With a film by Robert Longo: Pictures for Music (1979)
11 February 2007
Electric guitars:
Rhys Chatham
David Daniell (San Agustin, Essentialist)
Robert Lowe (Lichens)
Todd Rittmann (USMaple)
Chris Rosenau (Collections of Colonies of Bees)
Ben Vida (Bird Show)
Electric bass: Keith Brammer (Die Kreuzen, Boy Dirt Car)
Drums: Jon Mueller (Collections of Colonies of Bees)
Tour recording engineer: Eric Block (Semaphore Recording Studio)
Tour manager: Regina Greene of Front Porch Productions
Produced by Mike Brenner and Front Porch Productions
The journey from Minneapolis to Milwaukee was about four hours. We knew we were approaching Milwaukee when we passed Miller Park, which is a baseball stadium built in 1996. I loved the look of Milwaukee as we passed its business district, it felt like a real city. Regina and I got excited when we saw rows and rows of interesting looking shops. We wanted to go shopping for shoes then and there!
Instead, we went to the venue, since it was early evening and we were a bit late. We soon arrived at The Turner Hall, the venue we were playing in.
The Turner Hall is an incredible piece of architecture built around 1896. The front door opens into a wide staircase leading to the ground floor, where the bar and restaurant is. Words defy description of this space, at least for me, but I'll try, in my poor way: The hall was designed in a high Victorian style by an architect named H.C. Koch. A heavy cornice separates the ground floor from the upper stories. Bold masses of brick and stone are cut by arches, joined by towers, and topped with dramatic roofs. The architectural articulation of the main facade consists of tall, ornamental spandrels, arched windows, and massive stone lintels. In short, this was obviously going to be a really cool place to play in.
We went upstairs to the ballroom area where the stage was located. The ceilings were at least 60 feet high, it was a massive room. There's a photo below, to give you an idea of how awesome the space is.
There was a terrible fire at The Turner Hall a few years back, and while the downstairs restaurant/bar area have been completely redone. There is still work to do in the ballroom, which you can see when you look at the walls, which are scorched with marks from the fire still on them, giving the place a primitive feel.
Mike Brenner, who does booking at The Turner, was upstairs in the ballroom supervising the installation of the sound system. He led us to the comfortable dressing rooms on the third floor that they had for the artists (the ballroom has two or three backstage levels, complete with shower and clean bathrooms for the artists). He asked us not to smoke since everyone was still a bit freaked out from the fire they had there.
Going back downstairs to the ballroom floor, I saw a cool looking guy who looked a bit like a young Ozzy Osbourne. He turned out to be Keith Brammer of Die Kruezen, which is a rock band from Milwaukee that was formed in 1981. They began as a hardcore punk group and rapidly became a source of inspiration for a wide range of alternative rock musicians. He's a really nice guy who had a hip bass that looked not unlike my Ibanez "Iceman" brand guitar, which also has a distinctive shape.
By this time everybody in the core band was setting up their amps. I went on the stage and got my Twin set up; then I talked to Jon Mueller, who was setting up his drums. He had a cool set of turquoise Slingerlands, which looked pretty as hell and, as we were later to discover, really kicked ass! Jon is a percussionist who works on many projects. He also plays in an experimental group called Collections of Colonies of Bees, which is an interesting combination of electronic and traditional music. Jon introduced me to his friend Chris Rosenau, who also plays in this group and was joining us that evening to play electric guitar in G3. Chris plays in a wide variety of styles, experimental, rock, of course, as well as traditional.
We had a sound check and everything went smoothly since the Milwaukee team already was familiar with G3. Mike Brenner of Turner Hall had not thought of booking an opening act, so I asked Robert Lowe if he would consider doing his solo to open the festivities, and after a moment of contemplation, he said, "Yes, I'll do it!" I was appreciative of this. An artist must prepare both emotionally and spiritually before a performance. And doing a solo in particular is really putting oneself on the line. Which is to say that being asked at the last minute to do something like this, well, it isn't evident that the answer will be yes. So Regina and I were whooping with "hellfuckyeahs" after Robert agreed to do it.
Jeff Hunt, the Table of the Elements Records CEO, is now based in Milwaukee. So he came to join us and see the final show; we all went to the downstairs restaurant to have dinner. Milwaukee is to beer in America as Belgium is to beer in Europe. So we made sure that we ordered a fine Milwaukee tap beer. The downstairs bar/restaurant space is really nice to be in, so we hung out there until show time engaging in conversation and generally having a good time before the performance.
The doors opened and the audience started to come in. I was worried when I saw the ballroom area that the room would appear to be empty, even if we had 300 people in the house. It is so huge, in a vertical way, this ballroom. Mike Brenner had put out folding chairs for people to sit on, and I was relieved to see that most of them were comfortably filled, for the music of G3 works better before a full house rather than a half-full one. It's an energy related thing.
Robert Lowe went on first. As in the Picador show in Iowa City, his set consisted of him on voice with tape echo, without guitar this time. His voice, which was often in an amazing falsetto that Robert has, was sometimes sampled and subjected to tape echo. The music itself is difficult to classify, it doesn't really fall into any categories other than "other.” I heard echoes of Meredith Monk, Berber music, as well as Congolese and Sudanese music, all rolled into something that was not a pastiche of sounds, but rather a true amalgamation of something new, that only the tiniest pair of critical scissors could pull apart. The audience gave him a standing ovation for a truly inspired performance, they were even more appreciative than the previous performance. They were totally surprised, they weren't expecting to hear anything like this.
After a suitable pause, Regina and Mike gave us the signal that it was time to go on for G3.
Before we started to play, I welcomed the audience, all of whom were sitting down. Playing for a sit down audience is one thing, and playing for a dancing crowd is another. We prefer the dancing crowds. So I decided to have the best of both worlds and thanked the producers for providing chairs for the audience, which were comfortable to sit in. But I reminded everybody that if they wanted to stand up and move around in front of the stage, that the stage was high enough to allow this without getting in the line of vision of those who were sitting.
Thus informed, a lot of the people stood up and lined the front perimeter of the stage, which pleased us musicians to no end!
But as it happened, there was a conspiracy afoot:
Unbeknownst to me, the guys in the local and core band had got together before the gig and decided that they were really going to rock out for this show, it being the last of the G3 series... and also because the venue was so fantastic to play in and that the stage was so huge.
The first 20 minutes of G3 went along in its usual sedate fashion, with the high hat poetically and sensitively played by Jon Mueller. Layers and layers of ethereal overtones were being generated by the guitarists; Keith Brammer and Jon Mueller were holding everything together. This section requires concentration on the part of everyone in order for it not to fall apart.
Then, in the second section, I brought in everyone one by one, as usual, and then Keith and Jon came in on bass and full drum kit, to dramatic affect. After a time I noticed that Chris Rosenau, who was standing next to me, was moving around a lot more than the other guitarists I had played next to on most previous gigs. He seemed to be having a really good time. In fact, he was seriously rocking out!
Then I noticed that David Daniell, who is usually very concentrated due to his concert master responsibilities, was doing the pogo while playing! And so were Ben Vida and Todd Rittmann! When it came time for Jon to do his drum solo in the final 6-string section, I dropped to my knees in front of him while he did his solo, and I noticed that Robert Lowe had jumped on top of his amp and was arching his spine backwards while playing a tremolo. Holy shit!
"Hmm...," I thought, "the band is getting feisty tonight!" I was so pleased when this happened, what a fitting spectacle for our final performance of G3.
After Jon's drum solo, we went into the final backbeat driven portion of G3 and at that point everyone was doing the pogo while Ben and Todd were wailing away in electric guitar heaven with 6-string Em7 tremolo riffs. A video excerpt a friend of ours shot, Jim Schoenecker of Collections of Colonies of Bees, captures a bit of this portion of the performance you can see on the video page. The quality of the sound may not be the best, but it gives you an idea of the performance energy on stage.
We finished our set and the audience kept screaming "more,” or "encore.” So I took a hand mike and explained to the people that in Paris, where I live, if the audience wants to hear more, they gotta ask for it. And they way they ask for it is by stomping their feet heavily at a moderate tempo on the ground: whoomp! whoomp! whoomp! etc...
Accordingly, the audience started going "whoomp! whoomp! whoomp!" with their feet along with screaming and hollering for more. So after a minute or so of this, we merry musicians were happy to oblige.
I explained that we were going to do a composition that used a system of just intonation developed by the pre-Socratic philosopher, Pythagoras. Pythagoras was the first person we know of to articulate in writing what just intonation is. Just intonation is a system of very pure tuning where all the intervals used relate to the fundamental frequency of the overtones or harmonics that are generated by, or inherent within, a single, naturally generated frequency, in our case the frequency of the low open E string of the electric guitar.
This is what I told the audience, but they quickly got the idea that I was pulling their leg!
Because when I told the guys in the band to tune up, it was obvious that what we were doing was putting our guitars SERIOUSLY out of tune! Because, in fact, the encore did not consist of a Pythagorean system of tuning at all, but was rather a new, rabid version of my composition The Out of Tune Guitar!
Jon started the festivities with a count off and we joined his driving back beat rhythm by playing rhythmic, almost funk-like out of tune chords. While we were doing this, Todd couldn't resist and started soloing on his out of tune tuning. David, who was on the other side of the stage, was soon to join him, thereby giving the solo parts a stereoscopic effect, with Ben and Chris soon joining in. It was a bit like a particularly mad version of Ornette Coleman's original 1976 Prime Time (Dancing in Your Head).
After a time, we finished the encore with a solid wall of noise. For cathartic effect as well as to get back to our roots, we tremoloed on all the open strings of our out-of-tune tuning as hard and fast as we could, breaking strings in the process. Robert and I both had our backs arched back with our heads practically touching (I had finally got the move down!).
David and the others were doing the pogo. David said afterwards that he never realized how hard it was to do the pogo and play at the same time. And Ben and Todd were eerily transported to: elsewhere... They were on opposite sides of the stage, yet somehow together, transported to a time and place where things were better, where the world was somehow a kinder place... a place where there were rainbows, and waterfalls, and poetry and singing minstrels... as well as screaming, harsh, neon-light high frequencies coming out of their electric nitrogen nuclear jukebox guitars at OBSCENELY high levels of sound, and liking it, somehow, a LOT!
In short, we were having a blast! Literally.
The concert finished with the audience dancing around in front, people were trying to grab our pogoing feet, to physically touch us while we were on stage, throwing garlands of flowers at us, and some of the women even throwing their pretty undergarments up into the air. The men stripping their shirts off and twirling them around their heads while imploring us, this most very merry band of musicians on stage, to new levels of aural assault on the 144,000 nerve fibers of the inner ear.
The final chord was played and the sound died down to a stunned silence. Rapturous applause followed, and the merry band of G3 embraced and then, on the verge of tears of joy, fled upstairs to the dressing room to chill out a bit from this final, glorious performance of G3.
Standing from left to right: Rob Lowe, Jon Mueller, Jeff Hunt, Chris Rosenau, Keith Brammer, Todd Rittmann. Kneeling from left to right: Eric Block, Regina Greene, David Daniell, Ben Vida. Sitting from left to right: Mike Brenner, Rhys, local sound man © Rhys Chatham
Photos legends:
The Turner Hall © unknown
The stage © unknown
G3 performance at The Turner Hall