Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When the Music's Over

For the music is your special friend
Dance on fire that it intends

This past Saturday I did something unusual: I went out. When Friday rolls around, being wasted from the work week, my needs are simple: food and a nap. But Saturday,a good band, Chaise Lounge, was in town and I just had roll out to see them. After navigating the tricky and treacherous marital waters of who and who isn't going (women complicate these matters so), it was apparent that it was down to me and my old friend, Kat.

With CDs already received and aired, plus an interview with their band leader, Charlie Barnett, already in the can and on the web, I was ready to spend an evening with some swinging music, baby. Let's face it, with my history, anything with lounge in it and I'm there. I even wore a medallion, although carefully hidden beneath a buttoned up shirt, due to a fervent request to avoid public embarrassment.

Kat was late (as always)and so I waited outside in the hallway. There I saw some faces that I recognized from the CD covers: Marilyn, the singer and Pete, the bass player. Now, we all want to, as my friend puts it, "geek out" and run over and introduce yourself. I was the radio guy after all, a persona which is handy when you want free tickets, and had "done the interview." Even Charlie told me "to get there early and make sure you introduce yourself." Nay. Follow Rule #1.

Rule #1: Know when to geek out. To fawn over the musicians that early would have been premature, a little awkward and besides, I hate to be bothered before a gig. So, I played with my iPhone. Gotta check those FaceBook news feeds, you know? How else will I know if someone I've never met has walked their cat this evening?

Show time. Let's get those comp tickets. No. Radio guy evidently was not on the list of folks who had reserved tickets. The "Sorry, I don't see your name." was followed promptly by, "That'll be 50 dollars."

This is not going well.

Where's my radio guy clout? My on air cache? What happened to my connection? This is why, for the most part, I take none of that radio stuff seriously: too often it has no clout. My friends will introduce me as the radio guy (curiously never as a musician anymore) and then the blank stare from the person who supposed to be impressed. The face says, "Oh, that's very nice, but I still don't know who the hell you are."

"Oh, those should be comped." I explained the whole radio-did-the-interview thing and was under the impression that blah blah blah. Eventually, I was let past the guardhouse and allowed to enter. I saw Charlie the band leader, but followed Rule #1.

In the Montgomery Room (Which famous Monty was this one named after in the Ramada? Python?), Chaise Lounge played to a very enthusiastic audience. The Italicized enthusiastic is because we have to put it through the Charleston lens. I find audiences in Charleston to be a bit odd and curiously silent during live music performances. They need a lot of juice and banter from the stage to keep them fired up. This could be a sign of being respectful or are they treating it like their favorite cable program? I'm not sure, but it's something I've seen at every concert. We are an odd lot for sure.

The band was even better live than in their studio releases. Some of the songs that I didn't like on record, came to life on stage and favs like Burning Down the House sounded even better.

The band sailed through obviously very rehearsed numbers. The music was retro cool: an eclectic mix of lounge, 60's jazz, bossa nova, old time swing, and a really cool take on rock tunes like Donovan's Sunshine Superman. The arrangements, done by Barnett, were perfect for the players on stage. Their dynamics were superb. Tommy Barrick on drums proved that indeed drummers can play without annihilating all the other instruments on stage.

What's that like?

Pete, the bass player, could walk like nobody's business. He was killing it. Plus, the dude worn a pork pie hat. Props to that.

The brass section was Gary Gregg on sax, clarinet and flute. And the world's quietest trombone player, John Jensen. I was amazed at how soft and subtle he was. Never once did he blow the joint wide open. Later in the show, he did some singing, scatting and goofing around that set crowd alight.

Marilyn is the singer in the group and unlike many singers, she does not belt out the tunes nor project a diva-like self-confidence. Although sometimes appearing shy, she can deliver the goods in spades. Her voice is truly an instrument. What distinguishes her is how she takes care with every word and phrase.

At the center of all this is Charlie, smiling, strumming and occasionally singing. Hopelessly and outwardly engaged by the music around him, he is the group's arranger and composer.

In that intimate environment, the music has to keep coming or banter has to fill the spaces. I was surprised at the delay at times between tunes. Someone had changed the set list and not told the trombone player. Confusion on stage? I cannot cast stones. "Reminds me of the Velvet Brothers" came the observation from Mr. K-someone who back in the day supported the Veebs unwaveringly.

Rule # 2: watch what you say when geeking out.
When the music's over, the socializing begins. It is time to geek out. People crowd around the musicians wanting to chat, get autographs or somehow take possession of the artist or the music. Music makes ordinary people seem extraordinary. There is nothing extraordinary about musicians, not at all, but in that brief bubble called performing, they become something a little better. It's music's special quality that makes ordinary people look all shiny and lifts them above the fray of every day life. That's why musicians get addicted to the feeling to being on stage. It's not a real place and the more you try to make it real, the less real your life becomes. There are more examples of this than we could list here. But these were not people who were suffering from bloated self-importance, and so I imagined that conversing was going to be easy.

I wandered over and introduced myself to Pete and gushed about his sound and his playing. He said thanks, but looked a little surprised like, "I'm the bass player. Nobody ever talks to me." A nice guy, but sensing my geek time was over, I wandered off.

Charlie was very warm and very much like the cheerful, approachable person he is on stage. I didn't tell him that I was guitar player because that could have been a stumbling block. Better to hide behind the radio thing and that way musicians don't feel threatened. Why do I make such a statement?

Even excellent musicians can have hidden, almost debilitating self-doubt. The more you pour on the compliments, the more the little voice of doubt tells them not to believe it. In fact, it's a good idea when geeking after a show to talk something other than music. In our case, we had the interview in common. For once, the tables were turned and he complimented me for making him sound smart and for taking out all the natural "ahs, ums, etc." By beer #2, I am always friendly and I saw the singer looking like she was out of place, so I took a gamble. Plus, beer#2 said, "Go talk to the pretty girl." And I obeyed.

"You rock." I told her. I had geeked totally. I told her she had a real gift and how most singers just kind of sing, but she really gets behind the meaning of the words. All these were taken with a sincere graciousness. During the interview, Charlie told me that after an audience hears her sing, they want to be her best friend. What I had surmised from that statement and what I suspected is that men fall for her. I have to admit that with that voice, those looks and a sharp sense of humor, mixed with a hint of shyness, she was quite nice to be around. Or maybe that was just beer #3 talking.

Kat came over and soon we were talking about poor West Virginia, the stereotypes, shotguns and trailer parks. Then it was time. Time to quit basking in the glow of music and chatting to people we don't really know and get back to reality.

On the way home, I rolled down the windows and let the coolness flood the car. My old buddy, Sting, was wailing away about losing his faith and I strained along with him. It is, after all, music and music is just a transitory thing. Which brings me to Rule #3:

When the music's over,

go home.


Al said...

Great post my radio guy (guitar pickin') brother. Insightful illumination of the musician's psyche and patron's exuberance as viewed through beers #1, 2 & 3. Wish I was there, but this was next best.

eclectic guy said...

Thanks man. This is one that simply demanded to come out.

Marilyn was so .......sigh.