I played a concert in New York Thursday night with Ethel, a progressive string quartet. I first met them at Joeâ€™s Pub in 2005, and we invited them to perform at the TED Conference last February. They are an astonishing group of players who met at Juilliard, but unlike many classically trained musicians, theyâ€™re able to stretch out and lend their skills to many diverse styles of music. They often collaborate with rock musicians like Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren, and have a flair for rhythmic beats that would do Led Zep proud; yes they can segue effortlessly into Phillip Glass-style mesmerism, or even Delta blues.
Thursdayâ€™s performance was billed as the first annual Ethel Fair, where they brought together a group of friends to raise money for their non-profit foundation. Also on the bill were the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart (currently working as Paul Simonâ€™s right-hand); Klesmer clarinetist David Krakauer; a young prog-rock band Electric Konpany; Navajo singer/storyteller James Bilagody; and a guy called Kurt who has a band called P.A.M. theâ€™s entirely made up of mechanical automata.
Not having a full crew, I just brought a â€˜Bâ€™ rig consisting of my MacBook, Virus TI Polar, and a TriggerFinger. I built up â€˜The Flat Earthâ€™ from scratch; then in the second half Ethel joined me onstage for â€˜I Love You Goodbyeâ€™ and â€˜Scienceâ€™.
I enjoyed making use of the venueâ€™s tasty 9â€² Steinway concert grand. The last time I played a â€™steamâ€™ piano onstage in NYC it was the white grand that comes up out of the stage at Radio City Music Hall. And itâ€™s been a while since I sang into anything other than my headset Crown mic, so it was strange to have a boom mic that doesnâ€™t follow my mouth around!
It was great having real strings (and Mark Stewartâ€™s banjo) on â€˜ILYGBâ€™. Itâ€™s the first time Iâ€™ve played it live since New Yearâ€™s Eve 1999, and it sounded really fresh. Ethel are very easy to work with, and I hope to compose something specifically for them one day.
The only downer was that when I arrived at JFK airport yesterday for my flight back to San Francisco an hour and 35 minutes prior to my flight, it was utter mayhem and after standing in three didfferent lines, by the time I got to the front I was told it was too late to make my flight. There were no more that day and the first one they could get me on was the same flight 24 hours later! Fortunately I have some good friends in Brooklyn who rescued me and took me to their familyâ€™s Chinese New Year party, which was a lot of fun. So now Iâ€™m catching up on some email backlog and Iâ€™ll make sure to get back to the airport REALLY early today.