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Gig Blog: Level One, Los Angeles, August 17, 2004 (with Mike Keneally and Chris Opperman)

Gig Blog: Level One, Los Angeles, August 17, 2004 (with Mike Keneally and Chris Opperman) published on No Comments on Gig Blog: Level One, Los Angeles, August 17, 2004 (with Mike Keneally and Chris Opperman)

First post since July 20th, huh? Well, I guess I’m not a compulsive blogger.

August was one of the most strangely gratifying months I’ve had in memory. Three really enjoyable and successful gigs – in Los Angeles, no less – plus my first article in the national press.

The gig on August 17th at Level One, with Mike Keneally and Chris Opperman, had me nervous for about two full days leading up to the show. I already knew both Mike and Chris, and had even played duo with each of them before, so there was a certain level of familiarity involved. Nonetheless, I had serious butterflies happening leading up to the show – Mike and Chris are both fabulous musicians, and Keneally’s crowd tends to be both very educated and very dilligent in attending. I didn’t want to play a bad show in this kind of company. Added to this was the fact that the last solo gig I played was the Fais Do Do show in June, which had left me a bit rattled and a lot soured on the LA gigging experience in general.

Put simply, I really didn’t want to mess this show up.

Fortunately, I ended up feeling very calm and relaxed when it came time to play (proving the old adage that it’s good to be nervous before you hit the stage, so that you can get it out of your system by the time you start playing), and my set was one of the more enjoyable ones in memory. “Entwined” and “Signify” were about as good as I can remember playing them, helped in no small part by the attentive listening going on in the room – you really do play differently when you can feel an audience’s attention is focused.

The glitchier, groovier stuff went over well, too, and somewhat surprisingly I found myself thinking “DON’T PLAY TUNES! DON’T PLAY TUNES!” during the first chunk of Echoplexed mayhem. (This is an inner Andre dialogue that translates into, “Don’t dip into your pool of tunes and plug them into the groove stuff – just groove and glitch away.”) Odd, as the only other time I’ve gotten this sense was at the David Torn gig in NYC, and also odd since “listening rooms” often don’t work so well for more purely visceral stuff. But it came off well – a bit “hyped,” maybe, as I wanted to be sure to fit within my suggested half-hour performance slot, but a success nonetheless. (I did end up forcing myself to play “One Way Street” and “The Proposition” for the last blast of material, which worked well after all.) And the Godin guitar sounded very fine – this gig was probably the best my guitar had ever sounded on a solo performance, to date. Good show, good show – what a relief.

The other acts on the bill that night were all very happening. Opener Heyday Murcury played some extremely fluent and musical classical guitar – it was the sort of show that made me glad I hadn’t tried to play classical guitar, because it was clear from Heydey’s performance just how much dedication and time and committment has to go into that discipline. (Just to be clear, that’s a testament to how well Heyday played.)

Chris Opperman played after Heyday, and this was the first time I’d ever seen Chris do a completely solo set of instrumental piano. He played extremely well – Opperman is a very unpredictable performer, capable of shifting from serene beauty to thunderous virtuosity and dissonance in the blink of an eye (and having it make musical sense, no less) so seeing him do his thing is always an exciting and unpredictable event. The highpoint of his set for me was when I shouted out a request for “The 22nd Overture” (an epic, multi-movement piece for large ensemble and choir from his first CD), which he immediately launched into and pulled off in its entirety, with nothing more than two hands and 88 keys.

After my set, Mike Keneally was up, and delivered one of the single most memorable and unusual shows I’ve seen in a very long time. Like the other performers on the bill, Mike played solo, and the first portion of his set was focused on his most “tuneful” material, which he performed on acoustic guitar (with occasional keyboards or electric guitar) and voice. I’ve seen Mike play many times, and have most of his CDs, but there was something about hearing this material in a solo context that really made the “tunefulness” of his songwriting stand out in a way that it previously hasn’t for me – a very enlightening and fantastic first half.

And then came the second half of his set… which was equally fantastic, but also (as Monty Python would say) something COMPLETELY different. That something was a 40-minute piece for backing track and improvisation entitled “Stop For Flashing Red Light,” wherein Mike improvised with voice, guitar, recorder, whistle, and/or noisemaker (frequently on more than one at a time) against a preexisting recording of often very obscure and abstract material (all of which he had performed and recorded specifically for this gig.) Much of his improvising was based around reciting pages out of a lyrics book, and spontaneously assigning highly angular melodies to them as they were sung (which he doubled immaculately on electric guitar). And a goodly portion of the tune found him employing various props, including a “Quisp” cereal box and a bizarre piece of headgear looking half-way between a sun visor and a funeral veil, which he donned at the very beginning of the performance.

“Stop For Flashing Red Light” was riotously funny, utterly absurd, often unexpectedly profound and moving, and ridiculously musical for an improvised performance based upon a 40-minute backing recording which had been entirely produced in about 6 or 7 hours. Making the vibe all the more surreal was the fact that the actual audience for the gig turned out to be surprisingly small, which meant that the room was about equally divided between hardcore listeners and unsuspecting restaurant patrons.

To the credit of everyone involved, though, it was a very fun (albiet extremely surreal) experience. It wasn’t a typical show by any means (even by Keneally standards), and a few Wilshire Blvd. patrons might have gotten slightly stranger dinner music than they were anticipating, but this was the kind of gig that deserves to be spoken of in semi-mythical terms in the years to come.

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