A brief note on the logistics of this tour: Thao/PCP and David Schultz are on tour from Oct 15 – Nov 21. Beyond playing with Cello Project Thao and her band the Get Down Stay Down have been asking me to join them as their multi-instrumentalist, so there are times when this blog will kind of relate (I guess my perspective when I'm writing) events relating to both bands (including the shows Cello Project doesn't play on).
“This band is like Oceans 11,” said Thao the first time I played a show with her. Everyone in her band flies in to town around the same time, from Brooklyn, San Fran, Virginia, and I was coming in from Portland.
This tour's starting off true to form, and the Cello Project is following Thao's Oceans 11 model. I'm interminably early and so I get to walk on the beach in Santa Barbara and sit here in a café on State Street before everyone else converges. It's 95 degrees here.
Four hours earlier, Portland was a brisk 45 degrees and raining. I'm carrying my winter coat around with me and do not look like I belong here. The cellos are in the van that left Portland yesterday along with the rest of the Cello team that's playing the California shows on this 5 week tour. (Like our PDX shows, this tour will have a revolving cast, with just 4 of us at its core doing the whole tour.)
There are good things and bad things about starting a 5-week tour in California and going North. One good thing is that you get all of the most annoying traffic and driving days out of the way early on. Another good thing is that you know you'll be home in a week and have a couple days off before heading out again, so the 5-week tour feels more like a 4-week tour.
The bad thing is that you don't really start with a bang to boost morale. Even if the shows are big, you're exhausted from the driving and the heat and the traffic. Last time we played SoCal was at the El Rey with Alexi Murdoch, which was a sweet gig, but I still left feeling some sort of L.A. hangover.
We're playing at a place called the SoHo Restaurant and Music Club. It's a nice looking room, with an outdoor patio, nice stage, decent sound, and excellent food.
But we find out that, in spite of the fact that the Thao/PCP/David Schultz bill is selling really well, they've added an early show to the evening. The early show is a jazz trio, who sat there talking smack during all of Thao's soundcheck because they wanted to practice their set. (Don't you usually practice before you get a gig?) The drummer seems like the only pro in the group, and I think he said he tours with Dionne Warwick.
We're short on stage real-estate (obviously with 5 bands now playing in the evening) and they tell us something you'd never ever hear in Portland: “put your cases outside on the patio for storage.” We hesitantly comply, and of course, it's all fine.
The place fills with an older crowd—like an older-person singles mixer. You can imagine what this would look like in Santa Barbara. On stage later the jazz group talks smack about us all giving some sort of apology to the audience (I guess for why they sucked), saying that they would have practiced if we didn't do such a long soundcheck.
Anyway, they finish and the room empties out, and they take out the tables and chairs, and the room now fills with college kids and feels immediately like Santa Barbara is redeeming itself.
The shows go well. It's my first time meeting David Schultz other than a couple of rushed emails, but I immediately know that this will end up being the kind of tour where PCP, the Get Down Stay Down and David will all be playing on each other's sets by the end of the 5 weeks. It's a great bill (even if I am a bit biased in saying so!)
The PCP set is well received. We feel the energy of the room, but the monitor mix isn't so hot, so we make our entire set high-energy songs we're really solid with—so it's heavy on the covers. This is like our warm-up show: Pantera and Norfolk & Western covers. Willis Thompson from Thao's band joins us on "Hey Ya" which the audience sings along to. It's a beautiful chorus coming back at us.
Thao's set rocks. I've only practiced with them twice, and performed with them once before, and this will come together tight… at least by Treasure Island…
We drove down 1 into L.A., we thought early enough to miss traffic, but I'm not sure if that's even possible.
We're at the Echoplex. It's in Silver Lake, the heart of Hipster L.A. It's really hot outside. The cellists are playing Frisbee at Silver Lake. I'm backstage at the venue. This is the place where Thom Yorke and Flea debuted their new band a week or so ago and I've seen all the YouTube videos.
But I find myself constantly wanting to ask people in L.A.: “why do you live here?” I can never come up with any reason that would seem to justify it. Just walking out to get some food, and I feel accosted by the sun, the pollution, the upset people. It's a big city I just don't understand. It's not like New York or Chicago or anywhere else really, where there is a certain directed energy to what's going on. This energy feels so self-destructive to me.
There's a cool group of filmmakers here at the venue, though, who have asked to film the show. They're super nice, young—a really similar energy to the Penny Jam guys. Just like them, they're easy to work with and a pleasure to talk to. One of the dudes is from Oklahoma… and I ask him why he lives in L.A., and he says he likes that there are 10 great shows every night to go to in L.A., and I'm honored that he's chosen our bill to film.
Of course… the David Schultz/PCP/Thao bill is the coolest tour of the fall…
The sound guy is old and “can't hear anything about 13k.” I try to help him EQ, which is usually effective, but doesn't seem able to figure out what I'm saying. (I guess, “please cut 185 hz on cello 3” isn't specific enough?)
I tell him to feel free to go crazy with the lights during our set and he gets excited and wants to do that, but then just flips on these laser spidery lights that undoubtedly caused some seizures and leaves them on for the entire set and doesn't do anything else with the lights.
These are the kind of lights a light person would turn on for 10 seconds at most as an effect, and he turned them on 5 minutes before we played, and didn't shut them off until Thao went on. (?) I'm guessing he wasn't doing sound or lights for Thom Yorke last week!
Our set is shockingly well-received. Shockingly because the sound, beyond shocking me on the talkback mic, was just horrible. You'd hear the 80hz hum build…and build…and then it would shutoff…but so would your entire cello's signal. And then it would come back, and then…here comes the 80hz…and then…another cello just gets cut. His whole strategy for stopping feedback was to turn things off, not to find the frequency and cut it, but to turn off the whole channel.
It's a good argument to bring your own sound technician like we often do for our NW shows. Hopefully next time we can afford it nationally…
Thao's set goes great. The cellos (through DI's) join her for a song.
This setup is really great for me. The PCP set is fun, and I get to play the cello. And then with Thao, I get to just rock out.
Portland Cello ProjectSpace
Thao with the Get Down Stay DownSpace
Photo by Jason Quigley