With a film by Robert Longo: Pictures for Music (1979)
8 February 2007
Electric guitars:
Rhys Chatham
David Daniell (San Agustin, Essentialist)
Robert Lowe (Lichens)
Doug McCombs (Tortoise)
Adam Vida (USMaple)
Ben Vida (Bird Show)
Electric bass: Josh Abrams (Reminder)
Drums: John McEntire (Tortoise)
House engineer: Shelly Steffens
Recording engineer: Tim Iseler (Soma Electronic Music Studios)
Tour manager: Regina Greene of Front Porch Productions
When I arrived at the Empty Bottle for the rehearsal of G3, I was kind of nervous. This was because David had put together an incredible lineup of musicians for this show. I had worked with Doug McCombs on our South by Southwest tour last March, but the others I only knew through their recordings, and I was a bit intimidated.
As things turned out, I had nothing to fear, everyone turned out to be really nice. I had met Josh Abrams last September at the Wire Adventures in Modern Music Festival. He and John McEntire played with Jandek. Their nearly 2-hour performance was amazing, especially considering that the first time they had played with him was that same day at the sound check. For the G3 performance, Josh listened to the original recording and came up with some new bass techniques that he wanted to run by me. One was a technique that reinforced the overtones generated by the electric guitarists; another technique was more rhythmic and worked well during the 6-string section at the end of G3. We ended up using both techniques.
Robert Lowe had also come up with a couple of new techniques for generating overtones on the electric guitar. The method usually used in G3 is to flat-pick directly over the fret board. Robert showed me a scratching technique that was quite interesting and which we ended up using in the performance.
The evening began with Good Stuff House, which was an avant rock trio on the noise side of things. They were followed by White Light, which consisted of our good friend Jeremy Lemos of Semaphore Recording Studios, who recorded the Essentialist project. Jeremy was playing electronics of various kinds. He had a 12-stage phaser, a Moog Taurus, a ring modulator and a sine wave generator, among other things. He was in formation with guitarist Matt Clark. The focus of this group was definitely on sound. They presented us with a series of seriously high volume sonic meditations.
The stage at the Empty Bottle is relatively small and we had nine guitarists going through 100-watt amplifiers, plus the 400-watt bass amp, plus the drums. David and I were wondering how we were going to get all those musicians and their equipment on the stage. Fortunately, Eric Block, who had been traveling with us as recording engineer, was one of the sound people at the Empty Bottle. He told us not to worry, he had squeezed larger groups than us on his stage.
Eric had been recording all the concerts thus far, so we decided that it would be nice if he actually played guitar, for once (!), on his home turf in Chicago. We had Shelly Steffens doing the house sound, which was great. Shelly isn't afraid to turn the volume up on the drums in her mixes. We worked with her before at the Empty Bottle for the Essentialist show at the Wire's AMM Festival. A review by Monika Kendrick came out afterwards in the Chicago saying, "I became truly afraid before the gig when I saw just how far the soundwoman had turned up the drum mikes!" Shelly is our kind of sound person... Tim Iseler took Eric's place as recordist. I'm very grateful to him, both for recording the show as well as lending me his Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp for the entire tour.
The crowd was a bit thin at the start of the evening. I was concerned about this, but by the time White Light played the room was comfortably full, and when it was our turn to play, the place was packed. As it well should have been, with an all-star lineup like what we had.
We started to play Guitar Trio. The first half was with John McEntire playing along with the rest of us on high hat only. I was afraid that the 9 guitarists on stage would drown him out, but thanks to Shelly, everything was perfect in the monitor mixes and we were able to hear John's playing throughout, even in the 6-string section. Josh Abrams playing on bass was much more rhythmic than on the record, which enabled the guitarists to really let go and get lost in the overall composite waveform that they were generating without having to be overly concerned about where they were in terms of phrasing. Thanks to Josh and John and their exquisite playing, we always knew where we were, we could feel it! Shimmering wafts of overtones descended upon the audience, culminating in a grand finale when John took his final high hat solo and we ended the first part of G3.
Then John came in again, this time adding the snare and kick. I brought the guitarists in, one by one, and finally, after about five minutes, all the guitarists had entered. It was at this precise moment that Josh entered and John brought the entire drum kit in for the first time, the effect was truly dramatic and the audience went wild.
Working with the audience in a bar/club context like this is always an interesting challenge if one is performing instrumental music like G3. What do the performers do? Do we look at the audience, or do we look at each other? Or do we simply get lost in the music? An easy thing to do with overtone based music like G3.
Each musician at the Chicago performance handled it in a different way. Given the ecstatic nature of the music, many of us had our eyes closed a lot of the time in order to give greater concentration to how our individual sound was affecting the overall waveform being generated by all nine guitars, keeping our eyes open at strategic points when cues needed to be given in order to get from one section to another.
I often have my back to the audience. The reason for this is that I need to work very closely with the drummer and bass player and interact with them: so John, Josh and I formed a kind of core rhythmic trio in the middle of things. Then occasionally I would form a trio with my side of the stage, working closely and interacting with Adam & Ben Vida, Todd Rittmann and Eric Block, who were on my side of the stage. And many times I would look across the stage at David to see how he was doing. He was interacting closely with Doug McCombs, Robert Lowe and Jeff Parker. From time to time I would interact with the audience also. I love playing in clubs. The energy one gets from the audiences is so intense, enabling us to re-channel it to them in spades!
A large part of G3 is improvisation, which requires careful listening to what is going on. In improvisation, the instant one gets ahead or behind in terms of one's awareness, the precise instant that one is not completely in the moment, all is lost; the music loses its spontaneity. Man, all I can tell you, I've never worked with such a group of musicians who knew all about working in the moment.
In other performances of G3 when I start playing a tremolo (i.e. an extremely rapid, right hand strumming technique), the other guitarists would follow, thus effecting a wall-of-sound. In the performance with this group, we were able to obtain greater subtlety during these sections. For example, I would start to tremolo, then another guitarist would riff off this tremolo with another tremolo. Then another guitarist on the other side of the stage would join in, and the one who came in first would drop out, thus achieving a polyphonic effect, having the tremolo appear to move stereoscopically across the stage. This happened spontaneously and completely unexpectedly a number of times during the performance. Because the players were doing this, the density of the tremolo was constantly changing, and hence the overtone configuration along with it. When all the guitarists joined in the tremolo at the same time, it was a light transparent sound, rather than an opaque one. This is because the guys were used to this technique. I mean, come on, hey! We had members of USMaple in the group, they use tremolos all the time in their music. And so did the other guys in the Chicago edition of G3. All to say that the 6-string section in this performance sounded particularly good.
We were all blissed out by what we were hearing, and so was the audience judging by looking at them during the performance and their response afterwards. One woman swooned and fainted during one of the 6-string sections and had to be revived by The Empty Bottle bar crew with brandy!
A large part of this music is about love and bliss; not in a hippy way, but in a weird punked-out spiritual kinda way, somehow. And because the musicians were all so secure with their playing in this group, we were able to attain this state and take the audience there with us, hence our blissed-out, far-away looks on stage.
We brought G3 to its final climax and ended the piece to roaring applause. Everybody's ears were ringing for the rest of the night!
Standing left to right: Tim Iseler (recordist who took Eric's place, and who lent me his Twin!), David Daniell, Todd Rittman, John McEntire, Doug McCombs, Adam Vida.Kneeling from left to right: Eric Block, Jeff Parker, Josh Abrams, Benjamin Vida. Sitting from left to right: Rhys, Robert Lowe © Rhys Chatham
Photos legends:
Doug McCombs, Robert Lowe Jeff Parker and David Daniell © Rhys Chatham
Ben Vida, Adam Vida and Eric Block © Rhys Chatham
Rhys and Todd Rittman having an ecstatic moment... © Rhys Chatham
David Daniell, John McEntire and Josh Abrams © Rhys Chatham
G3 performance at The Empty Bottle