Sunday, August 17, 2008

RI's premiere dance band! (clap, clap)

I'm not really sure when I first met Harry, but I do remember the first time we really talked. It was at a bonfire at Jon's and we started talking about music. We liked a lot of the same music and in that regard at least he reminded me of myself as a teenager. Eventually he uttered a phrase that can strike fear into the heart of any music snob such as myself, especially when coming from someone in their teens. He said, "I'm in a band." Oh shit. His father, who I've known for a long time, was standing there and just so happened to have a disc of said band. Fucking great. With a physical disc in my hand I'd have no excuse for "forgetting" either the band name or the MySpace address. This disc sat on top of my stereo for at least a few weeks before I got around to putting it on. I expected to have to be diplomatic the next time I saw him saying something like "Not bad. Not my thing, but not bad." When I finally worked up the courage to listen to the disc I discovered that not only was is not bad, it was in fact good and is was my thing. Drums, bass, guitar, and ... saxophone? No vocals? Hot Damn! Sign me up!

My initial reaction to a Troop of Echoes was that they were on the right path, but weren't quite there yet. I debated with myself quite a bit as to whether I should jump in with a million suggestions or just sit back and watch them develop on their own. I like to think I've done a bit of both over the years.

They hate being called a Jazz-Rock band (mostly because, well, they're not) but it is an all too convenient starting point for describing their music. They're more like a somewhat noisy post-rock band that fired their singer and replaced him with a sax player with some serious skills. Add the occasional bit of synth for texture and you start to get the idea. The songs range from the beautifully melodic to screaming sonics to ass shaking grooves. The influences of several local RI bands from Hircine to Mahi Mahi are abundant without ever sounding like imitations. More like this is what they are listening to and absorbing.

Last Saturday was (I believe) the 15th* time I've seen them live and in an over-all sense easily the best. It was definitely one of, if not the biggest in terms of attendance and people actually paying attention and digging it. Over the course of those shows I've been able to watch them grow and mature into a truly amazing and original band. I can honestly say that while I started out as a friend of the bass/synth player, I've become a dedicated fan of the band as a whole. For starters the music has gotten tighter. The complex interplay between all four of them has more noticeable definition. The balance of sounds is distinct and nobody gets buried in the mix. The biggest difference though is that they have all become much more sure of themselves, both as a group and individually. They've become confident but not cocky, and they are clearly enjoying music they are playing.

*(I can count 14 shows with certainty, but feel like there's at least one more. They are far and away the band that I've seen the greatest number of times, but they still have awhile before catching up to the amount of stage time of the six times I saw the Grateful Dead.)

So far it has truly been a pleasure watching the band grow and watching their fan base grow along with them. On the eve of their "excursion" as they're calling it I wish them the best and look forward to hearing them develop even more in the future. I feel honored that I've been along for the ride.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Drinking with Harry

Sometime around '87 I went poking around in my father's record collection. There were some things that I listened to a few times but never really cottoned to (Quicksilver Messenger Service) some things I wasn't quite ready for (200 Motels) and some things that I loved and continue to listen to to this day (Klaatu, Harry Nilsson.) So what is it about Nilsson that caught my ear over twenty-one years ago and still delights me today?

The two albums that drew me in were Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson with their funny titles and strange songs like "Spaceman" and "Coconut." Add to that the fact that he *gasp* swore, and since they were my father's albums it was ok for me to listen to them. So, I would pedal around on my bike delivering newspapers with my walkman on humming "You're breakin' my heart." Twenty-one years later, not much has changed. I was able to get the majority of the Nilsson catalogue and listened to it on my iPod while walking to and from work.

Listening to Harry was like getting back in touch with an old friend you haven't seen for over a decade and discovering that you not only still like the same things, but have all sorts of new things to talk about as well. The two albums mentioned above, and to a lesser extent The Point, were the only ones I was really familiar with and they delighted me just as much as they ever did. But the real discovery for me was the rest of the catalogue. There are so many songs throughout that I found so completely wonderful. And there are some low points to be sure, (Pussy Cats, A little touch of Schmilsson in the night) but they were easily overshadowed by the good stuff.

Now to see if I can find the other few albums I couldn't get ahold of.