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Music Production: L.O.S.E.R.
12/31/2004 L.O.S.E.R.: First Night, Pittsburgh

In another first for me, I'll be joining Steve Pellegrino, Ryan Sigesmund, Frank Ferraro, Mike Yaklich, and the rest of the Loose Organization of Surreal Ethereal Realists for a performance celebrating Pittsburgh's New Year's Eve. We'll be playing percussion on a bright yellow amplified cart, and I may work in some amplified ukulele as well. We'll be going from 6 to 12, with several breaks, and we'll be playing...outside. So drop by--listen for the banging noise and occasional piercing feedback, and look for the yellow cart. That'll be us, ringing in the new year the best way we know.

Penn Avenue, between 6th and 10th (most likely nearer to 6th), between 6PM and midnight. All ages. The cost...is whatever it costs to get into First Night. (This seems to be $8, with children under 6 getting in free. See http://www.firstnightpgh.com/ for more information.)

Have a great New Year, whether we see you or not!

I'd anticipated the worst for this--freezing temperatures, trying to make frostbitten fingers hold strings down, having to eat bandmates to survive--but this one actually went well, and was, in fact, a gas. When I pulled into the parking garage (after a slooooooow trip to the grocery store to buy batteries for the delay and mixers), I saw that the Mini's reading of the outside temperature was 60--awesome! I caught up with Steve and company at the 937 Gallery, where Steve and I had to paint our faces with yellow greasepaint as part of the visual concept. We also had yellow hardhats, and had been asked to wear black. To most viewers, this would be taken as a signifier of Steelers fandom. In Pittsburgh, it is no bad thing to be perceived as a Steelers fan, particularly as at this point they still had a shot at the Super Bowl.

We got back down to street level and Ryan caught up with us--he, Mike Yaklich, and Steve were playing percussion on our amplified metal cart built by Frank Ferraro. I was playing electric ukulele, and Steve's son Leo was playing sax, while a friend of his was playing flute. We practiced the tune a couple times, which involved first singing a theme ("We are workers/working hard/we are workers/working hard/we are workers/hardy workers/we are workers/work-ing") followed by an instrumental in D minor, which I improvised with heavy doses of Ibanez Digital Modulation Delay. Kinda psychedelic. Our PA consisted of a couple of Pignose 20 amps on battery, which meant that we would turn them off after each performance...and have to remember to turn them on before the next performance.

After rehearsal in an alleyway, we consolidated the load onto the cart and rolled to Penn Avenue. We'd pick an open spot without too much other auditory input going on, set the cart down, pull out the amps and turn them on, sing the song, and start playing while Leo and his friend would dance out in front of us, winning the crowd over. (As W.C. Fields put it, never share the stage with children or animals.) We did a few different locations along Penn before settling in outside the O'Reilly Theatre (or Heinz Hall stage door, depending on how you want to look at it) for the rest of the evening.

Musically, I found the vocal part of the song to be troublesome--I couldn't get behind the melody, and I'm not much of an unamplified singer. My voice is a bit too fragile to do that. The instrumental part, on the other hand, was fun, and I definitely had some good moments of improvisation, including one instance of playing with my teeth, which always brings applause. Having both Mike and Ryan on the main drumming was very nice--Mike held down the beat while Ryan concentrated on variations. For a couple performances we were missing one or the other, and it wasn't as satisfying as when they both were playing.

After a few hours of this, I was feeling a bit tapped out, so Ryan and I went to Subway for dinner, where I felt oddly conspicuous in the hat and face paint. We also waited in a long line for corporate espresso-based drinks--happily, we were also given coupons for free 12 oz. drinks in the future. And coming back to the cart, we passed Mr. Funky in the Hope Harveys' parade. Cool. We'd also run into friends Jill and Zach, and my old friend Constance as well. Always nice to see a familiar face.

In the realm of imperfection, I found that the cool, damp atmosphere kept throwing the uke out of tune, and it was difficult to hear the uke well enough unamplified (due to crowd noise and other members rehearsing) to tune it easily, but I managed. Leo's friend from the high school for the Creative And Performing Arts kept telling me that he had a friend who played uke "and he's really good...he'll tune it for you." Uh, thanks, kid. Thanks a lot. I didn't take him up on the offer. Another downside was that when I brought my coffee back to the cart, I foolishly put it on the percussion cart and not on the ground. Come the next performance, it was coffeedammerung, including a splash on one of the mixers, which wasn't harmed. On another front, the volume of the percussion was pretty loud, so I took to wearing hearing protection after a while. But for some reason, during breaks, Steve would turn on the amplified bullhorn and start making joking announcements to his friends in the crowd, and I'd occasionally take these right in the ear. Not too cool to be on the receiving end of that. And occasionally the between-set vibe got weird, with joking and bantering between two ensemble members taking on something of an edge. Yet another issue was the faint creeping feeling that I wasn't actually generating good musical ideas after five or more performances of the same piece. And the face paint felt really weird. But we persevered.

By the end of the evening, we'd played for many people--probably more cumulatively than we ever had in one evening--gotten significant applause, and gotten paid. We finished at 11:00, which meant I was home and making futile efforts to clean my face before midnight. We invited Ryan over, and hosted him for the evening rather than make him drive. Fun, and it's always nice to start the year with friends. Overall verdict: a success, and no more greasepaint for me.


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