I’m writing this as the Frank Zappa’s “Roxy & Elsewhere” live plays in the background. It’s hard to concentrate because the music is so good! And inspiring.
The time spent in America was equally inspiring. For some reason, I always go through some drama whenever I’m flying to the States. I had a pretty complicated route to undertake – flying from Rome to Toronto, a connection to NYC and, finally, a bus to Philadelphia. Guess what, the flight from Rome got delayed and I missed the connection in Toronto. January 2015 came to mind (revisit my old blog, if you wish). They put me on the next flight, an hour later, but – guess what, again! Flight got cancelled just prior to boarding, due to bad (very bad) weather conditions in New York. Well, I was trapped in Canada… not a bad country to be stuck in, after all. The annoying part was going through customs, security and passport control again… over and over again. Like a million times. After hours of filling forms and wandering all over the airport, I was given an hotel room nearby and spent the rest of the evening in the hotel restaurant. I had a giant steak and drank red wine. Not too shabby, right? What I dislike about staying overnight in a connecting town: usually, you have an early morning flight the day after, so you can’t rest properly, as the alarm clock will ring around 5 am. I tried to go to bed as early as possible. It wasn’t difficult – I was pretty much destroyed at that point. Also, ALWAYS remember: bring some fresh underwear with you on the plane. You never know. I always do, but this time, of course, I forgot.
Enough with airport’s adventures (for now). Got to New York City the next day, met with Julie Slick and hopped on a Megabus to Philadelphia in the afternoon. Actually, before the bus trip, we paid visit to our bandmate Mike Visser, and had an exquisite Ethiopian lunch in Bushwick. As usual, being around Julie, I was secured with excellent meals, all the time. It’s very important for a sensitive Italian like me! You can’t underestimate food. It’s the thing that keeps you going, along with good coffee and good sleep. When you’re traveling, it’s a bit complicated. Sometimes you only have one of those three things, sometimes two… if you’re very lucky, you get all three and it’s the best feeling in the world. If you’re also able to overcome the jet-lag in a reasonable time, and visit the bathroom regularly… oh well, I’ll just stop it there.
Me and Julie got back to our duo format for this run of concerts. I love the duo show, and sounded better than ever to me. I guess playing with a band for the last few months really helped the two of us to gain confidence and be more solid. We didn’t need to rehearse much. We had a relaxed session the very same night I got in Philly, and everything came out pretty easily – very few rough spots. We played the songs over beer and we had to stop at some point – jet lag and beer, dangerous combo. We managed to work out a full, well-orchestrated sound with the help of loops, delays and occasional backing tracks. With the exception of the show in Brooklyn, where we performed some of the songs as a trio with Mike, we played all of the other shows as a duo. Back to the roots, and felt good.
I won’t go into details for each of the gigs we played, but there were some personal highlights. The first show was on July 28th, in a park in New Jersey. The open-air event was put together by Thomas Palmieri (manager for the group Circuline) and featured many bands. Our good friend Markus Reuter was there as well, but didn’t perform – too bad, I was looking forward to his set. Weather wasn’t on our side, though. Rain poured down heavily, which made the technical and logistic side of things a bit difficult. Unexpectedly, the rain turned out to be a key element during our performance. It functioned as the natural backdrop to the sounds we made. There were moments when it was pure magic. On the song “Overcome”, for example: funny, I included samples of rain on the original recording, and there we were, outside, playing the track during a storm. I felt compelled to improvise more, as the whole scenery was very inspiring.
Few days later, we drove to Big Indian, upstate New York, to be at the annual Three of a Perfect Pair event, the wonderful music camp hosted by Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and Pat Mastelotto. Well, I should mention that Gary Slick, Julie’s super dad and mastermind behind my beloved “daddy burgers”, drove us there. Always fun to hang out with Gary, the one and only. Camp was amazing – I wasn’t expecting otherwise. It’s a different experience every time. I’ve been to three camps so far and honestly, I can’t decide which one was the best. The first edition in 2011 was a big surprise for everyone. It basically started everything for me in the music world. That’s where I met Julie for the first time. This last one, the perspective was slightly different for me. I was a small (very small) part of the team, along with Tony, Adrian, Pat, Julie and Markus Reuter. I wasn’t required to teach anything or do classes (I wouldn’t be the best option for that, especially when Markus is around. Why would you need me), I was only required to play music with Julie as EchoTest. Which is the best thing ever! Furthermore, I was reunited with many friends from previous years, made new ones, and even got to do jam sessions at the Roadhouse. So much fun, either to play or watch the campers jam with each other. On the first night, I jammed on XTC’s “Mayor of Simpleton” with Pat, Kevin Andrews (my buddy from Atlanta and Funk Fingers’ provider – check out his activity, Expanding Hands Music) and Ralph Collins. I played guitar and tried singing it. Damn, that song contains a huge amount of words! A total tongue-twister. Next night, I was once again on stage to sing and play bass on “Scarecrow People”, another wonderful XTC track. Playing it with Pat on drums was quite memorable. He played on the original recording (if you’ve never heard of “Oranges and Lemons” by XTC – please, buy that album!). We performed a stripped-down version as a trio. Me and Pat were joined by the delightful Kara Day on violin, whom I had never met before. I was impressed with her playing. Adrian Belew was in the audience and later told me that he enjoyed my vocals. He said: “You sounded a lot like Andy Partridge!”. I literally was on the moon when he said that!
One night I was asked to sing King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk” in Italian. I assume people really like hearing Crimson tunes sung in Italian. They go crazy, I swear! It’s so fun. It happened last year too, when I translated and performed “Indiscipline” during the Fourth Dementia tour. This time, I was onstage with a smartphone and a Google translation of the lyrics, so I had to make a better translation in my mind before emitting any sound with the voice. I guess my former career as an interpreter helped. Once again, I could see Adrian smiling, having a blast, while I was declaiming the verses. As soon as I came off stage, he stopped me and said: “I laughed so much! That was one of the best things I’ve ever seen!”, and kept laughing. Man, life can be unreal sometimes. Anyway, there’s video evidence of my Italian Elephant Talk:
Camp ended on a high note, as we got to play a small EchoTest set during the final concert with Adrian, Tony, Pat and Markus at the Roadhouse. We invited Kara Day to play violin on “Overcome”. That was intense. There was also time to jam with Gary Slick and Pat on one of my favourite Beatles tunes, “I Want You”.
There were many other memorable moments – i.e, looking for light switches at Adrian’s cottage at 2am one night; this event being followed by Adrian offering me a glass of limoncello, directly out of his fridge (we didn’t find the light switches for his bathroom, in case you’re wondering). Also, I saw real bears for the very first time in my life. Mama bear and her two baby bears. Everyone was very excited – however, we were warned to be respectful of their space, otherwise Mama Bear would have killed us. You can see lots of pictures from camp (including pictures of the bears) on Tony’s freshly updated website. Here’s the link.
More personal highlights included: a last minute show in Woodstock, put together for the campers who stayed in the area on the Friday night after camp; meeting one of my favourite musicians ever, Mr. David Torn, on that same day and having exquisite coffee and a lovely chat with him; and a fun birthday house concert in Richmond, Virginia, on the night of August 13th. I was surprised with a birthday cake. The cake was beautiful and yummy, but I wanted my eyes to shine more:
On August 16th, it was time to come back. I wasn’t prepared for a an eight-hour delay in Toronto! That was rough. My usual luck with flights. I can affirm that I know the Pearson airport very well now… and Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts saved my life. I have to thank my Canadian friend Dave Greig for telling me about Tim’s. Apparently, it’s an institution in Canada, as much as the band Rush.
I’m now chilling at home. Riding my bike a lot, getting back in shape. Playing local gigs from time to time, and getting ready for a couple of special events that will happen later in the month. Also in the process of writing new music. I will resume working at the music school next week and I have something going on in the fall, in London – not music related, but in a way IT IS also music related. I will tell you more about that in a future blog post.