Category: Tour


What is that guitar?

That guitar is one that was built specifically for this tour.  One of the themes of this tour is “moire” which is that weird thing that happens when you look through two screen and you see all sorts of weird 3D shapes.  Moire is everywhere in our production, including in our guitars!

Mike and I worked very closely with the builder, Ben Lewry of visionaryinstruments.com, who specializes in creating very funky electronic guitars that usually feature all kinds of touch controllers and accelerometers that can be used for controlling audio effects in software like Ableton Live and whatnot.  These guitars have no such controllers, but instead feature full RGB lighting behind the moire screens that make up the face of the body.

Ben and I had lots of conversations about my Ibanez because he wanted to create the instrument so that it would sound and play simlilarly.  The body shape and neck and headstock are all designed based on my favorite guitar.

As part of the design, he put all the controls along the top of the instrument, so there are no controls on the face of the body itself, to leave the moire screen as emtpy as possible.  There are four preset light designs built in that I can choose with a selector swith.  Most of these presets react to the sound of the strings, so that when I play something, the guitar lights up.  It’s very fast and when I play choppy rhythms or staccato leads, the lights really accentuate the sound!

But, even cooler than all that, the guitar has a DMX input, which means that it can receive color commands from the light board and be totally controlled by our lighting guy!  It took a few shows to get that working, but now it’s in full effect.  So cool!

I’m also using in-ear monitors for the first time.  And everything is wireless, so for each show I’m wearing a transmitter for the guitar audio, a receiver for the in-ear monitors, a receiver for the DMX data, and a battery pack for the guitar’s lights.

WIRED!

Coming Soon…

Mike Gordon Tour….

http://mike-gordon.com/tour/

Three Shows In…

I have to say that we’re finally getting our “tour-legs” under us. Last night’s show at the Crystal Bay Casino felt like that magical thing was happening that was happening last tour. And we totally nailed “Mound.”

Tom Cleary has his own blog where he talks about learning Mound: http://www.tomclearymusic.com/#/events/learning-new-tunes-for-the-march-11-tour/

It’s interesting to get everyone’s take on learning this beast. I thought I’d write about my own process.

I was given a studio recording of the song, and later a live recording, and four pages of hand written sheet music that is the score for the middle section. The score includes the guitar, piano and bass parts as well as, minimally, the drum parts.

While I was pretty adept at reading for the trumpet and piano when I was a kid, I’ve never read music for guitar and so for me there’s a missing piece that is the eye-to-hand thing that happens when you read music all the time. So I have to look at every note and figure out where it is on the guitar. And beyond that, since there are various places to play the same notes on the guitar, I also have to figure out where on the neck to play things.

This is a very slow process but in a way it has the advantage of forcing me to memorize the part rather than be dependent on the sheet music.

So the first thing I did was to modify the media I was given to make it more “friendly.” I took the PDF files of the sheet music and edited them in Photoshop to create a “guitar-only” version of the score. This reduced the number of pages from four to one and made it a lot easier to follow.

I then took the corresponding section of the recording and using some digital recording software first applied some filtering to isolate the guitar parts as much as possible, and then forced it to fit on “the grid.” This accomplished a few things: I could slow that part of the recording down (very helpful!). I could also overlay a metronome onto it to clarify some of the rhythmic stuff. It also allowed the measures of the recording to be numbered in a way that corresponded to the sheet music, so that if I was working on measure 37 I could loop that measure in the recording and play along while reading the sheet music for the same measure.

Also, because I’m not a reader for guitar music, I notated all of the chords on the sheet music. The entire part is mostly three note chords and so I notated them with interpretations of the structures that recalled certain positions in my brain.

For example, one such chord has an A on the bottom, a C more than an octave up from that, and an Eb above that. You could interpret those notes as an A diminished chord, but the form that I’m using is more like an inverted F7 without the root, so that’s how I notated it.

Once everything was notated I started the task of committing everything to muscle memory. This is a very tedious process of taking two chords at a time and repeating them ad nauseum until the movement between them becomes second nature. Then I tie the whole thing together by starting with the first two chords, repeating them over and over, then adding one chord at a time until I have a whole “section” under my fingers. Then onto the next section.

Once everything is in the muscles then the challenge is… not over. Now I focus on the sound of each string of chords and how to express through them. That’s always a challenge. It’s one thing to learn and memorize a set of notes, but the extra thing is to take that pre-written piece of music and make it mine; express through it; play it as though I had written it.

Of course that’s just the middle section of Mound. At the same time I had to memorize the lyrics and learn the harmony parts for the verses, AND I had to learn to sing the backup harmonies in 5/4 while playing a guitar part in 4/4! (Still messing that up occasionally…)

Okay, enough about that. I’m in Santa Cruz now. I’m on the bus with the windows open and it’s just lovely.

Eugene

Well last night was the first night of tour and I have to say that it was… ok. I’m my own worst critic of course. We encored with Mound and it was not as good as I had hoped. We were sailing through the middle section and near the end I got lost and couldn’t keep up. It’s like there’s a threshold of how fast I can make each of those chords sound and last night’s tempo was just beyond that threshold. So I have some work to do to get it under my fingers so that the tempo should be irrelevant.

Everything else was pretty good with a few stand out moments. Tom was on fire last night! The crowd was very receptive and responsive to everything we were doing. We got some good feedback on our vocals.

The town was nice even though it was a drizzly day. I recommend The Sustainable Table. Great food all locally grown with vegan or gluten free options for most of the menu items.

Tonight we’re in Acadia, CA at the Van Duzer Theater right on the Humboldt State University campus. I’m blogging from Couple Cups, a nice coffee shop with good breakfast sandwiches and great coffee.

I can’t wait to play Mound again though it probably won’t be tonight. But let me at that b!#@%!!!!

I’m writing from Eugene, OR across from the McDonald Theater. I was in Burlington all last week for rehearsals and I must say that they were great! We’re tackling some of the most complicated of Mike’s originals. I’ve had to memorize pages of sheet music and it’s some of the most complex stuff I’ve ever played. In the beginning of last week it all seemed overwhelming but now that we’ve played these tunes a bunch it seems almost reasonable. Most of the rehearsals were in the evening so I had the days to practice and learn this stuff on my own.

Monday, Mike brought me to his singing teacher. I’ve always wanted to take a voice lesson and this one did not disappoint. I learned a ton of stuff and got lots of questions answered that have been haunting me for years. Her method of singing is all about being as efficient as possible which is so helpful to me. It allows me to sing clearly without blowing out my voice and allows me to hear my voice in the lower registers even when the band is loud. Very cool.

She came to rehearsal on Wednesday to work with the band as an ensemble as well. Not only did it help each of us individually but it got us all thinking on the same page about our vocals so that our inflections and pronunciations are lined up. What a difference! Plus, by putting the emphasis on the vocals the instruments are quieter and geared toward highlighting the vocals.

All in all it was a great week!

We traveled yesterday flying to Portland last night and meeting the bus which took us to Eugene. We’re all well rested and ready to go!!

Pre Tour

I’m writing from Dobra Tea House in Burlington, VT. I’ve been up here since Monday rehearsing with the band. Tonight is our last rehearsal and tomorrow we fly to L.A.. The band sounds great as we’ve been learning more tunes from Mike’s new CD as well as some interesting cover tunes. Very psyched!

I’m thinking about making the blog entries this tour more about the personal experience of life on the road. There are certainly aspects about tour life that most people take for granted I bet. Things like trying to stay connected with loved ones, missing events at home while away, staying healthy, etc. We’ll see how that goes.

But I wanted to write more about that BreakDownWay.com video experience. They’ve put up another of my lessons btw. Check it out here.

In the beginning of the year I took an acting class. It’s been something that’s been in the back of my mind for years and years. I’ve always thought that acting would be something I could do and enjoy even though I’ve had no experience at all. It was certainly a lot of fun and I definitely learned a ton of useful stuff; useful in a variety of ways. The gains from it have spilled over into all aspects of my life I’d say.

Right after I took the class I got approached by BreakDownWay.com to do a video guitar lesson. They said I’d be the first electric guitarist on the site! I went on the site and checked it out. Very cool! They make great videos but beyond that there are chord charts that line up with the vids and whatnot. It’s all just very well done. So I accepted the offer.

The filming was to be done in NYC all in a single day, about eight hours worth. I put together some notes about different lesson ideas I could do.

It was quite a different experience than what I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be interview style where they’d ask about stuff and I would respond, but instead they set me up, turned on three cameras and said, “Go.”

I found that it took about an hour to get through the notes I had made and I still had hours and hours to go!

I was really nervous! This is where the acting class came in so handy. I was able to focus and get beyond my nerves and really become the instructor I wanted to be. Of course when I watch the videos I look really nervous to me but not as nervous as I actually would have been!

They filmed hours of stuff and now they’re going through that footage and cutting things up into individual lessons. The first lesson was about lead guitar techniques. I talked about some technical stuff in the beginning but I really wanted to focus on something that most instructional videos don’t focus on: expression through improvisation.

It was such a great experience and I’m so glad I did it! I’ve always thought that teaching was a great way to learn but this was teaching me things on many different levels, musically and beyond, and now as I watch the videos after they’re posted I find myself still learning from the experience!

They’ve just put up the second installment which is an instructional about playing my song, “Cruel World” using a looper.

Ok, back to tour…

Of course once we get to L.A. we’ll be on a tour bus traveling all the way across the country. Living on a bus with so many people is always interesting. One thing that I’ve noticed is that we’ve all found our permanent bunk locations. The tour buses have 12 bunks in them, arranged in two rows of three on each side. So they can be divided into groups: bottom, middle and top bunks; front and rear bunks; driver’s side and passenger side bunks.

For the past few tours it seems everybody takes the same bunks as last time even though it’s a different bus each time. Everyone has their preferences. Some won’t take top bunks; some won’t take bottom bunks. Some won’t take rear bunks (too close to the engine).

Mine is always the bottom rear bunk on the driver’s side. I like the bottom because I don’t have to worry about falling out, and it’s very easy to get into; no climbing involved. The rear bunks are noisier but I have no trouble sleeping through noise so I always take a rear bunk.

Today’s question is: which bunk would you take?

Ok, enough for now. See you “out there”…

Lebanon Opera House

It was another dreary day, pouring rain and cold and overcast. I woke up on the bus and I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t go find a coffee shop to blog in, or go for lunch or anything. I decided I would do everything at the venue. It had a very nice back room with a shower and they had coffee on in there. I was all set.

More than all set really. This place was gorgeous. It was truly a theater with multiple dressing rooms, a lovely main hall with theater seats and all. For a room as large as it was, it had great sound. They had rented a sound system from Atomic in Burlington and Mark had the room sounding great.

Sound check was a whimsical thing mostly spent playing with the lights for Mike’s family, or swapping instruments and jamming. It was the last night of tour and the band was greased and ready to go. We were all both happy and sad to be here.

Tom’s cousin, Joe Cleary came during dinner as he was going to sit in with us on fiddle for a few tunes and we worked them out while we ate (and skyped). We taught him my song, Willow Tree with the idea that we would quadruple the beat during the solos and switch to a traditional bluegrass tune. This is exactly what we did and it worked great. We then jammed into Mike’s “Weekly Time” which is another favorite of mine and Joe picked up on it right away.

Again the lights were amazing and the band was at its best, nailing all the tunes with ease (except the endings maybe) and taking the jams to the deepest of places. The Suskind jam was VERY deep, kind of modeled after a GRAB version Julia played me on the bus the night before.

Surprisingly, we encored with one of my tunes, Jones and then Country Boy, the fastest picking song I’ve ever done. Jones was deep, thick and groovy and Country Boy was like 1000 mph and no brakes. Joe Cleary came up for Country Boy again and nailed it.

So ends another MGB tour. Again I had the opportunity to make music with some of the best players I know and I learned a lot and had a blast at the same time. Plus I got to visit some different parts of the county, meet new people, and see people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Back to reality!

Pearl Street

I’ve played the big room in Pearl Street a hundred times and it’s always sounded cavernous and thin in there but I’ve got to hand it to Mark Allspough, our soundman, who got the room sounding great.

Before sound check I walked to Haymarket and got some coffee and skyped with Cheryl from the basement. It was a gray and rainy day and the atmosphere inside Haymarket was warm and inviting.

I walked over to sound check and we did a few jamming exercises, this time concentrating on changing time signatures during jams, or ignoring time signatures altogether.

We had asked Mark Mercier to sit in with us and he was there for soundcheck so after the jamming exercises we played the two tunes Mark was going to play on, his cover of Columbus Stockade Blues, and Mike’s Voices.

I must say, bringing Mark and Tom Cleary together was big, an event with the equivalent weight of Spock meeting Data. There are so many ways in which these two are cut from the same block. Just to hear them have a conversation could confuse as to who’s saying what, as even their speaking styles are similar.

So when they jammed together it was an amazing exchange. Each has such talent and depth on their instrument and you could see the mutual admiration as they traded riffs back and forth. It was exhilarating for me as these guys represent the cream of the keyboard crop to me.

Anyway, the chemistry of having Mark with us was obvious even in sound check. The rest of sound check was spent jamming to Liggy’s light show for the sake of Mike’s family who came for the afternoon.

After sound check I met up with Dave Wright and his son Ben. Dave was the drummer in one of the first bands I was ever in, in which I played keyboards. We met my niece Lenora and her friend from childhood, Diana, for dinner at the Spoleto Restaurant.

While I was at dinner I got a pleasant surprise: my son Jordan was coming to the gig with a couple of his friends, Sarah and Ken. Woo hoo!!

Pearl Street was sold out and so when I got back after dinner the room was packed, which is great for the sound in there. The crowd was very responsive. They seemed to react to every little nuance and when Mark came up to sit in he got a great response.

The whole night went really well for me and the second set included one of my favorites, Gillian Welch’s “Time (The Revelator).” I love this one because it’s a ballad with great vocal harmonies, a haunting lead vocal and a deep guitar solo in the middle.

The jams were off the hook all night as well. The time bending stuff we worked on at rehearsal was obviously helping us to shake it up and we took the music into unexplored territory yet again.

After the show, Jordan and his friends came and “partied” on the bus along with Dave Wright and his son before we left to do the drive to New Hampshire.

Of course we all felt the end of the tour rapidly approaching. Everyone was making comments about how the band is just hitting its stride and about how deep the jams are getting. It’s such a shame that it has to end after only ten days, but it’s even a bigger shame that it will be months before we play together again.

TLA

Last night was a great gig! We had some folks from The Chieftains sit-in with us during the first set, and that was cool but I thought that second set raged!

It was a rainy day in Philadelphia but I walked to a coffee shop anyway and skyped with Cheryl for a bit. South street is a pretty cool neighborhood.

Sound check was very minimal with most of the time spent doing jamming exercises. The jamming exercises are awesome. They really get the band playing like a band and they get everyone’s ears opened up.

Craig and I then went out to dinner with my friends Shawn and Erin and their friend Ron at a really great Thai restaurant, Tamarind. Craig and Ron got fish that still had eyes. Um… yum?

When I got back to the club the members of the Chieftains were there and we ran over the tunes they were sitting in on.

The fiddle player that sat in (I can’t remember any of their names except Jeff, the guitarist) was excellent. We did some bluegrass and we did Mike’s song Voices and she fit right in over all of it. They had three tap dancers that came out at various points. It was dangerous out there! They were high kicking and covering a lot of ground and I spent a lot of time trying to stay out of the way!

Then for Walls Of Time I let Jeff use my guitar while he sang with Mike and I went out front for a bit to check it out. A rare opportunity!

When I came back on my guitar cable was shot. Casualty of dancers maybe? Anyway Rachel replaced my cable and I was good to go.

After all the fun distractions of the first set the band came out for second set firing on all cylinders. The jams were excellent and somewhere in there we played Jones again and it raged.

The last song of the set was Suskind Hotel and the ending jam was so so so good that I convinced Mike that when we did the encore we should start the Suskind jam again from where we left off. Which we did. It was great fun!

Afterward Shawn, Erin and Ron came to the bus with me and Shawn brought some excellent wine, of course.

All in all it was a great night.

Oh, and thanks to Pete for bringing and arranging the sit-ins to happen!

I love Charlottesville, or at least that little section of it that I saw which was the walk-in mall in the center of town. Lots of nice shops and coffee places.

I have to say that I loved the sound check yesterday way more than the show. The sound check was just magical. We were working on various things and the sound was awesome and everybody was playing cool things. Creative ideas were just falling out of my fingers. I love that feeling.

After sound check most everyone went out to eat but I was still full from lunch so I went to a tea place instead and ordered some Yunnan Velvet Tips, a rich smokey tea with lots of caffeine. I skyped with Cheryl for a bit while listening to some musicians warming up, or rather, appearing to warm up by playing and singing along with some tabla loops and what sounded like hurdy gurdy loops.

I probably shouldn’t have had 5 or 6 cups of the YVT but I did. I didn’t feel jacked on caffeine or anything, but when I got on stage it felt forced; somehow the magic of soundcheck had lessened. The crowd seemed tougher than usual. They were paying such close attention and seemed to be into it but when we’d finish a song there was very little response.

Which isn’t to say the music was bad. There were definitely some nuggets in there. 15 Steps, our Radiohead cover, came out very well and had a great jam at the end, and we inserted my Emotional Railroad into a Traveled Too Far sandwich and that was really good.

After the show, on the bus, Maresca put in “It Might Get Loud” which is the movie of Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge talking about guitars. It was great to watch. It reminds me of an aspect of being a guitar player that I forget about sometimes which is cranking it up and putting a ton of effects on. Ahhhhhh.