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Music Production: The Stem Cell Liberation Front
03/30/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Rex

Announcement
Due to...well, the guy who books the Rex having booked someone else for the night of the 23rd after booking us for the night of the 23rd...we've been promised the night of the 30th for another evening of The Elastic Concept, a sonic buffet of varied delights. (He tells us that he's written this one down, so it may stick. We'll see.)

We have a firm lineup for the show: Mr. and Mr$ Funky will be up first, and then I'll do a brief Stoic Sex Pro set to slip unauthorized electrodes deep into your brain. Immediately following that will be the debut of my new project with ace drummer Ryan Sigesmund, The Stem Cell Liberation Front! Let me tell you, this is going to be hot. Our rehearsal this past weekend could have been a great live set--and that's the first time we've played together. It's a dance party at the bio lab, and you have the appropriate security clearance. Don't miss it.

Following our set will be local rock icons Lonely Planet Boy, improv experimenters CLUTTER (they'll probably be doing this set as a trio of Nick, Ty, and Rich), and bluesologists The City Slickers. And--quite possibly--more.

Saturday, March 30, 9:30. $8--and to make it worth your while, the beer is free. Only at the Rex, baby--the up-and-comin', hippin', happenin' place to be. Sure, you could go see the White Stripes across town, but you'll be packed into Rosebud like sardines, pay way more than 8 bucks, and then there's the overpriced beer. Let me reiterate: Beer at the Rex is free. Saturday night at the Rex, the cheapest date in town.

Report
Now this was a good night.

Ryan and I have had two rehearsals at this point, and it's been going quite well. I've realized that our musical interaction is better when there are more rhythmic cues passing between us. So I opted to work on including more percussive samples. I'd had a bunch ready for editing--car door slams, clanking plates, various other noises from one cold evening in early January--but hadn't actually done the fine trimming job necessary to make them work together and to reduce the file size. This process had me working on samples through most of the late afternoon and early evening, up until I had to leave for the show.

The Rex was at one time a movie theater, which fell into disuse and went out of business; consequently, it was never chopped up into a cinemaplex, not that it was that huge to begin with. It was renovated sometime in the 80s, and showed first-run films for a while, until going out of business again in the late 90s. I saw Theremin there, f'rinstance--great film, but great stuff like that couldn't keep the doors open. So now another impresario has reopened it, thankfully keeping much of the decor.

The stage...is a real stage! With lights and everything. Pretty impressive--my first actual performance from an actual up-off-the-ground kind of stage. And the first with a viable, decent-sounding monitor system.

I'd arrived at the same time as Mr. and Mr$ Funky, and we loaded in and set up on stage together, to speed transitions--they at the front of the stage, and I a bit back from Mr. Funky's amp. Ryan joined us shortly thereafter, and he set up on the stage's Persian rug, a bit off to stage right from center. (Not quite directly behind me.) There was a table onstage at first (which would have let me stand up while playing), but...Christian, the proprietor said to me, "We're going to take this out front and sell hot dogs at a profit, so I suggest you work something out." Well, thanks, guy. Big help. So I opted for the usual setup of having the PowerBook on a chair and playing seated. Not much to look at for the audience, but there you go.

It took a while to get everything set up, as Mr. and Mr$ Funky and I were going to be using the same direct boxes, so I tested them out first and passed them off to the Funkies. I was getting a weird ground-loop buzz from my amp which I couldn't trace--I tried reversing plugs and the reverse switch on the amp, but it wasn't happening. It did seem to dissipate when I touched cables, so it may be that my string ground was off. (I'm using a capacitor to keep this from being a live ground situation, but something seems to be off in the wiring now. Got to get to this before the next show.)

Ryan was pumped up and ready to play, as was I. While I was setting up, my friend Joe showed up at the front of the stage, which was another good thing. Mr. & Mr$ Funky ran through a quick version of "Crazy Train," which gave Ryan an opportunity to play a dynamic extemporaneous accompaniment. Really damn good--we're going to have to rock out more. Meanwhile, Christian turned on the fog machine--quite amusing. (So who was going to be doing the Yes covers?)

Clutter had showed up, and I was introduced to some of the Lonely Planet Boys. I hung out a bit with Joe, and sitting right behind Ryan gave us a chance to talk as well. One of the pieces we were doing this evening had a minute-long loop I'd assembled from W's only press conference so far this year. I took out everything but the "um"s and "uh"s and other stammerings, and it's really hypnotic. It's funny, I think, whether one likes him or not--I know when I first played it back, I was laughing at about the 45th second, as it's the worst nightmare of anyone who ever had to speak in front of a group, just a solid minute of false beginnings and phoneme placeholders. The previous night, during our rehearsal at the Funkies, Mr. Funky had suggested that I introduce the piece that way, stammering at the mic. Ryan thought that he should go up to the mic to "help" me and then do no better--just keep interrupting himself and starting over. That would free me up to go trigger the sample. Not a bad way to start, we figured.

Mr. & Mr$ Funky were up first, and turned in a fine set of their catchy musique verité, plus a cover of Talking Heads' "Pulled Up." I keep liking their songs even more each time I see them--the Funkies are a class act all the way. And they sounded great through the fine sound system. At one point I looked back and saw Dan, another friend, had come in. Cool!

I was up next, doing a very brief solo bit to be followed immediately by the debut of the SCLF. I did a shortened version of the piece I did at the Zythos show, which I'm now calling "The Detonator." It gradually builds to something with quite an infectious rhythm. A couple things were disorienting for me: to combat the hum from the guitar, I had to roll off the treble quite a bit; and I'd never heard the PowerBook through such good monitors before. All the bassy stuff was really shaking the stage. Quite different from what I'm used to. Overall it went pretty well, and lasted about 10 minutes.

Ryan then joined me onstage. We did our intro as planned, and the audience seemed to get it on the right level--there were three different waves of laughter as each change kicked in. The playing worked well, especially checking out the recording, although I think next time we should set up so that we can have eye contact going. The interaction was great, but didn't feel as integrated to me at the time, since there were no visual cues. Listening back to it, however, it's sounding pretty good. I hadn't wanted the software synth to overwhelm the samples, so I turned down the level on individual patches, and it seemed superfluous when I dropped it in, but that's ok--overall, things were kickin'. The first piece definitely has some strong parts over its 20 minutes, and the audience seemed to dig it.

We then did a second one that was much quicker, at six and a half minutes. Much more aggressive and groove-heavier; we were quite warmed up by that point, and it was kind of cool that the fog machine came on as well. Ryan's playing was mighty, about all one could ask from drumming for something like this. I went for a dissonant ring-mod solo, and set the guitar on the amp for ring-modded radio-sweep feedback to end it. Very happening, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to play. Various people told us how much they liked it, and I managed to sell a couple solo CDs.

It took Lonely Planet Boy quite a while to set up, so I had a chance to talk with a number of people, and get caught up with the friends who came to the show, as well as introduce them to Ryan, the Funkies, and Clutter people. (Ty told me that with all the smoke, it was hard for him to see what I was doing onstage, and with the percussive sound samples, he often wasn't sure if I was doing anything at all. Interesting--I actually see that as a kind of success.) Lonely Planet Boy played a long Floyd-like set (some chord changes quite echoed various Floyd tunes), an effect intensified by the fog and the bubbly oil visual that was projected on the rear wall all evening. We moved our conversations to the lobby so as to be able to hear and to get a break from the fog and smoke. Rich from Clutter spilled beer on the lobby carpet and, apparently, on one of my friends. Oops.

Finally, though, it was their shot to play, and I much preferred listening to them to trying to play with them in the style they're doing now. Very note-dense, with Nick on bass throughout. There seemed to be kind of a disconnect between them--Nick and Rich seemed to be each into doing their own thing, and the overall effect was of a lot of notes without much for a listener to grab onto. (In a later conversation with Nick, he sees this as a baseline impression--if people walk away from the set with no other memories, it's ok with him if they remember a flurry of notes.) I thought Ty was drumming quite well, although the overall texture didn't give him much to grab onto, either.

Mr. and Mr$ Funky's other band, the City Slickers, played a quick set after that--star lead guitarist Kevin was out of town, so Robert "Mr. Funky" Press handled both vocals (as usual) and lead guitar for this set, performing this role quite nicely.

Then it was time to load out, get paid, and leave. Nick from Clutter attempted to recruit Ryan, for which I had to rib him somewhat ("Dude! You're raiding my band!"), but all was well. Except for the interaction with the owner, of course, who expressed great disappointment with the turnout, and claimed that we'd misrepresented ourselves. Well...the date we originally booked wasn't up against the White Stripes and whoever was playing either Laga or the Lava Lounge that night, and our original date wasn't during Easter break, etc. And it turns out that he was misrepresenting himself, as the drinks weren't free after all (although for whatever reason mine were, but apparently not for the other musicians; this may have been a case of mistaken identity), and the owner's complaints about not reaching his minimum were news to us--he'd never mentioned this minimum before. I dunno, bad scene. But it's a good club, and the sound is great. Maybe we can make something work there in the future.

I ended up getting home quite late (in bed by 4), and being quite exhausted Easter Sunday, but hey--it was totally worth it. A good show indeed. And seriously, the Stem Cell Liberation Front could build some momentum.

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