Salem, MA – Opus Underground
So I had a band, from around 1996 – 1998 called Freaks of Nature. It was super fun, and was a great way for me to express myself, but it never really rounded out in the way that I wanted. There was a revolving cast of players, and just when one group really started to gel, we’d lose somebody. And we were able to get a group of 30-40 songs together, and we had a boat load of fun playing 140 shows on the West coast in OR, CA, WA, and Nevada. But we never really got the sound completely dialed in the way that I was hoping we might.
I did a little bit of gigging in the year that followed, but when I moved East I completely concentrated on building my career in music booking and publicity and venue support. The guitar got put away, the song notebook gained dust under the bed, and my rock and roll dreams drifted into the ether. I always figured that if something came along that worked out easily I could revive things, after all I had a full show written, and I remembered some of it, at least.
I had a couple of backyard jams with some folks, and I did some acoustic playing solo here and there, but almost nothing and my skills waned. Then back in July, my buddy said he was having a 4th of July party and an open jam, so I jumped up and joined the fun. I noticed that my buddy, who was the host and played the bass, Eric Engman, was really quite excellent. And then another buddy of mine, Brian DiMartino, came in and was a really great lead guitar player, and both of them lived pretty close to me, considering the rural location where we all reside. So I asked them to get together just the three of us another night for a jam, and we set a date. Two days before that, I got a random call from Rory Walsh, a drummer I knew just a smidge, who said he was between projects and looking for stuff to do. I suggested that he come to the jam, and the band was born instantly. We rehearsed a handful of times, played a party on NOV 1, and were ready to get out there for our first gig, DEC 19th.
Because I work on the other side of the curtain for a living, I tried to be real careful to avoid conflicting interests and requested a gig on a night that may be less attractive for other bands, the Friday before Christmas. This is a place I’ve booked lots of bands, and it was fun for me to see our little poster intermingled with the posters of other bands that I represent in my day job. The room was warm, and the staff was super accommodating. We set up; there was a small PA, and the rebirth of my on stage presence was about to begin.
In fact, right when I got to the club I met Dan, who (I’m not sure) perhaps is the restaurant manager? He was in the office behind the stage area, and I poked my head in to introduce myself. When he turned around, I was struck- he looked an awful lot like my old buddy and band partner in crime, Stefan McConnell. Not so much that I would mistake the two of them, but the resemblance was strong. It was a real welcoming feeling, like a reassurance from an old band member that the new band was going to go real well. I mentioned this to Dan, and he remarked in a real Stefan way, “he sounds like an incredibly handsome guy.” This was a powerfully good omen for me.
Rory called me in the evening and said that he had a percussion friend who would be joining us. I figured that Rory was a percussionist and, if he thought his friend Brian Haley was good enough, that’s good enough for me. And then while we were setting up, Mike Moore of Fire in the Field walked in, and happened to have his guitar and amp. He was wearing shiny on stage looking shoes, so next thing I knew, our four piece band had swelled to six pieces before our first gig. Without really any preparation aside from some shared on stage notes, we fired it up and went at it, full throttle from the word go.
To say that the band gelled on the spot would be accurate at least from my viewpoint. The two lead guitar players, against what you might usually think, got along great, complimented each other, and offered counterpoint in terms of style and lick generation. They never ‘battled’ per se, Rather, each waited for them moment and, when it was their turn, they shined. Brian Haley on percussion was both able to contribute to a rhythmic juggernaut and had great chemistry with Rory, and you could tell they had played together before. Additionally, Brian’s attitude was infectious and his enthusiasm was contagious. I could hear him exclaim- that song was great!!!- between tunes, and it really helped to stoke my personal furnace, something which you really need on stage.
It was great to see a bunch of friends come and support us, too. The band is located a good two hours away in the woods of the Pioneer Valley, so Salem may have been an odd choice for our first gig, but sometimes that is how it works. Rory is from Salem and his wife brought friends, and there were some other folks that each of us knew from the area that came out, which was really heart warming. Plus my wife was there, and while it may seem smarmy, that was super special. She and I courted during the time when I had my first band, and it really was just special to me personally to relaunch something and to showcase it for her. There were moments for sure when I shot back in time, feeling things that I had not felt in almost twenty years.
We fired through a dozen numbers stretching out without getting lost for a full first set. I took off my suit coat (heck, I dress for a show) and my shirt had changed color as I probably lost 2 pounds during that set. After I shmoozed with friends, old and brand new, in the audience and got a drink, we took the stage for a second set. Sadly, Mike had to go, but seeing as we weren’t dependent on him within the band that wasn’t nerve racking at all. The second set was a little rougher than the first, as I didn’t quite have the abundance of energy, nervous and otherwise, as I had in the first set. And for those who have never done it, being on stage and singing and performing is something that requires a lot of energy! I was surprised that my reserves were depleted, but we had no problem powering through another eight songs or so for a second set. The bar turned up the lights during a song that I didn’t expect to be our last, but they were patient enough to let us finish. A rollicking and sarcastic cover of Frank Zappa’s Why Does it Hurt When I Pee? While I hadn’t planned on ending the show with that one, I had always though of it as a show stopper, and tonight was no different!
We had a great time, and a part of me that had been dormant for a long time is re-awakened. It’ll be a little while before I’m completely back in playing shape, but certainly that process is started. I look forward to when everyone in the band is intimately familiar with the material that we’re playing and we can really alter it, and bring it to new places. But we’re already having fun with it, and this band has an entirely different feel to it than my first band did. I’m feeling super blessed that quality musicians are willing to work with me to bring this music out, and we’ll keep on keeping on. Who knows, maybe there’s some new material just waiting to be written?
Upcoming gigs with rice – An American Band:
DEC 31 STARRY STARRY NIGHT Orange MA FREE 6 PM
JAN 31 Gardner Alehouse Gardner MA FREE 9 PM