May, 2009

There will be cake

May 10th, 2009

I made a trip up to Woodstock this weekend, to relax in the country with Sunshine and her parents. While there, they bought me a cake to celebrate the 100 Bands project. It was delicious

What I learned in 100 Days

May 5th, 2009

Here goes: the last and final “What I learned…” post. But this time, for the whole 100 days.

This is the most exciting time in music that I’ve ever experienced
And I grew with Motley Crue, Guns ‘n Roses, R.E.M. Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. These are all legendary, amazing bands. But I’m telling you – right now this is the most exciting time in music. At least for my generation and those younger than me. Here’s why.

The old music model is broken, but that’s okay: the power has shifted to the artist. The Internet is killing majors, but fuck majors. You don’t need them. But bands need you, now more than ever. Bands may not make any money selling records, but they never did anyways. Fans have the power to keep music alive by simply going to see live music, buying merchandise (and yes, records) directly from bands. This has never been more true than ever before. Fans have direct access to more music than any other time in music.

Some might say there’s no quality control anymore. But fuck that. You are the quality controller. You decide. Any band that has access to a computer can record a song, put it on the Internet and let the people decide if it’s any good or not. That’s exciting because there’s more of it, and you can decide what’s worth your time.

Not only that, but look at the music itself. Take the genre of “indie rock” for example. Listen, I hate genre monikers like this (remember “alternative rock”?) but it’s exciting when one “genre” can be as diverse as to include bands like Belle & Sebastian, Matt and Kim, Sufjan Stevens, Feist and Blitzen Trapper, alongside Animal Collective, N.E.R.D., Kings of Leon, The Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, Bell Orchestre, Black Lips, Wolff, and Wilco.

The ’60s sounded like revolution. The ’70s sounded like rock and disco. The ’80s sounded like pop, new wave, DIY and glam. And the ’90s sounded like grunge and hip hop. So what does the ’00s sound like? All of the above and them some. And that’s pretty damn exciting

People like to see other people do things they couldn’t imagine themselves doing
People remained curious about this project from beginning to end. At first, I think they wanted to know about the music. Later when they asked me, “How’s the project coming?” I think what they really meant was, “How the hell are you still awake or alive or sane?

People like being a part of something
This goes for all the friends who joined me on the journey, the musicians, PR contacts, managers, etc who I met, plus the random people who emailed me and generous people who sent donations. When I started out, I hoped a lot of my friends would go to some shows with me, but I figured I’d do most of it alone. Boy was I wrong. Friends came out of the woodwork for this, and it was awesome.

I also tried to meet as many musicians as I could. I would approach them after their set to tell them what I was doing. About 98% of the time the response was really great. A few musicians blew me off, but fuck them. They were too self-involved anyhow, so who cares. I got to meet some great people. And they were as happy to be a part of it as I was to be doing it. See The Wrens entry for an example of how happy.

As you know I also took donations. These were not only a way to help me get through the 100 days, but for everyone to get involved and feel apart of the 100 days. Some were as small as $1, some got as big as $200 or $250, but I appreciated them all equally.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to get on a lot of guest lists. Sometimes that was a result of me unabashedly requesting it, but more often than not they were offered up by different contacts I made, or people who contacted me along the way. The generosity of PR folks, band members, band managers, label people and so on was helpful, humbling and appreciated.

The band (almost always) starts an hour after the venue says they will
Keep this in mind if you’re going to see a show in NYC, at the Bowery or Mercury for example. If they say the band goes on at 8pm, they actually go on around 9pm – or later. This is just how it is, at least in NY. Why? Alcohol.

Venues want to get you in and sell you as many overpriced drinks as they can before you notice that you’re waiting for the band to start. And they’ve gotten pretty good at timing it out. Which meant I got pretty good at timing when I needed to show up. Unless I wanted to see the opening bad, then I was screwed.

But, there are a few exceptions:

The “Early show”
These is the show before the show that’s scheduled to bring in the real crowd that night. The doors for these shows are usually at 6:30pm or 7:00pm, and the bands tend to start 30 minutes after they say they will.

Europe
Shows start on time in Europe. I learned this one the hard way when I missed Ben Lee at La Fleche d’Or. But it wasn’t just France. Shows in England started at or near the listed time, too. Just a word to the wise if you’re gonna see a show in Europe.

Random, unforeseen bullshit
You show up hoping to see the band that starts at 10pm only to find out that they pulled out and aren’t playing. Or their timeslot got swapped with the band at 9pm. Or the band that was supposed to play at 8pm didn’t show up, and so each band got bumped up an hour. All of these happened to me, and it pissed me off, but what can you do?

Beer is only as good as the tap it comes out of
I drank a lot of beer over 100 days, which is why I’m not drinking any for another month or two. But I didn’t do this for me. I did it for you, the readers. Ok, that’s what I tell myself. But either way, I did it, and now I’m here to report back.

Here is your guide to the best/worst beer taps in NYC: (from worst to best)

Mercury Lounge: Shitty
The PBR is the worst, but it’s also the cheapest, which makes it tempting. Don’t do it. It tastes and smells terrible. The Bud Light is ok, but I would step it up if you’re at the Merc.

Bowery Ballroom: Just ok
Stella isn’t bad here, but can be a bit average, and lose some of the sweetness it should have. And it’s $7, which is bullshit, so they should clean the taps and figure a way of making it worth the price.

Webster Hall: Not bad
Plastic cups suck, but the beer wasn’t bad.

Pianos: Pretty Good
I drank mostly PBR cans at Pianos, but the times that I drank from the tap, I got a Stella and it was pretty decent – mostly because it comes in a glass, not a plastic cup.

The Bell House: Good
Didn’t really drink too much from the tap here, the cans are too cheap ($4), but the one time I did, it was good.

Cake Shop: Good
The music room may be a dive, but the tap beer is good.

Rockwood Music Hall: Good
Pretty decent, but I’d suggest getting a glass of wine instead. They pour them pretty deep.

Music Hall of Williamsburg: Very good
Probably because it’s new, but all the beer I drank here was good.

Le Poisson Rouge: Very good
I hate the stupid mandatory 20% tip if you use your card at LPR, but it’s a new enough venue that the beers come out of the tap tasting delicious.

Joe’s Pub: Excellent
It’s a nicer and more expensive venue, so naturally, they care about their bar.

Going to shows alone isn’t as bad as it seems
Before this project, I would go see a band alone, but not that often. And I’d feel sorry for myself, and hate that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and waaaaahh waaaaahh waaaaahh… Then I realized, seeing a band can be like seeing a movie. Once it begins, being alone is fine. You shouldn’t be talking during the music anyhow. Granted, some bands are a lot more fun to see with friends. But don’t let the fact that no one else wants to go keep you from going. Just go.

Get to know unknown bands
It’s only natural to want to blow off bands you’ve never heard of before. You’ve never heard them, so why would you care? That is, unless you need to see music every single night, like I did. And sometimes there’s a night where you don’t know who to see, so you have to pick a band at random – as I did. And you know what you’d find out? It’s worth taking chances on unknown bands.

Music will never cease to amaze me
The fact that I can find live music in downtown Hartford, CT on a random Monday night amazes me. How I can still see Les Paul, the 93-year old man who invented the solid body electric guitar, every Monday night, have him flick me off for a picture and meet him afterwards amazes me. The fact that I can be asked on stage to perform with a band that’s been together for over 20 years, to a sold out crowd in NYC amazes me. And the fact that I can see 100 consecutive days of live music and still love music amazes me.

Thanks for reading. Now do yourself a favor and go buy a ticket to see a band, right now.

5/2/09: 100 Bands in 100 Days Final Show with Takka Takka, Anamanaguchi & Right on Dynamite @ Fontana’s (100/100)–PART 2

May 3rd, 2009

photo by Mike Pollock

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Go back to Part 1

The 100th show: Part 2

Showtime

Friends started showing up, and then just kept coming and coming all night long. First, it was Brent and Tim. Then John and Kara. Then Lance. Then Scott, Josh, Dave, Dan. Then Thomas…and so on and so forth. The next thing I knew, the place was packed, the open bar was in full effect, and we were just 30 minutes away from the music. I was running around like headless chicken and getting dizzy from bouncing from one person to the next. But it was awesome that everyone was as excited as I was.

Al and Francis took the stage just before 9:30 to introduce me. Then I thanked them for throwing the party and everyone for coming, and then introduced the first band of the night: Right on Dynamite.

They took the stage and fucking rocked the house. It was awesome. People were dancing, jumping around, having a great time and I was just loving it. I saw ROD on day 8 of the project, and they sounded just as good, if not better this time around. They were super excited to be playing tonight, and you could feel it. Toward the end of their set they announced that they had a few songs left, and then one “special song” after. That “special song” was the one I was going to perform with them: “I’m so tired,” by The Beatles. The song that best sums up what it feels like to see 100 consecutive days of live music.

And there were the butterflies again. Man, I was nervous. I thought I would forget the chords, and the words, and look out into the crowd and just freeze up. All those normal stage fright things. But once I stepped on stage and the crowd went nuts, none of that happened. Jon clicked it off, I played the opening lick and then the first words of the song came right out:

I’m so tired. I haven’t slept a wink.

I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink

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photos by Mike Pollock of 50showsat50.blogspot.com

It was the longest 2-minute song I’ve ever played. And the most fun. Thankfully Dan and Nick helped me out on vocals. Even though I had the lyrics taped to mic stand, I still stumbled over a few words here and there. But whatever. I was doing it, and it was awesome.

We finished the song. The crowd went wild. And my rock star moment was complete. But not my time on the stage. I had some awards to give out. A few weeks before the final show, I decided I wanted to honor those people who’ve played important roles in the project. I made up little gold and platinum records with 100 Bands in 100 Days artwork, and a plaque.

Here are the awards I gave:

The Farthest Distance Traveled Award, to Brent Boswell
The Most Shows Attended Award, to Jeremy Egner
The Guy Behind the Guy Behind the Guy Award, to Francis Garcia
The Badass Motherfucker Who Went out of his way to Make Sure This Project Was the Best It Could Be Award, to Al Risi

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Then I introduced the next band: Anamanaguchi. They’re a great 4-piece instrumental band that routes their instruments through an old Nintendo. Yes! Gamer rock! I loved it and so did everyone else. The crowd was really digging them, which was great. You just never know with an instrumental band. But they’re so high energy and fun and original that it’s hard not to love them.

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As Anamanaguchi continued to crush it on stage, I saw some of the guys from Takka Takka and thanked them for playing the show. They returned the sentiment and were happy to be asked. Anamanaguchi finished up their set, and then suddenly the show was almost over. How did that happen?

I got up on stage again between sets and thanked the band, reminded everyone to stick around for the third and final band, Takka Takka. Then, I bopped around the party, hoping to talk with some friends I hadn’t had a chance to say more than two words to all night. The best thing about being the guest of honor is having all your friends turn up for your party. The hardest part is not being able to spend a long time with any of them.

After a pretty quick set up Takka Takka was ready to go. I first heard of this band when they played at SummerStage with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Architecture in Helsinki a few years ago. I missed their set that night so I was looking forward to seeing them tonight. And I was excited for the finale. The last and final band. The final piece of the puzzle. After Takka Takka, the 100 days would be complete. I have to admit, I was a bit sad to see it all come to an end. As difficult as it was, and as long as the 100 days felt, I was going to miss it for sure. But first, Takka Takka was going to bring it all home.

As they started playing, it hit me once again that this was actually happening. That all the people in the room were there because of me. That the band on stage, and the two bands that stood there before them were there because of an idea I had. All the cameras, lighting, the director, DPs, the sound guy, the open bar, and all the planning – everything was because of this project. That is a fucking humbling feeling, to say the least.

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Takka Takka played an awesome set, finishing out the night, and the project, in a great way. They are a fun, easy going rock band with a sound as unique as their name. The guys in the band were so nice, and seemed really happy to be there. Good times all around.

After the set, I took the mic one last time to thank all the bands and everyone left standing for being a part of this monumental night in this project and my life. And, apparently, I was cursing like a drunken sailor. Hey, I’ve always said I’m a writer, not a speaker.

And that was it. The 100 days was complete. The binge gigging was over. I did it. And it was time to go home.

What will I do next? Will there be another 100 days project? Will I go through live music withdrawl? Will I be able to go home and sit around and watch TV without getting bored out of my mind? When will the documentary of this event be available to see? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions right now. But I’m looking forward to having the time to figure them out.

All I can say is, stay tuned. You haven’t heard the last of me.

See more photos from the Final Show

5/2/09: 100 Bands in 100 Days Final Show with Takka Takka, Anamanaguchi & Right on Dynamite @ Fontana’s (100/100)–PART 1

May 3rd, 2009

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The 100th show: Part 1

Wow. I have no idea what to say about this party. What an amazing, amazing night.

I will start off by saying thanks to Al Risi from ARMM and Francis Garcia from Shout It Out Loud Music for throwing me such a kick ass party. Thanks to Right on Dynamite, Anamanaguchi and Takka Takka for rocking the house all night. Thanks to Bruce Ashley of Company X and his film crew for documenting every last second. Thanks to Sunshine for flying in from London, Brent for flying in from San Fran, John for flying in from Minnesota, Tim for driving down from Massachusetts, and everyone else in NY who came to Fontana’s last night to help celebrate the culmination of 100 consecutive days of live music with me.

This was the coolest party I’ve ever been to and been a part of. Here’s how it all went down. And just so you know, this is going to be a long post, so get comfortable.

Pre-show madness

I got a call around 4pm from John, one of the DPs from Company X who was filming the night. He was outside my apartment, waiting to jump in a cab with me to film an interview on the way to the venue. I was headed there early for Right on Dynamite’s sound check, and to practice a song I was going to perform with them after their set. The other two bands were coming in from out of town, so they wouldn’t be able to sound check this early.

I stepped out of my apartment, and John already had the camera going. We hopped in a cab, did a quick interview on the ride over, then he jumped out of the cab at Fontana’s. When I went inside, Al was already there, and John did a short interview with him as well. I did sit around for few minutes just waiting – the calm before the storm, if you will. Then Right on Dynamite showed up and it was on.

We headed downstairs where Bruce and his crew had been setting up all day. That’s when I realized how real tonight was going to be. I mean, there were multiple cameras set up, including one a fucking dolly in front of the stage! They brought their own lighting for the stage, to spotlight the bands, etc. It was out of control, in an awesome way. They even had like 3 or 4 Flip cameras on tripods. Unbelievable.

I did a little setting up of my own by hanging some pictures my friend Alan shot for me of the more tangible items I’d collected along the way: wristbands, ticket stubs, flyers, my little written record opened up to where Les Paul signed it, my nasty ass earplugs, camera, and so on. I even had a bunch of commemorative posters made up for the night and set them up for sale, too.

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Right on Dynamite started their sound check and that was one more reminder of how real tonight was. And then I got nervous, too. Earlier in the week, my friend Brent suggested that I play a song during the party. He suggested “I’m so tired” by the Beatles. I don’t know if he imagined I’d take him so serious, but I did. After he said it, I immediately IM’d Al and had him ask the band. They were totally into it, practiced the song at rehearsal all week, while I did a little practicing at home. And tonight, I was going to do it in front of everyone at the party.

What am I nuts? I’m a guitar player, not a singer. But the song was so fitting that I just had to do it. Fuck it, right? After ROD sound checked, it was my time to get up on stage and run through the song with them. It went pretty well actually, but I was still nervous as hell about playing it tonight.

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Calm before the storm

By 6:30 the venue was set up, ROD had finished with sound check and now I finally got a moment to sit and relax and take a few deep breaths before everyone started to arrive. We actually had to clear out of the room by 6:30pm since there was a band who actually had a gig that night at Fontana’s, who I’m sure were saying “WTF?” when they saw all the film equipment, etc.

Oh, wait. I forgot. I didn’t get to relax yet. I still had to do an interview. I thought it would be some hand held interview like Al did earlier, boy was I wrong. This shit was really official. They had an area set aside that was pre-lit with two cameras. I sat down and we did about a 30 minute interview. Itwas a lot of fun to be able to reflect on the project just before celebrating the end of it.

Ok, so after that I actually did get to relax a bit. Al had run home to change and print out the guest list, etc. Francis took off for a bit too, I think. And it was finally just Sunshine and me, relaxing in a booth upstairs having a drink. But not for long…

Continue to Part 2

100 Bands in 100 Days Final Show, in Pictures

May 3rd, 2009

Select pictures from the 100th show.

Most photos by Mike Pollock. Others by Sunshine Flint or me.

5/1/09: The Reverb Brothers @ White Eagle Saloon, Portland (99/100)

May 1st, 2009

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99 days of live music on the wall. 99 days of live music. Take one down. Pass it around. No wait, don’t take it down. Fuck that. Put it up. I have done 99 days of live music in a row. I can’t believe it. 99 days? Seriously? What the hell is wrong with me?

Oh man, I can’t believe I’ve almost made it. Almost there. Oh, and I’m in Portland. What a way to close it out. I had meetings all day, and they were awesome. Yes, I just used the word “awesome” in relation to the word “meetings.” Believe it. It’s true. Meetings at the Portland office of the company I work for are like that: WK Radio. Coca-Cola. Levi’s. iPhone app developers. Like I said, awesome. I love the company I work for, and I don’t care who knows it.

So, when I first heard about the project here, I emailed people I knew in Portland asking for suggestions of bands to see. One was Ingrid from Kill Rock Stars, who I’d become friendly with via email during the project. She suggested I drop by the newly renovated Mississippi Studios for Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, who are pretty awesome. I was psyched at first. What a great day 99, I thought. Then I thought again. Hmm. I have all these people working to make Day 100 amazing back in NYC. And I’m in PDX. Shit. I should try and get back as soon as I can, I thought.

I mean, it’s way more rock and roll to go to a late show of a great band on the other side of the country. To stay out until 1 or 2am, then catch the 6:30am flight back to NYC, getting in at 3pm, then rushing right over to Fontana’s for any last minute details before the party. That’s fucking rock and roll as hell. But, also stressful as all hell. And while awesome in a super dramatic way to close out this project, just not a risk I was willing to take.

So I found a band playing in Portland at 5:30pm and changed my flight to the 10:30pm red eye Friday night. I’m not taking any risks. And what am I saying? Isn’t flying back from the complete opposite side of the country the day before the final day dramatic enough anyhow? Yes it is. Especially when I find out that the bar I’m going to see The Reverb Brothers perform is haunted.

Some people from the Portland office were telling me how the previous owner of the White Eagle would absolutely refuse to go into the attic. Something happened to him there, or he saw something that made him refuse to step foot up there. He would make his employees go up there instead, and eventually sold the place because he just couldn’t handle it.

Matt Z and I grabbed a cab to a really industrial section of downtown Portland, popping out at the White Eagle Saloon around 6pm. We walk into one of the oldest bars in Portland, which doubles as a hotel, restaurant and music venue. And it’s awesome. Old, off the beaten path, with character out the ass. The beer is awesome, the food is awesome, the people are awesome. My kind of place.

We get there and The Reverb Brothers are already on, and they sound great. It’s a 6-piece bluesy, Americana band of older guys who seem to just have a great time playing live, every Friday night from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. They concluded the first set shortly after we showed up.

Then, I grabbed Doug, the lead singer, telling him of the project. He was taken quite aback (I swear, this never gets old). I gave him the URL, told him to check out the site, and mentioned how I was racing back to NYC for the 100th show. He was all smiles.

The band started their second set and a few songs in, Doug gave me a great shout out. He said, “During the break, I was accosted by this guy named Nick, who’s sitting at the end of the bar. He is on a musical journey where he’s going to see 100 bands in 100 days. This is day number 99, and he’s headed straight back to New York today for the 100th show.” He gave out the blog URL, I waved to the crowd, grabbed a couple more beers with Jerome, Matt and Tatum (from the Portland office), watched the end of the set and grabbed a cab to the airport.

Which is where I sit. Waiting to board by overnight flight to NYC. For day #100.

Holy shit, this crazy journey is almost over. I’m not sure whether to be happy or sad.

See you in New York.

4/30/09: Ghost & Six Organs of Admittance @ Doug Fir, Portland (98/100)

May 1st, 2009

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I’m in Portland. How bizarre. I certainly wasn’t planning on this last minute twist in the run up to day 100, but here I am. Yet, almost not. Check this shit out.

After a full day of traveling from NYC to Denver, then Denver to PDX, the pilot of the tiny express airplane I was on tried to land it, only to pull the nose up at the last minute and floor it – taking off again. I guess another plane hadn’t cleared the runway in time and…Jesus fucking Christ! This is how this is all going to end? Really? “Just get this fucking bird on the ground! I’ve got a project to complete!” is all I’m thinking.

He finally does, and my co-worker Matt and I grab a cab to the hotel, check in, and head out to meet up with our other co-worker Jerome. We meet him and some people who work out of the Portland office, and grab some drinks. Then, hit dinner at an amazing little French restaurant named Le Pigeon, right across the street from the venue. How amazing? Well, how’s pork belly and fois gras as a starter, and halibut with gnocchi and spring vegetables as a main sound? Delicious.

So, all day traveling, delicious dinner and now it’s time for music, just after 9:30pm. I’m hitting a bit of a wall at this point, having been up at 7am NY time, and it’s now about 12:30am NY time – but I have to power through. Before heading west for this impromptu meeting, my boss sent around an email to everyone in the Portland and NY offices. He said how my 100 Bands journey was nearing the end, and if anyone out here wanted to join me for a show to come along. So a writer named named Jimmy met up with Matt, Jerome and me for the show tonight at Doug Fir.

Below the venue is a restaurant and attached is a hotel, I think. The restaurant looks nice. The hotel looks like a motel. And the venue is fashioned to look like a fake log cabin – sort of. Which is totally cool, and made for great sound. When we walked downstairs to the venue, Six Organs of Admittance was already on. Six Organs is essentially one guy, Ben Chasny, with his acoustic guitar, at least that’s how it was tonight.

The records have more instrumentation, but tonight was super chill. Some songs are simple, interesting instrumentals in alternate tunings, while others have whispery vocals and later on in the show, musical accompaniment. It was mostly the first one though

The Japanese experimental/avant garde/psych-rock band Ghost was up after Six Organs, and they brought considerably more equipment. I didn’t know what was about to happen, considering there was everything from drums, keys, guitars and pedals galore to a flute, clarinet, saxophone, electro cello, and who knows what else – tons of weird gadgets and instruments I’d never seen in my life.

What happened was a sonic boom of noise/music with some Zep, Floyd, Mac, more noise, free jazz, free noise and whatever the fuck else mixed in. It was a hell of a trip that started out with a wall of noise, where they kept adding brick after brick after brick. Until it was just one huge, controlled mess.

Thing settled down after that and the majority of the set was 70s-sounding psych-rock. The guy on the left hand side of the stage was doing some of the more interesting things on stage. Maybe that’s because I’m a gadget freak, but he had the coolest toys. A sax, flute, clarinet, tons of effects pedals, a tambourine, and this weird oscillating remote control, with a huge antenna on it. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but it seemed like he could manually manipulate different instruments on stage with it. Pretty much making him the coolest guy in the band.

The set started to drag a bit for me, probably because my body was three hours ahead. Jerome and Matt had split about halfway through the show, totally exhausted. I was too, but had to stay. Jimmy was fine, but he lives here. Ghost finally wrapped up the set close to midnight. I called a cab immediately aftewards, not waiting for the encore, then thanked Jimmy for coming out and hanging, hopped in the cab minutes later (man, Radio Cab is fast) and was back at the hotel, in bed before 4am NY time.