My birthday celebration began officially on Thursday night when I stepped on stage beside Gina as Arcati Crisis, before several dozen of my friends, and in front of a three-piece backing band, and commenced the first moment in my life where I truly felt like a rock star.
Flash back to a year ago – the beginning of my quarter-life danger/opportunity.
I knew – had known for months – that I wanted to get out to play more often. It was one of the reasons I had quit my promising run with our semi-pro acappella group after six months of arduous rehearsals. Yet, after two months of constantly playing around the house and a tepid run at World Cafe Live’s Monday open mic, I was stuck playing a single bar once a month.
I needed something a little more artist-oriented – where I wouldn’t be fiercely battling for attention over and over again with the same damn Madonna cover.
Out of the blue, I recalled Penni Gould – a woman I knew in passing from years of playing the Shubin Theatre holiday revue. At the 2004 show she mentioned that she was starting up a monthly performance salon for local theatre artists? Was it still around?
Not only was it still around, but after a brief email exchange I found myself invited to their next soundcheck for an audition. I played one rocker and one ballad, and just like that I was booked for a debut in December.
Meanwhile, Gina and I just had commenced rehearsing for our annual appearance at the Holiday Revue. This year we were effectively co-headlining with a three-song set, for which we were hardly prepared.
As a result, we resolved to do something highly unusual for us: rehearse. More than a week before our performance. And, more than once.
For the first couple of meetings we just played around, trying to figure out what we sounded like after a year-and-a-half apart. By our third rehearsal we realized that two of our biggest past challenges had transformed into major opportunities.
First, Gina was more consistent and aggressive than ever on her guitar parts, making it easy to scale up to more complex arrangements.
Even more significant, my acappella experience had taught me how to hold my own against other vocals, and as a result I no longer had to struggle to sing harmony with Gina. Not only could Gina sing more harmony with me, but for the first time I could sing harmony on her songs as well!
We wound up with more than a trio of songs – we discovered a formula, both for our sound and for motivating ourselves to rehearse. After a nearly flawless performance at the revue I floated my typical annual question to Gina – any chance you want to keep rehearsing in the new year?
Shockingly – though somehow not surprisingly – she said yes.
Now travel forward to May. Gina and I had just made our official redebut as Arcati Crisis at the 5th Annual Lyndzapalooza, and a few weeks later I found myself scheduled for another Melange performance.
Amusingly, over the past six months my tables had been turned: coming off of rehearsing with Gina as Arcati Crisis my own material was flabby and out of shape, especially in light of what looked to be a strong lineup at Melange.
Past that self-consciousness, Lindsay emailed me about a curious new development – Melange listed a future date at the Tin Angel, one of my favorite venues. Would I be playing there?
My only answer was a sinking feeling in my stomach that I wasn’t prepared to make a strong showing that night at Melange … certainly not strong enough to merit a coveted spot at the Tin.
A bit worried (okay: panicked), I sent Gina a pleading email: was there any chance she’d come up to sing harmony with me on one song, so I didn’t feel so nude?
As the day progressed we continued to exchange emails and the plans became more elaborate, until finally we agreed to just appear as Arcati Crisis. And we did, rocking an unusual combination of her bouncy “Fisher Price” and my elaborately maudlin “Counts the Most.”
Afterwards, Penni told us she would see if she could squeeze us in to the yet-to-be-announced second Tin Angel gig.
Now just a month ago, Gina and I are in a third floor apartment across from the Kimmel Center playing with a drummer and a bassist for the first time. Beforehand we absconded into the stairwell, working hushedly on our harmonies and debating on what we should tell the drummer to do.
The point wound up being moot. Tom, our drummer, was fantastic – picking up on exactly what we wanted without us even having to say so. All of our songs transformed into the better selves we had imagined all along, none more than Gina’s “What’ll I Say” – now less languid folk and more acoustic jam.
Suddenly our little duo had been expanded to an honest rock band that would be making its debut on September 20th.
Now we just needed an audience.
Thursday night, and Gina and I are backstage in one of two dressing rooms at the Tin Angel, having spent the past hour hand-labeling the Live @ Rehearsal, Vol. 1 discs I took the day off from work to mix and produce.
The walls of our room are covered with sharpie marker signatures from the many bands that had appeared there. Chris Smither loomed just above my head, and Erin McKeown high behind my chair. After much searching I failed to spot Peter Mulvey, but we discovered our acquaintance Mutlu near the ceiling and upside down.
Enough people had been seated that there was a bit of a hum drifting back to the room, and I delighted that this wasn’t theatre and that it was okay for me to sneek out for a peek.
The peek snuck the breath right out of me; the vast majority of the audience were our family and friends. Both of our parents, and our partners. Former roommates and theatre compatriots. Co-workers and random friends.
Most performances are a blur, but I can still hear this one in super slow motion. It makes the mistakes all the more painful than usual, but it also magnifies the successes.
A flipped pronoun on “Standing” pales against the best bridge vocal I’ve ever done. Skipping a progression on “What’ll I Say” to untangle my quarter inch tiny in the face of belting out my harmony at the close. And, starting “Wait” with a too hard pick hardly mattering when compared to our hilarious ad-libbed inflections and gestures on the final verse, tossing our lines back and forth to each other while the rhythm section carried the song.
Afterwards Elise and I went out for drinks, and more drinks, and karaoke, all of which I experienced through a film of joy. It might have taken ten years of preparation and a year of work, but I’ve finally transformed from wayward solo songwriter with no confidence to part of an assured and rehearsed duo that’s had a taste of a backing band and is hungry for more.
An errant Banker’s Club cosmo aside, Thursday night was the best birthday gift ever.