During the week this past week I got back into the swing of working, mixing all the remaining songs for Jim Tyrrell‘s album. We still have a day next week to final touch ups on all the songs, but the album is now in shape. I found the songs that worked best had a mix of live and virtual instruments, so that the limited technical situation we recorded in was offset by sounds ‘in the box’ that retained full fidelity. In many cases the combo was marvelous. Considering how we had to do it, the results are satisfying to all concerned.
After my session on Monday, I hustled down to La Cigale to see Lisa LeBlanc, the Canadian singer who joined me in Austin this year to perform “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something” and accompanied me on banjo. I’d seen her band play as well, and tonite was her big night–a packed house (on a Monday, folks) in La Cigale, so almost a thousand people. The show was a mix of acoustic songs with various musicians accompanying her, while she played guitar or banjo, and full band songs (again, led by her on banjo or guitar). Her banjo playing especially is wicked. When the band is onstage, it’s a power trio, with a drummer and gutiarist/baritone guitarist. The songs have a feel that to American ears would have a cajun or appalachian feel. When played by the band, it’s punk energy with those flavors. They even did a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’ which you’ve probably not heard arranged for rock band with banjo before. People were eating it up. And, I have to say, it was probably the best *sounding* show I’ve ever heard at La Cigale.
Being that I was home this week, I could enjoy getting Aden to school in the mornings, and often getting her at the end of the day. We had time for a guitar lesson and English homework. I’d done some preparations on Jim’s music while we were recording, so the mixing was low stress.
Thursday was Thanksgiving in the US, and tho it passes by without so much as a quiet belch in France (it’s not even known enough to have a kitsch value, say, a restaurant could do a Thanksgiving theme for kicks, but, no). Of course, work and school are as normal (which would almost be true for me even if I was in the states). As evening came, and the US time zones started waking up, I called my family and even managed with our horrific internet connection and Dom’s Windows (i.e. user-unfriendly) laptop to set up a video call with my dad and his clan in Connecticut. And then, feeling the need to do *something* other than eat my usual quinoa salad off in the corner, the three of us went to a nearby Lebanese restaurant, and did what you’re supposed to do — eat too much with your family. I’d like to think there was some turkey in Aden’s poultry showarma.
It’s nice when you don’t have to leave at the crack of dawn. And for me, rare. But it was just after 11am when I dragged my gear to Gare de Lyon, even at my baggage-laden slow pace it was just 18 minutes from home. I’d taken Aden to school that morning, done all the dishes (our dishwasher is currently ‘hors service’) listened to, approved, and uploaded the last two of Jim’s mixes, and had coffee with Dominique. Trains are slow in Switzerland as the geography does not support high speed rail, which really is fine with me. I have my heavy bag with pedal board, unjustified for my solo shows but anticipated as useful for the Bastian Baker radio session this week; a guitar, and a rolling suitcase. So, moving up and down platforms between trains, as well as stowage on board, is a little awkward, but doable.
I pulled into Lucerne and stepped off, and tried to figure out which end of things I was on and needed to be. Found a logical spot and it wasn’t long before Babsi, the promoter, pulled up and we piled my gear on top her groceries–a plastic crate filled with cabbage and root vegetables–and headed to a nearby radio station. I played a couple songs on air (good, I hadn’t been singing all week, so needed a warm up for the show) and did an interview. I was trying to explain Big Star to the young lady interviewing me, and even tho I wasn’t shocked that Teenage Fanclub drew a blank with her, I was indeed shocked that Jeff Buckley did. Woah! We did talk a lot about REM, that was the overarching context for my musical work. But, we also talked about my work as a producer, etc. It was a good interview, all around. Then, we were off to the venue. The Gewrbehalle is translated something like ‘business hall’ so I was expecting, you know…a big, state-funded kind of thing, an institution. But, it’s actually a very modest and lovely little bar/restaurant that occupies a mostly vertical space in the ‘ghetto’ of Lucerne. When you pull out of that train station, and see the lake, and the glittering hotels and lights of Lucerne’s picture-perfect face, you don’t think of a row of whorehouses and drug dealers but every rose has its thorn, as a wise man with a bandana on his head once patiently explained.
But, despite being ‘the hood’ it’s ‘the hood’ in *Switzerland*, fer Christ’s sake. It’s not *that* bad. And Gewerbehalle is the toe of culture that pries open the door of gentrification. Hipsters come do tasty things; yuppies want to look cool, and overdo it, and price the neighborhood out of charm’s range. We’re still at step one here, with the venue. Good! I was delighted to see the tiny stage, stone walls, elegant chairs–a perfect solo show space.
I dined upstairs with Simon Ho, composer, discussing possible collaboration on an upcoming musical project, then I checked into the band apartment next door, which had just an overwhelming odor of prime, bud-heavy mary jane. I mean, it was like Cheech and fucking Chong lived there. We opened up the window, but the smell never went away; when I was in the apartment I tried and failed to find the source of the odor, so I came to the conclusion that there was a serious grow operation going on above (as the room below was strictly for whoring).
Then, showtime. The room was packed…the two tables were occupied and everyone else was standing, except for a row of cinema-style seats along one wall. The songs were met with long applause, applause that is far more than polite, really receptive audience. When I finished the first song, playing guitar and standing in the audience, the people at the tables got the point and cheerfully, stood up, pushed the tables and chairs aside, and made space so people could get closer. The age range was large, and people of all different ages bought CDs (they still do, and the price in Switzerland is rather high–since I didn’t want to deal with non-round numbers, I rounded *up* to 20 Francs) and lots of them.
My duet partner tonite was a lovely singer who calls herself Pink Spider. I mean, it’s already genius. I introduced her by improvising lyrics (centered on how difficult it is to rhyme the word ‘hard’) about Pink Spider sung to the tune of “Ziggy Stardust”. And not only was she wonderful, and sweet, but in the verse where she sings “I doctored those years with more medicinal tears” …she pulled out a jar with an eyedropper lid marked “TEARS” ….I mean, that is WAY more conceptual than anyone’s gotten on this tune before…
The venue had a clunky, untuned piano so for the finale I moved over there for “Pray” but it was pretty difficult going, so all urged me to play a final, final song on the digital piano onstage, so I closed out with “Here’s to the Future”. 2 hour show, fantastic audience, great merch sales, and after the show, I was up on the suspended metal floor at the bar drinking unlimited quantities of Primitivo, chatting; a very American voice spoke up and I met a couple, she from Minnesota and he originally from Kosovo and living in Switzerland most of his life; they have a music project together as well, and he also has the band whoselektra. Since playing in Kosovo is on my bucket list, this was wonderful serendipity–they didn’t even see the show, they were rehearsing at that time, so it was pure chance. Eventually, I dragged my carcass up to my room, and surely had pot-flavored dreams.
As I shook off the Primitivo/pot fume grog the next morning, I got down to business. I needed to go over Bastian’s songs for the radio taping, and some other things. Did that, and I didn’t feel like venturing out in the slush for breakfast. At about 1pm, well, just a little after, Babsi arrived and opened up the venue and made me coffee from the venue’s incredible handmade Bosco espresso machine, a real thing of beauty this one. It was something like 1.45 when we pulled up to the post office next to the train station where she could change money (my fees were in Euros). It took a *long* time, the young lady overseeing the transaction was totally green and taking forever. I was getting nervous. Train at 2.10. Transaction finished at 2.05! Run! Made it, but no lunch (and remember, no breakfast). This train had no services so an hour or so later between platforms in Zurich I grabbed a sammy. As I switched between reading my physics book and looking at the scenery, a presumably schizophrenic woman, who had driven away one passenger, started talking to me, in German, then…in *perfect* English. She looked to be about 60, and she had spent the time between rants blowing her nose for like ten minutes, which I argued was even more a sure sign of being kind of nuts than her unbroken, un solicited rant about some mafia figure in Zurich who can change his appearances, injects drugs into prostitutes & the elderly, is undermining ‘Swissness’, and controls the police. Now, the situation she was describing is not actually unrealistic, but her manner was, shall we say, unorthodox.
I got off the train in Gossau, which has Intercity trains passing thru; Herisau does not. Alexander from the venue met me on the platform, and we drove just over the hill to Herisau, and before heading to the venue he gave me a tour by car of the town, including a great vista by which you can see the entire town. Then we went to the Pontem, which occupies the top floor of what looks like a repair garage, in an industrial enclave under one of the most spectacular rail viaducts I have ever seen. The club is shiny and new, with a big stage, fully pro sound and lights. The backstage is out the back door, down an external ‘ice cube tray’ style metal staircase, and is a little hut with a kitchen. Herisau in late November is under about a foot of snow, and the parking lot is a sheet of ice, just millimeters thick…careful. Most of soundcheck for me was about eliminating sources of noise–the whir of the fans in the power amps (we could turn the amps for the monitors off, at least), the whine of a couple of expensive stage lights which were overkill for my set anyway. Dinner was pasta (on the list of what not to serve for dinner for me, but I really couldn’t bring myself to push the point, everyone was so nice) and then I had a couple hours to kill at the hotel. Which I spent tangling with the spreadsheet of the finances of the Posies November tour dates, preparing it for my business managers, and trying to get a midi-playable mellotron working on my iPad or iPhone, so far, no dice. I felt if I had 40 more hours to mess with it, I might make some progress.
Then Alexander came back and got me, and brought me to the venue, as the duo called Pedro Lehmann was onstage, guitar and drums. Great drumming, I have to say. Oddly, the band that played after me, Elio Ricca, was also a duo of guitar and drums. The venue was sparseville when I arrived, but when I actually played I would guess there was something like 60 people around. Now, being that this venue is the only cultural nexus in a pretty small town, and it’s also new, people aren’t exactly accustomed to high art yet. So, a lot of people talked almost all thru the show. I worked *hard* to get that audience. I pulled the listeners off to one side, walked up to and sang loudly at oblivious talkers. I probably had 20 avid listeners, 20 casual listeners, and 20 folks who just drank and didn’t know how to behave. The tech for Pedro Lehmann seemed to be discussing the latest app with some girl, and even tho I walked by him and drew attention to him inadvertently (but on purpose), he ramped back up in volume minutes afterwards. I had to actually invoke at some point that the people listening paid to see the show, and if they can’t hear, then, I felt the talkers should refund them their tickets. That actually worked.
There was one couple, or, something–super interesting. He had to be mid forties, looked like a logger, but had serious biker tattoos, I got a former punk rocker vibe, big old neck tattoo and black widow spiders on his arms, and a collection of feathers & shark teeth and other things as necklaces; but otherwise, with his flannel shirt and trim hair, looked fairly conservative. And this guy was wonderful– closing his eyes to all the music played that night, he smiled and swayed back and forth. He appeared to be with a young lady with a bowler hat and a very short haircut, she was one of the loudest people that night, but so enthusiastic I couldn’t hold it against her–in mid song of mine she might say in Swiss German: “Very Bob Dylan, maybe a bit Leonard Cohen, this song!” And she had a tiny harmonica on her neck chain which I invited her to play in “You’re the Gold”. I mean you know, there’s always a weird factor when you play smaller towns but just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s bad. It was not a run of the mill show. People loved it and despite the fact the audience was smallish quite a few CDs were sold and the vibe was good, especially after I worked on winning over the ambivalent folk, and making it uncomfortable enough for the drunkards that they went out to smoke for most of the set. My set was 90 minutes, sandwiched in between the two rock duos, for some reason. The venue was a little thin for the last act, but people were hanging on and very enthusiastic for them–great guitar player, I might add, too.
My duet partner was Amelia who jazz sings among many other things. I actually deigned to use a microphone, which I’d been avoiding as part of my ‘make people listen’ strategy. She was great–at one point, she forgot the words and using her jazz skills, just wrote some new ones as she sang, with no one the wiser, it flowed perfectly. Loved it.
One couple had come from Basel, she having seen me there 5 years ago when I toured with Trouble Over Tokyo and Asha Ali; he hadn’t seen me before and was really into it. She had fallen in love with “Touched” which she bought at the Basel show and tonite picked up “Soft Commands” and “Danzig in the Moonlight”. When I played “Find Yourself Alone” she sang along, totally unabashed, it was fun. There were a few songs that just couldn’t be sad that night, the audience folk were too into it (the ones that were into it). At more than one point, being some serious drinkers there, I thought a fight would break out–the bowler hat girl seemed to be annoying to this other girl who was listening intently, I thought it was about to come to blows. While I was at the piano, about the play the last song (Chiara, the lady from Basel, requested “The Lover’s Hymn”) I mentioned that Herisau had kind of a wild west vibe, I asked if there were any cowboys in Herisau. No, no, everyone said. And I KID YOU NOT, 1 minute into the song a full on, 6’1″ guy with a cowboy hat and denim shirt with an American flag silkscreened on the back strolls into the venue, has a look around, leaves. I mean….who can make something like that up??
I did my mercy-selling and packed up as Elio Ricca started. I had some paperwork to fill out, the fee to collect, and then Alexander and I trudged my stuff down to the car and loaded up. I was saying goodbye to the …neck tattoo guy/bowler hat lady when, thanking her for her harmonica jam, I realized I hadn’t packed up my harmonica. Alex waited in the car, I ran back up and saw it was onstage. The band was about to play its encore, but also didn’t mind I had to hop up there, now in my puffy fiberfill coat and scarf. With the harmonica in my hand, I asked if they had a song in “A” and we did a really cool jam with me on blues harp…again, this guitarist is very good, so he did interesting twists and we had a nice, couple minute interlude of playing. I hopped offstage, went back to the hotel, and got a couple of hours sleep, up at 5 as my train to Lausanne for today’s recording session was from Gossau at 6.20. Prebooked cab was there, driver asleep, when I came downstairs, and as I write, an hour and 20 minutes into the journey, the sun is coming up on the frosted trees of Switzerland.
train to Lausanne