these days, and some of it is not allocating big chunks of time in my day for it. We try to be conscious of how we assemble our live sets, and we try to model it after how strong albums or radio sets are programmed. As for the album, it’s hard to get an impression after one listen – DAMN. has a different vibe from To Pimp a Butterfly, which I listened to countless times in my car. I’m definitely going to listen to DAMN. more and try to digest it – it had catchy elements to grab me at first listen without feeling cheap or shallow. We also listened to Mothership Connection, the classic Parliament album. I really wish I had dug into Bernie Worrell’s keyboard playing sooner. He’s such an integral part of this classic funk sound, and I missed chances to see him before he passed away. His keyboard choices are similar to mine – according to wikipedia he recorded on the album with a Hammond, grand piano, Rhodes, Clavinet, minimoog, Wurlitzer electric piano, and the only two I don’t have much experience with – an ARP Pro Soloist and ARP String Ensemble. I’m pretty sure that Nord has samples of the String Ensemble available for the Electro 3, which I should get back on – I seem to remember trying them out when I first got the Electro 3. Really I should give Bernie his own post on here – his playing totally serves the music in a way I aspire to. The note choices and tonal choices are perfect.
The next morning we visited a stop we made about a year ago, during my first tour with the band (when I was subbing). We hit Notorious P.I.G. – an awesome barbecue spot. Half order of ribs with “burnt ends,” which were a lot like pot roast, and two sides. It was crushing.

Day 3: Bozeman, MT. We played at the Filling Station. Again, not much of a club, but we had played there before and it’s money in our pocket that we’d otherwise just lose on lodging and food for the day. The crowd was better than last time, too – although that was kind of a logistics error. We were supposed to be playing an after-party for another band, but their schedule got shifted and went so far over that people were still at their show through most of our set. This time it was a solid crowd start to finish, and the sound felt really dialed in. I didn’t even have a monitor, and there were some line-of-sight issues – it was such a narrow stage that the crowd could see each of us, but I had trouble seeing cues from Terry (drums) and Jon (bass). For the most part, though, I saw what I needed to and we played our set without any issues. I also plugged the Moog into my Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, which added some depth to the sound on the solo. I bought the DL4 because it’s kind of the industry standard that I saw in everyone’s setup, but I learned later that there were some quality control problems. A lot of pros have told me that they own two or three because of how often they break, which is another $250 or so per pedal if you get them new. I had mine fixed recently (after it spent about a year broken and sitting around) and had an upgrade done by my tech where he replaced components that he thought were lower-quality. It did liven the sound up a little; before it had sometimes sounded a little muddy, a little bit like it was underwater or I was wearing earplugs. I’ve barely scratched the surface of using it as a loop station, mostly I use the old delay models. I love the analog ones that let you mess with the wow and flutter of the virtual tape. I almost bought a real tape echoplex about a month ago, but I had just come down with the flu and someone else bought it.

Day 4: a lot of driving. 11 hours or so, Bozeman to Fargo, clear across North Dakota. Really not much else to say about the drive, slept through a lot of it.