This past month I was out of musical commission for as long as I’ve ever been – longer than when I had my tonsils removed, though perhaps not quite as long as when I broke my collarbone (although I have many grimace-inducing memories of propping my back up against the cinder block walls of Calhoun hall so I could leverage my left hand up high enough to fret chords).
In any event, it was a long time without music – from when I came down with bronchitis on January 9th through when I started playing piano again on February 1st.
Three weeks might not sound like a long time to you, but in time without music it’s an eternity, so I’ve been happy to get back to my musical routine this past week.
Every Wednesday: LP Open Mic @ Intermezzo (3141 Walnut)
Last week was my first week back to our open mic after a three week recess, and also a week of my hosting duties.
It turned out to be an evening of great fun. I opened with a trio of tunes so new that I don’t even have lyric links for them yet, let alone recordings, plus a new Beatles cover I had dreamt up on an old guitar the night before.
The turnout for the night was much lighter than usual, which resulted in the open mic becoming an effective round robin of me, Arcati Crisis, Mike from Shackamaxon, and my most-adored band in all of Philadelphia, Blueberry Magee, plus two appearances by our friend and fellow LP Artist Ashley Brandt. All three of the artists on that list are some of my favorites in Philly, and it was wonderful to share an exclusive bill with them for the night.
This week Dante Bucci and his hang drums are the host, but Gina and I will still make an appearance. If you’re around University City between 8pm and 11pm you should drop by.
Thursday: Arcati Crisis Rehearsal!
Okay, not really much of a scene to be seen on, but from our insanity at the open mic it was clear Gina and I were craving a chance to catch up and work on some new material. We picked our next four AC songs (two of which are from my super-new trio from the prior evening), and got most of the way through a guitar arrangement of one of mine – “Better.”
Our arrangement decisions tend to take forever when we’re inside of them, but in retrospect seem like they occurred in a flash. On “Better” we started out moving Gina into different capo positions to find a good interplay against my open progression in E. She wound up on the fourth fret.
At one point in following my chords she fell one chord behind me, and I stopped her and said, “you’re on to something.” Twenty minutes later we had crafted a fanged hook for the song that sounds perfectly at home despite the fact that it is wickedly out of step for Gina compared to my part.
We were pretty satisfied with ourselves at that point, and just sketched in the idea of the bridge before calling it a night. We still have to break out harmony vocals, which tends to be where the bulk of our arrangement battles lie.
Friday: The Pretenders @ The Electric Factory
I have a short list of bands that I absolutely must see once at some point in my life, mostly because I have been lucky enough to see bands while they are at their peek – before they become a rarer commodity.
For a long time one of those bands has been The Pretenders.
I remember my introduction to them pretty succinctly. When I was in high school there was a popular commercial that featured a Barbie and a G.I. Joe wheeling around in a plastic car to the tune of “Message of Love,” and I decided it was one of the best songs I ever heard. Googling for lyrics wasn’t quite as instantly gratifying at the time as it is now, but in relatively short order I discovered the song was by the Pretenders.
Of course, I knew all the singles, and had maybe even seen their Behind the Music & Storytellers before, but “Message” was my first succinct connection. Later, my Freshman year of college, I stopped by HMV after getting my now-legendary New Year’s Eve haircut and picked up their first trio of discs.
I was instantly hooked, and for a while that’s all I owned. They’re a succinct statement – two discs of the original lineup, and one that responds to their absence.
In recently years I beefed up my Pretenders collection, including their last two albums – Loose Screw and Break Up the Concrete. Both of them were critically lauded, and in both cases I agreed – neither is a stagnant act retreading past glories; both explore new arrangements while staying true to the core brash defiance of The Pretenders.
I was pining to hit their show, but it seemed like we might be too exhausted from the honeymoon to plan on it for sure. So, it came down to Elise and I in our living room at six o’clock on a Friday night, asking, “are you sure?”
We weren’t, but we still went, and I’m happy we did. The Pretenders were spectacular – muscular and mimeographic as they churned out faithful renditions of songs from the full range of their career. Chrissie Hynde not only sounded pitch perfect in comparison to her records, but also cut a svelte figure in her high boots and single-tail tux jacket – dancing an exaggerated sidestep in “Brass In Pocket.” It was plain as day the through line from her to PJ, Shirley, and Karen O.
It was also clear that she is one of the great, under-appreciated rhythm guitarists in classic rock – she’s effectively the backbone of every arrangement, even galloping time changes like “Tattooed Love Boys.”
The band played half of their newest disc, and nearly the entirety of their debut, plus all the notable singles between with the exception of “2000 Miles,” “Middle of the Road,” “Ohio,” and “Stand By You” (also, my manager saw them the prior night and got “Mystery Achievement,” which I had lamented not hearing).
One more band struck from the “once in a lifetime” list (the last prior cross-off was Cyndi Lauper, another stunning concert). I’m actually hard-pressed to think of who’s next at this point. I’m tempted by the Fleetwood Mac hits tour, but I don’t know if I could count it as the real thing without Christie McVie along for the ride.
Every Monday: Open Jam @ Connie’s Ric Rac (9th just under Washington)
Connie’s Ric Rac is my neighborhood open mic, as well as being the room that spawned my recent asphyxiation and the subsequent interstate love song that Gina is currently endeavoring to learn.
As the story goes, the Ric Rac (named thusly as a misnomer for bric-a-brac) used to be an Italian Market discount store owned by the titular Connie, and when the storefront closed down the shop stayed in the family. Later, her son(s?) proposed that they open the doors as a sort of counter-culture community center, complete with art classes, concerts, and open jams.
Thus, Connie’s Ric Rac. I was a little nervous about attending, because it’s a totally new scene to me, but I was encouraged by the fact that February’s guest host is the darling Katie Barbato, and the night was themed with Beatles covers as a tribute to the band’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show 45(!) years prior.
I arrived much too early to a Ric Rac family scene replete with snake-feeding, wine-drinking, and banjo recitals – all with the easy laughter and chain smoking that I recall from a childhood spent in my grandmother’s South Philadelphia kitchen. I was happy to remain a wallflower through the family affair until the night kicked off.
In addition to Katie (playing a sad, Across the Universe style “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and a new original with a killer chord change in the chorus) there was house band Discount Heroes (valiantly slaying “Revolution” and “Don’t Let Me Down” despite their singer’s flu), a freak-R&B act whose name I did not catch doing a remarkable version of “Savoy Truffle,” and Vince & Chuck.
Vince and Chuck were pure magic – performing note-perfect Beatles covers of a great selection of tunes – “Here Comes the Sun,” “If I Fell,” “Baby’s In Black,” and “Please Please Me,” plus another I can’t recall. I essentially pleaded with them to come to the LP Open Mic to share their Beatles tunes, and this was before discovering that Chuck AKA Charles Ramsey is a phenomenal songwriter in his own right.
Since the directive was early-Beatles I debated “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” but settled on long-time favorite “All My Loving,” which I wailed like a fucking banshee. Katie assures me it was awesome. I also played the repeatedly aforementioned “Connie’s Ric Rac Love Song AKA Better,” “In My Life,” and later “Ob-la Di Ob-la Da,” plus a handful of other originals.
Katie will host out the month, and I’m going to make an effort to make it to the next two Monday’s to hang out with her and the Ric Rac family before shifting my attention to either Fergie’s or The Fire in March. She gave me a copy of the brand new full-length by her band The Sleepwells, and her voice is so freaking sexy on it. I might blush the next time I talk to her. Wow.
Every Tuesday: Open Mic @ Studio Luloo (916 White Horse Pike, Oaklyn NJ)
Yes, my friends, I got all the fuck around the scene this week.
Gina and I have had Studio Luloo on our to-do list for a while, and it was elevated by our missing an appearance from Year Long Day last week. We discovered that it is virtually around the corner from Gina’s abode, and tonight finally endeavored to make an appearance.
It was a completely worthwhile endeavor! Luloo is hosted and operated by the entirely charming Sara O’Brien, who shares songs, healing arts, and a tangible joie de vivre in this cozy shopfront slash recording studio with the best monitor mix we’ve ever heard.
No joke. We were first after Sara, so had no idea what to expect, and we started with “Bucket Seat,” which is not amongst the simplest of our songs, and the mix was just perfect. We could hear what we really sounded like, and not some faraway facsimile thereof. We also made a successfully epic run at “Apocalyptic Love Song” (click that link – Gina should win a freaking Grammy for that performance), and an entertaining jaunt through “Pocahontas.”
Playing first can be a curse if you want to get heard by the room at it’s fullest, but when you’re just out to chill it’s a wonderful pressure deflator. We had time to chat with some of the crowd, including super-sweet Dave from Never Trust, and Ryan Williams, who was the feature.
I’ve met Ryan before, but never heard him, and his songs are great. Like, actually great, not just hyperbolic great. He has a new one, “Audio,” that is pure aural dynamite. Scary-good.
I was sad to miss out on talking to a cool kid playing a Guild with a series of partial capos, his name maybe being Jeremy Hines? He had a really tuneful sensibility, and reminded me of Honorary Title – the sort of music I consistently fail at making when I write things like “Standing” or “Love Me Not.”
In other news…
I had designs on hitting the Tuesday open mic @ Time on the way home from Luloo, but Gina smartly deposited me back at my house so I can rest my voice a bit.
Not too much other news, other than I stopped by Cafe Grindstone over the weekend for a fabulous lunch of vegan kielbasa and a soy banana milkshake and spoke with Jerry at the counter a bit about how one gets selected to play there. It’s just about as close to me as Ric Rac, so I’d love to drop by to sing every so often.
Also, Battlestar Galactica. I could say a lot about this week’s episode, but right now I just have one thing on my mind: the return Ellen Motherfrakkin’ Tigh.
Hopefully some fucking sleep!
But, seriously, tomorrow night we’ll be at the LP Open Mic @ Intermezzo. If open micing is not your thing, get thyself to the Tin Angel to see Shackamaxon, awesome Mad Dragon recording artist Andrew Lipke, and a band called StereoFidelic which is likely awesome based on the company they keep.
Also, biggest news for last: Arcati Crisis will be splitting a bill with our friend and musical confidante Joshua Popejoy on February 28th at our much-beloved South Street venue Upstairs @ Zot! This will be a BIG SHOW – big sets from both of us, a big(ger) PA system, a big comfortable room for you to stretch out in, and hopefully A BIG CROWD.
$8, beer specials, awesome acoustic pop music. Mark your calendar. Tickets here.
What now? Oh, right, sleep.