February 03, 2011

With Mittens

A chance conversation about band anxiety dreams this morning reminded me of this one show a ways back -- one of the early MTX shows, opening for Flipper somewhere in San Francisco. Guitarist Ted Falconi hadn't shown up and they asked for volunteers to play guitar and Jon von stepped up to do it. (The reason this has to do with band anxiety dreams is that such dreams so often involve not being able to find a band member at showtime, or being called on to play a set when you don't know any of the songs.)

Now, Falconi's guitar set up was all crazy, over-driven, feedback-heavy, noisy to the point where the noise was quite a bit more prominent than any chords or tones intentionally played: the chords are definitely there, somewhere, but they're buried. Just listen to any Flipper recording and you'll know what I'm talking about. The result was that when Jon just played "Blitzkrieg Bop" over and over for three songs, it still sounded pretty much like Flipper. Which was, as I remember thinking at the time, rather wicked. I still think that now.

One of the signature parts of Flipper's act in those days was that the singer would amble on-stage after the band had been playing for a while and ask another bandmate (though into the mic, too, so the audience could hear): "what song is this?" It was funny the first time I saw it, and then, as I saw it more and realized it was a schtick, it just became kind of loveable. But it was never better than when he said it to Jon von, who in response just continued playing "Blitzkrieg Bop" with a bug-eyed shrug.

I got my shot at playing with Flipper, too, though my moment in the spotlight got cut off after about a minute when Ted Falconi finally showed up. The noisy guitar set-up was a small revelation to me. The sound was like a wild, elusive, sparking coil you could barely control, something you had to point in the general direction of the music, doing the best you could to nudge it here and there, but in the end just hoping for the best. It was a sixty-second adventure. And I realized: oh, so that's how he can do things like play the guitar with mittens on.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 3, 2011 08:54 PM | TrackBack

I saw Flipper open for PiL long ago at some now-forgotten dump. We were in the back ... and the place was rectangular, and the stage was at one end of the long way, if that makes sense ... suffice to say, "the back" was really far from the stage. Between the awful acoustics and Flipper's patented sonic sludge, it sounded pretty bad. My friend and I fought our way gradually to the front, where we found the band, baiting the crowd, not really playing anything, although noise was coming from their amps.

I hadn't really understood that moment until I read your anecdote. Flipper was playing, even when they weren't playing. What a great band!

Posted by: Steven at February 3, 2011 09:47 PM

they said the same about jimi hendrix's guitar set up (not to get all time life hippie on ya) but the roadie would tune his strat and get nothing but pure feedback and noise. jimi would take the stage and become a one man orchestra. but hey, thats what he did.

Posted by: farmer ted at February 4, 2011 12:04 AM