Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Serenity Gardens (10.21.19)

Getting spooky at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

So, knowing for quite some time that I'd be spending the weekend out of town and performing with my old band Liquid at a wedding, I was also aware that the day after my return, I had a show to do at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. It's my bi-weekly show that's been going on there for about three years every other Monday night.

So, before I took off on our little road trip to Lake Isabella, I quite wisely decided to not wait for my return to plan out my set list. As I've mentioned a number of times in the past, the one thing I hate doing is starting a show without a planned set list. There are plenty of Second Life performers who are comfortable winging it, or leave the choices of their songs to their audience and do their shows via live requests, and that's great for them and their audiences. For me, I prefer to think of it in the way a good radio DJ curates music that goes well together, or I base my set on a specific theme. For this show, since it's my closest one to Halloween, it seemed like a good idea to pull out my scarier songs. It's something I've done many times over my 13 years of playing music in SL... sometimes at a Halloween-specific event, and sometimes (like last night) at any random show in late October.

Spooky Tunes
What makes a song scary? It's a good question, and it delves into the aspect of how something as nebulous as music can impart emotion on its own, independently of the lyrical content. When you watch a horror movie, the soundtrack is a key element that heightens the tension of the overall experience. The kind of funny thing in that regard is that my instrument of choice, the acoustic guitar, has a sound that people tend to associate with warmth, friendliness, and happiness; rather the opposite of the terrifying sounds one can achieve with a synthesizer or an orchestra. So, for my Halloween sets, I tend to pick tunes that combine some aspect of scary sounds with those that have disturbing lyrical themes.

For non-musicians, or even musical performers who don't compose their own music, it's difficult to define why certain combinations of notes and rhythms and chord progressions are evocative of specific emotions. And yet, even a child can tell you if something sounds happy or sad, calm or tense, and so on. Many of these aspects are culturally based; what might sound frightening or sad in one area of the world could be joyous in another. I distinctly recall this being pointed out to me while studying music composition in college, when someone claimed that music in minor keys was "sad", and the instructor pointing out that a minor-key Russian dance is actually very happy. The same can be said of some songs in major keys that can be wistful, or sparsely melancholy.

Rocking with my skeleton crew at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

So like many things in life, it's more complex than it appears on the surface. People who are super deep into music theory and composition can bore this down to a granular level, assigning emotional context to every single note interval or relationship between two chords. It's truly fascinating to get into, if you enjoy studying art from a psychological standpoint. Sometimes it's also okay to just play what you feel and allow the listener to react based on his or her own perceptions and life experiences.

A Good Show
I rarely have bad shows. As far as I'm concerned, if people come to see me and they have fun and I have fun playing for them, well... mission accomplished. I don't dwell on being pitch-perfect on every note I sing, nor do I beat myself up for missing a chord here and there. If people want perfection, they can listen to a well-produced album recording. My shows are live, and they sound live. Ultimately, I'm an experienced performer who, even on a bad day, can do a reasonably good show. But the fact is, some shows are better than others. When my voice is working and I'm not straining to hit notes, and my guitar feels comfortable in my hands, and the songs I've chosen all seem to come easily to me as I perform, I usually can recognize when a show is particularly good, which was the case last night.

I will say that the one thing that can utterly fuck up a show is technical problems, and I damn near ran into a huge one last night. As usual, I started warming up at 5PM, an hour before my show. Then, at about 5:30, I went to get into Second Life, and it was at that point that I realized my version of the Firestorm viewer had become outdated to the point that I couldn't log in. Uh oh. I immediately downloaded an updated viewer and did an install of it while the clock ticked away. When I relaunched the app, it just pulled up a white screen that seemed to stay unresponsive forever. This was not good. It was already well past the time that I usually arrive at the venue before my show. Finally, with about five minutes to spare, Second Life came back to life for me, and I quickly logged in and went straight to Serenity Gardens. Note to self... try updating before it's mandatory next time.

I was glad just to have made it through my Firestorm update in time to do my show! Photo by Kat.

As usual, Serenity Gardens was exquisitely decorated for the season. Photo by Kat.

Scary tunes, good times. Photo by Kat.

But then, after that, everything was completely smooth sailing. Honestly, there are so many things that can go wrong with doing live streamed performances in an online virtual world, it's pretty amazing that 95% of the time, everything goes just fine and we don't even have to consider all the places where things can screw up. Maybe I'm just lucky in that regard, but it's been a surprisingly small number of shows where tech issues -- with my music gear, with my computer, with my audio stream, with SL itself -- actually stopped me from performing.

One note on the set list. Since some of these songs only get pulled out for Halloween-themed shows, there were a few of them that are extremely rare in my set. Several of the songs below have only been played once or twice in the past five years or so. I really enjoy any opportunity to surprise my audience with song selections. Many of them are terrific and loyal fans/friends who attend a ton of my shows (sometimes almost all of them), and pulling out a tune that they've never heard me do before is a good feeling... probably for all of us.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
The Loner (Neil Young)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Spooky (Classics IV)
Polly (Nirvana)
The Chauffeur (Duran Duran)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Huge thanks to every person who hung out at Serenity Garden for my spooky-themed show, with extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Harley Wytchwood, Kat Chauveau, JustinElias Anatra, Zachh Cale, go2smoky Resident, Lola500 Ghost, Tyche Szondi, Leyah Renegade, Richy Nervous, Trouble Streeter, Tricks Sockington, Asimia Heron, Alex Zelin, MasterMusa Resident, Nina Brandenburg, Skeat Abonwood, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Liquid at the Dawson Wedding in Lake Isabella, CA

Onstage on the morning of Saturday October 19, getting ready to rock the Dawson wedding with Liquid. Photo by Christina.

This post requires some expository rambling. Ready?

In the 2000s, I was in a rock cover band called Liquid, whose members included myself, drummer Dante J. Silva, bass player Phil Gilbreth, and singer Randy Harmon. Liquid played a lot in that time frame... bars, clubs, private parties, street fairs, all that stuff. We were a good, genuinely entertaining band covering a lot of classic rock. While we never specifically disbanded, we stopped playing together on a regular basis around 2010, and our most recent show was seven years ago in 2012.

Randy has several children, and a little over a year ago, he got in touch with the other members of Liquid to let us know that his youngest daughter Megan had a wedding date in October 2019, and Megan had requested that Liquid perform at her wedding, which was scheduled to take place in Lake Isabella, a location in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in Kern County. It's about 190 miles from my home here in Redondo Beach, but having been close to Randy and his entire family for many years, I agreed immediately, as did the other members of Liquid. With me so far?

One Year Later
So, time went by as it tends to do, and last month, Randy got in touch with us to set up a rehearsal, which we did and it went very well for our first time playing together in many years. And then, the weekend of the big day arrived, so Christina and I packed some bags and I gathered up my gig rig -- an LTD EC-1000 that I got recently, my Vox AC15C1, and my recently-assembled pedalboard that included the necessary tonal accoutrements for which to rock -- and got into the Jeep on Friday afternoon at 1PM.

We got on the 405 north and immediately ran into complete shit Los Angeles traffic. There's really no good day or time to travel the 405 in regard to heavy traffic; your choices are bad, worse, and even more worse. It stayed that way pretty much all the way to the 5 and the first part of the 14. Ugh. But once we got rolling, things were pretty chill. To get there from here, you have to go through a couple of mountain passes. There's nothing super scary about the drive, though sometimes people encounter high winds in that upper Mojave desert area. The last bit of the drive along the 178 is definitely more twisty-turvy and has a pretty quick elevation up to 5,000 feet at Walker Pass before descending into Lake Isabella. It requires a bit of focus and two hands on the wheel for awhile, but we made it there with no problems at all, with one short stop for coffee in lovely Palmdale.

Some surreal landscapes on the 14N near Red Rocks State Park. Photo by Christina.

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." Photo by Christina.

Chilling at the Lake
Friday evening was fun. We got there just in time to grab some food from the rehearsal dinner, and then threw our stuff into our room. The property where the festivities were held was called the Hillside Ranch, which was indeed a cattle ranching area with multiple houses on the property, and the band had our own place, which was great. Phil and his wife Wendy had gone up a day early, so Christina and I grabbed an adjacent bedroom. It wasn't long before I set up my rig on the stage, which was the deck of one of the houses. We did have a concern about Dante, who'd said he hadn't been feeling well, and postponed his arrival until Saturday, the day of the wedding. We did have a backup drummer... David, a friend of the groom and the best man and the wedding, brought his entire drum kit, which was awesome. We needed up doing some impromptu jamming Friday night along with David, and it was fun. After we played, a few of the younger rockers in the wedding party (including the groom) got on stage and jammed some death metal, and the sweet sounds of Gojira drove most of the older folks away (I enjoyed them though).

Christina and I chilled after that, eating snacks and playing on our devices until bedtime. Something I've noticed on many previous occasions of travel; being at higher elevations, and in general when you're visiting an unfamiliar location for the first time with beds you're not used to and so on, makes it difficult to get to sleep on your first night there. Eventually, I did get to sleep, which was a good thing... the next day was the wedding itself.

The Big Day
The first thing that brightened my Saturday was a message from Dante telling us he was going to tough out his illness and make his way to the mountains. This event had, as he pointed out, been over a year in the planning, and it would have taken more than a little bug to stop him from attending.

Christina and I had some breakfast that was thoughtfully served to all the guests, and spent most of the day hanging out and talking to various folks attending the event, many of whom I hadn't seen for years since the heyday of Liquid. Dante arrived in the early afternoon, and we made sure the plethora of gear onstage was set to our liking so that we'd be ready to rock when the time was right. The wedding ceremony itself was scheduled for 5PM, so we had plenty of time to prepare.

A truly lovely Saturday morning in Lake Isabella, CA

This "red house over yonder" was where the band stayed throughout the weekend.

Dante arrives on Saturday afternoon and gets the drums set up to his preference.

Obviously, the stars of a wedding aren't in the band. The betrothed couple were Megan Harmon and Scott Dawson. I'd met Megan when I first joined her dad in our band, maybe 18 years ago. She was still in high school at the time, but I'd always thought her to be a super interesting and cool person. Scott seemed like a great fit for her... sometimes you can just tell when a couple belongs together, and Scott and Megan were like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that were made to fit with one another. The theme of the event was a Hallow-Wedding. Both of them are into the horror movie genre, and Scott works in the film industry doing effects work on scary movies. You could tell how much thought and effort went into the planning of the event, with all manner of details in place.

What a gorgeous spot for a wedding and gathering of family and friends. Megan and Scott had found this site some seven years ago when filming a movie there. Photo by Christina.

We loved the Halloween theme of the wedding, which was rendered in many ways all over the large grounds of Hillside Ranch. Photo by Christina.

All the tables were set and ready to go as the sun began to set and the wedding ceremony was ready to commence. Photo by Christina.

Megan and Scott left no detail overlooked. It really was perfect. Photo by Christina.

The ceremony was absolutely lovely. One thing I've noticed is that when a couple starts out as the best of friends, it leads to a terrific relationship for the longterm, and that is exactly the vibe I got from Megan and Scott, who've been together as a couple for over ten years. After the short ceremony, there was a really nice catered dinner, and then speeches by the maid of honor and best man (both were great). And then, it was time for Liquid.

Liquid Rocks Lake Isabella
As this was a wedding, the set list had been put together and approved by the bride, and we were more than happy to do the tunes she wanted. However, we started out with a couple of songs that are softer than the typical raucous Liquid vibe at the request of Randy. Both "My Girl" and "Stand By Me" were lovely little tunes that allowed for the newly-married couple to dance and gave Randy a chance to dedicate the songs to the bride and groom respectively. After that, the Liquid rocket took off for real. Randy's elder daughter Amanda joined us for a few tunes, as she'd done on a couple of occasions when Liquid was playing out on a regular basis.

Liquid Dawson Wedding Lake Isabella set list...
My Girl (The Temptations)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
Surrender (Cheap Trick)
Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Come Together (The Beatles)
Crossroads (Cream)

(short break)

Stray Cat Strut (The Stray Cats)
Panama (Van Halen)
Just What I Needed (The Cars)
Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)
California Dreamin' (The Mamas & The Papas)
Rock and Roll Fantasy (Bad Company)
Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)
Tie Your Mother Down (Queen)
Tush (ZZ Top)
I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Money (Pink Floyd)
Man in the Box (Alice in Chains)

(short break)

†With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)
†White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
†Black Velvet (Alannah Myles)
Alright Now (Free)
The Real Me (The Who)
Hard to Handle (Spin Doctors)
YYZ (Rush)

†featuring Amanda Dorn on vocals

One thing in regard to the music that's worth noting, I suppose. As I look down that set list of tunes, with almost no exceptions, none of them are songs I perform at all as a solo artist. First and foremost, they are rock tunes that are much better performed in a band environment than by one person with a lonely acoustic guitar. The other aspect, of course, is that while they are indeed classic rock songs, as a musician you get to a point where there are only so many times in your life that you can enjoy doing the same songs over and over. That's one reason why I tend to play more stuff in the indie rock/folk realm in my solo shows... I prefer doing stuff that's a little newer for both myself and my typical audience. Fortunately, with the seven-year hiatus since the last time Liquid did these tunes, I found the tunes to be fun (and even occasionally challenging) to play.

A four-way band hug after we wrapped up our last song. I keep thinking that each time we play out will be the final performance of Liquid, but I keep getting proved wrong. Photo by Christina.

Dante J. Silva (drums), Phil Gilbreth (bass), Randy Harmon (vocals) and me (guitar and backing vocals), aka Liquid. Photo by Christina.

Heading Out
I slept better on Saturday night than I had on Friday, and upon awaking, my happiness was only marred by the fact that I'd have to load up my gear and make the drive home soon enough. We hung out with Dante and Phil and their respective ladies for awhile, but we all knew that the longer we lingered, the worse traffic would be getting back into LA. Eventually, we packed up our stuff and said our goodbyes. We were tired and definitely needed a night of sleep in our own beds at home, but Christina and I both agreed that the whole event was absolutely fantastic.

The drive back was uneventful, as all good drives are. Just as it was on the way up, the scenery was outstanding as we moved through a variety of natural environments from the mountains to the high desert, then down to the foothills and the familiar urban environment of Los Angeles as we made our way back toward our beach city home. While it had taken about five hours to get up there, it only took three to get back with the absence of horrible traffic (though even on a Sunday afternoon, we hit a typical slow spot going over the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 near Getty Center, an area which seems to have shitty traffic constantly throughout the year).

I can tell you a couple of things about this wedding. First, Scott and Megan seem like a perfect couple, and I predict that they'll have a long and happy life together. Second, Liquid was and remains a very good cover band, and I've enjoyed the hell out of myself each and every time we've had occasion to rock together. Finally, it's nice that this whole event came together so wonderfully well; it's been on my mind ever since September 2018 when we first agreed to get together for this special event, and it's a good feeling that Liquid was able to add our own special something to this extraordinarily special moment in people's lives.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Serenity Gardens (10.07.19)

Rocking with my skeleton crew at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

I want to tell you about last night's terrific show at Serenity Gardens, but first I want to tell you about the Kurds. Don't worry; I'll make this quick. There are many great sources of information about sociology and history you can find for a deeper dig on this topic. My point here is brief.

The Kurds are an ancient ethnic group of people based in the Middle East, in an area known as Kurdistan that is situated in southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. They are a minority group that has their own language and culture. The Kurds have been invaluable allies of the USA in the fight against terrorism in the post 9/11 era. We owe them a lot, and promised them protection in return, as they've been a persecuted people who have been subject to genocide. Specifically, the governments of Turkey and Iraq have been particularly cruel to the Kurds. It's not a small group; in Turkey alone, there are roughly 15 million Kurds who make up about 20% of the population, and Turkey would like nothing more than to wipe them off the face of the planet. The treatment of Kurds in Turkey are a major human rights tragedy.

On Monday, President Trump announced a major withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, which will allow Turkey to invade the area and crush the Kurdish people. The Kurds have been particularly valuable to the USA in fighting Islamic State extremists. Now they are being abandoned during their time of need. To say that this is morally repugnant is a huge understatement. Even the president's Republican cronies have decried the decision. It's just another of Trump's decisions that is meant to increase his personal gain, and is a longterm blow to the United States with the resulting increase in terrorism. The Turkish military, just one day after the announcement, was already advancing into Kurdish territory now that they are no longer under protection of US forces.

The area known as Kurdistan crosses the boundaries of a number of countries, though the largest section of Kurd population resides in southeastern Turkey. The have been invaluable allies in the US's war on terrorism, and now we are leaving them to be slaughtered.

I don't spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the many actions of Donald Trump that have the potential to ruin our country, but this is a particularly egregious one. My only hope -- and I am optimistic that this will come to pass -- that each and every step the president has taken to personally gain in both financial and political aspects at the expense of the country will not only become public knowledge, but that he, personally, will be required to surrender any ill-gotten gains and will also be required to serve the same kind of punishments as any other person who committed the types of crimes he is openly undertaking.

Back to the Show
As you're probably aware, before I do a show in Second Life -- or anywhere for that matter -- I put together a set list. This is different than some performers who prefer to play whatever comes to mind at the moment, or like their audiences to choose songs for them. I don't; I like planning ahead and preparing the songs I'm going to play. Anyway, I was doing just that on Sunday when I inadvertently put in two songs by the same artist, and then noted I'd also had two original songs by me, and two songs by my band They Stole My Crayon. That got me thinking... why not do a "twofer" show? Some of you might recall this from your local rock radio station who would do two songs by each artist -- usually on a Tuesday -- calling it "Two for Tuesday". Well, I play on Mondays, and it doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as the radio trope, but I still ended up fleshing out my set list for Serenity Gardens with two songs by each artist.

I love how Ilsa goes all out to decorate Serenity Gardens at Halloween and throughout the year. Photo by Kat.

Good show, good times. Photo by Kat.

This wasn't my first "twofer" show in SL, but my most recent previous one was in July 2013, so it's not a theme I adopt very often. In any case, I really do enjoy trying to make each show special in some way, and giving my audience a somewhat unique experience each time.I will say that everyone seemed to like this particular show, and I'm glad it worked out well.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Voices Carry (’Til Tuesday)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended the show at Serenity gardens, with extra special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Trouble Streeter, go2smoky Resident, Alex Zelin, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!