[This post is rated PG-13 for language and adult situations]
Tuesday, March 15th 2005 continued…
So my razor-sharp tour manager instinct, to get me from the WNYC studio to my gig in Brooklyn that evening, ended up consisting of me sheepishly asking Irene, the engineer for my just-completed session, if she knew how to get to Galapagos (the venue in question.) As luck would have it, she led me into an adjacent studio, where an assistant who had played there before kindly drew a map showing the location of the club in relation to the nearest subway station. I thanked him profusely, and made my way back down to the subway station for the next stage of the trip.
As I tried to find my way to the right departure terminal, I heard what sounded suspiciously like a live band wafting through the hundreds of bodies moving through the station, and sure enough I soon happened upon a jazz/funk drums-keyboard-trumpet trio, set up in the middle of the subway station. The trumpet player fingered his instrument with one hand, while simultaneously holding the group’s CD up in the air as he played with his other hand. As mid-performance pitches go, it wasn’t the most subtle thing, but it got the job done. (A few hours earlier, I had departed Queens while sharing a subway car with a young man playing a Neil Young cover and then making the rounds for change from the other passengers.)
Another hop on the subway line, and another sense of pleasant disorientation as I made my way back up to the street level and found myself in Brooklyn – the first time I’d ever set foot in that particular bourrough. I liked the vibe a lot – decidedly less of a concrete jungle than Manhattan, with a more laid-back, bohemian vibe… sort of like the Silverlake/Echo Park East Side scene here in Los Angeles, maybe? Probably too much of a judgement call to make from a few minutes of wandering the streets in a disorganized haze, but that was my initial impulse.
Checking the WNYC map, I wandered down the street for a couple of blocks, looking for any sign of one of the other streets on the map to give me a sense of bearings. When I finally did find the closest parallel street, I realized I’d walked a couple of blocks in the wrong direction – no problem, as I was quite enjoying checking out the town. One thing I’ve found is that exploring a city on foot gives me a much more intimate sense of the space than traveling it by car; details that blur by in a motor vehicle can be much more fully appreciated as a pedestrian, so I was glad to be able to make the city’s acquaintance this way.
I found myself on the right street, in the right direction, closing in on what looked likely to be the proper area, with the shore only a couple of blocks further away. As I passed by a tall fellow having a smoke outside a nondescript building, I started hoping that I’d find the spot without much trouble. My hope was realized when the smoking gentleman said, “Hi, Andre,” to which I turned around with much surprise, and realized that this was Dave Weeks, of the band Triphazard, who would also be playng that evening. I’d met Dave and the rest of the band when I played at Makor with David Torn back at the beginning of 2004, which was the only semblance of an alibi I had for not recognizing him, but he was good natured about it (thank God). After a couple of minutes Manca Klanjscek, Triphazard’s singer and songwriter (who had hooked up this gig in the first place), wandered out, and we started getting caught up and discussing the evening ahead.
Galapagos, as it turned out, was a very hip and fairly ornate club, with quite a high stage and a classy lighting system. It looked like a more artsy sort of venue than the typical bar environment (which I’d suspected already, as both Dominic Frasca and Todd Reynolds had both played there in the past). (In the small-world department, I saw the club had a poster for a very recent gig by The Hazzards, a female ukulele-and-Casios duo, who I’d shared a bill with about a year earlier, in San Francisco.) The strangest part of the evening’s arrangement was probably the fact that there was an entirely seperate three-act bill booked before Triphazard and myself (and Sarge, the third man in the bills for my pre-Monkey shows). Making things more interesting was the fact that this first bill was a trio of drag queen acts, who we shared the backstage area with. That area, in fact, was pretty huge – at least twice the size of the main room of the club itself – and it was a pretty interesting scene for the evening: the various queens set up next to the stage door, going through an elaborate succession of primpings and preenings, while the rest of us set up on the other side of the room, doing our respective load-ins, warm-ups, and pre-gig routines, each side of the room more or less oblivious to the other one. I guess the subways aren’t the only place where New Yorkers from unlikely backgrounds find themselves politely coexisting.
I’d gotten to the venue around 6:00 PM, but the fact that there were a full four acts before me (the three drag queen acts, plus Triphazard) meant that I had plenty of time to stress out about the gig. This was a pretty important show for me. The last gig I’d played, in LA the week before, had gone very, very badly – it was the first show I ever tried with three Echoplexes at once, and I found myself very overwhelmed with set-ups, audio routing, and soundcheck problems. (A couple of people at that LA gig had commented that they really liked the way the show sounded with three Echoplexes, praising the newfound depth and complexity of the sound. What I didn’t have the heart to tell these people was that it had sounded so bad to me that I’d killed two of the three Echoplexes about five minutes into my set… so 95% of what they’d heard had been a one-Echoplex gig, and very bad one, at that.)
The initial setup at The Monkey on the 14th hadn’t been particularly confidence-boosting, as I was trying to come to terms with surround sound as an audible reality for the first time ever (and trying to knock off some of the rust from my chops, as well.) The WNYC recording from earlier that day hadn’t felt terribly great from a performance point of view, either. So I needed the Galapagos gig to go well, to convince myself that I was still capable of playing a decent gig.
I’m a pretty compulsive pre-gig warm-up guy; I tend to like to spend as much time as I can before a show wandering around the venue, playing my guitar (unplugged), getting my fingers into shape, and trying to read the vibe of the performance space. So I only caught bits and pieces of the drag queen performances; the bits I did hear were largely pretty outlandish and brash (as I guess I would have expected – I’m not a connisseur of this sort of thing by any means), but it was certainly entertaining as extroverted performance art.
Once that wrapped up, it was time for Triphazard to take the stage. I’d heard some recordings that the band had posted on their web site, and dug them a lot, but I had a feeling that they’d really come across best in a live context, and that absolutely prooved to be the case. The best way I can think of to describe the group is a sort of cross between A Love Supreme – era John Coltrane (particularly in the polyrhythmic and hypnotic rhythm section) and the first Velvet Underground album, when Nico fronted the group, with some post-DJ live electronic flourishes thrown in around the edges. Manca Klanjscek writes some extremely sophisticated modern jazz songs, with some angular melodic twists, odd meters, and complex harmonic movement.
It’s definitely some heady and cerebral stuff, but it’s also quite emotionally direct – Manca makes for a very compelling frontwoman, and the rest of the band is clearly made up of very serious jazz players, who got a lot of room to stretch out in the songs’ arrangements. If I were a professional music critic, I’d stand a better chance of doing the band justice right now, but as I’m merely a lowly guitarist, I’ll have to simply say that the band was Very Fucking Happening ™, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t relax and enjoy their set without having to think about playing my own right after them.
When the time for that came around, I took a bit of an unusual approach – rather than set up on stage, I set up on the floor of the club, in front of the stage. Part of this was logistics – Sarge, who played after me, had a lot of gear to set up, and I was keen to minimize hassle and complication between sets. I’ll also cop to being a bit self-conscious at the idea of standing on a four-foot high stage doing a solo set right after Triphazard.
So how was the show? Quite good, thank God. It was pretty much a “bread-and-butter” Andre LaFosse set, though it’s a bit unusual for me to play non-stop for the entire length of my set, which is what I did here. But clubs and bars are historically the most consistently good venues for me – I’ve never had a bad gig in one, and thankfully Galapagos proved to be consistent in that regard… with one pronounced exception.
At a certain point, the soundman came up to me in the middle of my set (as I was playing, of course) and told me I had about ten more minutes. I sometimes have a hard time gauging how much time is going by when I play, but even still it seemed like a surprisingly short amount of time to have been going. Nonetheless, I tried wrapping up reasonably quickly, and segued into “Entwined” as my closer. It turned out this wasn’t a moment too soon, as I found the soundguy walking past me again in the middle of plucking out “Entwined”‘s delicate ballad chords, giving me a gritted-teeth finger-under-the-chin “cut” gesture as he walked by. I nodded politely and tried to finish the tune as quickly as I could.
The crowd reaction was really nice – almost too good, as it turned out, as several people in the audience started shouting for more music. I shouted back (since I didn’t have a microphone set up on the floor with me) that the sound man had told me to finish up, and then looked over at the mixing console, calling out for a verdict in the current Audience Vs. Galapagos case. The sound man grew a grimace on his face that suggested he’d had more comfortable moments than this, and called back that we had to keep the night moving along. I shrugged to the crowd, hollered out a quick spiel about CD’s, mailing lists, and Monkey discount passes, and started tearing down my gear.
Well, better to leave them wanting more, I guess. I got some very strong comments afterwards, as well as some CD sales and mailing list signings, but most importantly for me, I managed to cross the threshold into playing “a good gig.” I could spend the rest of the week looking forward to the remaining gigs with, if not a complete absence of anxiety, then at least the knowledge that I was still capable of doing a good show.
(To add to the intrigue of the night, I later heard that a couple had been having sex in the ladies’ room in the middle of my set. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me as a performer, but I’m going to make a leap of faith and take it as a compliment. Not for nothing, it seems, does Normalized end with a track called “Beast With Two Backs.”)
Sarge (aka Elijah B. Torn’s one-man show) had set up during my performance, so I had barely started packing up before he kicked in with a salvo of screeching electronics and pounding beats. The Sarge CD, which I’d heard some weeks prior to arriving in NYC, was a very cool but quite subdued, chilled-out affair, with a decidedly cosmopolitan vibe to it. I’d been anticipating that Elijah’s set would be a quasi-DJ, “wind-down” sort of affair, so I was pretty surprised to see him unleashing a laptop-punk set that would be right at home next to a Squarepusher performance. It was really damn good, too – very assured, multifaceted, and dynamic, implementing some of the tracks from his album in a very different context. As with Triphazard, I was bummed that I wasn’t able to focus on Sarge’s set without the distraction of a gig (and if anything, I find the post-gig headspace to be at least as confusing and disorienting as the pre-gig one), but I was able to rub enough brain cells together to enjoy his sonic assault a great deal.
Funniest post-gig exchange of the night: I was finishing up in the men’s room when a member of the audience came in, and (in a decidedly less-than-compelely sober frame of mind) started complimenting me on how my set was really to his liking: “Man, that was a really damn good show! No, man, I mean it was REALLY GOOD!” I thanked the guy and extended my hand for a shake, to which he replied, “No, man, I ain’t shaking your hand after you’ve just been touching your balls… but your set was REALLY DAMN GOOD!” Spoken like a true New Yorker.
Amidst reports of mid-set copulation and the hazards of genital hand contact, the vibe post-performance was good – being cut short was a bit of a drag (and a bit odd to have a room full of people yelling for a longer set, no less) but a worthwhile trade for a solid gig that got me feeling good about my work for the week. Elijah had rented a car to transport his gear, and was enormously kind enough to give me a lift back to Queens at whatever ungodly hour of the night we finally got out of Galapagos.
I think this was the first night that I started having serious bouts of insomnia – I was certainly tired after a day like that, but I couldn’t stop thinking… about parts of the show that had gone well, about what could be done better, about bass lines from songs, about the people who had criticized and cut down my work over the last several years, about the father who’d been so supportive of what I did, who’d walked the streets of New York City (and had done a radio series there himself) as a child violin prodigy, and about all of the people I’d been blessed enough to make contact with over the last year, to somehow find myself playing a week of solo gigs in New York City…