It was a pretty good show Thursday night. I played reasonably well, for a very small but enthusiastic crowd. Got to hang out with some great folks. Made about half my gas money in door take, which is lame, but kind of par for the course for these things sometimes. I’ll definitely keep doing it, but I think I’m going to throw a local show or two before I do more out-of-town gigs, and I’ll mail a copy of Title Of Photograph to KRUI before doing more Iowa City gigs – I think I might know a couple guys at that station who will recognize the name. Another benefit of using my normal name.
Sam is thinking of doing another show or two with “the big band.” I’m up for it. The sound was pretty rough at the Black Box, I don’t think they had the shit together enough to handle us; stuff kept cutting out, and so on. So I think we can do it again and have it be a better show all around. There’s an audience recording going around that sort of gets the point across of what we were doing, but it’s rough listening. At the very least we’ll do one at the Picador and try to get a good recording in the process. Sam floated the idea of taking it to Chicago as well, where he thinks it would positively kill, but most folks in the band don’t seem to think they can manage the trip.
Sam’s concept these days is really wrapped up in this “evil gospel” thing. I kind of object to the use of “evil” to describe it, but mixing the darker themes of life with Christian-derived religious themes isn’t a new thing in music. Like on Saturday night you got in a fight with your woman, stayed up the whole night drinking, and showed up at church Sunday morning still stinking of whiskey. Put that in musical form and I think you’d get the general idea what I think Sam is going for. Maybe if somewhere in the course of the fight you ended up murdering your woman and nobody had found out yet, depending on how “evil” you want to get. The Saturday night/Sunday morning duality has a long history in American music; the gospel end of it usually seems to come from the more predominantly black churches of the mid-20th century where the worship music is relatively lively in a way that could have pop appeal. In modern times, your whiter churches now have music that could pass for lethargic, syrupy whitebread pop ballads if you just swapped in the word “baby” for “Jesus,” so while it’s poppy, I don’t know if that counts… but back in the day Ray Charles was controversial for bringing an identifiable influence of church music to the rowdy world of juke joints and the emerging rock-and-roll thing, but it was a key element of his sound that made his music stand out and made it even more fun; and plenty of big pop stars, even today, are succeeding on skills initially honed in a church choir. Seemingly it’s a good place to be musical if you’re so inclined. Not a regularly churchgoing man myself, perhaps I’m missing out on something there, but I digress, frequently.
But a lot of the roots of the Saturday night end of this equation are mixed up with what’s known as “the blues.” And Sam has some kind of problem with the blues. It’s come up in conversations we’ve had and even hinted at in print. I share his frustration with the genre; there’s a lot of awful “Budweiser blues” going around, it mostly all sounds the same, the “songs” are mostly just excuses for guitar wanks, in between which there are lyrics consisting of overworn blues tropes cut-and-pasted into the requisite slots in the 12-bar progression. And it’s also showing signs of moving toward the “academicization” that’s guilty of killing off any popular common-folk appeal jazz music may have once had, and orchestral music before it. Sure it’s a damn shame, but darn it, I really like blues when it’s done well. I threw some blues guitar licks into “Some Things Will Just Be” for Sam’s show, and I didn’t hear him complain. I did it because frankly, it really felt like just the thing the song needed. Sam’s stuff is often more blues than he’d be willing to admit.
I have kind of a problem with any musician dismissing a whole wide genre out of hand. It’s almost as bad as going into a music project with the mind that you are working in a certain genre, forsaking all others. “We’re a punk band.” Why limit yourself? I’m not sure if it helps me make better music, but if you glanced through a catalog of music I listen to, you’d find Dinosaur Jr. hanging out with Krysztof Pendericki and Robert Johnson. The old saw is that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. And you can find plenty of both categorized under any given genre.