good morning ~
(click the link / Vermont sudden thunderstorm to listen)
today's track was done in one totally uninstructed take by the Sinai Vessel northeast version live band - the zoom recorder's batteries died before we could even try another one, yup, that's the take
I'm touring in my friend Caleb's band this week, about to drive to DC for a gig tonight. I've loved Caleb's Sinai Vessel songs for a long time, ever since we toured together back in 2019, and it feels like good and important heart work to go out now and play these shows.
I'm also gonna do Ben Seretan sets at two of the gigs - someone had to drop off last minute at our NYC show and of course you know I had to take the opportunity to do something with the Avalon Lounge piano. Dates below, would love to rip for you - -
• 8/3 - washington, dc - comet ping pong
w/ prude & close
• 8/4 - philadelphia, pa - abyssinia
w/ shannen moser, ther, & addy
• 8/5 - brooklyn, ny - purgatory
w/ grumpy & ben seretan
• 8/6 - boston, ma - o’brien’s
w/ 22º halo, joyer, & ribbon
• 8/7 - catskill, ny - avalon lounge
w/ fraternal twin, bruiser & bicycle, & ben seretan
It starts off politely enough. Hands shaken, names given, the usual anointments. How fared thee on the drive up from New York City, what neighborhood do you live in, where did you grow up, etc. A vetted ensemble, vouched for and known of, but still strangers in the flesh - were we really about to strap on our sonic implements and make a holy racket? I felt I had done my homework - a handful of long sessions seated before our especially made instructional videos remembering how to make my fingers move the way I want them to. They're clumsier than I want them to be, they bump into each other, I can imagine them saying "oop! right behind ya" every time I try to shape a close chord.
When was the last time I even played in a Band? Only one or two gigs played with a rhythm section in recent memory. For the last three years I've mostly I've made music by myself. I've played with a handful of other people in a looser, improvised, let's-see-what-happens kinda way, nothing really resembling the coordinated execution of a songwriters' vision. I sat in on one song with Lea Thomas' band a few weeks ago and felt a tremendous, dizzying, almost disorienting swell of fun - encouraged to rip I ran, beaming. Shortly thereafter I felt a sense of mourning balloon inflating within me - apparently I still love doing this, why have I let myself miss out?
When Ged and I started playing together out of an abundance of enthusiasm we called it a band and gave it a name but there was something of a joke to it - Friends Meeting, that just literally describes what we were doing, it's like calling a bar Beer Drinking Place. Though He and I walk together in a particular world that we stir up with our two tables full of gear and there's an unrepeatable chaos to the conjuring - we cannot and will not take requests when we play live, sorry, we couldn't recreate anything we've done before even if we really tried. Other combinations of musicians I've played with have failed to gel fully into a Band, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - special occasion one off collaborations can be amazing and totally nourishing and I am naturally compelled by the notion that a performance is literally a "once-in-a-lifetime" happening. Not everything needs or wants to be a Band, per se, and if everyone doesn't enthusiastically buy into the idea it's never gonna work.
Which leads me to observe that there is a very distinct threshold one must cross in order to become a Band, otherwise you're just people hanging out together and playing music, however organized you might be. Trust has to be given and earned, the other people have to be known to you, and crucially you have to think that the noise you make together doesn't actually suck ass. In fact it helps a lot to think that your shit rocks, and convincing each other of this fact is a required ritual - if you're not saying "hell yeah" and "that was a good one" after each song at rehearsal, something has gone terribly wrong. A Band is a collective entity, a people manifestation of a cloud of belief, a swaddling of social organization in a larger-than-the-parts name.
So it is truly amazing to me that within five minutes of plugging in that we are sailing right away, up and fucking out, surprisingly locked in and ripping shit, everyone smiling. Eighty percent of the work of getting it to sound good already done and what's more is that these essentially strangers to me are taking the kindly delivered but firm critique from our leader like a champ, no one's getting their feelings hurt when discussing amp tone or the pocket of the tune. I knew that we'd sound good eventually, but the quickness of it is unexpected. We've got something good on our hands here, we've earned our place on the bill.
As the hours of practice stretch on meals are prepared and shared, beverages are consumed, we brush our teeth in front of each other, everyone goes swimming in our neighbor's unbelievably beautiful pond. I feel a yoke of bond tightening tenderly around us each time we play a song a little bit better, a lasso of companionship wrangling us toward something. Do we grow closer because the music sounds better and better? Or does the music sound better because we're becoming pals?
Full goof mode descends upon us the afternoon I suggest we go for a walk on a trail I like that takes you right down to the Hudson. Normally it's an easy hike, under an hour, but for whatever reason this time there are dozens of full-size, completely downed trees blocking the path and, boy-like, we go to ridiculous lengths to get past the barriers, climbing and shimmying over bark and branch. Dick and fart jokes become the lingua franca, rocks are skipped, sections of chainsawed log are rolled down the hill. It's only later that I realize the hilariously on-the-nose metaphor of it - we collectively and joyfully bested an obstacle together, one that any reasonable person would have turned back at, and what's more is that we helped each other do it.
I recognize that the arrangement is temporary - I get to be in this band for a fistful of gigs, it doesn't have the life-or-death stakes of other bands I've been in, every chip pushed to the center of the felt. This is fun, we're having fun, these shows could all be total disasters and we'd probably still feel good about giving it a go. And how often will I get in the van ever again? I'm already the oldest one in this group by a few years and I'm no longer able to sleep on hard surfaces, plus I've got a day job and a daily life I'd rather live than escape. But for this week it's great, hell yeah, that was a good one.
But what about you? Are you within a lasso of friendship? Are you going monkey mode? When was the last time you got in the van?