Today’s show is in the city with a P.I.L. song of the same name. If you’ve never been to Seattle before, then you’d probably like it.
Old photo of Johnny Rotten, P.I.L.’s current vocalist
Today’s show is in the city with a P.I.L. song of the same name. If you’ve never been to Seattle before, then you’d probably like it. Very clean, tidy, etc. with the renowned Pike olde-worlde market (I say renowned as opposed to “famous” on purpose; “famous” is just a trademark these days, like Chuck Strudelbakker’s World Famous String Cheese or something). The show was in The Showbox, which is an old theater converted to house pop music. It’s like a “proper” gig, the kind that thrived in rock’s heyday, those days before advertising, sponsorship, and the standardization of rock, which, now of course, has added convenience to the consumption of the rock experience, obviously making it EVEN BETTER.
Left Bank Books in Seattle
The Showbox smells like a gig. The carpet in the auditorium has chewing gum stuck to it. It smells of stale beer from the night before. The dressing room walls have soaked up a thousand after-show piss-ups and hi-jinks. It also doesn’t have closed circuit TV in the dressing room. There is a pawnbroker’s next door to add to the “Old School”-ness of it. It’s not in the financial district, so it isn’t surrounded by chain-stores.These kinds of gigs are rapidly disappearing, replaced by all your favorite organizations’ versions of a rock venue. I can’t wait ’til all the rock venues of the western speaking world are in the hands of a beer company or property developer masquerading as an entertainment organization. It will obviously be much better. Plus, by only selling two types of beer, I wont have to go through the agony of having to rack my brains deciding what pint I’m going to have. They’ve done it for me.
As regards the show itself, P.I.L. were on fire (I would say that obviously, wouldn’t I?! No, I wouldn’t. They played one very average show near the beginning of the tour, and I told the guys, when asked. They like feedback. Plus,musicians generally know anyway). I haven’t actually seen any reviews from this tour, but everyone who has, has mentioned that virtually every one is a rave write-up.
The band are a revelation in terms of where they can “take the music.” There are so many flavors: East, West, pop, chants, arena rock, post-punk, folk, avant garde, dance. It’s probably a result of the large fluctuating amount of players who have gone through P.I.L. during its career, taking in the likes of Ginger Baker, Steve Vai, Jah Wobble, as well as the current members Lu, Bruce and Scott. With their vast musical knowledge and wide backgrounds, it is hardly surprising that they skip from one genre to another, inventing one or two on the way.
Last night I was wondering if Damon Albarn would come to a show or maybe some of the Radiohead blokes. I think they would see and appreciate a very contemporary sounding band. Too much music is these days wrapped up in fluff like age, looks, profile, etc. People’s preconceptions of a band that has been around for more than six months are almost always negative, based on nothing more than time. I would defy anyone not to enjoy this current tour. At San Fransisco there was literally an Opera-style standing ovation/applause (I know, they were standing already!), where the audience clapped and cheered, without moving, with no exaggeration, for about two minutes. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’ve endured one minute silences … two minutes is LONG! I had broken half the gear down by the time they finished. It really hit home how knocked out the audiences have been by this band’s performances.
When I arrived in town the night before, I thought I’d send a text to one of my rock star acquaintances, Eddie Vedder, the lead vocalist of Pearl Jam. Now, this is not some kind of name-dropping event. It’s just a little story to illustrate a) where life you can take you if you let it, and b) what nice people are out there in the world. I have met thousands of famous people over the years I have been involved in music (that’s famous as in “famous to people who have an interest in western popular culture”). EV is about one of the nicest blokes in any band I’ve ever met. Buzzcocks toured with PJ back in about 2002 or 2003, and we all got on great and kept in touch — in touch as only musicians can; “friends for life without being best mates” type of thing. On that tour Ed was instrumental in making a whopping amount of money for an organization that my missus was involved with called Rational Animal, which promotes a “no kill” policy for stray and unwanted dogs in NYC. Pearl Jam & Buzzcocks did a joint T-shirt for the Madison Square Garden show on that tour and all the money went to RA, which gave them a much needed boost to their coffers to keep up all their good work.
It’s hard to write stuff about people you know and like without it sounding like a completely obvious bunch of arse-licking, but I’m not a writer and I have no problem with saying that Pearl Jam were such an unbelievably cool bunch of geezers to tour with. I never remember the individual shows, I just remember the tours and that one was a truly great experience.
Nate at rehearsals in LA
After about 45 minutes, Ed texted me back to invite me over to a studio he was at. I grabbed Nate, one of the audio guys(that’s soundman, in the real world) ’cause he told me he was a big fan of Jeff Ament and I knew he would be in his element in a recording studio with a band he likes — plus he could rabbit about the history of XLR’s and stuff with the engineers at the studio. When I got there, they were working on a really lovely track which is for a forthcoming film soundtrack (if I remember correctly). He was working with a guy whose name was (I hope I remembered, sorry if I get you wrong mate!) Brandon, who played a lot of the instruments on the track and I think co-wrote it. I walked in as EV was doing some harmonies to his own lead vocal. The song put me in mind of a track from Alan Hulls’ album Pipedream and some of The Who’s 1970-72 period when Townsend was incorporating bluegrass/folk into his songs in a very English way. With its rootsy ukuleles and mandolins, a beautiful melody line topped off what Eddie described as a “hymn.” EV is definitely from the old world of rock music. And he most definitely is not a “No Eye Contact” kind of rock star. He will talk about music, not himself. He believes in the power of music and all that other unfashionable stuff. When the engineer said we’d arrived, he immediately stopped what he was doing and proceeded to just hug, get excited, talk, show us videos of his favorite band, The Frogs.
EV has the almost perfect balance between strange, moody, genuine, pretentious, easygoing, laid back that all proper rock musicians have. If you love rock, you don’t want him to be “the average guy.” Why would you want that? David Bowie in coveralls? Freddie Mercury in a sports bar watching a game in chinos? Most people want the rock star to arrive at the show in a helicopter wearing a feather boa. That’s what he’s meant to be doing! That’s why he’s there! (Forget saving the planet for just one minute please!) Bowie, Mercury, Radiohead, Geldolf, Bono, Pearl Jam have all done way more than most pop stars who use helicopters in that direction, so, if they use them to abseil onto the stage at Wembley in a costume, I’m not complaining.
After a couple of hours of big smiles and beers (“shooting the shit” I think may be a phrase too), he asked me if I’d like to contribute some harmonies to his vocal line, no big deal, just mess about with some ideas. So I went into the live room and added a few chords of acoustic guitar behind the lead vocal. The song was in its early stages of recording so I shan’t imagine anything I did will end up on the finished recording and I won’t be offended. A lot of what makes recordings is doing things that may not survive the big Mixing Purge. Mates turning up at the studio to “hang out” and contribute has almost evaporated in this day and age, as it’s all become a bit too scientific in terms of the finished product. Producers are mostly called upon for their expertise in the technical department rather than orchestrating a parade of freaks into making an album’s worth of material. The album will be planned in a military style operation to achieve the closest thing to perfection in a finely balanced formula between: Not Pissing Off Your “Fans” With Your New Direction + Radio Liking It + Public Buying Loads Of It. Check out this recording session from a Dave Edmond’s LP back in about ’79. Who’s just “dropped by” the studio to have a beer and a listen and hang out? Yes, that was the rock world back then. Blokes in bands just did stuff. All the time. It’s what they did! They were musicians ALL THE TIME!
These new scientific conditions were rumored to be partly responsible for Radiohead’s departure from EMI. The new regime may have thought that you can streamline production of making records, somehow rationalize the process and cut costs, etc, but rock, well, it doesn’t work like that. Bands need freedom, the freedom be left alone and make music. If that meant taking drugs and farting about playing pool, or “writing in the studio,” or having people show up to jam, then so be it. Bean counters came into the record industry and tried to apply all the practices from the supermarkets they used to be the CEO of and stick it on to people who wait up to a decade for the creative muse to kick in. Not happening, really — unless you get rid of them and replace ‘em with people who have “got talent.” Good idea!
An Epiphone Jack C bass that Jeff Ament gave me
As it was getting late, we knocked it on the head, said all our goodbyes and headed off back to hotel. EV had to finish the track the next day as PJ were starting rehearsals the day after. He needed his kip. The next day Ed sent me a load of really nice texts and Jeff the Bass also texted to say hi too. It’s funny where this rock n’ roll can take you. When I was a teenager and I read about Ronnie or Keef or someone, just, y’know, kinda showing up to lay down a few licks on their mates’ records, I thought it must be like the best life ever. Then there I was doing exactly that, in an albeit very small way.
And when I thought about it: Yes, it was and is the best life ever. When you have great spur of the moment nights on tour, in cities that you hadn’t ever thought about when you were buying records as a kid, they should always feel special. Yet at the same time you feel like it’s just another day at the office of the greatest company ever invented.
It’s what happens when you live music all the time, without considering material rewards. You are there, in the mix, part of it. Every person who has ever picked up an instrument and carried on regardless, is there. Rich or poor.
It’s why you will NEVER create a Bowie out of someone who has only ever worked in a shoe shop since they left school, having never touched a musical instrument. Sorry, it just doesn’t work like that.
Off now to Denver.