Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fables of the R.E.M. Ensemble - Weeks 4 to 8

After a trip to L.A., time spent with West Coast friends, 2 Wilco shows, Amoeba Records, a weekend in Newport Beach, CA, In-N-Out Burger, Billy Squire on the freeway, catching a cold just after returning from L.A. and a whole lotta silliness involving the White Sox blowing a chance at the post season, I finally have a moment to post about my R.E.M. adventures in low-fi.

With our class performance set for Sunday, October 28th at the Old Town School - Armitage location (5:45 PM), eight weeks of taking apart R.E.M. songs will finally leave the rehearsal room and hit the stage. So, what do I remember about the past 4 weeks?

Week 4 - 9/25/12

Songs practiced: "Can't Get There From Here" (that's the only new song I remember from that class!)

Random Notes:

"Can't Get There From Here" was the latest addition to our class songbook up to this point and the first song from Fables of the Reconstruction that we would attempt. The only thing I remember saying to myself after running through the song for the first time ever was, "What the fucking were they (R.E.M.) thinking?"

I was just lost in that song, and I know I wasn't the only one in class that played like someone lost in a maze. The song is by far the most ridiculously funky song ever attempted by the band at that point of its career, and it's the lone glimmer of sunshine on an album that barely leaves the shadows.

Week 5 - 10/2/12

Songs practiced: Missed class

Random Notes:

It's the day after I returned from L.A., and I'm feeling pretty exhausted from my trip. I knew ahead of time that "Exhuming McCarthy" was going to be the new song of the night, but I just knew I needed an evening where I did nothing. By the next day, a good ole cold began to kick my ass.

Week 6 - 10/9/12

Songs practiced: "Can't Get There From Here"/"Exhuming McCarthy" (all I remember)

Random Notes:

I made sure to do my homework ahead of time, especially for "Can't Get There From Here." Thanks to countless YouTube videos of old R.E.M. concert footage and some good guitar notes out in the worldwide web, I was able to finally piece together what Peter Buck was actually playing. So, when it came time to trying out the song again in class, I wasn't lost in the chord patterns.

"Exhuming McCarthy" was a lot of fun. The Mike Mills backing vocal parts weren't sorted out fully, but the song had plenty of kick to it that got the whole room feeling good.

Week 7 - 10/16/12

Songs practiced: "Finest Worksong"/"Exhuming McCarthy"/"Strange"/"Fall On Me"/"Cuyahoga"/"Can't Get There From Here"/"Gardening At Night"/"(Don't Go Back To) Rockville"

Random Notes:

One of my classmates called me "Mr. Rickenbacker" before class. Hi. I'm Mr. Rickenbacker.

The first attempt at putting together a setlist for the class performance begins to take shape. The last addition to the mix is "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" from Reckoning. There's some hesitation about "Fall On Me" making the final cut, which is why "Rockville" gets brought in as a possible alternate. My stumbles with the intro to "Fall On Me" have grown less and less; still not pulled off smoothly though. My sense is that Bob's 50/50 on whether the vocal parts can be tightened up by the rest of us. No one was adding Bill Berry's vocal part ("It's gonna fall") until I spoke up. Can't forget Bill! It sounds simple to take on the job of singing such a brief lyric but not so much when you're trying to keep track of chord changes coming from different directions.

Capo at the 2nd fret for "Rockville." Bob takes the lead vocals here. I was able to figure out Peter Buck's little guitar "lick" (if you want to call it that) that's played in between the chorus and verse. According to Bob, "Rockville" didn't make anyone's list of song selections before the class began. Personally, the song didn't make my list because I thought it was too obvious of a pick from the early R.E.M. catalog. If my only two Reckoning selections were "Rockville" or "Camera" (not a top favorite from the album for me), I would pick "Camera" just because it would have offered up a challenge and possibly open up a new appreciation for the song that I didn't have after past listens.

I was really hoping that our last song selection for class would have been written after 1987, which is funny to say since the album that changed my world was 1986's Life's Rich Pageant.

Week 8 - 10/23/12

Songs practiced: Same as previous week

Random Notes:

The running order of the setlist gets finalized (I hope). We run through the whole set nearly twice. I came to class slightly rusty. For whatever reason, my hands and my brain were not fully connecting on certain songs. The lead into the bridge in "Can't Get There From Here" tripped me up. I couldn't multitask singing backing vocals and playing my guitar parts on "Exhuming McCarthy" and "Fall On Me." It was a bad way to end the last class session. So, I've got some practicing ahead of me for the rest of this week.