Ok, show summaries:

Chicago:  Awesome.

Madison:  Awesome.

I love Chicago.  I’ve only been there a handful of times, but each time I’m so taken with the vibe of that city.

Mike’s wife and eleven month old daughter came to town, and in the afternoon, I got to hang with them.  I was crawling on the floor playing with the baby.  I love that!  After sound check, I got to babysit for a little while.

The venue, Park West, is one of my favorites.  It’s spacious inside, and dark, but it’s carpeted, the stage is nice, and the room has great sound.  Last year when we were here, we did the Variety Show with a script and a bunch of circus acts intermingled into our set.  Not this year.

We’ve been doing two sets the past few shows because there’s been no opening act, but we’ve now decided that two sets is the way to go, even if there is an opening act.  That works for me.  I like playing longer, and the break in between is a nice way to regroup, or correct sound issues or whatever.

Afterward a bunch of us went to The Kingston Mines, a great blues club.  There were two bands playing, alternating in each of the two rooms.  One band was ok, not really playing blues at all, but the other band was one I’d seen there before, and they SLAY the blues!  They had such great grooves and great sounds.

Bus call was 3 a.m. and we were still late, getting back to the bus after 3:30.  Oh well.  Fun was had.

Madison is also a very cool place.  In the afternoon, I walked around a little and went to a coffee shop and caught up on some phone calls.  It was a gorgeous day (rain seems to be following us this tour for some reason) and it was nice to sit outside in the sun.  After the coffee place closed, I went to a little park and sat on a bench for a while.  It was nice and relaxing.

After sound check I went to the hotel for a shower and by the time I got back, I had missed my dinner opportunity.  A few people were headed to a party nearby so I tagged along hoping there was food and I was lucky enough to be fed by some very nice people there.  There followed a rousing conversation about some game called Oregon Trail.  We had  been discussing  the pronunciation of “Oregon” and they started talking about this.  I’d never heard of it, but they all had played in school even though they were all from different places.  Interesting.

We had a very interesting show, especially first set.  There were lots of little mistakes, and even a couple of train wrecks, but there were also some magical, deep jams.  Second set was also cool with some surprise tunes emerging out of the jams.  Mike pulled out an Express Yourself, a tune that Mike and I had learned for Costa Rica but that this band had rarely rehearsed.  Even with no rehearsal, it was one of the best versions ever.

I sang three songs last night.  It’s rare for me to sing that much.  Usually I do one a set, maybe.  We did Willow Tree.   The band is doing a great job with that one.  We did Talking Heads’ Cities second set as well.  It was a real crowd pleaser.

Today’s topic is soloing.  A guitar solo is like an empty canvas, to some extent.  Or maybe it’s a canvas that someone has put all the background paint on, leaving you to do the foreground stuff.  Or maybe it’s like painting the Mona Lisa but putting some else’s face on it.  Or maybe…

Which approach to take for any given solo is dependent on a variety of factors.  For example, if you have a single verse to solo over, you’re going to take a different approach than if you had an unlimited number of verses to solo over.

The idea is to start somewhere and end up somewhere.  A great place to start is the melody of the song.  If I have a single verse to work with, sometimes that’s what I do:  play the exact melody of the song.  This is very effective for ballads because the melody already has emotion built into it, and then you can tweak the emotion by adding a little vibrato, or by bending up to one of the notes, or by harmonizing a line.

If the solo can stretch out, the melody is still a good place to start.  Each subsequent verse can alter the melody, or embellish it, or vary it in some way, until maybe by the last verse the melody has been done away with altogether and the solo ends up in totally uncharted territory.

In some cases, the solo might be over some new progression that has nothing to do with the verse or chorus progressions.  In this case, a good approach is to create a melody for that section.  Sometimes this can be done in reverse where the beginning of the solo starts with varying, unrepetative lines, but by the end, some simple repeating melody has been created.

When I’m creating melodies for solos, there are a bunch of tricks that I use.  Sometimes, I create a melody by using a melody from a different song.  It could be a song that we’ve already played, or one further down in the list (foreshadowing), or it could be from some song not on the list.  It could be from ANY song really.  A variation of this trick is to use a melody from a song, but only use one aspect of it, for example, using the rhythm of a TV show theme song, but with different notes.  Or using the notes of a song but with a different rhythm.

In most cases, simple is better.  People relate to simple.  I can play these blindingly fast licks for an hour, but it’s when I hang on one note for a full minute that gets people going.  Similarly, repeating a simple melody over and over also gets people going.

I think when people watch live music, they are putting themselves in the musician’s place.  That’s why simple works.  When they see someone hanging on one note for a long time, or the playing the simplest melody repeatedly for ten minutes, they think, “Oh, I can do that,” and they relate to the music.

There’s a Mike original we do, Only A Dream, and the guitar solo is near the end and it’s over a progression that’s not part of the verse or chorus, and it’s a weird progression.  The song is pretty fast with a lot of fast notes and frenetic energy.  I’ve been struggling to come up with interesting solos over this.

Finally last night I realized that I was getting lost in the frenetic energy of it all, and I took a step back and said to myself, “I’m going to find simple melodies in here.”  I started playing long single note melodies repeatedly over the frenzied progression and I found these long tones weaving through the chaos.  It kind of felt like being in a calm boat on rough waters.  I was riding over the top of it all.  Eventually, I brought it to a level close to where everyone else was, playing frantically, but because I had started simply, the effect of the fast notes was emphasized, and the solo had become a cohesive statement rather than a bunch of fast notes lost in a sea of fast notes.

After the show last night, we went to a club a couple of doors down where a Phish cover band was playing.  Pretty funny.  The club was packed and Mike got mobbed in there.

We have a day off in Cincinnati today, and a show here tomorrow.  The Steelers are playing the Bengals in town today, and at the hotel bar, there were shirts representing both teams.  I think there’s some music going on in the neighborhood tonight as well.

Today’s question is:  What song is in your head this very minute?