Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fables of the R.E.M. Ensemble - Week 3

Rickenbacker favoritism! Rickenbacker favoritism! It was bound to come up in class sooner or later. Bob had to take a moment in class to let my fellow classmates know that they too could share in the wealth of Peter Buck guitar goods and that I wasn't the Peter Buck-sub of class because I was the only one with a Rickenbacker bringing the jingle jangle to each song we practiced in class. I had to laugh.

Bob's e-mail before class announced that the songs of the night would be "Gardening At Night" from Chronic Town, R.E.M.'s 1982 EP, and "Can't Get There From Here" from Fables of the Reconstruction. Both selections marked the first time we would visit those albums.

Week 3 - 9/18/12

Songs practiced: "Strange"/"Finest Worksong"/"Cuyahoga"/"Gardening At Night"

Random Notes:

No bass or drums tonight from the usual suspects. Bob sat in on drums for "Strange." I turned lead vocals over to a classmate that had a tough day and needed to let loose a little.

Bob brought in a slide and gave a classmate the duty to provide the slide parts to "Finest Worksong." Once the slide parts were worked out, we gave the song a full run through, twice, and the slide actually sounds pretty good in the mix. I'm still unsure how Buck does the chiming riff throughout the song. Most sheet music I've seen has the riff played at the 4th fret. I've seen footage on Tourfilm and other concert footage that shows him playing the intro up on the 7th fret. I've got a better handle on how he plays the verses and the bridge. But I can't quite get that magic chime. Hmmm.

"Cuyahoga" sounded rusty. Now, I play the Drop D parts automatically and just pick the notes for the rest of the song. We kind of all lose each other in the rhythm of the song whenever we hit the chorus. I don't know why that is; I feel like some of my classmates over complicate the rhythm for the chorus. It's not like we're trying to dissect Rush songs.

The remaining time was spent on taking apart "Gardening At Night," which I had never really studied closely. There's so many tiny pieces going on in that song that give it some clever twists and turns. I can understand why Buck has always cited the song as being the band's first real complete song in terms of structure, melody and lyrics. And it's really fast.

"Can't Get There From Here" got ditched due to time. Maybe next week.

As I write this now, I broke "Gardening At Night" down to its core parts on my acoustic. I need to put more work into the single note picking during the quiet parts in between the verses, but I found the correct chords for the intro. Of all the songs we've practiced, this song is definitely throwing down the gauntlet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fables of the R.E.M. Ensemble - Week 2

Tonight revisited material from Life's Rich Pageant and introduced songs from Document for the first time. After having done my homework from the last session, I felt a little more comfortable in the class and with my playing. This time we had the pleasure of having the drummer and keyboardist in the room. I think their presence definitely changed the overall vibe of the class and made the energy go up one notch from last week's session.

Week 2 - 9/11/12

Songs practiced: "Begin The Begin"/"Cuyahoga"/"Finest Worksong"/"Strange"

Random Notes:

Practice. Practice. Practice. And a touch of overdrive effect from the Vox. "Begin The Begin" sounded a lot better, and the intro riff is coming off a lot smoother for me.

Bob asked me to play in Drop D tuning for "Cuyahoga" and gave me a different part to play during the verses. The Drop D tuning also allowed me to play the intro to the song, which I had never tried before outside of standard tuning. I picked up on the intro pretty quickly, and the different tuning gave me a new approach to the song that was really nice.

The first new song sheet of the night turned out to be "Finest Worksong." I was ready for this one. It's always been a great, noisy song to blast in an empty house/apartment. The first run through was good. Bob fleshed out certain parts and worked with the bassist. We should all wear name tags or something just to help since we're a group of old and new members. But the bassist is really getting his parts down. It was great to finally learn some of the harmonic parts to the song on guitar.

The curve ball of the night turned out to be a classmate's request to try out R.E.M.'s cover of "Strange" by Wire. Granted that Wire hates R.E.M.'s cover, I wouldn't have found out about Wire if not for the cover. So, whatever.

Bob was just starting to brainstorm what song to play to end the night when "Strange" was requested. I immediately played the chord intro and smiled at Bob. He then left the room for a while, and I started to work out the chords with my classmates. It felt like Bob was gone for a good amount of time. I asked out loud, "Is Bob protesting 'Strange'?" After figuring out the correct chords to the chorus, Bob reappeared with song sheets for "Strange." The question of who was to sing soon followed. Feeling comfortable, I volunteered to step up to the microphone. I probably haven't been in front of a microphone since my cafe open-mic days over 12 years ago!

Needless to was so fun just to get lost in the song. 4 chords. Loud. Fast. And I got to sing "Do-Do" a lot. What's not to love?

Bob mentioned giving Collapse Into Now a listen recently. Fingers crossed "Discoverer" gets the call next week.


Friday, September 07, 2012

Fables of the R.E.M. Ensemble - Week 1

If the majority of people were allowed to define rock critic as a new entry in Webster's Dictionary, it would likely say, "One who is musically impaired; unable to produce a musical note worth listening to thus needs to critique those who can."

We know the jokes, but they are jokes that carry some truth to them. But if there's one thing that the punks of the late 70s reminded people was that anyone can sing into a microphone...anyone can pick up an instrument. For me, R.E.M. was the band that not only stood as an example of the "anyone can do it" punk ethos but also provided me with a compass to use on my own musical path.

Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe gave me a sense of direction at the age of 13 but never told me where to go; that part was up to me to decide, that was my choice. Life's Rich Pageant, my first CD, was my key to a treasure chest of music that I still find new discoveries. It was also the album that made me want to pick up a guitar. For one year, I played air guitar to those twelve songs until I received my first guitar when I turned 14, a classical acoustic from Mexico.

Now, I find myself picking up my Rickenbacker and sitting in with the R.E.M. Ensemble at the Old Town School of Folk Music for the next 7 weeks. The class has been on my radar for some time, and it was a now-or-never decision to finally jump in. At the end of this session, the ensemble performs at a venue to be named later. My understanding is that the ensemble performs a selection of R.E.M. songs that the students pick to be practiced during the overall 8 week class.

Leading the class is our instructor, Bob Goins, whom I met only once before at Old Town when he was a substitute teacher for my Guitar 1 class. In that class, I apparently threw him a curve ball by playing the A chord differently from the textbook version. To be fair to Bob, he was there for 1 class and didn't know that I had been playing since I was 14. I'd also forgotten that I've actually seen Bob perform with his Wilco Ensemble, which included Jeff Tweedy, for Old Town's 50th Anniversary show at the Auditorium Theatre in 2007.

Since I've been on such a long hiatus from covering music and doing the rock critic thing, I see this class as my way of refocusing my energy towards playing the music rather than reviewing it. So, I'll be posting little updates on the progress of the class and my experience being the 1 guy in class that is playing a Rickenbacker (you're welcome, Peter Buck).

Week 1 - 9/4/12

Songs practiced: "The One I Love"/"Begin The Begin"/"Cuyahoga"/"Fall On Me"

Random Notes:

Yeah, I really set myself up as being the only guitarist to show up to class with the same Rickenbacker model guitar that Peter Buck used for all of R.E.M.'s career. As Bob handed me the class packet of songs, he announced to everyone in the practice room, "It wouldn't be an R.E.M. class without a guy playing a Rickenbacker."

Most of the class was made up of other musicians that had taken previous sessions with Bob. 3 playing electrics (including myself), 4 playing acoustics (including Bob), and 1 playing electric bass. The bassist could have passed for Mike Mills circa 1982. The drummer didn't show up (somewhat fitting considering R.E.M.'s history with drummers). If the drummer shows up next week and has a unibrow, I'll take that as a sign that this will be a good class.

Warm-up song was "The One I Love." Straight performance, no solo. Then we took a few passes at "Begin The Begin" and "Cuyahoga." Some extra work done to tighten up the rhytym part to the chorus in "Cuyahoga."

Since I was the one in class with a Rickenbacker, I got assigned to take the Peter Buck parts for the songs (i.e. the intro/verse riff in "Begin The Begin"). Yup, I was the Peter Buck of the class; picking out the notes instead of strumming full chords. Funny and scary considering it was my first time playing R.E.M. songs with other people.

"Fall On Me" was the last song of the night. Once again, I had the role of Peter Buck and had to start the song. On my own, I had maybe only ever played "Fall On Me" about 5 times and always stuck to just playing the rhythm (not including the intro). After 3-4 quick attempts at the intro, I got it down, and the class jumped in. Must remind Bob that someone should do Berry's backing vocal part ("It's gonna fall").

Overall, everyone that took lead vocal duties did pretty well. The group's playing ability is strong and should get better week by week. Some of the songs I saw in the class packet were:

"Driver 8"/"Radio Free Europe"/"Oddfellows Local 151"/"Me In Honey"

Hopefully there will be some post-1992 material that comes up. We shall see...