Monday, November 12, 2012

Why 'Signals' Is My Favorite Rush Album

This came from a post I left at Blabbermouth on the 30th anniversary of my favorite Rush album. Another post had suggested that the guitars on the album had been overdubbed. I think that the poster assumed that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were both playing keyboards throughout the album, then Alex went back and added his guitars. The poster was actually right - sort of. Here's what I posted in response, along with a later follow-up.

Uh, the guitars weren't 'overdubbed', not at least in the way you're thinking. Y'see, back in the day, Moog made these wonderful things called Taurus pedals. Basically, it was organ footboard (think Ray Manzarek of The Doors, playing bass with his feet while playing the keyboard 'lead' with his hands) that worked as a synthesizer. In the days before MIDI sequences, Geddy and Alex both had Taurus pedals in their rigs (and I'm pretty sure that Geddy still uses a modern version to this day) to play single-note keyboard lines with their feet while they played guitar/bass/keyboards with their hands. Which basically meant that three guys could play five parts live. Which they did. Well.

If you listened carefully, you could often hear what Rush was themselves listening to in their music. And Signals was clearly influenced by Kraftwerk, and also by Gary Numan. That cold, isolated, mechanically precise sound pervades every track of the album from start to finish. 'Subdivisions' was the song that latched itself into my very soul, a indictment of sterile, manicured urban sprawl that to this day still sends chills down my spine and makes me stop whatever I'm doing to listen to it in utter silence.

There simply isn't a bad track on the album, which is a watershed moment for the band. This was the last album that Terry Brown produced for them, as well as the last album before MIDI-capable (digital) synthesizers became the norm and the old analog synths were swept aside. Signals was a preview of what was to come for the next decade for the band, though thankfully they kicked the habit eventually. Not that any of the synth-heavy albums of that era sucked. IMHO Rush has yet to make a bad album.

My personal favorite song from Signals is the one song on the album that's never been played live, and that would be 'Losing It'. Ben Mink's cameo on electric violin is jaw-dropping. Trying to play it on guitar would would probably be the stuff of nightmares. And Neil's tale of loss and regret even then made the twelve-year-old me sad, because I knew even then that someday I would be the faded, injured dancer, that someday I would be the suicidal writer, each trying desperately to recapture the fire of youth one last time. Powerful stuff, that.

Overall, while Moving Pictures was much, much more successful commercially (and justifiably so), I think this album was far more influential than many might think. Listen to Signals end-to-end, and eventually you'll realize just how much this album influenced future generations. I hear this album's influence every time I listen to Fear Factory, Rammstein, even Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. That fusion of hard-rock riffs and icy synthwork laid the template for new generations of bands to follow in the decades to come.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where Has All The Time Gone - Again?

I know, I need to be more..... oh, what's the word? Oh, hell. I need to get off my lazy ass and talk about shit on a more regular basis. The problem is that after spending week after week on the road, and never being home for any significant amount of time, you just get kind of numb, I guess. I was on the road for eight weeks, then home for two, then back down for one week (that turned into two – more on that later), then home for another two weeks, then back on the road for another five weeks to close out the calendar year. All the while constantly setting up, tearing down, checking, rechecking, rehearsing, performing.... One band or another, always working. At least, that's what it feels like to me.

Steppen Stonz continues to be the workhorse I ride back and forth across the highways of the West. Seven gigs in eight weeks. That used to be the norm, but not any more. As the economy of Northern Nevada has sunk into the toilet over the last few years, the bands were the first to suffer, and suffered the worst. I know way too many people that are way too good at what they do, and they're not working nearly enough, if at all. I almost feel kinda guilty, working as much as I do, but don't cry for me, Argentina. Most of my money goes straight into my gas tank. How my poor old pickup is still holding together is beyond me. But I get where I need to, and do the job right – or at least reasonably so.

But I still have the chance to have some fun on the road. During my eight-week run over August, September and October, I was still able to see some shows, instead of being part of the show. My homey Josh Lease books shows in and around Reno and Sacramento, and I caught two of his shows – up-and-comers Gypsyhawk in a tiny tavern in MidTown Reno, and death-metal OG's Obituary at The Alley in Sparks. I found a few good CD's here and there to add to my collection. I could even eat out once in a blue moon. But most of the time it was the usual – setting up, tearing down, playing, or just hunkering down in whatever motel room or my old pop-up trailer behind my stepdaughter's place in Sun Valley. It gets to be a grind after a while.

Coming home is nice, even if only for a while. Flowers For The Living, the tribute band for Ron DeFrang, is moving along nicely, although the likelihood of playing a gig in Ron's home town of Albany, Oregon is likely long gone now. The best scenario for this project is a tribute show for Ron in Port Angeles or Sequim before too long – as I write this, we only have two weeks to put some sort of show together before I head back down for four shows in five weeks, culminating with coming home on Christmas Eve. The band is moving along nicely enough that we may try to continue on after Ron passes on, though doing so would likely spell the end of working with Eddie Perez for the time being.

Wait a minute, you're asking yourself – what about right now? What the hell are you doing in Reno right now? Well, I had a four-nighter in Sparks at John Ascuaga's Nugget with Steppen Stonz that just happened to coincide with my wife's birthday. So I packed up her things – which take up a lot of space in my truck – and shuffled on down. Since it hadn't been a while since my old bandleader had called me up to make a liquor run for him, I figured I'd give him a call. Well, he didn't need any liquor this time around, but he'd wind up calling me back later on. The gig went well enough itself, and Joy didn't have any major medical problems during the stay.

We decided to stick around Reno for a few more days, so we could spend Halloween with the kids, then head home on the first of November. Just as we were getting ready to pack up and head for home, Calvin called up and asked me if I was still in Reno. When I answered in the affirmative, he asked me if I could sit in with Powerlight for a private gig they would be playing the next night. One promise of $150 later, I was down for it.

Looking back, I could see why it was a good idea to get away from them in the first place. Old Gordon Lockard on guitar – as completely unprofessional as ever. He had plenty of time to gorge himself at the dinner the hosts (which shall remain nameless) provided us, so much so that one of our tablemates – the man who'd chosen this band to play for his company in the first place – asked Joy and I if this was the way he normally ate. But he didn't have enough time to change into his stage clothes, and he played the gig in sweats and Ugg Boots, while I was in the suit I normally wear on stage. I don't even know if Gordon was wearing underwear on stage – that's a tendency of his, something I found out the hard way. What was seen cannot be unseen. I don't know how Calvin and Jackie put up with him, especially when I know how many good players between Seattle and Reno going without work. Guys who email me with pleas – yes, pleas – for work.

And Lord, I was rusty. While I'd played Calvin's sequences for twelve years, it had been over three years since I played to them last. At least I didn't have to bring my own gear this time around, as Calvin brought down a Roland TD-12 electric kit for me to use and abuse. Turns out that I didn't have much time to do either – we played for less than an hour before the party called it a night. They all had to go to work in the morning, I guess. I thought that I'd played terrible, but the party seemed to love it, and hoped we'd be able to play for their next party next year. Well, that's up to Calvin, and I really doubt if I'll be involved next year. The dynamic is just unhealthy. Mike and Arthur can be shits every once in a while (like anyone else – myself included), but on the whole the dynamic within Steppen Stonz is just so much more healthy.

And I'm glad that tonight is the night the clocks 'fall back' as Daylight Savings Time draws to a close. I could use the extra hour of sleep before I hit the road in the morning. Joy has doctor's appointments damn near every day next week, and she can't afford to skip any of them. So early to bed, early to rise and all that. Time to go break down the trailer once and for all, then get some rest. I've got a 5:30am alarm and 6:00am departure set for the morning.