It's a long dreamy ride home from New York City in the wee hours of the morning when there's nobody on the road but drunks, eighteen wheelers, and musicians heading home. My mind was replaying moments as we silently soared across the Connecticut border into Massachusetts. Things sometimes get hazy in that traveling process and the day leading up to this trip was strange and dream-like, but let me see if I can describe the scene to you.
Not long before the sleepy car ride, I was on a stage with a mess of other musicians. Bright lights were shining all around. I was standing in the center in front of the drum riser at The Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn. Between me and upturned faces of the audience was a wall of people. Some were old friends and some were new friends. Directly in front of me was Mark Mulcahy, to my right on the far side of the stage was Lesa Bezo with Philip and Flora from the Winterpills and Naomi Hamby from Spouse. They were circled around a microphone singing through smiles. Behind them was Jason Bourgeois in front of a Nord Keyboard, next to him was Ray Neal from Miracle Legion with a guitar, on my left was Dan Greene of Butterflies of Love and Kevin O'Rourke of Lo Fine and Jose Ayerve of Spouse. Next to Mark was Pat Sansone of Autumn Defense and Wilco. Strewn all around me were members of Gravel Pitt, David Berkeley, Chris Harford, BP Helium, The Parkway Charlies, Senator, Spouse, Lofine, The Mericans, Jeff Ginsburg, Biet and Gryphon, The Autumn Defense, Winterpills, Butterflies of Love, and The Gravel Pit. Directly behind me was the smiling face of Brian at the drums. He was surrounded by people shaking and banging on whatever they could find. Sitting on the drum riser behind him with a guitar was Frank Black and we were all singing, "I'm freeeee. Free fallin'!"
It was the finale of a long, night of music. It was an "all-star" jam, folks. The only things missing were Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Paul Shaffer.
The day before, I spoke to Mark on the phone and he asked me if Brian and I could be in charge of the encore finale thing. "What song?" I asked. "Free Fallin'" He replied. Then we laughed.
The event was called Ciao My Shining Star and was a concert in memorial of Melissa Mulcahy and in tribute to Mark Mulcahy's music. Over seventeen acts were lined up to perform in a three and a half hour show. Everyone got about ten minutes. It was remarkably organized and on time. This was due in large part to the tireless effort put in by Richard Murray and Myles Mangino and also to the camaraderie of all those involved.
A little under a year ago, a young man named Nathaniel Smalley contacted me about putting together a tribute album. He was working on his own and had already gotten commitments from an impressive array of musicians. Eventually the album was picked up by Shout Factory who released it on iTunes last week (the CD will be released this upcoming Tuesday the 29th.) The album has 20 tracks on it and you can download another 21. School for the Dead's song is one of those 21 downloads. It's a great collection.
So, this show on Sunday was the official New York CD Release Concert for that album. The Williamsburg Music Hall is a really nice venue. It's a large room but the sound is so crisp and powerful and intimate that it worked really well with the variety of performances this evening. The audience was one of the best I have encountered. They were all there for the right reasons it seemed and when some artists sang in super delicate whispery voices the room was silent and listening. When other bands broke out in full force rock explosions the crowd was right there with them cheering and dancing. When Ben Katchor took the stage to do a few spoken pieces, everyone laughed at the right times. When videos by Vic Chestnutt and Thom Yorke were shown, everyone watched, like we were all hanging out in somebody's huge living room.
I saw most of the acts, but I missed a few while I was backstage preparing to perform. Every performance that I saw was top notch. The songs were performed so earnestly and musically, it was intimidating.
When I stepped out on stage for the School for the Dead show, I took one look at the friendly faces in the crowd and I was instantly swept up in pure confidence. Jason Bourgeois was filling in on bass and Lesa Bezo was filling in on guitar and vocals (and melodica). We were a quickly thrown together band but I had no worries. We erupted into Omnivore and it all went smoothly from there on out. The power from the stage was intense. When we began our version of "I Just Shot Myself In The Foot Again" the audience applauded in recognition. I probably smiled the whole time.
Not long after our performance, I found myself in the bottom of a crazily lit blue stairwell just outside the "Stage Access" door standing with a bass guitar next to Frank Black and Brian. People were looking up the lyrics to Free Fallin' on their phones. I was sweating from the heat and from the adrenaline. "How did I get to be in this situation?" I wondered. Then it was just me there for a bit and I could here the boomy back stage sound of Pixies' songs rumbling through the stairwell. The next thing I knew, the tiny area was full of people and we were being called out on to stage. I plugged in the bass, Brian set himself up behind the drums and this crazy version of Free Fallin' began.
As the song neared its end, I muscled my way up to a microphone. I had been playing the bass but I really wanted to sing that chorus at least once. Mark saw me and pulled the mic back and we shared it and he had a bright deep smile behind his eyes.
When the song had finally ended, the stage cleared, the room cleared, we all packed up our gear and we began that post show buzzing of hand shakes and hugs and pats on the back. I was milling about on the floor walking back and forth from inertia and I saw my crew of travelers waiting in the corner with all of our black instrument cases. We broke through the crowds and headed up the sidewalk in Williamsburg towards the car and back to our regular lives.
(photos by Richard Murray (except the first one))