Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deals Galore! Win Tickets to See the Peace of Mind Orchestra (POMO) in L.A. November 18

Be one of the first people in Los Angeles to experience the Peace of Mind Orchestra--coming straight from New Orleans and Humboldt--on Wednesday, November 18, at the Good Hurt on Venice Boulevard! Contest details below the interview:

POMO: A Musical Puzzle

The name Peace of Mind Orchestra is a bit ironic: if you heard the band but didn’t see them, you’d never guess that it had only two members—Matt Engel, on keys, vocals, and drums; and Ari Leopold, on guitar, vocals, and more drums. They’ve just released their first album, Still Awake at Dawn: Part I, three years in the works, and are embarking on a West Coast tour this Friday, November 6. Even though they live in different cities—Matt is in northern California and Ari lives in New Orleans—I was able to catch both of them on the same phone call recently and they let me in on some closely-guarded POMO secrets!

Joy: How did you record the album, living in two different places?

Matt: We’ve been doing the record long-distance for the past few years. It’s been all in our own home studios and all on our own. Ari came out here in August of 2006 and we recorded rhythm tracks [piano and drums] for the record; everything else is overdub. We send each other MP3 mixes and guide each other, and hopefully everything synchs up, and whatever sounds bunk, we pull out and whatever sounds good, we keep in there. POMO is like a big musical puzzle. We each have our parts and we layer them together so it creates a bigger sound than the two of us.

video

Ari: We’ve both participated in record production before, but this is the first project that, start-to-finish, we’ve really had our hands on every step of the way. We learned a lot about recording sound. Recording music is one thing—recording sound is its own beast! We had a lot of the music recorded more than a year ago, and we’ve spent a lot of time since then figuring out how to use the studio. We got by with a little help from our friends, so they say. There’s a studio in Champagne, Illinois, where I worked at for a while, and this really awesome record producer named Mark Rubell, helped us out a lot. We couldn’t afford to record in the studio, so we recorded it ourselves and brought it to him, and he really knew what to do to 'up' it a notch. We really learned how to do it.

Joy: You must have a really strong connection.

Matt: [We met] at the University of Illinois in Champagne, about ten years ago. We lived at opposite corners of the same dorm. We started playing music together within the first couple of months, and then have been playing together on and off, in different combinations of bands. I’ve gone down to New Orleans and played there with him. As time went on, we liked what we were doing and wanted to try it in a live setting. The live set has existed really only for the past two years, and we’ve only been touring for the past year. But we see this as the real start. We’re both at a point where we can do it a little more full time. It’s all happening; it’s definitely a slow-moving, grassroots project. There are only two of us and we’re the ones who do everything. There are pluses and minuses.

J: Was the title of the album, Still Awake at Dawn, really inspired by being awake all night?

Ari: Well, Matt and I are kind of nocturnal! These are all songs I’d written before we even started this band. The oldest song on there I wrote almost ten years ago. A lot of it came from a feeling of after you’ve been awake all night, especially if you’ve been outside, when the sun comes up and you see the town start to wake up and it’s this weird feeling…like a renewal. It’s the same world as it was yesterday, but it’s not like going to bed and waking up and getting a whole new camera shot. The songs are sort of bleak but optimistic; like the first song, “We’ve got a world that’s filled with tattered things…But we’re still above the ground/So we’re going to stick around and see what one more morning brings.” We’re still here, and we’re going to deal with the next day. It’s like, the world sucks, but we’re going to live in it anyway!

Joy: How would you characterize POMO’s sound?

Matt: Punk-Pink Floydish. Weird contraption rock. We’ve both created our own forms of instruments. Ari is kind of the mad scientist when it comes to putting his gear together. For me, I piece together different keyboards and try and find the sounds that I like and use whatever toys I can to add into the blend of sound. I try and use what I have to help create the sounds that are in my head, instead of dogmatically trying to find the things that are supposed to make the sounds that I think I want to hear.

I’m an analog-aholic; I’ve always enjoyed analog sounds and vintage keyboards. And so for the most part, that’s all I use. I have a Nord, but that’s just a digital copy of all my sounds. So I’ve been doing that, and I use a Moog synthesizer as a bass, so I can play some bass and keys at the same time. We’re able to make that puzzle-piece music with just two people there.

Joy: What's a Nord?

Matt: It’s a newer digital keyboard that has some really high quality samples of Hammond B-3, a Wurlitzer electric piano, a Rhodes electric piano, a clavinet, piano, and so it’s just a much smaller version of all the keyboards I use. If I had the resources and the energy, I’d carry all those keyboards with me because I do have the real versions of a lot of them and I prefer to use them, especially in recording. We definitely go for more organic sounds. There are no synthesizers or loops. But that keyboard is just my savior, a much smaller version with all those sounds in it. I can carry that small keyboard but still maintain that vintage sound and feel that I know and love.

There was kind of a cognitive dissonance when I was going to get that keyboard because I felt I was crossing over into the digital realm…it was a stressful moment for me to make the commitment and buy it! But now I use that keyboard for everything; it’s my axe, and I’m grateful for it.

Ari: I call [our sound] kinetic polyphony! We have these mega instruments; Matt’s got a megakeyboard that’s got a bass keyboard, so he’s playing the role of a bass player and a piano all at once, and I’ve got a guitar/drum set that’s a little goofy. It involves more pedals than most drum sets. I’ve also got a guitar on a stand, and I hit it like a drum. But I can also play chords on it. We played outside at a public festival and a lot of people said they heard us around the corner and were surprised when they saw there were only two people. It sounds like a normal four-person band.

Joy: Where does the name Peace of Mind Orchestra come from?

Ari: Basically our songs are lyrics that people tell themselves when they’re trying to achieve peace of mind. Because if you have total peace of mind, you’re not singing! People who are totally peaceful are quiet, and don’t need to make loud noises to change the environment.

Joy: Final thoughts?

Matt: It’s a lot of fun. That’s what inspires it. It’s a lot of hassle, being in the band and then doing all the promo and the networking and trying to maintain the artist composure as well. But if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it! The whole reason to make music and record is so that you can listen to it. I want to share it with everyone else, but I just love listening to the music more than anything.

Thanks for the interview, guys! The upcoming fall POMO tour starts this weekend in Northern California with stops in Garberville and Arcata, and will hit Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Eugene, Flagstaff, Tucson, Tempe, and Lake Tahoe before the boys settle down for a long winter’s nap (or, more likely, head out on winter tour)!

Come join the party and support this band as they embark on their first major West Coast tour!

Now, for the contest details!

1. Comment below about why you'd like tickets to see this show, and I'll select a winner for TWO FREE TICKETS--a $20 value! Wild and crazy!

2. Ladies, email me at tourstories2007@gmail.com and get on the guest list for the event (that means FREE), PLUS get a CD when you arrive for only $5--a 50% discount off the regular price! How can this be real, you ask? AND...

3. Guys, we're not leaving you in the dust...Mention this blog at the merch table the night of show and receive the very same discount on your very own POMO CD! I know, I know; it's like a dream.

For more music and tour dates/times, check out POMO's MySpace page.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hendrix Comes Alive at West Fest 2009!

The past few weeks, I was truly touched by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix as I learned "Purple Haze" as the first song I played on my new electric guitar. I couldn't dream that last week, I would be touching Jimi Hendrix's flesh and blood at West Fest on October 25! Leading the world's largest guitar ensemble was Leon Hendrix, Jimi's younger brother!

After the guitar ensemble, Leon stood around backstage telling stories about watching Jimi learn to play the guitar, and all the blues musicians his older brother really loved, especially Robert Johnson.

Although there were bands playing all day at two different stages at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park on a gorgeous, sunny day, what made the weekend for me was the guitar ensemble. I arrived in the dark at 7 a.m. and helped register participants at the table set up by Steve Roby, the author and historian whose book, Becoming Jimi Hendrix, is due out next year. Steve is the guy in the blue shirt behind the Jimi sign on the table, in the middle of the photo, and if you watched the video tutorial I posted a few weeks ago, you'll recognize Brian, the guy with the goatee, as one of the "Purple Haze" teachers:


People came from all over to participate in the ensemble. And although Halloween was a week away, some even dressed like Jimi to pay proper homage:

People were playing all kinds of guitars. I even saw a ukulele. The youngest participant I saw was a ten-year-old girl with a little acoustic guitar. While waiting for the event to begin, I met Colin and his dad who were there celebrating Colin's thirteen birthday. What a great way to ring in the teen years! I gave him a guitar pick my dad just sent me from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.

The ensemble began promptly at ten a.m., preceded by a Native American blessing by the American Indian Movement leaders. It was a beautiful prayer for the day just as the sun was starting to come out full force. My husband, who was working in one of the backstage tents, said the group had spent some time in meditation prior to coming out on stage, to set the intent of helping people connect with mother earth.

Then, things started rocking as they counted down from stage and everyone around me busted into "Purple Haze":

video

After playing the main part of the song, we jammed out for about ten more minutes while they played pictures of Jimi on the big screens.


The rest of the day was filled shuttling back and forth between the two stages to catch as much music as possible. Highlights of the day included seeing Ann Cohen, widow of Allen Cohen, poet and publisher of the San Francisco Oracle, read some of Allen's poetry on the East Stage; touring the Love Bus (see photo below); hearing from afar Tony Saunders, Michael Hinton, and Joli Valenti play "Get Together," by Joli's father, Dino Valenti of Quicksilver Messenger Service; and watching the awesome energy of these Taiko Drummers:

video

I hope you enjoy some more photos from one of the most beautiful days I've ever experienced in San Francisco!


It's dark in SF at 7 a.m.!


West Fest West Stage hours before the show...



Even a Blues Brother showed up!


Clearly, I found my "Purple Haze" soulmate...


Charlie, selling the official West Fest 2009
commemorative mini-amps for $20!
What a bargain!


Garfield and Tomi.
Tomi was at the original Woodstock in 1969!


Winner: Best shirt of the day!


Chrissy Costello, artist of
"I Want You! For the World's Largest Guitar Ensemble"
poster


Hanging with some original Haight-Ashburyites backstage!


The Love Bus owner, Scott, and the artist, Perry,
chilled inside (and on top) while people toured their creation.


Country Joe MacDonald leading the "Gimme an F!" chant, forty years later!


Can't say she's not dedicated to the cause!




I think he got the memo.





And now you'll excuse me while I kiss the sky! Thanks for reading!
Special thanks to David, who shot the guitar ensemble photos and vids. Thanks, David!




Monday, October 19, 2009

Road to West Fest '09: Part 3: The Home Stretch!

So, am I ready to play "Purple Haze" in front of thousands of people? Check out this version I recorded last night, and enjoy this summer festi montage while you listen:


video
"Purple Haze" - 10-18-09
Joy (guitar, vocal)
Annie (drums, "Oohs," and "Aahs")
Rett (engineering)

Let me know what you think! And stay tuned for the report on West Fest and the world's largest guitar ensemble, this Sunday, October 25, in Golden Gate Park!

Peace, Love, and Music,

Joy :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Road to West Fest '09: Part 2: Joy Goes Electric

It's two weeks until West Fest, and I decided that proper tribute to Jimi Hendrix in the world's largest guitar ensemble deserves an electric guitar:


video


The tutorial I watched can be found here.

More info on West Fest, including performer list, can be found here.

You can register to be part of the event here.


Stay tuned for more progress on the road to West Fest, the FREE 40th anniversary celebration of Woodstock in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Sunday, Oct. 25!

Do you have any tips for me? Leave them in the comments section below. Gimme some love!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Moonalice: 2 Nights in L.A.

Hey, now!

Check out my review of 2 nights of Moonalice in the Los Angeles area. You can read it here on Jambandsonline.com (or JBO, for those in the know!), a great new site run by a fellow (female!) Phish fan.

And I'm also busy working with a friend to make some improvements to this blog, so stay tuned for a new look and more details from the Road to West Fest '09 (hint of things to come: I'm going to look at electric guitars next week)!

Joy :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Road to West Fest '09: Part I: Learning Purple Haze

On Sunday, October 25, West Fest will be held on Speedway Meadows in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. It is a FREE event and produced by 2b1 and the Council of Light in association with Artie Kornfeld, the original producer of Woodstock '69.

There's a lot more to say about the festival, and I'll post the press release at the end of this post. But what I'm most psyched about (besides an afternoon in Golden Gate Park in October--the best time of year there, in my opinion) is my participation in the effort to break the current world record for largest guitar ensemble! According to the Guinness World Records site, the record was set when 1, 802 participants played "Smoke on the Water" simultaneously in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany, on June 26, 2007. The goal for West Fest is to shatter that record with several thousand playing "Purple Haze" in tribute to Jimi Hendrix, who headlined Woodstock in '69.

So. I registered for the event, which you can also do here. There are also links to some tutorials, which I tried today. Since I'm pretty much self-taught on guitar (I tried to follow along with a Jorma Kaukonen video once...that wasn't too fruitful), I'll be playing a pretty basic part that consists of about three chords per verse and then another three once we get to the bridge/jam-out part at the end ("Help me! I can't go on like this...")

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be consulting with some guitar players who are more skilled than I and will continue to develop my rendition of Purple Haze. Here's what I was able to put together after researching the lyrics and watching this video tutorial:


video

Stay tuned for more preparations for West Fest. I'll be posting my progress as I go. Let me know if you have any tips for me!

And here is the official press release for the event. See you there!

40th Anniversary of Woodstock
Free Concert Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, Sunday, October 25, 2009

Event: “West Fest” Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock.

Attraction: 72 acts, 4 stages, 2 domes and 26 poster artists. Solar domes, Alternative vehicles, Electric bikes, Native American Tipi Village, Sustainable Living Road Show, Conscious Art Gallery, Light Temple, Holistic Healing Section, Hooper Heaven, Rock’n Green Kids Zone and Eco Village vendors. Narada Michael Walden featuring Vernon Ice Black leading 3,000 guitar players and closing the show with the Hendrix Experience reenactment and Superstar Jam

Admission: FREE
When: October 25, 2009, 9am to 6pm
Where: Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA USA
Producer: 2b1 Multimedia Inc. and the Council of Light in association with Artie Kornfeld, the original producer of “Woodstock 1969”
Non-Profit: 501-(c) 3
Contact: Boots Hughston, 415-861-1520 www.2b1records.com/woodstock40sf or woodstock40sf@yahoo.com


Acts confirmed with more to come: Jefferson Starship; Leslie West (Mountain); Lester Chambers (the Chambers Brothers); Country Joe McDonald; Denny Laine (of Paul McCartney, Wings, Moody Blues); The Original Lowrider Band (with Lee Oskar); Narada Michael Walden featuring Vernon Ice Black leading 3,000 guitar players and closing the show with the Hendrix Experience reenactment Superstar Jam; Greg Errico, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson (From Sly and the Family Stone); David and Linda La Flamme (It’s a Beautiful Day); Michael McClure (Beat Poet) and Ray Manzarek (from the Doors); Lydia Pense and Cold Blood; Terry Haggerty (from the Sons of Champlin); Annie Sampson and her band; Nick Gravenites Band; Harvey Mandel and the Snake band; Barry “The Fish” Melton (of Country Joe and the Fish); Jerry Miller and Jim Post; Lost Creek Gang and the Merry Pranksters with Ken Babbs, George Walker, and Mountain Girl; El Chicano; Alameda All Stars (Gregg Allman’s Band); Edwin Hawkins and The New Edwin Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day”; David Denny (from Steve Miller) with Prairie Prince (of The Tubes), Diana Mangano (formerly of The Jefferson Starship), Greg Douglas, Carlos Reyes; PF Sloan; Jimmy McCarty (from Detroit Wheels); Peter Kaukonen (from Jefferson Airplane); John York (from the Byrds); Leigh Stephens (from Blue Cheer); Kathi McDonald and Friends; Cathy Richardson band; Joli Valenti and Tony Saunders; Mitchell Holman (It’s a Beautiful Day), Miles Schon Band; Jose Neto and Friends; The Mutaytor; Rock Hendricks (Bobby Womack, The Jackson 5, The funkidelics); Scoop Nisker - KFOG; David Harris – speaker; Matthew Rosenthal – Prevent Hate; Bettina Aptheker – Free Speech Movement; Ben Fong -Torres (Rolling Stone); David Hilliard - Black Panther Party; Benjamin Hernandez – Harts and Hands elders; Blue Thunder – spiritual healer, Teton; Dennis Banks – AIM Wounded Knee; Dennis Peron and Richard Eastman (Marijuana Initiative); David Rovic; Rabbi Joseph Langer ; Ed Rosenthal; Terence Hallinan (Former SF DA); Gene “DR Hip” Schoenfeld; Paul “Lobster” Wells (DJ), Aron “Pieman” Kay (from the Yippies); Alex Reymundo – comedian; Doug Green MC; Some acts can not be advertised until 30days out.

Poster series: Stanley Mouse, Arnold Skolnick (original Woodstock 69 poster artist), Chris Shaw, Mike Dolgushkin, Wendy Wright, David Singer, Mark Henson, Carlon Ferris, Dave Huckins, Lee Conklin, Bob Masse, Andrew Annenberg, Victor Moscosco, Michael Moss, Thomas Yeates, Chrissy Costello, Gilbert Johnson and Dusty Hughston, Michael Rios, Burry Olsen, Pat Ryan, Ron Donovin – Fire House Crew.

In honor of Jimi Hendrix, who headlined the festival in 1969,
Narada Michael Walden Featuring Vernon Ice Black will lead 3,000 guitar players attempting to break the World's Record for the Largest
Guitar Ensemble playing "Purple Haze" -- all at the same time!

Players are encouraged to register at:

www.steveroby.com/Jimi_Hendrix_Archives/Register.html


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Farewell, Casio!



The good news is that in the past nine days, I've seen seven shows: the best Cubensis show I've ever seen last Thursday, two nights with Moonalice in the greater L.A. area (with Nate LaPointe and Cece the second night) over last weekend, Christopher Hawley Rollers at the Venice Bistro on Monday, Greensky Bluegrass at the Mint on Wednesday, Patti Smith at the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday, and, last night, Saturday, Jackie Greene and Ratdog at the Greek.

The bad news is, the camera finally kicked it. Right after it took this final photo just before the Ratdog show last night:


As my husband pointed out, it has truly been a good camera to us over the past three years. It went to Rothbury and the Vibes last year, has been to every wedding and show we could smuggle it into and has given us some great memories. So now, with the passing of the device, I offer you this montage of the last week of my life. Thank you, Casio. You done good. Real good.


Jackie Greene and band - Greek Theatre, Los Angeles - Saturday, September 5, 2009


Jackie is a freakin' rock star. He played "Don't Let the Devil Take Your Mind" and "Ball and Chain," and had Mark Karan come out and join him for a slow blues "Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right...Where did you sleep last night?" I've said this once and I'll say it again, the man is just Dylan reincarnated early. It's quite bizarre. Amazing, to say the least, because he's not Dylan; he's doing his own thing. At the end of his set, he busted out "Taxman." When was the last time you heard that played live? From there, the evening slid right into Ratdog as members of the band just took their places onstage with Jackie's band and jammed into the "Franklin's," the first song of Ratdog's set. Jackie played a few songs with Ratdog before exiting.

The Ratdog show was not the strongest I've seen. Some very nontraditional song placements and Bob Weir walked offstage for a moment during the second set after he forgot some words and it seemed like an odd moment. But otherwise they sounded great (Highlights: "She Belongs to Me," "Masterpiece", "Terrapin," "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad") and Mark Karan looks very happy.




Moonalice - The Mint, Los Angeles - Saturday, August 29, 2009

Even Molo can't take his own playing full-strength...



Nate LaPointe and Cece Sherman opened for Moonalice at Blue Cafe in Long Beach, on Sunday, August 30, 2009. They sounded great together, with Cece's sultry blues voice, Nate's originals, and two Dead covers they performed with Barry Sless of Moonalice sitting in on pedal steel.


Greensky Bluegrass - The Mint, Los Angeles - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This was my first time seeing Greensky in a small club. The first time was among tens of thousands at Rothbury 2008, when they were debuting many of the songs from their new album at the time, Five Interstates. These guys put on a great show at the Mint last week and had the audience (a lot of people drinking and talking, not there for the band) eating out of their hands by the last songs. Great covers of Prince's "When Doves Cry" and Paul Simon's "Gumboots" ("You don't feel you could love me, but I feeeel you could!") Amazing banjo picking by Mike Bont. Amazing.



No photos of Patti Smith, although she did tell a great story about coming to Los Angeles. Apparently, she was just coming back from Japan and had forgotten to make a hotel reservation for her L.A. trip. So when a car picked her up at LAX, she told the driver just to take her to Venice Beach! Then she spilled coffee all over herself in the backseat.

Ah, such is life! The death of a camera and the birth of a new day...all in one full moon!

Here's to another week filled with music and love.

Joy



Friday, August 21, 2009

On Tour with the Roadside Graves




Recently, the Roadside Graves blew through the Los Angeles area on their first U.S. tour in support of their nice long new album, My Son's Home. This was a special occurrence for me because a) I grew up with some of the bands members, and b) I'd never seen them play live before because the current band formed after I'd moved from the east coast. So I decided to follow the Graves around for three nights of their recent adventure in the southland. This is that story.





Wednesday, August 12
Knitting Factory - Los Angeles, CA

I've been hanging out with the Graves for approximately two hours before it comes to light that I’m in some sort of trouble with guitarist/violinist/co-drummer Jeremy Benson. He’s harboring, however lightheartedly, a seventeen-year grudge against me for causing him some grief in a sophomore high school English class in our hometown of Metuchen, New Jersey. And just in case I’m not copping to the offense, Jeremy has prepared himself with supportive documentation of the event from another student who sat in a seat near us and witnessed the whole sordid affair.
I can’t lie and say I’m not aware of the general nature of his complaint. For some reason, the poking, prodding, and sometimes outright teasing did occur, despite my best intentions, and for that, as a reflective and conscious adult, I am sorry. There is no good explanation for my behavior except that, looking back, it seems like just the natural thing a sister would do to her brother. And that's how I have perceived Jeremy throughout our lives: like a brother.
The Graves are on a bill with local southern California bands M. Bison, Avi Buffalo, and my favorite new band once this is all through, the Parson Redheads. The Roadside Graves are six guys from New Jersey and New York, playing a new kind of American folk music, part alt.country, part Irish wake, all passion in playing and heartfelt lyricism. Their name suggests something stumbled upon, a harbinger of death. But their melodies and joyous live performance relay a strange acceptance of the present and all its past.


Rich Zilg - 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)

Coming off their last show in Flagstaff, the band has been on the road for a few weeks and tiredness and the surrealism of being in Hollywood are apparent. The Knitting Factory itself doesn't help. Located in a complex on Hollywood Boulevard that is an entity to itself, it is a parking garage, mall, and nightclub--all in one! The brightly lit escalators, and store picture windows are the antithesis of what a nightclub should be, but given that you can buy sautéed onions and sausage a mere fifty feet from the club’s entry, and The Simpsons and Big Bird have stars nestled into the sidewalk almost directly from the club’s side door, there is some redemption available for the club in my eyes.


Hollywood Boulevard: Not Sesame Street
The band is John Gleason on lead vocals; Jeremy Benson on electric guitar, occasional violin, and a makeshift drum kit composed of two snares doused with confetti, a stack of antique cymbals, and a crudely-bent metal garbage can lid that he hits with one drumstick for accent during especially rousing numbers; Rich Zilg on acoustic guitar and heart-wrenching harmonies; Animal Colin Ryan on drums; Dave Jones on a laid-back but steady bass; and John Piatkowski on keyboard and organ. They open with the feel-good “Far and Wide,” and “My Father Sat Me Down,” from the new album. Singer John Gleason’s lyrics are filled with loss, disappointment, longing, thwarted expectation, yet there is an inherent hope that dances with it all, such as in the upbeat “West Coast.” This song isn’t thrown in, it seems, to balance the rest of the set for good measure.


John Piatkowski and Jeremy Benson, Knitting Factory, 8/12/09
No. The Graves are painfully aware of the joy and pain in each moment, and their celebration of this coexistence is expressed through their playing. For a band that has such a heavy name, the lightheartedness of their joy is evident onstage: confetti flies off a snare like raindrops off hot asphalt. John literally buries his face in acoustic guitarist Rich's shoulder, leaning on him with all the weight of the world. And Colin on his drum kit never takes a break. And it's not hard to believe John when he croons, “I’ve got a heart that won’t quit, won’t break, no matter what you do.”

John Gleason, Rich Zilg - 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)
Whereas Jeremy and I grew up on adjacent streets, and I can still see him walking home, lost in thought, twisting the violin case with his quick stride, John came into the picture in middle school, when children from three different elementary schools collided for the first time at just the right hormonal moment. In high school, John was the star of the musicals as well as the de facto class clown, once he chose to accept that role. He often found himself getting reprimanded by impatient teachers who didn’t know how to handle his imagination or imperviousness to the classroom behavior standards.

John Piatkowski, Jeremy Benson - 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)

The Graves' lyrics are a testament to the fact that John is a great writer, and that was apparent, even in high school. In poetry class (the first in our little schools' history), I always envied the ease with which he created characters and scenarios, with a seemingly limitless range of attributes and plots. It was not a surprise to anyone when John and Jeremy formed a band with Rich, a year younger than us, and bought their name from a kid in the lunchroom one day for a pittance sum; from thence forth they were known as the Billy Crosbys. When I left the area after high school, I heard reports back from classmates that they were playing around central Jersey and New York City, and around 2000, the word got to me that they’d changed their name to the Roadside Graves.
The night is capped with a performance by the Parson Redheads. Dressed in all white like the Bee Gees, and with heavenly harmonies like a choir, they came out of the darkness of the Knitting Factory like Crosby, Stills, and Nash at a Mormon picnic, somehow also channeling the grooviness of the Partridge Family. They're also on the bill tomorrow. Intriguing. Should be an interesting weekend.


John Piatkowski, 8/12/09

Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Prospector – Long Beach, CA


The Prospector in Long Beach. 8/13/09
As with many things decorated in the spirit of pirates, of which I am quite fond, the Prospector is a dare-I-say quaint bar in Long Beach dedicated to the memory of the California miner, circa mid-1800s. The bar is certainly not dedicated to the memory of anyone who got rich quick, but to the spirit that suggests, "Let’s die trying, and if that fails, we'll go with the tackiest decorations possible." Large cartoon characters of late-1800s ma and pa commingle with wagon wheels, hand-painted signs warning “This ain’t no exit,” and dark wood-paneled walls with just enough yellow lighting to make you feel like you’re back in someone’s basement at a band’s first show. The Parson Redheads are back tonight, but go on first, their accidental psychedelic sound filling the room with an ambience that suffuses the past and present.
The Prospector's setting--dark, cramped, basement-like--clearly feels like home to the Graves, as they actually dance and hop in unison throughout their set. I know John on keyboards and Dave on bass are really feeling it when I see them singing and notice that they are not even miked. The Irish roots are really coming out tonight in lots of foot stomping and beer swigging, and a few times I think John Gleason and Rich might cry from sheer joy of pealing off such striking harmonies. Tonight is also Colin’s twenty-sixth birthday, and John leads the group, which has become a rapt audience by mid-set, in a heavily wayward version of Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”


Rich wonders why the band isn't hitting Tijuana on this tour. 8/13/09
The midnight set ends with the band taking acoustic versions of their instruments and coming "off" the stage (it wasn't raised, just set back in its own fake-wood paneled nook) into the audience and singing a song with the refrain, “I ain’t gonna go to jail.” The harmonies are rich, the band is playing with an urgency and a joy that only suggests that they’re having the time of their lives, and even the audience is hooting and hollering like it was a revival. The bartender, under the painting of a hapless man astride a stream, hopeful gold pan in hand, buys two Graves albums after the set. The band promises that tomorrow night they will play for fifteen minutes in a stairwell at Echoplex. I skip it.

The Graves end each show by takin' it into the crowd:
L-R: Dave, Colin, Jeremy, John P.- 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009
Spaceland – Silverlake


The last night of the Graves’ L.A. tour. The band is in good spirits at Spaceland, deep in the heart of L.A.'s Silverlake district. True to its name, the place is decorated semi-alienish (see photos of the bathroom doors below), which seems only right to me, a west-sider, who feels like she's on Mars whenever she comes east of the 405. But I digress.


The floor is decent-sized at Spaceland and fills up once the Graves start playing, despite their name not being featured on the marquee outside (who isn't going to stop and check out "The Roadside Graves"??) The folks who have come out of their L.A. caves are actually dancing despite the serious hipness of this crowd. The band seems more on display tonight and expands their sound to fill the room. It's more of a performance than the Prospector, which was more of a hangout. Guess I'm just partial to old man bars in shady neighborhoods.


Rich Zilg and Dave Jones, 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)
I wish I could continue following them to weird, small venues across the country, because I think different aspects of the band will be revealed in various sundry bizarre settings in strange bars across the states. Their seriously harsh schedule follows (good luck, guys, and much rest by the time you make it back to NJ). Hopefully, you can make it out to see them for a night of good music that reminds you of your own home, wherever that may be:
Tuesday, August 25: Green Island, IA: Mooney Hollow Barn
Wednesday, August 26: Chicago, IL: The Bottom Lounge
Thursday, August 27: Indianapolis, IN: Vollrath Tavern, with Gringo Star and the Brodericks (great name, huh?)
Friday, August 28: Pontiac, MI: The Vernors Room at Crofoot
Saturday, August 29: Bringing it all back home to the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ


The world needs more John Gleasons. 8/15/09 (photo by Deb G.)

Other dates this fall:
Saturday, September 12: Red Rocks, CO: Monolith Festival (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Girl Talk)
Saturday, September 19: Ghent, NY: Let It Roll Festival (Marco Benevento, The Breakfast)
Friday, October 9: New Brunswick, NJ: Court Tavern, with The Parson Redheads - (GO!!!)
Saturday, October 10: NYC: Lit Lounge, with The Parson Redheads
Sunday, October 11: Metuchen, NJ: Raconteur Bookstore, with The Parson Redheads
Friday, October 16: Philadelphia, PA: M Room, with The Parson Redheads