Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Rock-It Science, Pt. 1
I am part of the house band for a show in New York called Rock-it Science, a part of the Sensation to Emotion Conference. What, pray tell, have I gotten myself into this time?
Headed up by my old friend Tim Sommer, who has provided me with more opportunities in the music business than I can even recall now, we will be backing up the legendary Dee Snider (Twisted Sister's lead vocalist who testified with Frank Zappa and John Denver in the US Congress years ago against the Parents' Music Resource Group's attempt to label content on albums--go, Dee!) and some of the cast of the new Broadway musical Rock of Ages, including American Idol heartthrob Constantine Maroulis. Plus we'll have noted physicist/Blue Oyster Cult associate Dan Levitin, cabaret star Anna Copa Cabanna and former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas on board.
The house band is me, Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group and compiler of Nuggets), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate and old friend) and Joseph Shireman on guitars--yeah, yeah, that's a lotta guitars, but some of the songs require that kind of overkill; Stuart Chatwood (from Canada's The Tea Party) on lefty bass; and Linda Pitmon (from Steve's band and Zuzu's Petals) on drums.
There will be other acts: a few of the scientists participating in the convention here have their own bands. My old pals, the Kennedys will be here which will be great; hope Maura Kennedy brought her uke and hula-hoop. Rufus Wainwright will top the bill, and that's very exciting for me as a long-time fan of his.
We had a rehearsal last night. I was late arriving because the snowstorm had pushed everyone's flights back almost three hours. We landed and taxied in on what looked like a big sheet of ice. My guitar and keyboard came out almost immediately, and I was hustled from LaGuardia over to Ultrasound Studio on the West Side of Manhattan.
The band was going through "I Wanna Rock" with Ana doing stunt lead vocals. The room had a wall of combo guitar amps to choose from, so I plugged into a '59 Bassman reissue, tuned up and joined in. I had missed the Broadway music director leading the band through Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and Damn Yankees' "High Enough", two songs I never anticipated having to hear, much less learn to play (Smart Wife was chuckling as I learned the arpeggiated intro to the Bon Jovi song under headphones in our living room a few nights before, knowing that those two songs fall outside my regular realm of eccentric taste.)
We tackled the Nick Gilder classic "Hot Child in the City" with Ana; I used to love that song, but I'd never learned it until last night.
Dan and Gary arrived, and we worked on Dan's instrumental "B.O.C", which stands for... Dan, Gary and Lenny all played the harmony lead with Steve and me holding down the rhythm, although everyone got a few bars to shred on. Dan is also playing a version of "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak with brain-surgery parody lyrics, for which I switched to electric piano.
Steve came up to the mic, and we did a couple Dream Syndicate songs which I remembered from our tour together in 1997. We also did "Amphetamine", a searing revved-up travelogue that I got to pummel some lead guitar on.
We backed Lenny on "Gloria" which he wanted "more Shadows of Knight and less Patti", so we endeavored to achieve that end.
We'd talked about me doing a couple songs with the house band, but I've been reduced to just one, "Neverland" which is fine. That's a song Steve insisted that we do on the 1997 tour together as well, so Linda already knew it and Lenny had it charted. Stuart is a fast study, so he had it down by the end of the song, too.
I'm a good leader and a good follower, and on this show, I'm happy to follow. There's plenty enough for me to do here as it is.
We couldn't convince Tim to join the combo, but it was probably because the only bass in the room was Stuart's left handed Jazz. Still holding out hope for him to do "Farmer John" by the Premiers
Joseph, toward the end of rehearsal, walked me through the parts I was to play on the Bon Jovi and Damn Yankees songs. It was lucky for me that he's a reader, since my lack of ability to navigate a page of sheet music gives rise to the old guitar player joke (Q: How do you shut a lead guitar player up? A: Stick a piece of sheet music in front of him.). Everything was fairly easy to manage, and then we went through the Twisted Sister tunes again to end the night.
There was a lot of "this is so weird, I can't believe this is happening, no one will believe this is happening" going on in all of our minds, I think, as it's not necessarily the cast of characters one would visualize playing some of these songs; Lenny, smartly, put it in the perspective that it was good for us to do things like this, to keep our brains poised and to stretch our boundaries. I went to bed a couple hours later, still singing "I'm a cowboy..." Oh my.