Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Solo Decemberist Colin Meloy Rocks the Park West

After parking four blocks away from Park West in Chicago, my photographer and I speed-walked to the Colin Meloy show on Monday and arrived during the opening set. I stop by will call, slap on my photo pass, and eventually find my way to the front of the stage. Before her last song, indie singer/songwriter Laura Gibson commented on Colin Meloy and Decemberist fans’ better than average vocals, and joked that her set would help warm everyone up. My photographer may not have been the poster child of that sentiment, but regardless, the fans certainly had no shame when it came to interacting with the artists on stage. After Laura’s set, the dimming lights bred typical pre-show applause, and Colin Meloy, front man and lead singer of cult indie rock band The Decemberists, stepped up to the microphone and casually introduced himself. He then picked up one of four acoustic guitars on stage and started the set with catchy, but powerful Decemberist songs “Leslie Anne Levine” and “We Both Go Down Together.”

From Colin’s self-proclaimed worst song he’s ever written, “Dracula’s Daughter” (as featured on his latest solo album Colin Meloy Sings Live!) to “O Valencia,” every song stood out as a crowd pleaser, without one dull or somber moment at any point during the set. Even without a live band, Colin managed to engage the crowd and have fans vocally fill in the gaps. For instance, Colin stepped away from the microphone while the crowd humorously sang the high-pitched guitar solo in “The Perfect Crime No 2.” As a special treat, Colin brought Laura Gibson back on stage for a harmonized duet performance of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Most impressive, by far, was Colin’s interactive finale, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” in which the members of the crowd sang falsetto verses, played drum rolls on the edge of the stage, and flailed their arms to impersonate a giant, angry whale. The story-based Decemberist songs couldn’t have worked better for a solo show— the crowd was as much a part of the show as Colin himself. Members of the audience had smiles on their faces the entire show, as Colin’s humor and knack for crowd rapport established an entertaining, but intimate mood.

And according to Laura Gibson, the “family feel” transcends the live show. After the conclusion of the body-swaying, foot-banging, Gogol Bordello-style epic, I caught Laura at the merchandise table for a quick interview. Contrary to what she might have expected, this being her biggest tour yet, Laura has found herself not only improving through her opening performances and on-stage duets with Colin, but she feels as though the tour bus is a home away from home. Laura explained, “With Colin, his fiancĂ© Carson, and their two year old son Hank, it’s been so relaxed and very family-feeling. I’ve come away with this understanding of Colin not as a big rock star, but as a good dad. And they’ve been really nice.” A charming entertainer on stage and a good guy outside of his indie-rocker persona, Colin Meloy not only rocked Chicago, but he left us “Shit-towners,” as Colin facetiously mispronounced it on stage, feeling warm by the end of a chilly spring night.

Photos by Dan Harpaz / Chicago Avenue

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One on One with Three

What do the Beatles, Prince, and Stanley Kubrick have in common? Well, if you’re checking out a band and you read a list of influences this eclectic, you’d probably expect some incoherent, bizarro Girl Talk mashup of sorts. But listen to the album “The End Is Begun” by progressive rock act 3 (yes— the band’s name is a number,) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that these boys from Woodstock, NY take in all their influences and produce a unique sound that actually works.

If you’ve checked out my last blog post on 3 (see “...And Then There Were 3”), then you’ve probably gotten a taste of the music, as well as my own interpretation. But why take it from me? I had a chance to get the real story behind the band from the main man himself Joey Eppard. Before I get to the interview itself, you might be asking yourself why you just read about Stanley Kubrick in a music review. When I asked Joey about some of his eerier falsetto lines in the song “These Iron Bones,” we both freakishly jumped to the same comparison— it sounds like a scene straight out of “The Shining.” “I don’t know, it’s like a horror movie, you know? …To me, songs are like movies. And that’s what that scene is about,” Joey explained.

Writing and playing for 3 isn’t the only way Joey Eppard keeps things interesting. Always looking to break fresh ground, Joey’s kept busy with solo albums, a project with members of P Funk called “Drugs,” and quite possibly, a collaboration between 3 and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree on the Woodstock quintet’s next studio album. For good music and tour dates, check out 3’s MySpace at: And make sure to catch the Chicago stop of the Progressive Nation 2008 tour in Rosemont on May 13th! Without further ado… here are the highlights of my one on one conversation with Joey Eppard of 3:

Interview with Joey Eppard (March 7, 2008)

Dan: Just to start off—if my voice craps out on me, I’m sorry. I woke up a little under the weather today but I’m holding up.

Joey: Right on, well we just finished a rehearsal, so my voice might cut out too (laughs.)

What was your most memorable experience from the PT tour?

I mean, there were a couple of cities that were just so amazing. Houston was just such a connection. The crowd in Dallas— Houston and Dallas both. It was like— somehow from the first note, they were with us, you know? When you’re the opening band, that doesn’t always happen (laughs)— to say the least. But I really felt this great connection with Porcupine Tree’s audience in particular…

I heard really great reviews from Steven Wilson. He said a really nice thing about you guys, like you guys were the best band that he’s ever played with?

Yeah, he just made some really amazing comments. We really appreciate that.

That’s awesome.

He was like, “Please keep me in mind when you guys make your next record, because I’d love to do it with you.” So we might get together on that depending on their schedule and our schedule.

Speaking of the Progressive Nation tour now, you must be pretty excited. I know Dream Theater and Opeth are huge, and Between the Buried and Me I actually just recently heard about. But is one band in that lineup, in particular, musically inspiring for you guys?

All three of those bands are really amazing bands. And we’re looking forward to the osmosis that takes place when you’re out on the road with other musicians. So there’s something really special that happens when you tour, so we’re looking forward to that. We’ll definitely just absorb things—and you might not even be conscious of it, but you’ll just absorb. And they’re all such great bands.

… I’ve also noticed that you brought a lot of really unique influences and techniques into your music that I’ve never really heard in the context of rock before. In particular, you brought in these flamenco-esque guitars and Middle Eastern style vocal techniques. How did that all start?

That’s just where sort of those beautiful scales are. To me, in Middle Eastern music, you have these scales where it’s almost like no note is a wrong note. Somehow they’re all right and it’s so beautiful. To me, it just takes melody to a whole other level…

It’s definitely very unique. And that’s what caught my ear the first time I heard it. It was just one additional aspect of the music that really attracted me to it, so I’ve really enjoyed it. And the Middle Eastern scales that you’ve been talking about kind of reminded me of more spiritual music… Do you think [Middle Eastern scales] add to the spirituality of the music?

Well, I mean, music is a spiritual thing to me. I don’t look at it like it’s some sort of cold product. For me, the process of writing and creativity—all of it’s a sacred process. Yeah, that kind of singing makes you feel spiritual, because it is. I’m not particular about any particular denomination or anything like that, but I guess music is sort of my religion.

I want to ask you a couple interesting things about the music. First question, kind of weird, but do you listen to Michael Jackson?

Michael Jackson? Oh, come on man, I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. Back in the day, I was like, eight years old (laughs.) Honestly, I’ll take Prince over Michael Jackson… But Michael Jackson… yeah man, that’s some bad ass shit!

Because whenever I listen to Diamond in the Crush, I always hear this split second part that really reminds me of Michael Jackson, and all my friends and coworkers think I’m crazy for it. So now…

…(laughs) You know what’s funny about that song? I spent an entire day working on the vocals for that song. Right? Like I put more work into than I had any other song. And then, the end of the day, I played it back and I listened and I was like, “Damn… this sounds like Chicago!” (laughs.) …So I actually got weirded out by that and didn’t put that song on “Wake Pig.” And then I kind of popped it on when we were looking for songs [for “The End Is Begun”], like what songs we were gonna do, and we heard it and we were like, “Oh man, we gotta do that song.”

…What is your ultimate goal in the music industry, and as far as your career goes?
Well, you know, obviously our goal is to break some rules and prove that those rules could be broken in a successful way. There’s sort of this whole umbrella of music that is around us and that we’re a part of, and I’ve always wanted to sort of take it all with me, and take it all to that level of where we could really headline any place in the world. That’s where I’d like to be…I’d like to see people realize that an artist can be multi-dimensional and that’s just something I’ve always been.

Anyway, thanks so much for your time…


Full interview will be available for public viewing soon! (Photo by Daniel McCabe / courtesy of 3)

- "The Real" Dan