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Don't call it a comeback…

Don't call it a comeback… published on No Comments on Don't call it a comeback…

…oh OK, call it a comeback if you want.

Just under a week before a string of Bay Area gigs (the two main shows, at the Starry Plough in Berkeley and the Odeon Bar in San Francisco, plus one or two other highly-likely, more informal/private things…) and, as usual, I’m wondering what the hell I’m going to do once I get on stage in front of an audience.

So (for my benefit as much as anyone else’s), this is my pool of potential “tunes” to play:

– The Proposition
– Interference
– Rockhouse
– One Way Street
– Signify
– Serious Drama
– Untitled uptempo thing
– Untitled cheesy/poppy thing
– Entwined
– Song For My Father
– Sus-reverse smear
– Half-speed steps

The first four are tunes from Normalized, and are mainly melodies that can work over a variety of different key centers or tempos. “Signify” is a track from Disruption Theory which is played live in a very pseudo-Indian, quasi-raga drone style. “Serious Drama” and the two untitled bits are new tunes, again based around certain melodic and harmonic “cells.” “Entwined” is “that pretty backwards-and-forwards ballad” that customarily comes at the end of my sets, and which always seems to prompt a reaction from people. (I wish I could figure out what it is about that tune that people respond to so strongly, so I could write a bunch of other ones with that same secret ingredient in them…)

“Song For My Father” is indeed the Horace Silver jazz standard; I used it as a coda to “Entwined” at the show with David Torn in January, and have been experimenting with dropping it into different spots in the set. The last two numbers are more technical gestures than “tunes” in the standard melody/harmony sense, and use a couple of very specific Echoplex features as an improvisational launching pad.

One of my main area of thought lately has been the idea that “compositions” and “improvisations” are not necessarily two seperate, mutually-exclusive things – they’re two ends of a spectrum, and there’s an immense amount of room for crossover between the two extremes of either playing something totally off the top of one’s head, or playing something completely pre-composed, in the exact way it’s been rehearsed. A lot of Normalized is about improvising in a compositionally-minded manner, and lately my live practice has sort of inverted that formula by looking at ways that pre-composed material can be dropped into the middle of something that started out as being more “free.”

This sort of thing is very common in improv or jamband circles, of course, but it’s a relatively new development for me, borne largely out of an interest in finding ways of setting up signposts for myself in the middle of a set – and also out of wanting to integrate more “regular” guitar playing into my sets. And it’s yet another way that I’m borrowing a line of thought from the DJ school; building up a rhythmic/harmonic foundation and then drawing from a pool of composed fragments feels analagous to cross-fading and beat-matching between records.

After all of that psychobabble, it’s also totally possible that I’ll end up doing straight-up improv for most of a set. It’s hard to say how a solo gig will go until it starts going; for better or worse, I’ve found that the kind of material that works best with any random audience can vary immensely for me, depending on what sort of venue I’m playing, what the vibe in the room is, what people have already heard that night, etc. Spending a few years in the late ’90s and early ’00s away from regular live performance gave me a renewed sense of fascination with the idea of having a dialogue with a live audience; my interest in doing a show right now is based on trying to read the vibe in a space, see where the crowd’s head (and my own) happens to be at, and then hope that we have something to talk about for the next hour or so.

And as if all of this wasn’t enough of a stew of variables to play with, these will also be the first gigs I do with my new guitar – but that’s a subject for another entry. (Hey, anything for a cheap cliffhanger…)

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