David Pate & Steve Cohn / Manul Override / Ornettology at the Make-Out Room

As we busily prepare for the next Vacuum Tree Head show this coming Tuesday, I find myself looking back at my last show with a very different band, Manul Override earlier this month at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco.  It was the subject of a recent CatSynth TV episode.

The evening began with an improvised set featuring saxophonist David Pate with keyboardist Steve Cohn.

Then it was time for Manul Override’s debut show.  This was a new group I put together with my friend and collaborator Serena Toxicat on voice and former Surplus-1980 bandmate Melne on guitar.

We had a lot of fun on stage, and the energy spread to the audience, with dancing and meowing all around (all of our tunes had at least some connection to cats).  I was particularly happy with the opening incantation, which featured a French rendition of Serena’s ode to the goddess Bast, and our 1980s-pop-style tune “Goodnigobbles”, which also featured Serena seductively delivering lyrics and spoken words in French.  Melne had a chance to show her versatility throughout the set, including our extended funky jam in the middle of the set.  As with all new musical projects, this is a work in progress, figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t, and how to make each show better than the previous one.  But it was also fun visually, with our fashion statements, cat ears, and Melne’s lighting.

The final set featured Ornettology, a project led by guitarist and composer Myles Boisen.  As the name suggests, the group is inspired by the music of Ornette Coleman, and reimagines many of his compositions.   He was joined by a stellar cast of local musicians including Steve Adams and Phillip Greenlief on saxophones, John Haines on drums, Safa Shokrai on bass, and John Finkbeiner.

The band delivered a truly dynamic performance that featured some of Ornette Coleman’s more familiar tunes, including “Ramblin'” and “Mob Job” There were some great solos from each of the members of the group as well.  You can hear some of Philip Greenlief and Myles Boisen soloing in our video.

The last few shows I have played at the Make-Out room always have a great audience – full houses that seem to appreciate having live music, whether they came to hear the specific artists or just happened to drop by.  A few in the latter category seemed to quite enjoy our Manul-Override set, signing Serena’s leg cast (she had an unfortunate accident a couple of weeks before the show) and taking selfies with us.  It was a fun night of music all aroundl.

CDP at the Make-Out Room, San Francisco

Today we look back at the May 1 performance by Census Designated Place (CDP) at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco, as part of the monthly Monday Make-Out series.

We were all very excited to play this show. And then things started going awry. First, our synth player Tom Djll was ill an unable to make the gig. And when we were about to go on, I found myself with cable faults and other technical issues. I had actually anticipated many things and had several redundancies, but also a few blind spots, particularly around 1/4” cables. That will not happen again. And after the anxiety of those mishaps in front of a packed room, we played on, and it turned out to be a great show. We played very well, indeed the heads of the various tunes came out as well as I have heard them, and the energy throughout was great. We even had folks dancing in the audience.

You can see a bit of our set in this clip, featuring our newest tune Marlon Brando.

CDP Marlon Brando May 1 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

We were preceded by two other bands. First was a project from our friend Lucio Menegon from New York, together with Janie Cowan on upright bass and John Hanes on drums.

Lucio Menagon Trio

Lucio’s guitar performance had a very narrative, almost storytelling quality. This was set against a mixture of idiomatic rhythms and percussive stops from Cowan and Hanes.

They were followed by a quartet featuring Anton Hatwich from Chicago together with Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Josh Smith on saxophone and Hamir Atwal on drums.

Anton Hatwich Quartet

During this time, the crowd at the Make-Out room continued to grow, and by the time we were setting up it was as crowded as I have seen there since I played there with Surplus 1980 some four years earlier. Which made the technical difficulties all the more stressful. But as stated earlier, the show ultimately went well as a trio with myself, Mark Pino on drums and Joshua Marshall on saxophones. The music was very well received by the audience and the other musicians.

Thanks to Karl Evangelista for organizing the series, Rent Romus for helping with logistics on that night, and all the folks at the Make-Out Room. Overall, it was a good show, and some important lessons learned on technical blind spots. We will get back to composing, rehearsing and preparing for next ones.

Wordless Wednesday: Disco Ball

Disco Ball

Readings at Electric Works, and the Snowball Pond Orchestra, December 7

The evening began at Electric Works for readings from the art issue of The Believer.

We spent a few minutes browsing the gallery at Electric Works, which featured work by Paul Madonna. His large-scale pieces included text that seemed only slightly related to the images, which often featured cartoon creatures, commercial art, and little “alien-monster” finger puppets similar to the ones I keep in my office at work.

Michelle Tea presented a reading from her piece about the fifth marriage ceremony of two “sexy performance artists” as an unauthorized event at the 2009 Venice Beinnale. Her descriptions of their costumes were quite detailed and her deadpan delivery of some their odd statements was amusing.The readings Jeff Chang and Michael Paul Mason seemed more like paper presentations at an academic conference, although I was quite intrigued by Mason’s piece on the disappearance of Ford Beckman, a highly successful minimalist artist who somehow went from the inner circles of the art world to working at a Krispy Kreme Donuts in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The examples of Beckman’s work shown in the presentation suggested the sparse geometry and simple patterns of minimalist work, but also a weathered quality that brings out the underlying materials.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation by Eames Demetrios. Demetrios. He is the grandson of the designers Charles and Ray Eames, a filmmaker, and also the Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, “a parallel universe that shares, to some degree, our physical planet.” After chiding the audience on their woeful state of knowledge of Kcymaerxthaere, he presented some examples of how the history and mythology intersect with our physical world, and his work to recognize significant intersections with commemorative plaques. My favorite observation was the many roads named in honor of Earl Frontage. The presentation concluded with a rousing group rendition of “Kymaerica, Sambamba Dier” sung to the tune of America the Beautiful.

After a brief stop for refreshments, it was off to The Makeout Room for the Snowball Pond Orchestra performing Piece to Celebrate the Proximity of Pearl Harbor Day and the Death of John Lennon, the first conducted composition by kingtone (aka Lucio Menegon). (Some readers my recognize Lucio as the host of the Ivy Room experimental-improv series.) “The piece is a a surround sound minimalist-meets-mayhem piece to celebrate the proximity of two events that managed to wake people out of their collective stupor for a moment or two.”

The first two sections appeared to focus more on Pearl Harbor and the last two more on John Lennon. The opening section featured the guitars, as described above. Later on, much darker guitar and string sounds were set against snare drums that sounded at once militaristic and like a clip from a rock solo, followed by long sustained guitar unisons and complex chords. The music gradually took on more of a rock feel as the narrative moved from Pearl Harbor to John Lennon, with quotations from “Helter Skelter” (from the White Album) towards the end.

You can read more about the performance, and see photos and a video clip at the kingtone website.