Upcoming Bay Area Show Announcements

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UPCOMING BAY AREA SHOW ANNOUNCEMENTS
CAFFE TRIESTE AUGUST 29th | BAZAAR CAFE SEPTEMBER 2nd

Let me start this off with some very exciting news… G-Rad is now a registered service mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office!  So from now on, every time you call me by my nickname, it will only cost a nickel.  What a deal!  You can start paying me once you accrue your first dollar.

All jokes aside, this is a major step in my career and I am very proud and delighted to announce that my service mark application for the performing artist name G-Rad® passed with flying colors!

Now, to put my service mark to great use immediately.  I have two most excellent shows to announce, both featuring some very talented artists.

 

FRIDAY AUGUST 29th
featuring Chad Edwards
CAFFE TRIESTE
2500 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA 94702
MUSIC FROM 8PM TO 10PM
FREE ADMISSION, CDS FOR SALE, GREAT FOOD AND DRINKS

 

On August 29th, I am thrilled to be returning to Caffe Trieste, this time accompanied by hand percussionist Chad Edwards.  Chad and I attended high school together and grew up in the same neighborhood.  We have always been involved in musical projects but haven’t had the opportunity to perform together since Napa High School Men’s Choir.  Look forward to a night of soulful acoustic rock accompanied by sweet beats!

 

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 2nd
with Ben Goldstein and Jeff Pehrson of Further and Box Set
BAZAAR CAFE
5927 California St. San Francisco, CA 94121
MUSIC FROM 7PM TO 10PM
FREE ADMISSION, CDS FOR SALE, GREAT FOOD AND DRINKS

 

This next show requires a bit of background.  I met Jeff Pehrson at Bazaar Cafe as people were arriving for Bay Area artist Tommy P‘s final in residency concert.  Tommy and I were hanging out at the back table, recounting fables of ULUV Music Day, when this cool cat strutted in and nonchalantly asked if he could join us.  Feeling a good vibe, we welcomed him to our table and continued discussing ULUV.  Turns out, we were in the company of a very successful rock star.  At first asking us about our music, our new friend later revealed that he played in a little band called Further.  When asked to clarify, he indeed reassured us of his membership with the band that the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh formed after Jerry Garcia died.  Our new friend, Jeff Pehrson, has performed sold out shows at the coveted Madison Square Garden and back to back at San Francisco’s Shoreline Amphitheatre.  He’s been put up at the finest hotels, traveled far and wide, and here he was, humbly recounting tales to us comparative greenhorns at the neighborhood cafe.

Jeff and I have become fast friends, and to kick off his September month in residency at the Bazaar Cafe, he asked me to join him on stage as an opening act.  Bazaar Cafe is a pretty sweet spot to catch live music.  It has the most popular open mic in town; the sign up sheet fills up a week in advance.  Many San Francisco songwriters favor this venue for its intimate vibe, great food, fine selection of beer and wine, and the abundance of fellow artists to mingle with and meet.  I hope you can make it out and I know you’ll be pleased that you do!

You can also catch Jeff with his acoustic duo, Box Set, at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage on Saturday, August 23rd.  Tickets are available here: http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/485907  Box Set has been together for 23 years and got started performing in San Francisco cafes just like Bazaar.  I’m very excited to see them for the first time as they are getting ready to reveal some newly written material.

 

That’s all for now.  Thank you so much for your continued support!  Looking forward to seeing you at an upcoming show.

 

Questions, comments?  I love to hear from you!  Don’t be shy… email me here thedude@g-rad.net

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G-RADiOHEAD

Radiohead Live in San Jose

If I could tour with any band, living or dead, it would have to be Radiohead. They are my all time favorite band. From their early records that fundamentally inspire my songwriting, to live performances that relinquish out of body experiences, this band has been a large part of my life. It would be so cool to join them on stage!

I once met the  band by random on the streets of San Francisco. It’s possible I could meet them again. If this message happens to reach them, please consider it a friendly invitation to consider the possibility.

After the release of Sea Change, I saw Beck on tour with The Flaming Lips. The Flaming Lips were the opening band, and then remained on stage to perform as Beck’s backing band. How cool would it be if I could open up for Radiohead and they would be my backing band! Then remain on stage to headline the show! OMG, that would be the best concert ever (imho)! We could go on a world tour and call it G-RADiOHEAD!

G-Rad at Radiohead in SF 2008

Home Recording Tips – Session 3

“Never Spend Too Long On Any Particular Song”

When working on a new composition, pace yourself as you create.  Never spend too long on any given song as you are writing them.  Let the process of creation flow and flourish as you bring new sounds to life.  If you get overly engrossed in completing one song, you may miss out on the flurry of compositions that may have been coming.  The next song may be better than what you are working on currently.  You just never know until you try.

When you’re feeling the inspiration to compose come on, see how far you can take it.  You can always come back and finish the best ones later.

Damien Jurado And His Amazing New Drummer

My cousin, Brad “B-Rad” Stemke, moved to Seattle a number of years ago. Being such a friendly and sociable guy, he met a lot of musicians from the region of whom he is a big fan. I recall him telling stories of sharing dinner with Death Cab For Cutie backstage at one of their shows and being very humbled by the experience.

Another artist he met is singer/songwriter Damien Jurado. Damien began his career in the 1990′s and is known for his moving performances, singing and playing acoustic guitar. On his latest album, Maraqopa, Damien expanded his sound with producer Richard Swift. They created a record using Wilco’s old 16-Track 2-inch reel to reel (the same machine used for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), ornamenting the music with keyboards, iPads, drums, bass, and backing vocals. The warmth of the record sounds more like a full band than one man, and to promote the album, Damien decided to enlist a full band on tour. Fortune smiled upon my cousin when Damien asked Brad to join his touring band as their drummer.

The band began their tour in Europe, flying in and out of Amsterdam. 8 countries in 5 weeks. Surrounded by foreign languages, the band was treated like family everywhere they went. Family style spreads backstage of delicious food. Nice hotels. Anything they needed, it was taken care of. Sold out shows from city to city, country to country. Fans even traveled from one show to the next, bringing photos from earlier shows on the tour for them to sign, printed out in high quality with their names listed and everything. I could tell that Brad had a surreal experience and was still soaking it all in as he recounted it.

With just two weeks off to rest, the band saddled up for their Western United States tour, and kicked it off in my neck of the woods. The Bottom of the Hill was packed from end to end for the sold out show in San Francisco. Opening act, Dear Indugu, was warming up on stage as I entered. I could see my cousin in the back room and began sauntering in that direction to greet him. As he saw me draw near, we smiled wide and extended our arms for a warm embrace. Having never been to Bottom of the Hill, I was not sure if I would have a chance to see him before their set, and was delighted to discover the intimacy of the venue. The band has to walk through the crowd to get on and off the stage. The back patio area is open to all, and band members often hang out back there after the set. If you’re lucky, you might get a chance to meet someone who just played.

I was even luckier. I got to meet the musicians before they played. Brad guided me upstairs to the exclusive backstage area. There he offered me Jim Beam and introduced me around the room. Peter Pisano and Brian Moen from Peter Wolf Crier were back there, getting ready to play next. I met the rest of Damien Jurado’s backing band. And finally, as if on cue, Damien himself entered the room. Damien extended his hand and introduced himself humbly. It was as surreal as it gets.

I felt like a peer in the room. I felt like I belonged. I laughed along at stories from the European tour, and predictions of activities on the road ahead. I was mostly speechless and in awe of the opportunity I was experiencing. I could not believe this was happening. It never dawned on me that I would be privileged to mingle with everyone on tour with my cousin. This was such an amazing moment, I wanted to memorize every detail so I could remember it all forever.

Brad’s Bay Area friends were coming out in droves so we were soon back downstairs and it was time for Peter Wolf Crier to play. The two members of the band take turns playing the bass lines with various triggers and foot pedals. The guitar player, Peter Pisano, has an organ foot pedal with which he plays bass lines while simultaneously shredding wild electric guitar leads and singing stunning vocals. His voice reminded me of Jeff Buckley, soaring and emotive. Brian Moen pummels the drumkit with precision and triggers bass lines with various pads situated around the kit. All of the bass runs through the same amplification and audience members who can’t get a good look at the stage are often bewildered about who is playing the bass. For a two piece band, they sure produce a lot of volume and a wide array of dynamics throughout their set. Tight segues between songs showcased their creativity and kept the crowd moving with a continuous performance that was as breathtaking as it was unique.

Damien Jurado was up next and I took pictures as my cousin and the rest of the band set up their equipment. I had the perfect spot at the side of the stage, right in line with where Brad set up his drumkit. We kept smiling at each other throughout the show and I was proud to answer affirmatively that I did know the drummer when people around me would ask.

This was the first time I had heard any of Damien’s new material. I had only heard of him before when he did a solo acoustic performance on KCRW, an eclectic radio station in Southern California. They started their set with Maraqopa opener, “Nothing Is The News”. It has a cool 3/4 shuffle and is a great way to showcase all the members of the band right from the get go. Lead guitarist Kyle Zantos, keyboardist Barry Uhl, bass player Jesse Hurlburt, drummer Brad Stemke, and singer/acoustic guitar player Damien Jurado all have a moment to shine.

They played a lot of material from the new album. For title track, “Maraqopa”, Brad moved to the front of the stage and played shakers and hand percussion while the rest of the band filled in on backing vocals. It was a moving and intimate moment, with the crowd smiling and wide-eyed, swaying to the mellow music. A lighter ignited and waved along to the rhythm of the song.

There was an obvious connection between my cousin and Damien. I was impressed by their musical telepathy. It was as if they were reading each other’s mind during transitions and extended jams. Brad has really come a long way since the two of us jammed as pre-adolescents in the living rooms of our parents’ houses. I was filled with feelings of pride and admiration seeing my cousin on stage, drumming for the headliner of a sold out concert. He was at ease on stage, natural. Smiles beaming through his thick beard. Effortlessly driving the songs forward and bringing them to life with dynamic beats. The crowd around me loved him; I kept overhearing accolades.

Damien spent some time on stage alone, performing three songs toward the end of the set. He broke between the last two songs and engaged the crowd in some heart felt banter. He was humbled by the turn out and expressed his sentiment graciously. He talked about how excited he was to be on tour with a full band. It seemed that both those on stage and those in the crowd were appreciating the shared moments in equal measure.

For the grand finale, Damien and the band treated us to a rocking medley where all the members of the band took turns showcasing their talent. Damien stood up on a box, strumming his acoustic guitar wildly, revealing a sticker on the back of his guitar that reads, “President Nixon”. I felt like I was at a classic rock show, watching an experienced jam band. You would never have guessed that these guys had only recently assembled. The chemistry and the energy was invigorating and intoxicating.

As the evening drew to a close, I bid my cousin and my new friends a fond farewell. The Bottom of the Hill slowly emptied, but the energy lingered on. I clutched my autographed copies of the new Damien Jurado and Peter Wolf Crier albums as I was one of the last to leave the venue. I listened to Maraqopa in its entirety in my truck on the way home. The warm analog recording kept me company across the Bay Bridge and on the streets of Oakland. I remained in my vehicle in the parking lot until the album cycled back around to the beginning.

It has been a long time since I have eagerly anticipated listening to a new record and I had purposely delayed acquiring Maraqopa until I had seen the show. The record lives up to the live performance and I am honored to see my cousin’s music career taking off as he collaborates with such a talented singer/songwriter. In a lot of ways, Damien Jurado reminds me of myself. He is living the dream that I am pursuing. As I begin to explore his oeuvre, I sense a lot of similarity in how we approach the craft of songwriting and recording. It is heartening and an honor to have met such a passionate soul and see the smiles he brings to others. I hope the rest of the tour is a continued success and I eagerly anticipate the next time Damien Jurado and his amazing new drummer come back around.

 

Artists discussed in this post:
Damien Jurado
Brad Stemke
Peter Wolf Crier
Dear Indugu
Richard Swift
Wilco
Death Cab For Cutie
Jeff Buckley
Bottom of the Hill (venue)

 

Article written by Gerad “G-Rad” Stemke, http://g-rad.net

Radiohead LIVE in San Jose

The energy of anticipation was gathering around San Jose’s HP Pavilion. Radiohead fans from all over Northern California were amassing to see one of the biggest bands of our time. I could feel waves of excitement emanating everywhere as I pulled into the parking lot and began exploring the circumference of the auditorium in search of Will Call.

In preparation for the event, I had purchased a one hour massage the night before so my body would be fresh and ready to dance. It was a good call too, because on this tour, Radiohead enlisted the help of studio drummer Clive Deamer to flesh out the more rhythmic numbers and I had never been more inspired to let my body move.

Being on a bit of a budget crunch, I could not afford to invite anybody with me on this outing. But I found quickly that I was only a lone ranger on the drive down. Radiohead fans are a friendly and welcoming bunch. Kind of surprising if you listen closely to the lyrics, but apparently the depressing mood of some of their songs is more inclined to bring out a smile than a frown.

I was very impressed with the opening band. Other Lives is a 5 piece folk band from Stillwater, Oklahoma. What amazed me the most was the ethereal vocal harmonies performed by lead singer Jesse Tabish and Jenny Hsu, as well as the full time string section. It was a perfect opening band for Radiohead and even conjured up similar emotions and moods.

Once Radiohead took the stage, an elaborate light show illuminated the auditorium with vibrant hues. Ten high definition square screens descended from the top of the stage, each displaying a shuffle of close camera angles of Radiohead’s live performance. I stood dead center on the floor, about 30 feet back from the stage. The crowd weaved and bobbed to the stunning rhythms of dueling drummers as the band opened their set with the first track off of their new LP, “Bloom” from The King Of Limbs.

We were treated to two hours of spectacular sound. The setlist was fairly well balanced between Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows, and TKOL. With a few B Sides thrown in for good measure. Mostly music that was written and released in the new millenium. They did a killer rendition of “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy”, which has a few lines that hauntingly foreshadow the current banking collapse.

I have seen Radiohead now for the 8th time (9th, if you count when I met them) and I realized I had always neglected Ed O’Brien, favoring instead to stand near Jonny Greenwood’s side of the stage. This time, I had the perfect view of Ed and spent a lot of time watching his performance. I was surprised to hear that many sounds I thought were generated by keyboards on their recordings are actually Ed playing heavily processed guitar. He played a collection of guitars that reminded me a lot of my roommate Bill’s arsenal of custom made axes. They both have some pretty funky sounding guitars and I wished Bill could have been there to see it.

Thom Yorke seemed chipper, sporting a ponytail and hot pants. He seemed a little bewildered, constantly interrogating the crowd, “Where am I? Where am I?” Ed kept trying to tell him that they were in San Jose, but Thom didn’t seem to hear him.

I was shocked at the outset, counting six heads on stage. There were now two bald drummers in the band on opposite facing risers. What, did Phil Selway have a clone? When I got home, a quick Interweb Search revealed that it was part time Portishead drummer, Clive Deamer. Phil and Clive must have practiced together a lot because they were very tight when they played in unison. Some of their older material benefited from the addition, with a little more flare here and there as the two would break apart for fills and return in unison to the basic beat.

My personal favorite song of the evening was “Kid A”. It is so cool to see how they do it live. Thom sang through a vocoder and danced like an Egyptian cobra between the prose. It was obvious that he was having a lot of fun. The live version sounds a lot like the recorded version and now I’m inspired to play with my friend Mario’s vocoder again. It is not as easy as it looks to sing through the mic and play the melody with the keys, and with that knowledge in mind I could appreciate the finesse of Thom’s performance much more.

There weren’t a lot of songs pulled from the back back catalog, but the old standards they did perform were just as fresh and amazing as the first time I heard them. “Climbing Up The Walls”, with Jonny creepily running an AM radio through digital delay and other effects, combined with the haunting sound of Thom screaming through distorted acoustic guitar pickups, this song never ceases to amaze me.

“Idioteque”, with its pulsating electronic beat, created by Jonny Greenwood using patch cables on an old electronic instrument, Thom gyrating around the stage singing in a panic, “Ice age coming, ice age coming, we’re not scaremongering, this is really happening…”, and the stage bursting with green lights and digital video effects eliciting the sensation of being caught in the Matrix. “Ideoteque” is hands down one of my favorite songs to see Radiohead play live.

They ended their primary set with Kid A opener “Everything In Its Right Place”. This song serves the perfect grand finale as the composition relies heavily on the use of samplers, and the band members exit the stage one by one once their samples have been fully recorded. Thom Yorke is the first to leave while Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood continue to perform the song using loops of Thom’s vocals and keyboards. Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway, and Clive Deamer depart, eventually leaving Jonny and Ed alone, evolving and manipulating their samples and loops. This time, Jonny left Ed alone as he remained on stage for several minutes, subtly adjusting EQ nobs and stutter stepping loops to create washes of sounds and moving beats. He soon left the stage and left the sold out crowd in awe, and hungry for more.

As the lights of the auditorium slowly warmed back up, I stood motionless as the crowd began to disperse around me. As others were walking toward the exits, I walked in reverse flow toward the stage. At the end of the show, all of the stage lights were awash in a rainbow of color, illuminating all the different colors they had used throughout the night at once. Radiohead’s stage crew quickly began tearing apart the stage as I watched. I felt humbled by the experience. I meditated in the crowded room, lost in the moment. My favorite band of all time and I in the same room, the sound waves still lingering on in my mind.

If you ever listen to a Radiohead album, be sure to use a good pair of headphones. They are masters in the studio, carefully crafting every subtle detail. Whenever I acquire a new Radiohead record, it is always difficult for me to imagine how they came up with it, let alone how they could possibly pull it off live. When you witness the live performance and see how tangible all of the elements of the songs are, and how close to the recording it all sounds, you realize that you are in the presence of true masters. This is a band that jams together and composes as a group. Their records are organic and human. There is no other band like Radiohead on this earth, and I am proud to have been a part of their musical journey now for 12 years. Grateful Dead fans who travel from show to show are called Dead Heads. Well, I guess I must be a Head Head. Congratulations on the excellent performance. I hope I can see you again real soon.

 

Artists discussed in this post:
Radiohead
Other Lives
Clive Deamer
Portishead
Grateful Dead

 

Article written by Gerad “G-Rad” Stemke, http://g-rad.net

Home Recording Tips – Session 2

“Record Everything”

 

Today’s lesson can be summed up in two simple words: Record Everything.

As an artist, you never know when inspiration is going to hit. And you’re never going to get a better recording of inspiration than when it is happening in the moment. Ever been jamming and write a killer hook, complete with chord progression, lyrics, and vocal melody, only to not be able to recall it exactly when you try to play it again? No matter what you try, the lyrics just don’t sound right with the melody, or the strumming pattern of the chords isn’t quite feeling right. Wouldn’t it be great if you could listen to the inception of the song and figure out how to play it exactly as it was conceived?

With the ever falling price of hard disk space and the wide variety of recording gear on the market today, it is getting easier and easier to make this happen. And there is little excuse not to.

There are several methods I have used with the Record Everything philosophy. I first began noticing the power of recording everything when I started laboring over my songwriting. I bought a mini disc recorder and stereo microphone and would turn it on every time I started jamming on my guitar. In the beginning, I would just improvise hooks and sections of songs, but eventually I was improvising entire compositions on the spot. Some of them were quite good right out of the gate and I was grateful that these Seeds (as I began calling them) were caught on tape.

As the years progressed, and my studio equipment collection continued to grow, I implemented the Record Everything philosophy on orchestration and just about everything I was doing in the studio. Sometimes I would improvise an entire album, starting with a 45 minute drum jam session, layer some improvised guitar chord progressions, lyrics, bass lines, and lead guitar and other orchestration. I would set up games for myself on these projects such that I could never overdub an instrument or make any corrections; the only editing I could do would be to delete any obvious mistakes and sour moments. Everything else would be the first take.

With the Record Everything philosophy, it is important to remember that not everything you record will be gold. The purpose of recording everything is that when you do create that amazing work of art, you will have it recorded exactly the way that inspiration gave it to you. Directly from the source. If I am lucky, I find that 1 out of every 5 songs I write will have that hit potential. So when I started laboring over my songwriting, I set the goal of writing 4 or 5 songs every time I sat down to write 1 song. It improved my odds of harvesting a hit by writing more songs. And as I completed this challenge, over time, the ratio of hits to duds increased as well as the library of work that I have created. Win – win.

If you are just getting started on Home Recording, as a hobby or a profession, don’t be afraid to dive right in and just start recording everything that you play. Only when you are actively recording and listening back to your performances can you begin to fine tune your sound and achieve the musical goals you wish to accomplish. If you don’t know what you sound like, you will never know what you are capable of. And the wider variety of work that you record, the larger your palette of sounds will be as you continue to hone your craft. Remember that everything you do builds on what you have done before. And when you are making records with the Record Everything philosophy, you are creating a growing and tangible real body of work.

 

Home Recording Tips – Session 1

“The First Cut Is Always The Deepest”

 

A lot of people have been asking me lately about my process in the studio. As I begin working on a new album, I decided to chronicle the recording process with a series of blogg posts. This especially is the perfect time to write such a series because I am recording my first album in the Hip Hop/Electronic Music genre and am finding myself reinventing my process on the fly as I learn how to compose and produce a new style of music.

One of the most important things I have realized is that it is important to capture as much of a song in one session as possible if you want to achieve the most pure result. Since I am slightly uncomfortable rapping still, I noticed quickly that if I tried to splice in pieces of takes between different days, or even tried to punch in and correct a few lines several days later, there was an obvious difference in emotion and tone throughout the song. It loses its consistency. It is best to capture as much of an emotional moment in one song as possible and try to get it all done in one day. Rarely do we feel the same emotions the same way throughout our lives, and it is noticeable as an artist when we are trying to create.

As I work on this album, I have a collection of music that I recorded on the software program Reason. I recorded about 25 songs in the fall of last year, all instrumental, using various midi instruments, drum machines, and samplers that are available in Reason. I composed all of these songs using the technique mentioned above. I limited myself to one song at a time, typically only working on one song in a day. In the time I spent composing and sequencing the song in Reason, I tried to capture as many ideas and emotions that made sense for the song musically before I was ready to set it aside. I rarely went back over an old song days later to add new instruments or elements without it sounding labored over and unnatural. Whenever I chose to create an entire song in one session, the result was much closer to the source of inspiration, and much more moving to the listener.

I have been finding that recording lyrics feels the same way. In the recording studio, there is an old saying that goes, “The first cut is always the deepest.” The first time I improvise lyrics to a new song, or try to sing the hook, I usually have a much better take. Whenever I keep trying to rap or sing over the same piece of music for 2 or 3 takes, it loses its emotional impact exponentially with every succession.

Now that I’ve finished almost all of the songs lyrically, I have found that if I don’t get a song right lyrically the first time, it is best to set that piece of music aside for the time being and find something more emotionally resonant with the current mood I am in. This way I am able to maximize my productivity and minimize the effort it takes. After all, singing is really a lot like an athletic event, and the fewer takes it takes to achieve the desired result, the less strain I take out of myself physically. Never waste energy.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more stories from the studio as I continue to record my new album.

Wilco, Wilco, Wilco!

For my birthday this year, I treated myself to a marathon of Wilco tickets: 3 shows in 4 days!  San Jose Civic Center, San Francisco’s Warfield, and Oakland’s Fox Theatre.  What an amazing string of shows.

The first show occurred on my birthday proper, in the not so distant land of San Jose. A short journey down the 880 freeway. Since it was my birthday proper, this was the only day I decided to splurge and invite a friend. My lucky companion, and fellow Xien co-pilot, Bill Miles.

We started the night early as we were recommended to check out the Vietnamese coffeeshops down there. One word. Wow. The residual energy you get from one of their cà phê’s will keep you going for days. Not to mention the waitresses are hot. And practically naked. We were sipping our cà phê sữa nóng’s slowly and drinking our iced tea quickly in order to enjoy the frequent refills and friendly smiles.

The show took place downtown at the San Jose Civic Center. Walking into the auditorium, it had the atmosphere of a high school basketball gym. In fact, I ran into a buddy of mine from high school right away. What’s up, Nick! Hope you enjoyed the show!

Wilco took stage and started their set with the epic 12 minute album closer from their new record, “The Whole Love”. It was a mellow, middle paced song called, “One Sunday Morning”. By the time I saw them play it 2 more times, this song would always bring tears to my eyes. It is so beautiful. I thought at the time it was an unusual way to rev up the crowd out the gate, but it proved to leave a lasting impression.

Bill and I had floor tickets and were pretty close to the front of the stage. We had a great view of Jeff Tweedy, with his ever changing cast of guitars. Between songs, Jeff is handed a new guitar, sometimes what looks almost like the exact same model. Between two acoustic numbers, I saw him handed the same guitar except the second one had a capo on the 4th fret. What attention to detail!

We also had a great view of shredding lead guitarist Nels Cline. This man is an animal. Switching between graceful melodies to massive orgies of distortion, angst, and fury, and back again like a rapid cycling manic depressive. Unstoppable. It is absolutely amazing watching them live and seeing the various ways Nels will accentuate a song, switching things up seamlessly. How does he even compose these lines, let alone perform them?

The rhythm section, the core of the band, John Stirrat and Glenn Kotche. I love the way these guys play together. They propel the songs with dynamic riffs you wouldn’t normally expect in a country tinged folk song. Take, for example, the sudden flourishes of madness in “Via Chicago”. Mid song, Jeff strums sweetly through a verse while the band devolves into chaos all around him. This is definitely a highlight of their show and I was privileged to see the song performed live twice. John and Glenn have been in the band the longest, besides Jeff. They form a solid foundation for the other three players to embellish around.

On risers on either side of the drummer, you will find the skills of multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and lead piano player/keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen. Wilco have a heavy piano influence on their sound for a bulk of their material and these two perform very well together as dueling keyboardists. On the heavier, guitar driven songs, Pat steps to the front of the stage, brandishing an off-white Fender Telecaster, the same model I used to play before it was stolen by a bum named Junior. Some of the moments where Mikael shines are on “Hummingbird” and “A Shot In The Arm”. The piano riff on the last one is outstanding, and even though Mikael didn’t write it, he totally nails it. I think that song takes two piano players to pull off live and it is cool to see him and Pat go at those keys.

“Art Of Almost” is a cool way to start out a show. On all three shows I attended, this was the second song that Wilco performed. It starts out with Jeff sans guitar, just singing and performing to the mic stand, reminiscent of Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler. Nels throws on some cool sampler/delay effect loop that gets the groove going. Glenn’s drum beat is really funky on this one, and combined with Nels’ loop effects, it comes off grainy and intense, like a slowly approaching freight train through a tunnel you were hoping to traverse before it was too late. You get the sense of urgency as soon as Jeff steps up singing. The whole song is a near missed accident throttling you forward in a rhythm that gets you dancing. You just can’t help it. This number has soul. It really moves you.

At the Warfield show, on the second night, I was only one head away from the front of the stage. I never get to be this close. This time, I was directly in front of Nels Cline, toward the left side of the stage in the pit. His soaring leads where shredding my head like cabbage. My face was squarely staring down his table of samplers and effect saturation mechanisms. It almost seems like he is part musician and part mechanic. Mixing up guitar magic like a sorcerer of sound.

This is the first time I’ve seen Wilco since the last time they’ve been around, and I must say, they really blew me away. I’ve seen Wilco every time they’ve come around since the “A Ghost Is Born” era. My first show was at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, attending back to back shows in November 2004. This is the kind of band you want to see more than once on every tour, as their setlist changes dynamically every night. Wilco’s catalogue is quite expansive, having been around and actively releasing albums since 1994.

At this point, it feels like I’m a member of the band I’ve seen them so much.  When Jeff Tweedy looks in my direction in the audience, it’s almost as if he’s saying, “What’s up, G-Rad.” Thanks, Wilco, for all the great shows!

Artists discussed in this post:
Wilco
White Denim

 

Article written by Gerad “G-Rad” Stemke, http://g-rad.net

How I Met Radiohead

It was the summer of 2006. I was in the prime of my life, enjoying a year off from computer programming. My first attempt at full time professional musicianship. I was young and naive. Careless and carefree. Travelling all around the country and having the time of my life.

I was currently spending a lot of time in San Francisco, practicing and writing at my best friend Fabian’s apartment. In order to save as much of my savings as possible, and stretch it as far as I can go, I was spending a lot of time on my friends’ couches. Couch surfing the USA.

I had travelled this route many times before. The 38 (preferably Limited) bus from Powell Street BART station to 12th Ave. in the Inner Richmond district. The only difference was that today, I decided to wear my glasses. I had recently returned from NYC and realized how blind I was when I forgot to bring my glasses, so upon returning to California I took them everywhere I went.

Sitting quietly on the bench in the back of the bus facing the north side of Geary Blvd., obnoxiously large over-the-ear studio headphones cranked to avoid as many panhandling attempts as possible, I rode towards the Pacific Ocean noticing the details of all the shops and buildings for the first time. And would you believe it? Standing outside a Thai restaurant that I had never seen before, waiting for a table, was the entire band Radiohead. All five members. Thom, Jonny, Colin, Ed, and Phil.

Stop request!

Thankful I was wearing my glasses, I lept out at the next stop on the 38 line and ran back to where the band was standing.

I stood in awe as I surveyed the small crowd that was mingling with the members of the band. I scanned the faces, first noticing Colin, then catching sight of Thom. Thom and I made eye contact. I was like a deer in headlights. My songwriting idol right there in front of me.

Too scared and humble to interrupt his present conversation, I gave Thom a “what’s up” nod, and he returned the gesture. I smiled and continued to scan the crowd.

Before I could turn my head much further, I realized I was standing right in front of Jonny Greenwood. The amazing lead guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, known for stealing moments of the show and never giving them back. I was surprised to see that he was standing alone.

Slightly stunned, by reflex I belched a salutation. “Hey, what’s up, man?” How typical Californian.

“Hi, do you happen to know where I can find a banjo in this town?”

Jonny and I ended up chatting for what seemed like an eternity. He wanted to find a banjo. I think he may have been composing the soundtrack to There Will Be Blood at the time. Being fairly fresh on the scene myself, I wasn’t able to help him, but I did give him my business card and asked if he would listen to some of my music. I told him that he and his band were really big influences. He was really cool and accepted my card warmly. I was impressed at how down to earth the whole experience was.

As I took leave of Jonny and the rest of the gang, I ran back suddenly to ask Jonny for an autograph. I had been too star-struck and stunned to remember to ask him before. He took the request as an embarrassent and I realized I had cheapened our previous moment. Oh well, I couldn’t help asking. It’s always nice to have some proof when you meet your favorite band in the world. I guess you’re just gonna have to take my word for it.

I have ridden that line many times since and have yet to see any other celebrities milling around. As the years progressed, I began wearing my glasses less and less again, after having memorized the details of the line. Today, I sit in the back of the bus with my headphones up, listening to Radiohead and remembering a really great time.