Friday, April 18, 2008

What a Surprise

For the semi-inaugural episode of our new weekly weekend feature - the as-yet untitled deconstruction of a song from the Copper Man/Kopperman archives, I thought we'd start out with something nice and easy. Although perhaps a bit lengthy.

Anyone who reads the Rambler regularly is aware of my love for and all around obsession with Pink Floyd. My favorite of the various Floyds is the post-Barrett era, leading up to and culminating with the 1971 album Meddle, which is not only one of my favorite albums (sometimes my very favorite, never out of the top ten), but contains my favorite song of all time, Echoes. The fact that my favorite song of all time is 23 minutes long and is spacey, plodding, obscure and occasionally totally abstract probably says something about me that I still have yet to work out.

The point is that a lot of everything that will turn up in this feature in weeks to come - every song I've ever written or recorded - owes a lot to this song and this album, which I've been listening to for over twenty years. So it really is as good a place to start as any.

But we're not here today to get into an overdue in-depth analysis of Meddle or Echoes. What we're here to hear are two contrasting versions of Copper Man covers of the song. The first features the line-up of Eric Santaniello on lead guitar, Bran Lancourt on rhythm guitar and vocal harmonies, Edz O'Leary on drums and myself on bass and lead vocals. Somehow, I'd managed to convince the band to play the song as a birthday gift to me for a show at (I believe) The Lion's Den, November, 2004.

Of course, I didn't want to give over the entire set to the song, so what we presented was a truncated version, about the first ten minutes. Given the lack of keyboard and the quickness with which we threw it together, I'm surprised listening back to this some four years later how well the song itself comes through. Normally, it's easy to think of the Floyd of that era as a purveyor of mood and style, somewhat light on the composition side. Echoes itself is roughly four minutes of song to twenty minutes of jamming and studio wizardry, so it's easy to dismiss it as such, but it really is a tremendously well-written song, one that I'm convinced could carry its mood of melancholy and mystery through almost any arrangement. Anyone for a kazoo and washboard arrangement?

Kudos go to Eric for learning all the solos in such a short period. Sadly, I was able to exploit this a few months later when I got it into my head that playing all of Meddle at Arlene's Grocery as part of their Classic Album Nights would be a tremendous promotional push for Copper Man. Man, I couldn't have been more wrong. Joke on me, because I became so obsessed with the project that I even bought my Roland organ specifically for the show - trying to justify the expense to myself for the possible benefits of the show (which usually drew big crowds) in promoting the band. Even at the time, I knew I was kidding myself, but that should just show how determined I was to play this song live. Torpedos and monetary savings be damned.

Obviously, with me moving over to keys, we needed a bass player. Thankfully, Bran is not only a better bass player than me, he's also the one who taught me how to play bass, so that was going to work out grand. Curiously, the only thing in the entire set he had a problem with was the bass-driven One of These Days, which always gives skilled bass players a problem because it's really not about playing bass, per se. It's all about playing the delay pedal, in a less-is-more-but-on-the-beat kind of way.

Joining up for dual lead guitar was Bran's twin Ansley, who was particularly helpful in getting the show together because he'd had a lot of enthusiasm for it, which, if you know Ansley, is saying something. Neither Bran nor Eric were particularly thrilled with the idea of playing the show (although Edz was 'game,' as they say). Still, Eric learned all of the guitar parts on the album and turned in the best performance of the show.

In the end, even though we had next to no crowd (fifteen people at most), it went over really well, we got a couple of fans - who we then disappointed by breaking up less than a year later - and I really treasure the recording. A note on which: two sources - one from the desk, with the vocals very high and dry, and one from Eric's Mini-Disc somewhere in the room. (The Lion's Den recording is also Eric's Mini-Disc, complete with commentary from his wife and friends.) The two sources were then blended and mastered (as much as they could be) with help from Karl.

If I had one wish, it's that I could take the vocals from the Lion's Den show - which sound pretty good, to me - and swap them out for the Arlene's vocals, which suck serious ass. Two reasons for this: one, as noted, the Arlene's mix came right from the desk, and there was little that could be done with them in post. Two, I have a much harder time singing and playing keys than singing while playing bass. In fact, I can play very complex bass parts while singing, because I find I can swing the vocals around the bass rhythm contrapuntally. On keys, even the simplest parts tend to be harder to sing to, mostly because I'm already playing counterpoint with my left hand, so the rhythm of the voice becomes a third rhythmic element to contend with. Also? Bass is one note at a time and keys in a live setting can be as many as ten, often dodging back and forth between three keyboards.

At the Arlene's show, I was years out of practice on keys to boot, having not played in a band since I'd left Lizard Music back in '96. All-in-all, not the best way to go out singing. Still, the keyboard performance is fine, I think.

Ansley officially joined Copper Man after the show, but the newly-expanded five-piece never got to play live together. Long story. But the Meddle show was a major turning point for me as a performing musician, because after that I've only played keys. And, yes, I miss the bass. God, how I miss the bass. But I guess it means that the Roland wasn't a waste, after all.

Boy, I'd hate to think that I went from bass back to keys simply because I don't like to waste money...

Currently, I'm playing keys in an NYC Pink Floyd tribute band (called Us Not Them), and we're working out Echoes in practice now. Maybe soon I'll have a third live version to add to the gallery.


Note: I'd intended to get the nice Flash player working for this entry, but I'm feeling a little brain dead. I will for next week's entry, and I'll come back and update this one at that time. Have a good weekend.

New note, 4/23/08: Thanks to Shaun, I now have the pretty Flash MP3 widget working. Obviously, in the future, I need to make sure the MP3s have all their proper tags, but it's a start.

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