Back in the Saddle


Last night's "Informal Music Night" went well for all concerned, though the audience of 85+ was a bit larger than expected, ensuring that most of them didn't get any pizza.  Thing Two's a capella group, "Seven O'Clock" (six students and strings teacher Will Cole) delivered a rousing version of the Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun." There was a wonderful Rachmaninoff piano piece that I didn't recognize and another solo piano piece that may have been the student's composition. (Since it was an informal night, nobody printed up any programs.) Out in the audience, Kelly broke up two bars into the intro of a senior's performance of Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, and I had to stop from humming along during Saint-Saens' "The Elephant," as performed by Will and our best student bassist. There was even an avant-garde moment as we listened via iPod to a student's digitized and treated recordings of found sounds around the campus.

But my main objective was of course to remember how to play with a band. I've done a fair amount of solo acoustic playing in recent years, and even a few duets, but my electric guitar and I haven't gone onstage together in nearly two decades. (In fact, since my Ibanez AR-100 is actually on the fritz right now, I had to play last night's show with Thing Two's Schecter, which added a certain weirdness to the proceedings.) The main reason we formed at all was Will's insistence that the students would benefit from seeing faculty members playing together, and once he'd persuaded me to join in, we were able to locate a drummer (physics teacher Jacob Sargent) and a guitarist/singer (English teacher Marc Hogan). Will volunteered to pick up bass guitar, which he'd never played, but figured (correctly) that he could learn, given his knowledge of the cello and other stringed instruments. That left me on guitar, keyboards, and vocals.

Rehearsals were not unlike most early band rehearsals, with everyone struggling to come up with cover songs the other three guys might know, or sometimes songs the other three guys might know and not dislike. My initial list of ten songs contained not one song that Marc knew, though I thought it wasn't really that obscure, including as it did songsby Talking Heads, Little Feat, R.E.M., the Violent Femmes, the English Beat, and Britney Spears (though I included "Oops! I Did It Again" primarily because of Richard Thompson's brilliant cover.) Okay, Jonathan Coulton's "Re: Your Brains" is a bit more obscure, being an internet-released song about a middle-manager-turned-zombie trying to persuade a co-worker to let him eat his brain, but I have to have some fun.

Luckily, my 11th suggestion, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" (recorded by Elvis Costello, but written by Nick Lowe) passed muster with Marc, and we taught it to Jacob and Will without much trouble. Since I knew the lyrics, I took the lead vocal and electric guitar part, with Marc playing 12-string acoustic and joining Will on backing vocals.

Marc's suggestion was a Led Zeppelin song. This is not, in itself, a problem, but Zep is one of those bands where you have to  be careful because their oeuvre is so well-known; you don't want to set yourself up to look bad by comparison. Luckily, we had a secret weapon: Will's cello. By using that, Jacob's subtle mallet work on cymbals and bells, and my own piano version of the original mandolin part, we had a credible arrangement of "Going to California" to back Marc's guitar and vocal, and I think in concert it came off better than "PL&U."

The third song was the toughest one. We wanted something simple, so the Coulton was out. We wanted something newer than the other two songs, so the Feat, Beat, Femmes, and Heads songs were out, as was Marc's suggestion of the Rascals' "Good Love." And we wanted something that rocked pretty hard as a finale.

I had an answer, and sure enough, when we closed last night's concert, I was on vocals and tambourine, leading the crowd in enthusiastic handclaps in our cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!"

There is a reason we decided to call the band "Poor Judgement."

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 5, 2009 10:52 AM.

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