Archive for December, 2009
Another year, come and gone. Like most years, I decided to recap what was my year in photos. For me, this was a year of changing directions in photography. Instead of things like weddings and skylines, there were portraits, concerts, events and food. I took a lot of shots for the Houston Press, for which I am quite thankful, and had a lot of fun doing it.
There were fewer shoots this year for pure enjoyment, but a lot of photos I loved and, despite shooting a lot of concert photos – South by Southwest, Houston Press Music Awards, Ingrid Michaelson, Rob Thomas/One Republic – you won’t see any straight up concert shots in my stream as they just didn’t make the cut. You also won’t see any shots of the skyline and only one of a somewhat familiar Houston landmark.
Like most photos I take, I’m am happiest with those where the subject is glorified rather than the photo and there are rarely subjects as glorious as people (or animals), which is why 7 of the 10 include living, breathing subject matter.
Oh, and I discovered a love for the golden glow of the 70’s, a theme you’ll see repeated in this batch. Hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the photos to be taken to the image in my Flickr stream.
10. Sunset Over Home Slice
My band got to play South by Southwest this past year in Austin. I’ve been to the event numerous times and the crowds and sheer force of music is insane. The night of my arrival, my guitarist and I wandered around South Congress ending up in a long line at Home Slice Pizza enjoying the crowd and the really nice weather. I got this shot of the sun setting over Austin and the SXSW revelers. As I mentioned above, this is but one example of my growing love affair for the golden glow of dusk and the beauty of 70’s styled imagery. I’m quite thankful to the gentleman in the foreground who provided some excellent depth of field with his head as well. Oh, and the pizza at Home Slice is awesome.
9. Ike the Bulldog
A year after Hurricane Ike tore up the Texas coast, it seemed only fitting that an adorable bulldog with the same name get some face time (literally) this year in my stream. For the third straight year, I attended the World Series of Dog Shows at Reliant Center and, once again, was not disappointed. This photo was one of many that became a Houston Press slideshow and this particular photo ended up in the print edition as well. Ike was extremely friendly and this is one of my all time favorite animal photos for many reasons. Like many of the shots in this top 10, it’s more about the subject matter and the moment than the actual photo which is, frankly, rather mediocre.
8. Chocolate Cake with Raspberries
My good friend, Katharine, has been responsible for many important parts of my 2009. Without her, I never would have gotten so many great photo gigs from the Press, nevermind the experience of the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco. More specifically, she introduced me to food photography, something I fell into as the result of her inviting me to food related events she wrote about. Whether it was the opening of La Toretta Del Lago (where this photo was taken), the Houston Press Menu of Menus or a random restaurant event, I made a lot of new friends and discovered a talent for shooting food I didn’t really know I had. This ridiculously tasty item was one of my favorite food shots of the year.
7. Trapeze Artist
In addition to food photography, Katharine introduced me (if indirectly) to my girlfriend, whose niece, Jade, is both brilliant and sweet. Seen here lashed into some crazy flying contraption at the Texas Renaissance Festival, this is the only black and white photo in my top 10 this year, but very deserving. I snapped a smattering of photos as she bounced high in the air and this one happened to be framed perfectly and, as luck would have it, overexposed to the point of a starkness that I probably wouldn’t have done on purpose but worked out PERFECTLY in this shot. Happily, I have printed and framed two copies of this. One is hanging in my girlfriend’s apartment and the other I gave to Jade at Christmas. I’m far more happy that they love it than the fact that I love it, but it is one of my favorites.
6. Look at Us!
Rarely am I asked to do a portrait photo shoot where I feel like I had as much or more fun than the participants. Mostly, I worry about getting exposures right and capturing moments, but this was an entirely different animal. The Houston Press, in parody of the Houston Chronicle’s full-page announcement of their new society writers, asked me to shoot their music writer, Craig Hlavaty, and one of their feature writers, Mike Giglio, in silly poses they could use for a similar write-up to be featured on their blog. The goal was to be as silly as possible and Craig and Mike were happily willing to oblige. Monica Fuentez, the art director for the HP, had all the ideas ready to go making it really easy. The shoot only took about 30 minutes inside like the one above and outside in the back of a pickup truck, but it was easily some of the most fun I’ve had taking pictures in a long time.
5. Snow Angel
Shocking is the only way to describe the fact that Houston has had measurable snowfall two straight years. Unlike last year, the snow this year came during the daylight hours AND my good friend, Katya, and I were prepared. Her choice of Glenwood Cemetary as an ideal location for snow photos was inspired and produced probably my favorite of the day. The combination of the iconic angel many have brilliantly shot at Glenwood, the snow and the autumn colors of the trees makes this a near perfect photo for me.
4. Right Side Kiss
Yet another photo shoot for the Press included Halloween night at Oni-Con Houston, an anime convention at a hotel on the west side of town. The vast majority of the participants were well under 25 (most under 20) making me either a creepy old man with a camera or an official photographer with a badge…or both. Honestly, I had little to no idea who any of the kids were supposed to be, but I can tell you their costumes were about 1000 times better than any costumes I’ve seen on Halloween. This was clearly a labor of love and they enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike some events where visitors are camera shy if not outright indignant about having their photos taken, the participants at this event WANTED you to take their photo making for a lot of fun for me and my camera.
3. Forgotten But Not Gone
The title of this photo is a take on the line “he’s forgotten but not yet gone” from the Ben Folds song “Fred Jones Part 2,” where the described is fired from his job at a newspaper and the sad story of his lonely life to follow. It awkwardly fits the subject matter. Earlier this year, a friend and I snuck into the Wilshire Village Apartments prior to them being condemned to take some photos and explore. What we found were beautiful apartments in horribly sad disrepair. In one of these was this bicycle floating in the light from the bathroom window. Now these apartments are completely gone, torn down in favor of a big empty lot that will probably become condos or some other urban monstrosity.
2. Golden Girl
This was taken during a photoshoot for the daughter of two of my dear friends. Phoenix wanted some senior portraits and because she is a model, she wanted something different. Sure, we got some headshots as well, but this was my favorite of the bunch. There’s something about someone so dressed up and fancy looking (that’s Texan, partner!) set against the backdrop of the warehouse district and an abandoned field. Phoenix was a trooper and her mom helped me hold the reflector which gave me the amazing golden light in these photos. It is still one of my favorite portrait sessions ever.
1. The Golden West
Yes, my model is lovely. Yes, she is also my girlfriend. But, no, that is not why I chose this image as my favorite of 2009…not entirely anyway. Cathy lives across from an abandoned lot just south of midtown and I kept telling her I wanted to get some shots of her, particularly around sundown. We finally got a chance on a BEAUTIFUL afternoon and this is one of the results. I love this photo because it combines some of my favorite things: a great model, wonderful light, golden glow and an off-center subject. As you can see from the photos above, the golden 70’s glow has become one of my favorite things to shoot. Fortunately, we get about 8 months of that kind of light twice a day here in Houston. Cathy was a good sport as I asked her to stand in an empty field, but she’s also a natural and these photos weren’t just a joy to shoot, they were also remarkably easy.
Inventions are a funny thing. On one hand, the microchip has revolutionized the way we communicate and live our lives. On the other hand, the snuggie has replaced the blanket with shame. So, you know, six and one half dozen.
Well, in the same spirit as other great inventions like the light bulb, the cure for polio and the bumpit comes the Rear Gear, essentially a colored piece of cardboard with a string to cover up your dog’s pooper.
Is your pet feeling left in the dirt because of his/her unsightly rear? I’ve got them covered… Rear Gear is handmade in Portland, OR and offers a cheerful solution to be-rid your favorite pet’s un-manicured back side.
Rear Gear comes in many designs including a disco ball, air freshener, heart, flower, biohazard, smiley face, number one ribbon, cupcake, sheriff’s badge, dice, and you can even make yours custom, so there’s a Rear Gear for everyone.
Leave it to the artists at Etsy, purveyors of anything that can be crocheted, knitted or needlepointed, to come up with something this brilliant. It’s like a robot except it’s really just an asshole-shaped piece of cardboard, so it’s really not at all like a robot, unless you have a robot made of cardboard and shaped like an asshole, which, when you think about it, is pretty awesome.
I’m going to guess the Rear Gear doesn’t come equipped with a microchip, so it won’t do anything cool like take over the world or mimic fart sounds or warn you when your pup actually cuts one. Speaking of which, I can immediately think of a modification to this work of genius – scent! Besides covering up the actual anus, it could turn your dogs poots into rose-smelling poop and who doesn’t love that?
If I were you, and I’m not THANK GOD (no offense, but you’re totally weird, yo), I would get about 30 of these for the holidays and give them as gifts to your friends and family members. If they have dogs, great. If not, include a stapler or thumbtack and suggest they might need them for “personal use.” Everyone will laugh, except the person getting the gift. They’ll be scarred for life and probably stab you in your sleep. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
But, don’t put the Rear Gear on my Christmas list. I have cats and they would claw me to death at the mere sight of something like this. Oh, and my farts smell like fresh laundry and love. Instead, I’ll take 1 million dollars, ninja training and world peace. Thanks in advance!
Seems like everyone is making their end-of-decade lists these days. Top 10 best movies, top 10 worst predictions, top 10 ninjas, top 10 animals having sex on video videos, top 10 pieces of cheese; it’s sort of a requirement that when you have a blog, you tell people about what you liked the last 10 years as if anyone really cares.
In fact, it’s mostly a self-aggrandizing back slap fest that is not even worth the time spent reading it on your iPhone while sitting on the toilet (you know you do that…don’t lie). So, in keeping with that ringing endorsement, here is MY LIST, but mine is different because it’s better, it’s faster and it’s me, i.e. awesome to the power of sexay and you know that’s right.
(In case you wondered – and I know you did – about my criteria, I picked records that I both loved for the music and those that had a direct impact on me as a musician. The more I loved them and the greater the impact, the higher the ranking. I know some people who read my stuff are a little more mainstream when it comes to music, so I tried to give comparisons at the end of each review, where needed.)
10. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
When Jack White and Brendon Benson got together to make this album, I kinda thought it might just be another Jack White dalliance, most of which I didn’t really care for, but I do have a fondness for Benson, so I took a listen and I was hooked. In many ways, this reminds me of classic rock records in that it is loud, powerful and ecclectic. They clearly wore their influences on their sleeves channeling Led Zeppelin and The Who in songs like “Old Enough” and “These Stones Will Shout” and 70’s bands like Blind Faith and even Kansas, but done with modern production and indie flair. Benson’s voice is my preference among the two, but there is no doubt White’s mark is all over the record with horn section arrangements, quirky lyrics, oddball guitar tones and the like. The high point for me is probably the title track that blends a bluesy, slow guitar riff and party sounds in the intro with a earth shaking wall of guitars throughout the verses. It’s one of the more interesting rock records (and I say “rock,” not “indie” on purpose) made in quite a while.
You’ll like this if you like: Led Zeppelin
9. The Damnwells – Air Stereo
I was turned on to The Damnwells when I heard one of their songs on a music blog and I was hooked by the strong melodies and rootsy pop vibe. Air Stereo was my first and my favorite thus far. It is loaded with songs I really like. Singer Alex Dezen is the brother of local singer/songwriter Cameron Dezen and Cameron’s husband has toured with the band as a drummer, giving a local reason to support them. While there is certainly plenty of rock on this record, it’s the mellower stuff that keeps me coming back from the Fleetwood Mac-like “Golden Days” to the Rolling Stones inspired “You Don’t Have to Like Me to Love Me” to the bittersweet groove of “Heartbreak List.” If there is any drawback to Air Stereo, it could be argued that the band doesn’t really stretch and plays it safe too often both in terms of production and arrangement, but it’s a minor quibble considering the quality material on this release.
You’ll like this if you like: The Jayhawks
8. Mute Math – self titled
It’s rare that I find a band that sounds like nothing I’ve heard before and yet is as eerily familiar as New Orleans rockers Mute Math. Part indie rock, part industrial, part dark pop, part 80’s post punk, Mute Math’s self-titled CD shines with deft musicianship and soaring Peter Gabriel-esque vocals. One of the first things you notice about the sound of the band is how up front and odd the drums sound. It’s like Stewart Copeland from the Police on steroids and processed through 50 guitar stomp boxes. The effect is hypnotic grooves injected with moments of sheer chaos. They are probably best known for their video for the single “Typical” performed so that it could be shown in reverse complete with diving over keyboards, splattering paint and instrument destruction. As complicated as all this might sound, the melodies are as piercingly beautiful as any great pop music you’ll hear and delivered with crystal clarity. It is a very impressive effort highlighted by songs like “Break the Same,” “Noticed” and, appropriately, “Chaos.”
You’ll like this if you like: Peter Gabriel
7. Duncan Sheik – Whisper House
I have long been a fan of this folky popster going back to what is still my favorite of his, Humming. His interesting use of orchestral instruments within the framework of what are generally very sparse musical arrangements is always beautiful and I can’t help but appreciate someone with only moderate singing skills who is able to convey himself so clearly. With Spring Awakening, he turned his focus to the stage, writing music for the musical of the same name and garnering Tony awards and nominations in the process. On his second foray into similar territory, he released Whisper House, the precursor to what will ultimately be a musical for the stage. Unlike Spring Awakening, the album for Whisper House came first and Sheik, along with whispy songstress Holly Brook, handled singing duties instead of performers. The story arc follows a young boy during World War II sent to live with his aunt. He befriends the ghosts that inhabit the lighthouse she owns. The music is like chamber pop – spare, orchestral and hauntingly bittersweet. The lyrics range from silly folk tales (“The Tale of Solomon Snell”) to the profoundly touching (“Earthbound Starlight”). It is Sheik at his finest gently blending storytelling with evocative musical arrangements. I’m not usually a fan of musicals, but I’d pay to see this one.
You’ll like this if you like: Nick Drake
6. Fountains of Wayne – Traffic and Weather
I have a very tough time resisting Beatle-influenced pop music. From XTC and Jellyfish to Cheap Trick and ELO, I’ve long been a sucker for layered harmonies and lush instrumentation. Fountains of Wayne (FOW) not only continues that tradition but adds a sardonic touch through sometimes hilariously quirky lyrics in the tradition of bands like They Might Be Giants. I became a fan of FOW through the record Welcome Interstate Managers and immediately appreciated their ability to float from one pop style to another with little effort. On Traffic and Weather, they continue that tradition performing pop in many flavors including country (“Fire in the Canyon”), indie (“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim”), 60’s (“Revolving Dora”) and George Harrison – yes, that’s a category (“I-95″). Unlike some of their more orchestrated predecessors (Jellyfish, for example), they keep their musical arrangements pretty straightforward, through it all remaining a rock band first and foremost. Like previous offerings, they continue to muse about New York City and the tri-state area, but not quite to the same degree as before. What is the same, however, is their story telling. They are masterful at describing a teller at the DMV or two old men in a coffee shop or two beleaguered travelers who have lost their luggage. Musically and lyrically, this record makes me smile and want to sing along and that alone makes it deserving of a spot in my top 10.
You’ll like this if you like: Ben Folds
5. k.d. lang – Invincible Summer
On about the third listen to Invincible Summer, an album of songs about a summer romance, I realized that I was listening to one of the most sweet and alluring records about love I had ever heard and it hadn’t even crossed my mind that it was written by a woman for another woman. Lang’s vocals are smokey and disarming as usual. She has always had a beautiful, silky voice that made every song she sung feel decadent, a tribute to the slow drawl sin her western twang roots, but something about this pop/rock record stands out to me. There is a sense of maturity and understanding in not only how the songs are written but in how they are performed. She is ably assisted in this effort by gifted drummer/producer Abraham Laboriel, Jr. (Paul McCartney), who infuses the arrangements with modern grooves, but it is lang who shines on Invincible Summer. From sensual to downright giddy, she purrs and giggles her way through a summer fling and it’s downright irresistible
You’ll like this if you like: Fleetwood Mac
4. Foo Fighters – One by One
I would be remiss to not include at least one Foo Fighters effort on this list. As one of my favorite artists, period, there were plenty of options, but One by One stands out for me by simply hitting you in the face with the first track “All My Life” and not bothering to let you take a breath until you get to about track 6. It’s reflective of their live shows, which are exhausting to watch, so I can’t imagine how tough it would be to actually perform them. One by One displays the full range of the Foo’s music and the depth of Dave Grohl’s oddly introspective lyrics. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what he is talking about with lyrics that sound like an inside joke, but it’s hard to ignore the poetry of “I’m a new day rising / I’m a brand new sky to hang the stars upon tonight.” It’s a well balanced effort that maybe doesn’t have the singular brilliance of a song like “Everlong” (The Colour and the Shape), but more than makes up for it with solid performances throughout.
You’ll like this if you like: Foo Fighters (let’s be honest)
3. Bruce Springsteen – Magic
I have never been a HUGE Bruce Springsteen fan. I liked Tunnel of Love and Born to Run and I certainly respected him as a songwriter and performer. The whole blue collar, working man’s American rock and roll thing just never held great appeal for me. But Magic made me go back and re-evaluate how I felt about the Boss. Not only does it contain typically well written songs, but it has an invigorated energy from the band, no doubt courtesy of veteran producer Brendan O’Brien. Most of all, it has the reluctant resignation of a man who has reached a certain point in his life and is uncomfortably coming to grips with it while recognizing the life altering power of staring your own mortality in the face. Springsteen channels his best Bob Dylan with religious metaphors like “The pages of Revelation lie open in your empty eyes of blue” and opens up to the insecurity of aging by saying, “She went away / She cut me like a knife / Hello beautiful thing / Maybe you can save my life.” The latter from the best song on the release, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” addresses the struggle to accept getting older with heartbreaking simplicity. Magic may not have converted me to a full-fledged fan, but it made me a believer.
You’ll like this if you like: It’s SPRINGSTEEN for Pete’s sake!
2. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
When I first heard The Hold Steady, I thought, “Damn, someone finally brought the rock back.” With the sensibility of a loud 70’s rock band, the energy of an 80’s post punk outfit and the intellect of a college professor, singer Craig Finn and bandmates tear through songs on Boys and Girls in America with the kind of reckless abandon that helped earn them the title of “the best bar band in America.” Finn, in particular, seems to almost spit words at you like a young Elvis Costello being backed by a mix of the Ramones and the E Street Band. The influence Bruce Springteen, in particular, is readily apparent, but The Hold Steady makes it their own. Honestly, it’s impressive to hear what amounts to a glorified bar band delivering sophisticated lyrics like “You don’t have to go to the right kind of schools / Let your boyfriend go to the right kind of schools / You can wear his old sweatshirt / You can cover yourself like a bruise” without an ounce of pretentiousness and with the kind of lead pipe subtlety of a balls out rock band.
You’ll like this if you like: Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello
1. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
I will admit that I did not discover Wilco until a few years ago. I had tried on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and just wasn’t ready to embrace the noisy avant garde nature of Jeff Tweedy and company. Hearing “What Light” from Sky Blue Sky on a car commercial changed my mind and I dove head first into album after album. Wilco rapidly became one of my favorite bands and it was pretty obvious to anyone who knew me that their influence on me as a musician and songwriter was deepening. When Wilco (The Album) began trickling out in internet streams, I was immediately intrigued. Several reviewers have described this album as a greatest hits record if instead of old songs the band just wrote new one’s and combined the best of what they do musically into that material. That is a fairly accurate assessment as they deliver rootsy rockers, indie pop, noisy chaotic arrangements and more with their trademark dynamics, diverse instrumentation and balance between noise and melody. For me, the album coalesces in the song “One Wing,” which showcases some of the best of what Tweedy does as a songwriter and what the band does collectively with dark, heartfelt lyrics and a rangy musical arrangement that moves from barely audible to chaotic rocking by the end. If I could wear out digital downloads like I used to wear out cassette tapes, Wilco (the Album) would be screeching in pain from too many plays.
You’ll like this if you like: Good Music (’nuff said)
The Other 15
25. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!
24. Zero 7 – When It Falls
23. Scott Matthews – Passing Stranger
22. The Finn Brothers – Everyone is Here
21. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
20. Bebel Gilberto – selt titled (mention Tanto Tempo – 2000)
19. The Rembrandts – Lost Together
18. Tears for Fears – Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
17. Wayne Shorter – Alegria
16. The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed
15. Guster – Ganging Up on the Sun
14. John Scofield – A Go Go
13. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs
12. The Black Crowes – Warpaint
11. Muse – Absolution
According to the National Weather Service, the Houston area could experience up to, get this, half a FOOT of snow tomorrow. We’ll get sleet in the morning, snow by lunch and freezing temperatures for up to 12 hours tomorrow night after the snow calms down.
This is the second year in a row we will be experiencing snow assuming the weather gnomes are accurate. Granted, I think Frank Billingsley once predicted it would be partly cloudy with a chance of fire and brimstone and Neil Frank was notorious for blaming rain on “my sweet lord and savior, Satan,” which is probably why he retired. But, still, the NWS is kind of like the council of elders when it comes to weather and when they continue to suggest without even a hint of irony that we might get 2-4 inches of accumulation, I have to sort of believe them.
Two years of snow? Seriously, what is this, New Jersey, Buffalo, DETROIT!!!???
Don’t get me wrong, I love the snow. It’s just freaky. I’m pretty sure it has to do with 2012. Those Goddamn Myans did this. They cursed us. They unleashed some sort of snow monster (pictured above) to destroy us because of our sweet, sweet humidity and love of ozone.
I’ve never trusted those Myans. It’s their beady little eyes. Oh, sure, they’re extinct, but that’s no excuse for raining down hell fire on Houston. Besides, it’s not even 2012 and yet we are made to suffer.
Then again, it could just be aliens, which makes sense given that War of the Worlds is on tv tomorrow night. Hmmm. Whatever the case, here’s the forecast. Note that there is no indication of flowing magma or flying squirrels…yet.
I’ve been working on lists lately – lists of things that happened in the last decade as well as a list of things I need to pack with me for my trip onto the spaceship in anticipation of the world ending in 2012 just like Roland Emmerich and the Myans predicted.
One list that crossed my mind when talking with the guys in my band was a list of the weirdest gigs I’ve ever done as a musician. I’ll leave the “weirdest gigs I’ve done as a stunt gigalo” for 12/13/12 assuming we all survive…we won’t.
I’ve been through some pretty adventurous stuff in my 25 years of playing music. The 10 below represent some of the more interesting moments in Jeff Balke the Rock Star history, if by “rock star” you mean “dude who tried to be awesome playing music despite never owning spandex OR leather pants.” Enjoy.
Jack in the Box Grand Opening
Yes, I played a Jack in the Box Grand Opening in a little town just outside of Houston and my payment was a chicken sandwich. The Jack in the Box is still there. The band is not. ‘Nuff said.
Ice House on New Year’s Eve
One of my last shows with the band The Basics was a New Year’s Eve show at an ice house that is now a transmission shop of Shepherd…seriously. I remember it being really cold and pretty much everyone in the house except maybe the drummer and myself were blind ass drunk. The gig was fine, but the fun began immediately after. Since everyone was drunk and wanted to continue the party, I was charged with returning most of the gear to the rehearsal room…alone. Try making the NYE drive down I-10 into downtown at 2:30am with drunk people flying by you at 100mph. It was the last of a long line of NYE gigs and I haven’t played on that night since.
No One in Danbury, Connecticut
Touring when you aren’t famous is a funny thing. You line up gigs and it’s pretty much a crap shoot as to whether the club is even decent, let alone if the show is well promoted. Orange is in was on the road in 2008 playing on the east coast playing to mostly sold out venues (HA HA HA!!! I got you!!! Oh, man, you should’ve seen the look on your face!). Anyway, we were booked at a club in Danbury, Connecticut, home of the fightin’ Mad Hatters of the Eastern Professional Hockey League…ahem. We got lost on our way there from Jersey and a trip that should have taken about an hour took almost 3. We got there and there was not a single solitary soul in the building. It was as if we had walked into a bar that was still under construction. Oh, did I mention that the bar didn’t actually have a bar…or a liquor license? No?
Ft. Worth Festival Cold Front and Sick Drummer
One of the most painful gigs of my life was with orange is in when we played a festival in Ft. Worth. We were really excited as we got a great slot at 7pm. Of course, a bizarre cold front blew through (this was in early May, mind you) so we faced a stiff 40-degree wind blowing in our faces and a crowd of exactly 2 people – a friend of mine and the festival promoter. To make matters worse, our drummer at the time was deathly ill and finally had to stop forcing me to pick up the acoustic guitar and finish out a brutal set in the freezing cold. Awesome!
There are gigs that define you and other gigs that you hope are never mentioned again. This gig would fall into the latter category. One of my dear friends of many years threw a party aptly named “The Bash.” This particular year, it was being held in a warehouse on the southwest side of town and apparently everyone in 5 surrounding counties was invited. I got up to “jam” with several friends and we proceeded to butcher BADLY versions of Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin and Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. I think we may have tried in vein to pull off something else, but the cops showed up and mercifully arrested enough people to make the place a ghost town. I remember that when we played, we all played in different keys and at different tempos, which would be very avante garde had anyone actually known what that meant.
In some ways, I had hoped that National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) would have some decent dialogue at this fund raiser I played with a former band. I should’ve known that it would be as incoherent as the barely grammatically correct name of the organization. After several rambling speeches about “the man taking our weed,” we got up to play to a very stoned crowd that included several teenagers happily smoking with their parents. I think everyone in the band except for me took a hit from a highly potent joint the president of the organization offered them. The end result was the first couple songs at half speed and what can only be described as creative choices of song and lyric arrangement.
Denver Harbor Ice House
I would strongly recommend against ever playing an ice house in Denver Harbor. That’s all I have to say.
1am on a Wednesday
When you take the stage at 1am on a Wednesday night (or Thursday morning, if you prefer), it is logical to expect a rather sparse crowd. When we finally crawled on stage at this now-defunct venue on Washington Avenue, the only two people left in the bar were the sound man and the bartender, both of whom politely clapped as we made our way through a sleepy set – and I mean that literally as our drummer slept in a van outside for an hour before the show during a lengthy set from a psychedelic band (nothing like psychedelia to warm up a mid-week crowd!). To our singer’s credit, the first words out of his mouth during the opening bars of our first song were, “Good morning!”
One fateful Cinco de Mayo weekend, I was booked to do two gigs. The first was tepid barbeque party at one of the Houston Community College annexes. Nothing great, but not terrible either. The second was a late afternoon show in the parking lot of a large club on Richmond. The band set up on a flat bed trailer with a massive sound system. There was a spread of food and discount drinks. So, why was this gig so unfortunate? Well, it was a party for the former employees of the Houston Post who had learned only days earlier they had lost their jobs as the venerable daily newspaper shut its doors for good. To say that the most depressing sight I’ve ever seen at a gig was a banquet table set back 100 yards from the stage with about 5 sad people standing around it while we played would be like saying the move Pearl Harbor was kinda sucky.
When I was asked by a drummer friend to do a gig with her and my guitar player because it would be easy and it paid – including rehearsals – I figured it would be an easy gig. What ensued was one of the strangest experiences of my life, music or otherwise. We rehearsed several times in the basement of an office building with Pete (Kamikaze Pete as he was known to most), a long gray haired gentleman who had spent most of his adult life playing bluesy hard rock and smoking peyote (I assume). He told us odd stories of working at the Renaissance Festival as a “limerick artist” reciting for us what seemed like an hour-long poem that started with “there once was a man from Nantucket who kept his brain in a bucket.” All of the rehearsal was supposedly for a live recording in a cool venue, though the exact venue was not revealed to us immediately. Right before the gig, it was revealed the show was at a bar on a Sunday afternoon, a weird time for a live recorded show, but whatever. I got directions and made my way to a BIKER BAR about halfway to Galveston. The show was actually a poorly executed open mic “afternoon” where we were forced to stumble our way through the songs because Pete forgot most of the arrangements. We were later accused of screwing everything up and didn’t get paid for the show. Seriously.