We have just posted some holiday specials in The Junk Store for those of you that are looking for that last minute Halloween gift, or an appropriate Thanksgiving turkey stuffer or something for your Festivus celebrations. Whatever your needs we have the the perfect gift. So check them out.
Of course, the best gift for that true Junkies junkie on your list (don’t forget to include yourself) would be a Clubhouse Subscription.
The album that introduced all of us in the band to Vic’s work was West Of Rome. Margo’s husband had come across it and passed it on to us knowing that it would make an impression. It did. The album had some the most off-kilter, heavy-as-shit writing that I had come across in many years. Some of the writing was definitely outside, using personal references, in-jokes and colloquialisms that cast a bit of a shadow over the meaning of some of the songs. But the emotion was always clear and the sound of the album, beautifully produced by Michael Stipe, had a really intriguing texture.
The song that sucked me right in and remains one of my favourite songs was the title track, West Of Rome. The sense of “place” in that song, both physical and mental, is astounding. In the liner notes of the album, underneath the lyrics for the song, was a note from Vic saying that the song was written immediately after finishing John Fante’s book of the same name. So I put the title on my list of books to hunt down in my travels: over the next fifteen or so years I never stumbled upon it. And then, one week after starting to record Demons, I walked into a used book store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts along with our stage tech Tim. A few minutes after being in the store Tim comes walking up to me with a pristine copy of a Black Sparrow Press edition of West Of Rome in his hands and says, “Mike, you’ve got to buy this book….”. Mysterious ways, mysterious ways, heaven and earth and mysterious ways.
For a lot of the bedtracks on this album Pete, Al and I got together to work through ideas and approaches for the songs. I would usually put down a vocal (even if the key wasn’t exactly right for my golden pipes) during the recording or directly after to give a sense of whether the musical approach was working. Here is the bedtrack for West of Rome in its rawest form:
And here is the final version with Joby Baker providing some beautiful piano and Tania Elizabeth adding her magical touches on fiddle…as well as, of course, Margo doing her thang…
If you are interested in a interview and performance that Margo and I did in San Fran check out: www.kalw.org/listen.html — Fog City Blues will be streaming the CJ interview/performance live 9-11pm (pacific) tonight (October 13) and will then be available for the next week through the Local Music Player (which is also at www.kalw.org/music.html).
There’s also a blog posting at http://fogcityblues.blogspot.com/.
Napa, CA: A lazy day in Napa. We could only find one hotel room in this town because it’s the start of “Crush” week, or month or something…it has something to do with drinking wine. In any case we could only find a room for our driver so we spent half the day parked on a highway beside the hotel, while Marc, our driver, slept. It seemed like a good day to spend in my bunk, so I did. Napa is an odd little town. Its’ one visible function seems to be to serve the wine-tourists. A considerable amount of money has gone in to refurbishing some beautiful 19th century buildings on the main drag: tonight’s venue, The Napa Opera House is one such building. It’s a beautiful old building which has been creatively and lovingly restored. We had a pretty good show tonight, aided by an excellent audience.
San Francisco, CA: It’s Fleet Week in San Fran, and that, coupled with the Giants being in the playoffs, gave these usually intense, boisterous streets an extra edge of insanity. The sidewalks were teeming with sailors and baseball fans and the skies were screaming with the Blue Angels acrobatic fighter-jet team. The beautiful weather also seems to have enticed all of the locals into the streets….the end result is a type of controlled-mayhem. I love this city: a wholly unique and special place. Tonight was a new venue for us, Bimbo’s 365. Apparently the place is an old North Beach institution. It kind of has that 1950’s Gentlemen’s Club vibe, complete with painted Vargas style pinup girls on the walls and a signed photo of Liberace in the lobby. It’s a little on the funky side, but not a bad venue. We were worried about geese tonight because of the layout of the place, but the audience was excellent and attentive. A full house and a very good show from our side of the stage made for a great way to end this run. We head back to TO very early tomorrow morning and then it’s off to Europe for some fun with our old world friends. Tonight’s show was our last show in the US for a while. After the Toronto show on November 19th we plan to take an extended break from the road. Something may materialise for the summer and there might be the occasional one-off, but, in general, we plan to not do any extensive touring in 2011. So if you can make it to Toronto, we’ll see you there. Otherwise, stay virtual, maaan…there will be lots happening on the website.
Bend, OR: It would be difficult to find a nicer town than Bend for a day off: lots of locally owned shops, good coffee, a brew pub on every corner and a beautiful river cutting through the town with a huge public park along its banks. We stayed at a very funky (in a good way) hotel…the building and compound once housed an old school and it has been converted with warmth, comfort and history in mind: a nice combination The many different bars and restaurants at the hotel seem to attract the locals, which is also a good thing. There seems to be a bit of money in this little enclave in Central Oregon. We had a sold out show tonight with a very receptive audience and we delivered. A very refreshing couple of days.
Portland, OR: It was a very full day in Portland, one of my favourite cities in the US. We arrived early in the morning, so Tim and I took the opportunity to head over to the Doug Fir restaurant for a very tasty breakfast. Jeff, Margo and I then headed downtown to KINK-FM for a live performance in their new, beautifully put together, performance space. Jeff and I then headed over to Powell’s, the greatest bookstore in the freakin’ world, where I kept a check on my impulses and successfully kept my bill well below $100. Then it was back to the Aladdin Theater for soundcheck and the show. It wasn’t sold-out tonight which is a little worrying because Portland has always been such a great town for us. Perhaps we have been through here a little too often in the past few years. In any case, those who did show up were in fine form and more than succeeded in holding up Portland’s rep as having some of the best audiences in the US. We had a very, very fun night.
Grant’s Pass, OR: We have definitely stayed in this town before but I don’t think we have actually played the town. After tonight I have a strong feeling that we’ll never play here again. A shockingly thin audience tonight. The numbers were kind of confounding to us and the promoter, but if the town itself is any indication, this area has been hit hard by the recession: a lot of empty windows on Main Street and way too many pawn shops, thrift stores and so-called antique stores, a sure sign that there are many people around here in desperate need of cash. It’s a beautiful area, though, with some spectacular white water rafting and hiking nearby and all sorts of other healthy, fun and dangerous things to do. Tonight was not a good night on-stage, despite performing a triple shot of Neil during the set….as the song says, ‘we tried to do our best but we could not”.
Two months off the road can seem like an eternity when it comes time to packing up and preparing to head out again. A sickening mixture of anticipation and dread flows through the body and then muscle memory takes over, you find yourself tucked away in your bunk, the rattle and hum of a bus rolling down the highway buzzing away in your ear, that antiseptic clean-not-clean smell in your nostrils and it’s like you’ve never been away. At least we are in one of our favourite parts of the continent, the Pacific North West, and it’s October, one of the most beautiful months of the year out here.
Bellingham, WA: We couldn’t have picked a better day or a nicer town to kick start this little jaunt: a cloudless, sparkling blue sky, mid-70’s temperature with a light breeze, Mount Baker’s snow-capped peak in the distance, a perfect day to wander around and explore. It’s been over ten years since we’ve played here, which is too long to stay away from a cool little town like this: a couple of great coffee shops, a specialty donut shop and one of the best used book stores that I have ever come across….all the necessities for life on the road. It was a very nice sized audience tonight and very appreciative. They helped us to get through those opening night jitters: an excellent way to start this run.
Edmonds, WA: Another excellent day and this time we find ourselves on Pugent Sound in another quaint little Washington State town (perhaps a Seattle bedroom community these days). This town doesn’t have the university presence that Bellingham has, it’s a little more upscale and therefore not quite as engaging to the itinerant musician, but those ocean breezes make up for any lack of a boho scene. Another full house tonight and another excellent crowd. This is kind of fun.
Covington, WA: I’m not quite sure where we were today….it was very close to Seattle, let’s call it a Seattle suburb. We lost those high blue skies as the clouds rolled in and we were stranded out in the middle of nowhere behind the venue, which was a Performing Arts Center attached to a high school. It was a strange day. Not a bad gig tonight…we were a little unfocussed at times but there were some nice moments and the audience picked us up when needed.
Vancouver, BC: Back across the border to a strange gig in the East end of Vancouver. Two shows tonight at a very odd little venue, The Cultch. We’ve had our problems attracting an audience in Vancouver over the past few years and tonight was no different. The first show was sold out, the second, not so much. Unfortunately we suffered a bit of a meltdown in the first show, we just couldn’t find each otherand so we flailed around for ninety minutes. The second show was a lot more focussed and we felt slightly redeemed. After the show we packed up and headed for another border crossing and a nine hour overnight drive to Bend, Oregon and a much needed day off: a cross country flight, three border crossings and five shows in four nights….yes, a much needed day off.