Sunday, October 09, 2016

Birthday Highlights

Friday, October 7 was my birthday. Typical of most days, I had a full  list of things to do, leading up to a show at the end of the night. Playing on my birthday seemed like a good idea, so why not.

The day started the photo below, which I saw when I walked into work:

Not one, but two cakes. And since they came from the place where I used to work, damn good cakes. But before I had a chance to really get settled into the day, the power went out in the office. That was around 10:45. Duquesne Light, when we were finally able to get through to a live person, said it could be close to 1:00 before it came back on. The staff said that if it didn't come on at 1:00, we could go home. 

After getting a cake, which we cut into soon after the power outage (luckily there are a lot of tall windows and it was sunny at that point so we weren't in the dark), getting a free day off would have been too good to be true, and too much to expect. And it was, because it came back on at about 12:15.

The rest of the day was a typical Friday: get home, meet Donovan at the bus stop, take him to his piano lesson. Grab a Mineo's pizza for dinner. It wasn't the OFFICIAL birthday dinner but a good one. Besides I had to run out quickly to see Mary Halvorson at a City of Asylum performance.

Mary is in town all weekend. Friday was a solo set, last night she played with Tomas Fujiwara's the Hook Up. Tonight she's playing with Thumbscrew, the trio with Fujiwara and bassist Michael Formanek. As a side note, Esperanza Spaulding was also playing in town the same night, just a few miles away. Ben Folds was also in town. In the wildest addition to that don't-tell-me-nothing-happens-in-Pittsburgh moment, the band ESG (yes, THE ESG with the Scroggins sisters) was playing here at the VIA Festival. 

But I was at the Halvorson show because I was asked to present her with an award for Guitarist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association. The call came a few weeks ago and at first it threw me off: On the same night as a gig, and the same night I had intended to celebrate my birthday with my family, I was asked to do this too? What's a guy to do? Answer: Do it, because I'd be stupid not to.

So I was told that, as Mary was making her way to the stage, I should follow her up and make the announcement. Never having done this kind of thing before, I felt funny, wondering how much she actually knew about this, if she remembered me from previous visits, interviews, etc, as the guy who'd be doing it. 

Then when I got up there, I was nervous, worrying about talking too much, getting too effusive and not making any sense. So I just ad libbed  a little bit, recalling seeing her for the first time with Anthony Braxton here in 2008, hopefully got the message across, made sure the JJA got some good props and handed her the award. 

Her set consisted of the music she recorded on Meltframe, a group of reimagined songs by everyone from Ornette Coleman to French guitarist Noël Akchoté. (She actually segued these respective composers' pieces together, "Sadness" and "Cheshire Hotel" respectively.) Other composers that she did before I left included Annette Peacock and Oliver Nelson. (I wonder what the latter would have thought of her fuzzy version of "Cascades.")

I was only able to catch about 25 or 30 minutes before heading back across the Allegheny to Hambone's, via a stop for coffee. A handful of better-suited words about Mary came to me as soon as she started playing, so I was feeling moody and caffeine was the only cure. After waiting for the family in front of me to get three desserts, trying to find a place to park near Hambone's and walking in the rain, the drink felt even better. (The good news was we were sharing bass amps at the show, so I only had to haul my bass, tool kit full of cables and various sundries.)

Good friends Will Simmons and the Upholsterers opened the show, which to me also means Instant Party. Those guys know how to balance solid pop hooks with some zany elan. In my honor, they covered two Monkees songs in a medley, "Randy Scouse Git" and "Love Is Only Sleeping." The latter is a pretty bold move since it hops from 7/4 to 4/4. 

The Love Letters' last few shows found us playing slightly shorter sets to make sure that everyone on the bill got their space. (Well, Britsburgh was a little longer, but that's a different story.) We decided to aim for closer to 45 minutes tonight, though we probably went a bit over, thanks to some good shtick at the beginning of the set. Furthermore, I caused some delay in a quest to find some lost equipment, which was right under my nose the whole time. (Sorry, guys.)

We threw in a fair number of covers tonight, some part of our regular set, some newer. The big one was one of my favorite songs from childhood, the McCoys' "Hang on Sloopy." I think we did a pretty spirited version of it. There were some amp/guitar problems in the set, but we rebounded pretty well and I got to segue a few songs together.

Old Soles and Seedy Players went on after us. I hadn't seen them before but I knew keyboardist/vocalist Dan Styslinger from his guitar playing in delicious pastries. After hearing a few songs online, I thought they'd be cool. Normally they have a horn section, but on this night they were just a quartet. It was different from what I expected: these guys really have chops. Dan's keys unfortunately got lost in the mix a bit, but he was really going at it. Guitarist Frank had an octave effect pedal that he used during solos, which gave his instrument this weird, flute-like sound. The first time he did, I wasn't sure where the sound was coming from. I liked the way the rhythm section made the songs move because it kept the edge in it, so it didn't get too smooth. I want to check these guys out again because I'm still wrapping my head around them. And I want to hear horns!

No comments: