Unmasked and Unplugged

I thought I’d start this week’s entry with some snarky recap.

Oh, maybe a spotlight on the kooky #Openthisbitchup protesters. 
Freedom fighters who will not rest until Hooters re opens, thank you.

Or howsabout my favorite new sitcom, the daily White House briefings!
Open the beach? Don’t open the beach? 

Eh. 
You  know, I just don’t have the energy.
Our current state is viewed instantly from a million different perspectives. 
Opinion then regurgitated instantly, socially mediated, an algorithm of terror and bile. 
What else, really, is there to say?

We fucked up, we’re fucked, we’ll be fuckin back.

Let’s talk about something-anything- else.

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We swore we’d never do it.
I’m talking about that term that used to make me queasy: The Acoustic Set.

Oh, I’m sure we’ve all been there.
You’re thrilled to see a fave act is coming to town, and what’s this?  Playing at a nice little venue?!   
But then your eyes wander down to the italicized fine print at the bottom and your heart drops:  An Intimate Acoustic Event…..!

You think of all those hoary Unplugged shows in the 90’s, most every band proving they could not pull off what Nirvana somehow could.  Your favorite band desecrating the anthems of your youth with instruments mostly identified with Burl Ives.
People:  Do we really want to see KISS reduced to an underground busker act?

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Or worse than a drum solo, the bass player and drummer wander off mid concert, and here we go:
Ok, yeah, we’re gonna slow things down a little here.  Then out come the motherfucking barstools and capos. 
What you’re gonna get here, ya see, is a dirge version of your favorite rocker, but with mandolin and tambourine.  But why?
 

Nah man, this isn’t what we signed up for.
Last I checked, we committed to the snarl of the Marshall stack, the hornet hive buzz of P-90 pickups. Ampeg bass cabinets the size of Easter Island Moai.
A lifetime onstage, standing in front of an artillery of speakers and percussion. Or in the pit,  front of weapons-grade PA speakers to not just see the bands we love, but to also feel them.


It just doesn’t seem like you’ve been to a punk show if you don’t go to bed with ringing ears; you have been cheated if you’re denied the constant companion of tinnitus.
The sweet song that will accompany us to the grave.
And even then, a sweet high pitched tone will be discernible to our mourners above, if they just listen hard enough.

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But there is another way to play it, that became clear.
Friends and heroes like Kevin Seconds and Steve Soto, they showed how their crystalline voices and easy strumming of open chords could bring out a new dynamic. 
Stripping punk bare naked: If you got something to say, let’s hear it.
Takes some balls to step out from behind the disguise of volume, to let the lyrics out there without the cover of mumble and snarl. 

And let’s admit it, we are getting to that point where we look for gigs that are unusual in some way.  Some angle that will keep our interest, something to give us the semblance of nerves– anything different, really, after 40 adrenaline deadening years onstage.

So when Crystal  & Eric sent yet another message inviting us to play one of their Sunday acoustic shows. we finally agreed.

 

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We had to get together to actually think this out, cradling the awkward voluptuousness of  Ovation acoustics as we went through the set list for suitable victims.

I strummed a few chords on the 12 string.
An open D Chord farted out, flubbed by improper technique and pressure, decades of cheating on puny electric strings apparent.  I concentrated and tried again, twinned grooves cutting into fingerpads with thrilling pain.  
It became apparent there was no way to fake it, no distortion pedal to mask a sour note, no way to mute the strings for dynamics or fake it with lazy barre chords.

 We were suddenly back at Faye Ross Junior High, Kimm and I.
Mr. Misajon’s Guitars for Beginners after-school class, learning those first open chords on high arched nylon stringed boxes.
Learning a new language from blue mimeographed charts, the dots marked upon string and fret graphs like Morse code tabulated.
A treasure map to a fortune just there.

 

We went through songs 38 years old to us and discovered new colors. 
Lowered a key here, slow it down there, throw that one out.
Didn’t Know becomes a 3/4 time Beatles-esque waltz.
Separate Peace in a spare G-D-C, the holy template of any Dylan composition.  
We play it for 18 minutes, as it morphs into Knockin’ on Heavens Door, then I Shall be Released.    
Helpless melts into Here Comes a Regular,  and it suddenly occurs that we are having fun doing this.

Bourbon Street bar in downtown Fullerton is packed for a Sunday afternoon, it’s surprising.  Our old mate Eric Leach is up there now, an old hand by now at doing the acoustic set.  He’s got it down effortlessly, plays relaxed and sounds great, people are smiling.

Greg Antista gets up next, joined by Warren and Jorge, Frank Agnew…and it’s like we’ve been admitted into the secret clubhouse of OC punk royalty.  They play a set of songs melodic and heartfelt, well suited to the afternoon sun and gentle tapping of tambourine the only backbeat necessary. 
The crowd in the bar often drowns them out, as the people are getting happier (drunker) and hugging pals.  We greet each other in natural light for a change, don’t need to yell out drink orders as if we were in a hurricane.
This Sunday matinee thing, I’m telling you. 
Shattered veterans of the late nights, all of us.  We’re out among friends like regular people, the band playing at a volume that doesn’t force a shout to say hello. 
We’ll all be home early enough tonight to watch Westworld then fall asleep to John Oliver

Driving home we talk about it, that was fun.

Will we do it again? 
There’s possibilities here, how much easier it would be to tour without the amps.
Maybe give Nick some Bongos, a Guitarrón Mexicano for Ant instead of the Rickenbacker and Ampeg.  

But as I lay in bed that night there’s something missing. 
We’re had a gig but in bed by Eleven. The clothes in the bedroom are not rank with spilled beer and sweat.
But that’s not it.

It’s that ringing, comforting as rain on the roof, missed only by its absence.

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