Friday 2nd October 2009. New York. Day off.
Sat in on a meeting with the band this morning, going over the vast array of activities that lie ahead of us. Trying to fit all this in whilst already on the biggest tour in history makes me want to go for a little lie down, but I'm sure we'll get through it as we're generating enough adrenalin between us to power a nuclear submarine.
I headed to Carnegie Hall to meet with the lighting crew about Gavin Friday's show on Sunday. I've only got the house rig to work with and to keep it simple and curry favour with the union stage hands I took in my own set of gel (colours) cut to size and ready to go. From there I walked ten blocks to a small rehearsal room where the many and various participants in the Gavin show were figuring out what they would be doing. I was feeling a little fuzzy and passed a pedestrian 'walk' traffic light that was saying 'stop' and 'go' at the same time, which seemed oddly appropriate for my day.
Gav's thing is a Hal Wilner-produced show, of which I've done two or three in the past. Hal is an extraordinary guy, producer, musical director (at Saturday Night Live, as a day-job) and constructor of these 'tribute' evenings. The format is simple - he puts together a 'house band' of mostly NY musicians, who are on the stage throughout and hold the evening together. On top of this, Hal drags along a roster of guest artists plucked from the pages of his unparalleled rolodex, who sing or perform songs in various combinations.
The evenings are usually theme based. I did an evening of Leonard Cohen songs with him and, rather wonderfully, an evening of vintage Disney songs at Festival Hall in London. Others have included everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Tim Buckley to sea shanties. The events are usually somewhat shambolic but Hal is less interested in smooth production than setting up a situation that could produce extraordinary moments. In this aspect he is invariably successful. Antony Hegarty singing If it be Your Will in Dublin was something I'll never forget and Grace Jones' one-song performance at Festival Hall will remain etched in my memory forever. Grace had appeared at sound check wearing a black leather flat cap and burqa then, missing her cue in the show, appeared half an hour later than scheduled. Consequently, all bets were off as to what would happen when she finally got out on stage. She eventually appeared, wearing a black floaty open garment made of parachute material, with legs up to her armpits, and on her head a large violet crepe disc, in the centre of which her startled face poked through. A small riser had been placed at the mic position onto which she confidently strode in her ten-inch diamante stilettos. She stood, staring down the audience with her feet apart, whilst a fan on the floor in front of her was turned on, inflating her 'dress' and making it billow high above and all around her. In the middle of this undulating mass was that face, framed by the shocking violet disc. When she struck a pose in the spotlight and sang Trust in Me from The Jungle Book, people were literally leaping out of their seats. In the midst of this low-on-visuals evening, Grace had brought along her own stage production, most of which she was wearing. It was an absolute sensation.
In the humbler surroundings of Montana Studios, NYC, the U2 guys were rehearsing with the house band. As I went into the tiny rehearsal room, they were crashing through Children of the Revolution, with Bono and Gav sharing the lead vocal. It sounded fantastic, but I was struck dumb on hearing the backing vocals - a duet of very highly distinctive falsetto harmonies that was clearly the sound from the original recording. By age 13, I had completely drunk the T.Rex Kool-Aid and listened through their immortal albums about 1,000 times. For a glam-pop act, the style of the backing vocalists was a somewhat oblique choice (presumably Tony Visconti's) but it gave the recordings an eerie and highly individual sound. I read Visconti's autobiography a couple of years ago, the Bowie / Bolan years being a great read (though feel free to skim the Brooklyn / Moody Blues / Gentle Giant chapters) and through this discovered that the voices were those of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, aka 'Flo & Eddie' of The Turtles and latterly The Mothers of Invention.
As well as I know the sound of my own voice, I knew that this was the real thing and it would come as no surprise that they were friends of Hal's. I looked around the tiny, packed stage and there they were - I’d never seen a picture of them but it could only be them. Even in this sweaty jammed studio room I was getting chills. What a trip you are, Hal Wilner.
After that thrill, I later talked with Hal about the show and what’s possibly likely to sort-of happen in what order, maybe. I'm lighting the whole show and it'll be basic, but hopefully I can add some finesse to proceedings. Met some friends down in the West Village for late dinner (escape from Mid-Town!) then walked home in the NY autumn rain.