Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Berkeley CA 6/24/2017

It was all about the Big Beat at the Greek Theatre on Saturday night.  “Can you hear my heart beat? BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!!” Nick Cave asked, leaning out into the audience, supported by them, one fan’s hand perfectly covering the organ in question. In front of a locked in and suited Bad Seeds he may have started the show in a padded chair with a stand of lyrics close by, but almost immediately he was up and stalking the stage.  He roamed and danced all night long, occasionally stopping at the piano for a moment but seemingly too keyed up and energized to linger there long (aside from a typically beautiful mid-set solo version of “Into My Arms,” which served as a breather for Cave, the Seeds and the audience alike). He navigated the front edge of the stage, commenting on its treacherousness, drawn again and again towards – and finally into – the audience, beckoning them forward closer, grasping their hands, pointing to her, singing to him.

Unlike a more confrontational Cave I’d seen at a previous show, here he was exposed and welcoming. Opening his arms wide, asking for whatever the audience could give him. As his fans I’m sure know his family suffered the worst kind of tragedy as he began work on what would become ‘Skeleton Tree,’ his most recent record. The set list included fully seven songs from the new LP, mostly bookending the show, and the songs have grown and changed as the Seeds have gotten their teeth into them, becoming bigger, sometimes louder, and infinitely more powerful in person.

Although I purchased “Skeleton Tree” not long after it’s release, this was the first time I’ve heard several of the songs. I won’t claim my role as a parent permits me more insight into Mr. Cave’s art or his feelings; all I can say is that the recorded versions of those songs seemed too raw, too deeply felt for me to willingly engage with. Live they were transformed, by the arrangements? The audience? The energy and volume? All of these, and the love – the love evident in Cave’s face as he waded ten rows into the crowd during “The Weeping Song;” the love evident in audience members with tears on their faces when Else Torp’s gigantic, loving face unexpectedly appeared on the screen behind the band and sang (via prerecording) her portion of “Distant Sky;” the love evident in Warren Ellis’s at times manic bandleading, feeding off his front man’s energy, swinging his instruments around with abandon, a grin visible amongst the Gandalf beard. It seems strange to describe a Nick Cave show as a love-fest, but that’s what it felt like. He brought us all together and gave as much as he took. It was intense, it was beautiful, it was challenging. It was a Bad Seeds show in 2017.

SET LIST

  • Anthrocene
  • Jesus Alone
  • Magneto
  • Higgs Boson Blues
  • From Her to Eternity
  • Jubilee Street
  • The Ship Song
  • Into My Arms
  • Girl in Amber
  • I Need You
  • Red Right Hand
  • The Mercy Seat
  • Distant Sky
  • Skeleton Tree

ENCORE:

  • The Weeping Song
  • Stagger Lee
  • Push the Sky Away

1:49 AM, November 9, 2016

(Originally posted on Facebook)

It’s 1:49 AM California time. I’ve tried drowning my sorrows but like our electorate the booze has failed. I’m sober and I’m sad. When much earlier tonight before they went happily to bed my kids asked what would happen to us if Trump wins. I told them “nothing. We’ll keep on living like we do.” I really want to believe that. 

I want to believe that we will survive this just like the Bush years and their endless stream of dumb ideas and disastrous wars in the service of self-enrichment and some deluded concept of world order. That our democracy is strong enough to survive the selfishness of the misinformed and the self-deluded who decide that some nebulous concepts like “change” and “strength” are more important than things like decency and civility and treating one another with the respect with which we want to be treated. That we can survive those that care more about what they think are their rights than what they know are their responsibilities. That this will be a weird hiccup on our progress towards true equality and the path of righteousness we could and should take on our long walk away from the sins of our forefathers.  

But shit, man, I don’t know. I think even if the republicans come to their senses and realize that the chicken they have created with decades of enticing underprivileged socially conservative people to vote against their own self interest through fearmongering and dog-whistle (and sometimes straight up blatant) racism and bigotry and gerrymandering and voter suppression has come home to roost and do their best to rein him in we won’t be able to stop the ugliness and violence that trump’s thoughtless rhetoric will unleash on the streets of our nation.  

I fear that the allies with which we, with many hiccups and false starts along the way, have joined with to built the safest, healthiest, wealthiest world in human history will turn away from us as unworthy of our position as primus inter pares, and that we will descend into the paranoid racist fantasia that is apparently the sum total of this bigoted, ignorant, and above all hateful man’s worldview.  

The most recent immigrant in my family tree came to this country over 200 years ago.  I have ancestors and family members who have, cumulatively, served in our nation’s armed forces for at least 100 years. I am an American and I love my country. And I have hope we will get though this and find some way to come back together and all be neighbors again. But right now, the fear is fighting the hope and sleep seems a million miles away. Because I’m thinking about what I’m supposed to say to my kids when they wake up tomorrow and I have to tell them what our fellow Americans have decided is in their best interests, but that it’s all going to be OK. And I just don’t know if that’s not a lie.

Liner Notes: The Moscow Rules, ‘2. never go against your gut’

mr-2-final-cover

So, here’s our second EP, coming 6 (!!) years after the first. It includes one brand new song and collects most of the singles we’ve released in the intervening years. Commence liner notes:

‘2. never go against your gut’

All songs ©The Moscow Rules. Engineered by Mike B except for track 5 by Josh and Mike B. Mastered by Mike B at An Undisclosed Location

Track 1. “Crushing Coal (Pressure)”:    

Music: Bergstrom; Lyrics: Crane.

Mike B: Rhythm guitars, bass guitar, keys/synths

Josh: Guitar solo, drone guitars

Average Joe: Vocals

Michael P: Drums

Recorded at An Undisclosed Location by Mike B (except drums recorded by Mike P at Casa Perez and vocals recorded by Josh at The Situation Room). Mixed by Mike B with Josh.

This one was a lot of fun. Mike B sent the demo, which was basically the completed song – we kept all of his original guitar parts and just subbed live drums and bass for what he had done via synths – to Average Joe and I and we both got really excited. The previous songs Mike had brought to the table (see track 4 below) were great but this was a departure from the more straight-ahead, driving stuff we’ve been doing. This had some funk, a little darkness. Mike asked me to cook up a solo, but other than that I knew I wasn’t going to contribute any traditional rhythm guitar since he had that locked down. As I worked on the solo I found myself drawn to a sort of Eastern Mediterranean modality (maybe Phrygian? I’m bad at theory). Before I even laid down demo’s for the solo Joe rolled into town and was ready to go with the vocals. He and I have played in bands together off and on since we were teenagers – I was there the first time he ever sang into a mic – so I guess I wasn’t really surprised when his vocal melody was strongly reminiscent of the solo idea I had come up with completely independently.  His initial run at the lyrics sounded great and he declared that the song was called either ‘Crushing Coal’ or ‘Pressure.’

Usually when we do Joe’s vocals we take a great deal of care with them – ribbon mics, pop filters, baffling, tube preamps, etc, etc. But this one just felt different, and with the lyrical focus on pressure I just grabbed my $39 Blue Snowball USB mic, plugged it straight into Logic, and let Joe’s thunderous voice redline the absolute fuck out of it.  The result is as you hear – obviously we did some ‘stuff’ to the vocal tracks during mix down, but that blown out, desperate, distorted sound is what we started with.

The drone guitars referenced above are 3 single-string tracks played with an eBow and run through Electro-Harmonix C9 and Hazarai pedals. Mike did a great job bringing them in and out of the mix so that they sound almost like a mournful New Orleans horn section off in the distance. For the solo I used the Burnt Offering guitar and I think it’s the first complete take I got.  You can hear the lead guitar shift from the right to the left of the mix in the middle, right where I flubbed a note and loved the effect, which to me was like a machine breaking down under too…much…pressure.


Track 2. “California Warning”

Music and Lyrics: Crane

Average Joe: Vocals, rhythm guitars

Mike B: Rhythm guitars (?), bass guitar

Josh: Guitar solo, other guitars

Bass Ghost: bass guitar

Michael P: Drums

Initial recordings done at El Rancho del Crane-O, overdubs at An Undisclosed Location, drums at Casa Perez. Mixed by Mike B with Josh.

I want to say that the first note and last note recorded for this track were laid down at least a year and a half apart.  The core of the song – Joe’s vocals and guitar, the bass line (actually two bass lines, one of root notes and one melodic track) and I think some rhythm guitars – at El Rancho del Crane-O, Joe’s compound outside of Austin when Mike and I flew out there and spent a weekend tracking parts of maybe 5 or 6 songs, including this one and Saving Grace (more on which below), and some others that remain unfinished today. The rest of the tracks including the solo, and some more Joe guitars and vocals were recorded quite a while later at An Undisclosed Location.

Lyrically this tells the story of Joe’s musical history between the time we played together in a cover band in high school and reconvened in Austin a few years later in The Ultimate Something. During that time Joe had a band with a mix of high school and newer friends and they decided to make the trek from Texas to Los Angeles to make it big. He’ll have to tell you the whole story but let’s just say that the phrase “running from earthquakes” is not a metaphor.

Musically this is about as Pure Rock Majesty as you can get.  Michael P just beats the everlovin’ bejeezus out of his kit, and you can’t get much more Big Rock than a G-C-D chord progression played through a properly distorted tube amp.


Track 3. “Jupiter Hotel”

Music and Lyrics: Crane

Average Joe: Vocals

Josh: Guitars

Mike B: Synth strings

Recorded at An Undisclosed Location. Mixed by Mike B with Josh.

My wife and I love Portland, and usually when we go we stay at the Jupiter Hotel, a hipsterized motor court inn across the Burnside Bridge from downtown. One of the ‘features’ of the place is that the door to every room is painted with chalkboard paint, and on one of our trips I wrote Joe’s lyrics to “I-10 Handbook” on our door, took a photo and sent it to Joe. I love how inspiration takes us, and that was all it took for him to come up with this song.  Some of the details are borrowed from other places, like the Hotel San Jose in Austin, but it definitely captures the feel of the actual place. The rhythm track for this, played by me on Mike B’s custom-rebuilt Telecaster, was one of the hardest guitar parts I’ve ever recorded – I am not a particularly fast player, and all those downstrokes and the slightly off-kilter rhythm were a bitch to get right, but eventually I got it all in one take. Other than that there’s just the solo and Mike’s synth string section. A bit of a change-up for us, and I remember having to sell Joe on the idea of doing it this way, but Mike had a clear vision of Joe sitting on a hotel bed playing this, with the door open, and we ran with that.


Track 4. “Saving Grace”

Music: Mike B

Lyrics: Crane

Average Joe: Vocals

Mike B: Rhythm guitars, bass, keys, synths, etc.

Josh: Jazzmaster

Michael P: Drums

Initial recordings done at An Undisclosed Location; Joe and Josh recorded at El Rancho del Crane-O, drums at Casa Perez. Mixed by Mike B with Josh.

This was a track that Mike brought complete to the recording session in Austin. He had sent it ahead to Joe to give him time to come up with lyrics. When we arrived at El Rancho, Joe had rented some gear for us to use, including a Fender P-bass and a Mexican-made reissue Jazzmaster.

I was never really much of a Fender guy and I never “got” the Jazzmaster.  It just seemed unnecessarily complicated with it’s switches and the funky-ass tremolo system and big brick-like single coil pickups. But I don’t think I had ever actually picked one up until that session and man… what a burner. There’s obviously a reason why it was favored by all the surf rock players in the 60’s because when Mike cued this track up I was suddenly possessed by the angry ghost of Dick Dale. My actual track was kind of a mess but Mike chopped it up and built a great complementary part to what he had already laid down.  Add in another phenomenal performance on drums by Michael P and you’ve got a real face-melter.


Track 5. “Flames of Rome”

Music: Crane/Chisom

Lyrics: Crane

Average Joe: Vocals

Josh: Guitars

Bass Ghost: Bass guitar

Michael P: Drums

Guitars and vocals recorded at The Situation Room, drums at Casa Perez. Mixed by Josh with Mike B

This song started with a minute-long demo Joe recorded using GarageBand on his phone. Immediately upon hearing it I was seized with delusions of grandeur and straight-up hijacked the song. This is maybe the only song we’ve finished without doing any recording at Mike’s Undisclosed Location. I played all of the bass and guitars, and we recorded Joe’s vocals, at the Situation Room.  At various points other band members would make suggestions or comments, and I would either just straight out say ‘no’ or nod my head and just keep on doing what I was doing. In other words I will happily take the blame if this is anyone’s least favorite TMR song.  I will take that happily because I know that person has no taste whatsoever.

Why did I hijack the song?  For one thing, I heard an epic in that one minute blast of reverb and tribal drums that Joe played us. I heard something in the tradition of “When the Levee Breaks,” The Catherine Wheel’s “Black Metallic,” The Verve’s “Weeping Willow,” and Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Something with a big backbeat, huge guitars, and for another thing, I really really wanted to do a big, long, self-indulgent guitar solo.

I’ll let Joe be the keeper of the ‘real story’ behind the lyrics, but to me the song is apocalyptic, like several of the guidepost songs I referenced above.  It’s a look back at a burning city from the open door of a boxcar or a truck bed, it’s as close to a blues as we’ve done. It seemed an ideal song to stretch out on, get that backbeat kickin’, drop about 10 rhythm guitar tracks on there and then just go to town.

Jesus, these liner notes are going to be as long as the song.  So I built the song up, bass and rhythm guitars, then Joe’s vocals, then Michael P’s drums, until all that was left was this solo that I had decided was going to be some sort of Big Artistic Statement.  And… I froze up.  I couldn’t get it. I beat my head against that fucker for what seemed like forever and wasn’t getting anywhere. The problem was, in part at least, that my method has always been to ‘write’ solos to fit the song, and now I was trying to do the exact opposite, to get back to improvisation and get my consciousness out of the way. It also didn’t help that I was committed to doing the whole five-plus-minute thing in one take.

The breakthrough finally came at about 3 AM on a Saturday morning. I was by myself in the Situation Room.  After a bunch of blown takes and increasing frustration I decided to take a break, have another adult beverage and try and reset my headspace.  I went out into my yard with a good bourbon and my headphones and I listened to “Cortez the Killer” twice – once the studio version off ‘Zuma,’ once the live version off ‘Weld.’ Apparently that combination of chemicals and time of night and inspirado was the right one, because I came back in, tuned up, hit record, and got exactly what you hear on the EP in the next take. As the musicians among you can imagine I got reeeeeal fuckin’ nervous in the last 30 seconds or so.  And yeah, there are a few, er, dissonant parts in there, but I’m proud of it.  It’s honest. It’s a summation of whatever style and sound I’ve developed over the last 30 years.

For the gearheads, I used my Burnt Offering guitar plugged into my Vox ToneLab tube-driven effects unit and that directly into the computer via my Focusrite I/O unit.

And that’s our second EP done. I’m really proud of it.  Proud to work with these musicians and help bring their songs to life. Enjoy.

J

September 2016

Liner Notes: “Static” by The Ultimate Something

Twenty-some years later, we bring you the one and only recording every released by The Ultimate Something: the Static EP, originally self-released on cassette in 1993 or 1994.  You can find it on iTunesGoogle Play and literally all of the other streaming and downloading sites you can possibly imagine.

The Ultimate Something (aka ‘the band’) had been based at a shambly, gray house in the 2600 block of Merrie Lynn Street in East Austin for about a year. It was a great bandhouse: a 3 bedroom plus an in-law unit (my hidey-hole) perched over a basement/garage that was built into the hill on which the house sat, so that with some cardboard beer boxes (easily obtainable as most of the band pulled shifts at the Crown & Anchor Pub just north of the UT Campus) pasted 4 or 5 layers thick on the garage door, some wooden pallets covered with carpet keeping our gear off the perpetually damp floor, and the loan of a stupidly huge 24-track soundboard from the C&A owner, we had a first-rate practice space; we spent a LOT of time down there, working up new tracks, trying to record demos, and so forth.  Of course, this being a band made up of dudes in their early twenties, all in various states of drug- or woman-fueled distress, we had some drama and some turnover.

The actual residents of the house had shifted multiple times, as had the band members. In early ’93, Backwards-Hat Pat had been our drummer for several months and Brian was our new bassist*; he had been friends with Joe for quite a while and fit in really effortlessly. In some ways he was the quintessential bass player: quiet, unassuming, punctual, planted towards the back of stage left, near the drummer. In other ways he was not – he was easily the most educated musician in the band and we quickly discovered and exploited his knack for finding the way into or out of a troublesome bridge or verse melody.  Around that time – say the spring of 93 – we had crossed paths with Nathan, a super-mellow sound engineer who happened to have a truck full of equipment and, for whatever reason, liked us and our music enough to offer his gear and services for little more than credit on any recordings and an equal share in the nights beer- and pot-runs.

In our early practices with Brian, we began working up a song brought to the table by Nick. It had some of his trademark open, ringing chord progressions, and Brian immediately showed his value by adding a fat-assed, descending bass melody. I broke out the delay pedal and came up with a complementary rhythm part and a tidy little solo (although the rhythm of this one always jacked with my head).  Joe cooked up some lyrics and rather quickly we had written “Scream,” which while having the fundamental “Nick-ness” of it’s root chord progression in common with several of our earlier tracks, also stood out as being, well, a little poppier than our usual material.

Before we moved out of the Merrie Lynn house, Nathan brought a huge Tascam 4-track over and we decided to use ‘Scream’ as our first multi-track recording experiment. It went…OK. We got a decent drum sound and then built the track up, with Nathan bouncing things down to make room for 4 instruments and a vocalist on 4 tracks. We definitely got a great, fat bass sound and everything sat well together, but it was a challenging track. Regardless we got it done and dusted.  One track down.

By mid-summer Brian was fully integrated into the band. We were gigging regularly and had honed a solid 40-45 minute set list via regular gigs at the Steamboat and the Back Room.  Soon we had two very promising gigs on the horizon.

First, an appearance on KLBJ’s Local Licks Live series in July 1993. This was a radio show, hosted by local DJ Loris Lowe, that ran every Tuesday for 10 or 12 weeks in the summers. A local band would play at Pearl’s Oyster House and their set would be broadcast live on the radio. Then at the end of the summer each band would get one song on a compilation CD which was sold to benefit a local charity. Although we were way more lightweight than the average band who appeared on the show, Joe had in his Jedi-like way made a friend of KLBJ legend Johnnie Walker, who seemed always willing to advertise our shows during his drive-time slot. I don’t remember all the machinations but this relationship, and the fact that we played regularly at Steamboat, and possibly someone bigger bailing out, got us booked.

Second, we were given a chance to audition at the Black Cat on 6th Street. This was a big deal. Paul Sessums, the owner, would audition new bands on weeknights. If he liked what he heard, he would give you a residency – you would play the same slot on the same night of the week every week for a year. This was how Soul Hat and Sister Seven became the biggest bands in Austin.  Everyone knew that if it was Thursday night Soul Hat was playing at the Cat.  We had actually gotten an audition spot a couple of years earlier with a different lineup and simply weren’t ready for prime time.  Now, we felt like we had a real shot.  But before those two potentialities, we needed a demo tape. One 4-track recording of ‘Scream’ wasn’t going to cut it.

Aside from the 4-track Nathan had a horse trailer full of gear including a DAT recorder, which for the youngsters was basically a digital cassette deck; it recorded in stereo onto digital tape so you didn’t have the hiss and wobble of analog. We decided to just find a place to set up and record our set live to DAT.

We knew three young ladies (two of whom were six footers while the third was barely five) who lived in a classic Austin craftsman; we of course dubbed it the Amazon House. They threw good parties. In July of ’93 the Amazons were going out of town for a weekend and were willing to let us set up and record in the house while they were gone. We spread amps and drums around the house, put Joe down a hallway while Brian, Nick and I congregated in the living room. Nathan ran his cable snake out into the driveway and used his trailer as a control booth. After an interminable setup (recording really is quite boring) we played through our setlist, recording live to two-track so that if anyone fucked up we had to start all over again. Unfortunately Joe was really sick with the flu and spent the afternoon slumped down his hallway guzzling orange juice and rousing himself to a really impressive level of performance. His voice was definitely rawer than usual, but there was a desperate edge to his singing that day that added something to the recordings. We got through as much of the material as we could then packed up and vacated.

Unfortunately the Amazon House session took place just 3 days before our appearance on Local Licks Live, and by then between the illness and the all-day recording session Joe’s voice had moved past edgy and into shredded. I won’t get into details about the KLBJ set as none of the songs recorded there made it onto Static, but I will say two things. One is that, overall, we did a solid job and Joe was a trooper to even get up there, much less make it through that set with only a couple of blown notes. Second, I will leave you with a quote from Bill Johnson, the legendary engineer who recorded the set. When we walked out to his mobile recording booth outside the bar to get our cassette copy of the show, he handed it over and said, “guys, you have some really good songs and you’re not bad players, but for the love of God will you BUY SOME FUCKING TUNING PEDALS?!?!”

Ahem. So now we had “Scream,” and the Amazon House recordings, and the KLBJ show. We decided not to use the KLBJ material as a demo, both because we weren’t sure if we legally could use it that way and because Joe’s voice was in bad shape.  Oh, and we were pretty out of tune (Sorry Bill).  From the Amazon sessions we had some good material but we decided that the best track was “Promise Land.” This was another song that Nick brought to the table, and another one for which I somehow had a weird little riff bouncing around my head looking for a home that perfectly fit as a bridge. The only problem was that Nathan had inadvertently pulled the volume all the way down on Brian’s bass during the song and since it was live to two track there were no take-backs. We solved this by having Brian fly a bass part in via some sort of alchemy or witchcraft.  There, now we have two tracks.

And we had the upcoming set at the Black Cat. Even calling the club a ‘room’ was something of a stretch. It was basically a shambles with a false front. There were bleachers down one wall, a bar down the other ($1 PBR’s (the only place in Austin that sold them back then) and free hot dogs at midnight) and a small, rickety stage at the back. The PA was only for vocals – everything else was live including the drums. And that was it. It was one of the best live music venues in town because Sessums fucking loved music and had a good ear and hand-picked the bands. It was always packed, sometimes with frat boys, sometimes with bikers, sometimes with both.

We rolled in and set up and Nathan brought his DAT machine and two microphones and set himself up against the far wall facing the stage.  We were debuting a new song that night, “Life Like That,” one of three songs I wrote for the band that I delivered complete, musically speaking (Joe wrote all the lyrics for every song aside from 2 verses in 2 different songs). It started in a sort of staggered 9/14 time waltz, went two rounds with a two-chord chorus and then dropped into a straight up Stairway to Zeppelin coda. It was a custom-built show closer.

Unfortunately our show only lasted 4 songs that night.  Backwards-Hat Pat, our drummer, was an extremely gifted player with a unique style and he contributed a lot to the sound of the band. That said, he was an asshole that seemed to delight in sabotaging us at key moments and fomenting conflict between members. That night, at the Black Cat, he claimed to have some sort of diabetic attack after three songs. I had always doubted his claims of having diabetes (most diabetics don’t literally live off Busch Light tallboys, Camel Light 100’s and marijuana), just like I doubted his true last name (Charbonneau? Bates??), whether he attended Columbia University (or was it Oklahoma State? University of New Orleans??) or whether half of the wildly entertaining, erudite, hilarious stories he told were even a little bit true. That said, he did look sweatier and paler than usual, and there was a note of panic in his voice. We at least got him to play “Life Like That”  before Joe announced that our drummer was sick and we had to cut our set short.

Naturally we didn’t get the gig. We did, however, get scorching if lo-fi recordings of the four songs, and selected two, “Life Like That” and our mainstay (and in my opinion our best song full-stop) “We’ve Been Here Before.” This one was a pretty close to 50-50 composition between Nick and I, although he was the one who brought that chiming G-B verse progression that got us started. In yet another happy coincidence I had this little riff, a turnaround that went from power chords to a descending arpeggio that fit Nick’s progression both in key and mood.  I believe we came up with the big churning power chords of the chorus in the rehearsal room. Add some of Joe’s best lyrics and melodies and (imho) a great melodic solo and it was as close to perfect a song as we ever wrote.

And there they were.  The four tracks we’d release into the world. Nathan mastered the tape, adding some static and other sound effects at the beginning (hence the title of the release) of side one (‘Scream’ and ‘Promise Land’, and a recording of Johnnie Walker mentioning our Black Cat audition recordings at the start of side 2.

Unfortunately AS ALWAYS we had less than no money. We scraped the last bits of room on some credit cards and pooled our change and had something like 50 cassette copies done, but we couldn’t afford to have the info screen printed on the cassettes.  So Joe’s fiancee hand typed labels for every freaking one of them and then we stuck them on. And Joe somehow got access to a computer and a printer and did a super early-90’s cover. Somehow everything – the labels, the cover, everything – ended up printed upside down. We put copies on consignment in stores around Austin, gave some away, maybe even sold a few at shows.  I used to have one sealed and one open copy, but the sealed one has apparently disappeared over the years.

Anyway, this is it.  The one “official release” The Ultimate Something ever did. Hope you like it.

  1. “Scream”- music by Nick and Brian with Josh; lyrics by Joe. Produced/Engineered by Nathan at the Merrie Lynn House.
  2. “Promise Land” – music by Nick with Josh and Brian; lyrics by Joe. Recorded live to DAT by Nathan at the Amazon House. (guitar solo by Nick)
  3. “We’ve Been Here Before” – music by Nick and Josh; lyrics by Joe. Recorded by Nathan at the Black Cat
  4. “A Life Like That” – music by Josh; lyrics by Joe. Recorded by Nathan at the Black Cat

Personnel: Joe: vocals; Brian: bass; Backwards-Hat Pat: drums; Nick: red guitars; Josh: black guitar.

All rights and shit reserved, y’all.

The Burnt Offering: A Guitar Resurrection

My 1989-90 Peavey Tracer.  I bought it in the late summer-early fall of 1990 at MusicMaker’s on South Lamar in Austin, TX. It was a replacement for another Peavey, a Strat copy that I LOVED and that was stolen from my East Riverside apartment one afternoon. Like all Peaveys of the era, she’s American-made and originally had a reverse-headstock neck with a rosewood fingerboard, a black finish with gold sparkles embedded, and a Kahler Spyder tremolo system.  After completely falling apart under the strain of 6+ years of very heavy use – it was my only guitar – it ended up in pieces in a box.  I took some time off from music and when I started playing again I also started collecting guitars. But I never thought of getting rid of the Tracer for a moment. At the same time I never really thought about playing her again; my idea was to build a shadowbox in which to display her and the rest of my Ultimate Something memorabilia.

jc-TUS92
Me with the Tracer in her original metaliciousness, circa 1992.

When The Ultimate Something decided to reunite for the 2012 Steamboat Reunion Show it seemed  a requirement that I should rebuild her (or have her rebuilt). The plan was to get her back together and repaint her with The Ultimate Something logo. First I unpacked the pieces and took stock: The original neck was super worn and I honestly hated the awkward-to-tune reverse headstock (talk about a perfect illustration of the term ‘fashion victim’). Happily I found a normal-headstock neck with my preferred plain maple fretboard on eBay for a reasonable cost.

Less easy was dealing with the bridge.  The original Kahler Spyder tremolo had rusted and fallen to bits. I found a website called Wammi World that was the ultimate source for 1980’s era Kahler whammy tech, but after pricing out all the replacement parts I would need I remembered that I almost never used the goddamn whammy bar even when it worked. Instead I purchased a mounting plate to cover the gaping hole left by the Spyder and had a Kahler hardtail bridge installed.

The electronics were also a complete mess. I had replaced the original bridge humbucker with a Seymour Duncan Invader, the highest-output pickup made by Duncan and probably by anyone.  It’s kind of a ridiculous machine. The pole pieces are the size of pencil erasers, and I swear when I had the tremolo bridge you could actually see the strings getting sucked down by the force of the magnets. It was probably twice as loud as the stock single-coils in the middle and neck positions. Also a lot of the solders had failed and a mini-toggle switch that originally tapped the humbucker into a single coil had disappeared, leaving a small hole in the body that I covered with electrical tape.

I was able to strip the parts off myself and the obvious next step was the paint. I tried using paint thinner and the paint and clear-coat on the guitar was just so fucking thick and smooth it did almost nothing. My friend and musical coconspirator Mike B had a heat gun that he thought might work so I hauled the neckless body over there and fired it up.

It worked… sort of. I was able to get most of the paint off the front of the guitar, less so on the back and sides. There were just some areas that seemed to be atomically bonded to the wood. Initially I planned to go back to the chemical route and see if I could find some substance even more poisonous and chemically active than the shit I’d already used.  But then I started really looking at the guitar and…. it looked cool. I’m seriously opposed to the whole ‘distressed’ look on new guitars and  part of me felt like this was the same thing. But then my wife saw it and thought it looked cool too (she’s an interior designer and has better taste than normal humans). And this wasn’t a new guitar.  It was 20+ years old. So I kiboshed the repainting plan to try and repaint it, screwed the “new” neck on and yeah… looked very cool. Now on to the hard parts…

Mike B is a patient man and a good friend and he volunteered to help me try to install the electronics. I was keeping the Invader of course; it was about the one piece of (semi) original hardware that looked brand new. I shopped around to try and find some high output single coils that could maybe compete with the Invader and landed on the Brighton Rock model pickup from Guitar Fetish. They’re designed to replicate the pickups in Brian May’s Red Special, and I have always been a huge fan of his tone. I also bought a new mini-toggle which, instead of acting as a coil-tap, would be a killswitch that would cut the sound completely. Mike and I (mostly Mike) cobbled and soldered all these bits together and got confirmed that everything worked, but we didn’t feel confident about installing the mounting plate and bridge. Time to bring in a professional.

I made an appointment with Ethan at Subway Guitars in Berkeley, CA and brought her in for the final stages of resurrection. Fat Dawg was there when I arrived and when I pulled her out of the case he said something like “That thing been in a fire or something? Anyway it looks pretty cool.” Knowing Mr. Dawg’s contempt for 80’s metal machines that felt like high praise indeed. Ethan was patient and thorough as we went through all the stuff that still needed to be done, and within a week or so I picked her up, plugged her in and got to know the Burnt Offering.

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Reborn

Obviously there was a different feel to her now, as one would expect with a new neck and a fixed bridge. I had asked Ethan to keep the action low and boy did he oblige. Unplugged there was a real “rubber band-y” sound to the strings, and I actually took it back in and had the action slightly tweaked before I declared the project complete. It turned out exactly as I had hoped – a fast, high-output rock machine. The Brighton Rock pickups match up really well with the Invader, with very little volume drop-off when switching from one to the other. The neck is quite fast and even though the sound is still extremely buzzy and rubbery when unplugged, with the proper application of override and volume I can coax fantastic tone and sustain from her.

In fact I was so happy that she was the only guitar I took with me to Austin for the Ultimate Something reunion shows. Unfortunately Nick was unable to bring his old BC Rich Mockingbird, but he did bring his own frankenstein Strat for the shows, giving us a hip Sonic Youth kind of look at least as far as our equipment went.  I ran the guitar through a Vox Tonelab multi effects unit and into a rented Vox AC15 2×12 combo amp (Nick and I both used these for the show) and goddamn, it sounded good. Although I do think a good, original guitarist’s personality and style can and will come through regardless of what particular equipment they’re playing through, I also think that finding the right equipment for the artist and the music being played can make a huge difference in the performance. In this case I played better than I had in years at those shows. A lot of that was the excitement and enjoyment of being on stage with the best group of musicians I had ever played with (and the 6+ months of intensive, daily practice leading up to the show), but having MY guitar back, the guitar on which all of those songs were composed and rehearsed and completed, made a positive difference too.

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So, so fittingly onstage at the Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels, TX, along with a Voc AC15 2×12 rented (of course) from Rock n Roll Rentals in ATX.

The Burnt Offering isn’t just a nostalgia machine, either. You can hear her on The Moscow Rules’ “Flames of Rome” single, where I use her on the solo. I did the same on our newest song, the soon-to-be-released “Crushing Coal (Pressure).”