Archive for March, 2007

Last day of the tour :(

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

The Vegas gig was remarkably good. For a start, hats off to the Cannery Casino who have built a beautiful music venue, with first class sound and lights and a highly professional crew. The indoor auditorium holds a few hundred in comfort, but electric glass doors open up the large outdoor patio for larger shows that acommodate 2000. They don’t usually have live music on a weekday, and usually the choice is confined to tribute bands and oldies style acts; but buyer Kathy Spehar took a chance on bringing me in on a Wednesday, and what she got was a pretty full house and (I hope) a great show that brought the Cannery something unusual with a high credibility quotient.

This being my first ever Las Vegas concert, I must admit I felt quite self-conscious walking on stage. A portion of my audience presumably were simply casino guests that had wandered into the club for a little evening entertainment. Were they expecting an underlit magician surrounded by girls in sequinned leotards and peacock headdresses? Within a few square miles of me a large number of technically superb singers, dancers and comedians who devote their life to their particular ‘art’— whatever you may think of it—were also taking to the stage. How could my modest technical skills in those areas possibly stack up? I mean, the $200 a night guy with a mic and a MIDI piano at the raised central bar of the casino could play like Oscar Peterson and sing like Stevie Wonder. And here I was, the headliner, with my name 30ft tall on the highway, barely able to play a scale or sing a full chorus perfectly in tune.

I had to remind myself was that what I do is completely unique. You won’t find it on any other stage in the world, especially not in Las Vegas. So I just did my regular show, sang my songs and told my stories. And in the middle of Sin City it must have seemed like a little oasis of calm, cool music and visuals, with a wry English understatement And LV is becoming way more stratified these days in its efforts to appeal to wide audience, so why the hell not?

Johnny’s video projections have never looked better. The spacious stage had large screens at the back and also to each side; and the house lighting guy—don’t know his name but Don will be pleased to hear he does the lighting for Rush!—was world class. The onstage monitor system was more powerful than many of the front of house PAs we’ve been playing through on this tour. I think it was a bit of a shock to the Jazz Mafia Horns to be able to hear themselves with such clarity!

My friend Jonathan Deans and his wife came down, and he was not the only Vegas sound guy in attendance: several audio pros from other venues came down to check me out, many of whom use my CDs (especially ‘Aliens Ate My Buick’) to tune their own speakers. This put the pressure on Clif Brigden, who is mixing my front of house sound on this tour, to deliver the goods. He was very pleased with the sound and got lots of compliments. He was even interviewed by a pro audio magazine, which he found quite amusing because as he himself admitted’ “I don’t really know anything!” He’s downplaying his skills there, as he’s been doing a sterling job under difficult circumstances.

With the help of the local staff we loaded up the bus in under half an hour after the concert. Everybody checked out of the their hotel rooms and onto the tour bus, which was due to leave at 3am. At midnight we met at the front entrance and an enormous stretch limo ferried the eight of us to the Wynn Hotel, where Jonathan had arranged for our names to be on the door at The Lure night club. This was a torrid affair with open-shirted Vegas high rollers chatting up by silicone-enhanced blondes, and sipping their $60 cocktails. We were shown to a lounge area outside and shared a bottle of Bourbon that was the cheapest item on certainly the most expensive drinks menu I’ve ever seen! But we got to toast each other for a great tour that’s covered a huge variety of different venues, all the way from the fabulous TED Conference, to a tent in Texas, to a tech company cafeteria.

The plan was to drive overnight and be in the Bay Area around lunchtime so the horn players could pick up their cars before tonight’s final gig north of San Francisco. But I awoke in my bunk on the bus in the early hours and realised we’d been at a complete stop for some time. It turned out a water truck only three vehicles ahead of us had clooided with a ten-wheeler semi, and the road was completely blocked for four hours while the services cleaned up the mess. This has put a wrench in the works, and we’re now hustling up Highway 5 hoping to get to Fairfax by 6pm in time for a load-in and brief soundcheck. Traffic permitting, we’ll probably make it in the nick of time. Larry our bus driver is a good ol’ Texas boy and has been an absolute trooper throughout.

And so will come to a close this excellent March mini-tour. I think the audiences have loved hearing my electronic stuff with the new and exotic live horn arrangements. There’s been a great cameraderie on the bus, though Lunesse, we’ve missed you like crazy! I’m looking forward to some rest, and catching up with my wife and family.

Net loss at Texas Hold’em table: $134

One bottle of Jack Daniels and a few cokes at The Lure: $480

Cup of tour bus coffee hand-ground by my old mate Clif in a pepper mill: Priceless.

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The Lure has a 2-bottle minumum. Thomas scans menu in vain for a bottle under $400. Clif is visibly disturbed.

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In the limo (L to R): Rich—trumpet; Mike—keyboard tech; Adam—trombone; Joe—sax; Justin—backline/merch.

Dallas to Vegas

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

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The tour bus left Dallas early on Monday, without me on it. I had a lecture to give for Travelocity, whose HQ is there. They’re having a series of interesting lunchtime speakers and contacted me asking if I’d talk about my dual careers in music and the tech world. In the event 400 people showed up and I talked for an hour and gave a demo of how I put songs together, singing two of them as a finale (see pic.)

The band and crew had made the long drive to Las Vegas, stopping over in Albuquerque. I flew direct, and arrived late last night. Checked into The Cannery, an outlying casino where our gig takes place tonight. As I drove up I spotted my name up in letters that must be 30 ft tall! They’re very friendly here and have a great club and sound system. I played Texas Hold’em last night for a couple of hours and had fun but lost. Saw Johnny Dekam getting into rolling craps.

The bus is scheduled to leave Vegas tonight at 4am. After our show I’d like to go check out Prince’s club at the Rio. Who knows, maybe he’ll be there. I have seen him play live about 8 times over the years, he’s truly one of the best performers of this generation, if not of all time. And once he actually came to see me play his old haunt First Avenue in Minneapolis! I’m not sure if it was ’84 or ’88, and for some reason that gig seems to be missing from StevieD’s tour history.

(Later) I’ll admit I felt like a complete dork standing in the street with my cellphone trying to get an angle on myself and the Cannery’s 40ft billboard. I can only imagine what passersby were saying…. hopefully only “Oh that guy must be soooo excited that people might mistake him for Thomas Dolby!”

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Oh, and I played Hold’em again today and won $127! I am going to try to use it to take my band and crew out as it’s the end of the tour and the bus doesn’t leave till 3am (hmm this is getting earlier all the time…) Sadly Prince’s club has a private corporate party tonight, but maybe my friend Jonathan Deans who does the sound for all the Cirque Du Soleil shows can hook us up.

South by South West report

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

It was pointed out to me that I’ve been neglecting my blog. This is not because of a lack of interest. In fact, the last few days have been crazy, hectic, rewarding, and a lot of fun.

When I quit the music business in 1993, SxSW didn’t really exist. I went to speak a few years ago on a panel in the interactive portion of the show, but I didn’t check out the music part. People tried to prepare me for what it has become, but I had no idea how massive it’s become. There are over a thousand bands playing there, and as you walk around central Austin, about half those bands seem to be on the street corners trying to flag down a taxi with guitars and drum heads under their arms.

I did three separate performances at SxSW. The first was at the Elysium, a goth/punk club that I played back in December with BT. The owner had missed that show, heard good things about it, so he requested that I play my SxSW showcase at his club. The support was Kid Beyond, a brilliant Bay Area beatboxer/singer that builds his beats by layering them in Ableton Live with the help of a bank of footswitches; then he sings cool songs over the top. My daughter Lily (aka Harper) told me about him, as she’d seen him supporting Imogen Heap at her last show in San Francisco. He did a great job warming up the crowd and by the time I came on the place was at capacity and the fire marshalls weren’t letting anyone else in. They gave me a warm reception and I tore through a 40-minute set, joined for the second half by The Jazz Mafia Horns.

The next day I had to get up early and take a cab 12 miles into Austin to do an interview with Spin. I walked into their hotel suite which looked like a bomb had gone off in it. It smelled like an old ashtray. The Spin staff looked at me like I was from another planet–my press agent set up the interview time, but I guess their schedule had gone out the window the days before. The guy that interviewed me knew zero about me, and even asked if I was playing at SxSW. I then had to kill 3 hours until my ‘day show’ in the Austin Convention Center that is the HQ for SxSW. I had to use my ‘B rig’ that I usually take to radio shows, which basically consists of my laptop, a small keyboard and a TriggerFinger for samples. We had only 10 minutes to get set up on stage in a cafeteria that seats maybe 75 people. Problem is, I’ve never really used this rig to perform several songs back to back. Nothing came up quite right, and instead of the 5 songs I’d planned to play in my 20 minute slot, I only got through three. It was pretty humiliating, and put me in foul mood.

I had a couple more interviews at the Convention Center and left to walk back to our tour bus, which was parked next to the venue for my evening gig, a street fair on 4th St. But I was completely disoriented and wandered around for 3/4 hr in the heat of the day before I finally stumbled on our bus; which was now full of Zune staff, as they were using it as a base for their day’s activities (Zune helped sponsor my tour.) I was happy to let them use it, but really all I wanted was a nap. This I just about managed to grab, on the leather bench in the back lounge.

I woke up in a much better frame of mind. I was determined that the evening show would be a smash and would wipe the slate clean from my horrible day. And sure enough, rock’n'roll came to my rescue. We had a great show in the large tent, and got the crowd rocking.

We’re now in Dallas about to go on stage. The Jazz Mafia are getting tight and tuneful. On the bus today we added a new (old) song which shows their skills off to great effect, and which we will debut at tonight’s gig.

Johnny Dekam’s girlfriend Bree gave me these neat pics from Austin for my blog!

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Skin of my teeth

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

I made it into the flight right as they are about to close the doors! Yay!

If Lunesse was with me she would be stressing SOOO bad.

LA to Austin

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Last night we played the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. The challenge was to get the bus to Phoenix, AZ in time to put me onto a 7.40am plane. So we were offstage at 11.15; bus was completely loaded by midnight; driver showed up and we were out of there at 12.30am. Now it’s 6.45am and we’re in heavy traffic approaching downtown Phoenix, and I’m nervous I’m going to miss my plane! Which could make life very interesting, as almost all flights into Austin are booked because of SxSW. I would stay on the bus, only I have a 6.30am date tomorrow at a TV show in Austin tomorrow morning. And we lose 2 hrs because of time zones. The bus could only make it there by that time if the driver went with no rest, which is unsafe.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Sacramento

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Last night in Sacramento was excellent. I got a visit from my old cohort Brian Salter, a brilliant musician and arranger who produced a lot of the Headspace/Beatnik music and was my sideman on the Forty LP. He had helped me arrange the pieces for the TED Conference, and as he’s visiting from his home in Thailand he stopped in to Harlow’s to see the show. Needless to say he was quite blown away by how far it has come since the Forty days.
Here’s a new bus pic by the way

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It’s pretty hilarious when we drive down the freeway because literally every five minutes somebody honks their horn.

On the road again

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

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We’re on the tour bus, driving Santa Cruz to Redwood City. Big pic of me on the back, and people are honking as they overtake. This has never happened before as it’s the first time I’ve had a ‘wrap’.

The stylish art is by Holly Golightly. She did this airbrushed-looking drawing of me a few months ago and had it made into a coffee mug. I don’t really have a dimple in my chin, though I guess it’s never too late. It scares my children, but I like it.

Yesterday was insane. Being the final day of the TED Conference, I was up early with the Jazz Mafia guys playing a couple of musical intros the the last session. For one, trumpeter Rich Armstrong performed ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ while riding a unicycle around the auditorium. We finished up with ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ aka 2001 A Space Odyssey, segueing into ‘Tequila!’ Then there was a beach party, and we loded up the tour bus and drove up the road to Santa Cruz where we had two evening shows.

The Kuumbwa is a sweet little venue, perfect for doing a paid dress rehearsal. The transition from TED was extremely odd, both emotionally and musically. There are a few kinks to work out for me, band and equipment to get back into Dolby mode. And I’m hoarse from all that talking at TED. But I think we sounded great, and I’m looking forward to adding a few more brass-driven songs into the set.

There are some crew changes for this tour. One of my oldest friends Clif Brigden is handling front of house sound. He’s a fine musician and sound engineer and all-round good geezer, and knows my music and tastes, so it’ll be nice having him on board. Sadly tonight is the last gig for Darin Dahlinger, my keyboard tech, who has been the Rock of Gibraltar during my touring comeback. He and his wife are expecting their first baby and Darin needs a more regular job than I can offer him. Fortunately he found a great job locally, producing ringtones for a mobile media company. I am nervous about losing him as he keeps my rig running so well, but he has found the ideal replacement in his former roommate Mike Klooster, who also happens to be the keyboard player for Smash Mouth!

Lunesse, who is also expecting, will hand over merch duties to Justin Newsom. We’re not expecting to sell as much merch…. got nothing against Justin, but he just doesn’t have Lunesse’s booth bunny appeal! We miss her already.

My elder daughter Harper (aka Lily, 16) came onstage with me last night to play keyboards. Her younger sister Talia, 14, is on the bus with us enjoying the high speed wi-fi as she scans pics from Harajuku in preparation for a school trip to Japan this Spring.

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At TED

Friday, March 9th, 2007

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Theo Jansen’s ‘Strandbeest’

It’s been an incredible week so far at the TED Conference in Monterey. As you know TED’s a fantastic 4-day meeting of minds with the goal of solving some of the Planet’s problems while celebrating its successes, species, and the ideas of its brilliant people.

I’m TED’s musical director. I have a hand in booking the music content, which this year is the best ever—Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman, Raul Midon, They Might Be Giants, and Jill Sobule. Along with my brass section the Jazz Mafia Horns, I also play a 2 minute musical slot to set the mood for each of the 12 two-hour sessions.

Some personal highlights for me (though I miss a lot of the talks while I’m taking care of my responsibilities):

-Hans Rosling, a brilliant economist/statistician who explains the world’s trends in an astonishing way

-James Nachtwey‘s moving war photography

-Will Wright, inventor of The Sims, showing us his new game Spore

-Rives, a wonderful poet

-Theo Jansen’s beautiful walking wind creatures, made of bamboo—here’s a video

-My Indian buffet lunch table today with Richard Branson, Peter Gabriel, Hans Rosling and Darryl Hannah (!) as they discussed how to get the world’s ‘Elders’ into war situations to help resolve conflicts

-Watching Paul Simon and his band’s sound check

-Grooving this morning with Paul’s amazing sideman Mark Stewart, whom I met at the Ethel Fair a few weeks back, and who jammed with my band this morning on a spontaneous instrumental of ‘You Can Call Me Al’

-My friend JJ Abrams explaining how his grandfather’s ‘Mystery Box’ is the source of inspiration for his work such as ‘Lost’ and ‘Alias’, and getting a standing ovation from the TED crowd

-Singing and playing a brass-driven mambo version of ‘Sway’ in full-on Carmen Miranda garb!

There’s plenty more to come, including the closing party tonight at which BT will be spinning records. Tomorrow–instead of collapsing for 48 hrs which is what happens after TED from the sheer intellectual and emotional exhaustion–my band and I will be going on the road for two weeks starting in Santa Cruz.

Car mayhem

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Current contents of the back of my car:

- A native American headdress

- A unicycle

- 2000 Sole Inhabitant CDs and DVDs

… don’t even ask!