Following my recent enchantment with Skysaw’s Great Civilizations and subsequent interview with Jimmy Chamberlin and Mike Reina I was itching to hear this band live. It was odd to see Jimmy’s trademark drum kit positioned in the area of the opening band with Minus the Bear’s kit behind it on a riser, but that unique tom tom set up had me giddy nonetheless.
NOTE: Jimmy had his yellow Yamaha kit set up with tape covering the logo presumably because he is now a dw guy.
As they lit in to “No One Can Tell” there came that wondrous thundering lilt that I missed so much on one of my last visits to The Ritz for the Pumpkins club tour. Mike Byrne is fantastic, but I just have an affinity for Chamberlin’s style; a style that I routinely alluded to as pummeling in the interview without focusing on the other side of the coin in the light, brisk, nuanced delicacy that completes his sound.
The crowd was surely there for MTB and I overheard some of the younger whippersnappers trying to figure out who Jimmy Chamberlin was. “You know, I think he was the drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins before.” This nearly made me break into my 3 Stooges Moe Howard impression, “Why I oughtta” and smack all the 3 hipsters in succession with one brisk stroke.
The turnout for this show was not nearly the Chinese fire drill that showed up for MTB at Firestone for Anti*Pop 2009. Skysaw had a smaller audience to work with. They pulled off the equally beautiful and bombastic “Capsized Jackknifed Crisis” smoothly as Jimmy’s drum work piqued some of the listeners’ interest. The band seemed to tighten as the show went on. The crowd appeared divided as some were already fans or had paid enough attention to dig it. Others continued conversation, not ready for the slightly head-y or prog type vibe of the Eno meets early Genesis sound Skysaw sometimes evokes. The sweet and soft “Tightrope Situation” was nearly drowned out by audience chatter.
Some jerks were even screaming, “last song please!” and “no more!” The odd thing is that this all changed by the last few songs. Honestly, even though I enjoyed the thoughtful presentation of music, I was kind of missing the wide open rock frenzy that I’m used to seeing JC orchestrate. Skysaw really lit it up live, but it was more subtle than the Pumpkins’ histrionic flair. Then they ended with the unreleased “Cathedral” and unleashed a can of whoop ass on everyone’s face. The once lackluster crowd filled in the floor of the venue; the talking turned to howling and screaming, and Chamberlin dropped a crushing solo within a psychedelic jam that allowed Anthony Pirog to open up the rock guitar a little bit more with some face melting antics.
Release the Kraken!:
The bruising ending to “Cathedral” snapped the audience in line. The almost silent greeting Jimmy got as the last one to come on stage was contrasted by the raucous cheers of the final ovation as he exited. I swear the same people I heard complaining were the same ones stupefied at the end. “Last song please” turned into, “Whooo, Yeah!” “That’s how it’s done!” “Jimmy!” And “Ho-lee shit!” I think the last one was me.
What a cool concept; a music festival on the vast sugar sand beaches of the Gulf Coast. A near perfect backdrop set in the redneck Riviera was the stage for some great music in Foo Fighters, My Morning Jacket, Dead Confederate, Ween, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Flaming Lips, Widespread Panic, Girl Talk and tons more.
Hangout in Full Swing
Day 1 Rundown:
The Nocturnals lit up the afternoon with a rockin’ and soulful performance from the hippy-turned-temptress Grace Potter
Jim and his Musical Contraption
My Morning Jacket put on another fantastic festival show as the sun set. They played a crowd pleasing mix of favorites and tracks from their upcoming album Circuital. MMJ opened with the slow, creeping and climactic “Victory Dance” working the crowd into hysteria by the end with James’ possessed shrieking. They moved straight into another new track, “Circuital,” then worked in classics like “Gideon,” “Wordless Chorus,” and “Steam Engine.”
Festival Moment: Jim James recalls a high school spring break where he got tossed out of a bar in Gulf Shores.
Widespread Panic was Widespread Panic. Performance painter and New Orleans legend, Frenchy, followed the action around all weekend with a creative, prolific outpouring of work covering Dumpsta Funk at an early late-night show, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, My Morning Jacket, and Foo Fighters. Check out Frenchy’s website for more original artwork.
Festival Moment: Panic covers “Fairies Wear Boots.”
Frenchy Paints Widespread
Day 2 Rundown:
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips
I could hear Primus from where I was. Tunes like “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” and “My Name is Mudd” were as sloggy and prog-y as ever. The Flaming Lips were, well, the Flaming Lips – a band that puts on a festival spectacle at a festival or in someones garage.
The Foo Fighters have never done much for me. In fact, the only song that doesn’t sound like monotone FM radio rock buzz to me is “Everlong.” I DO know that Dave Grohl is cool as hell and Pat Smear is sort of a living legend. The cool factor would get me out to see them, but I never took the time. At Hangout I took the time to watch them slay about 40,000 people:
Festival Moment: People who waited patiently for Cee-Lo to show up were treated to a special impromptu set from the Foo’s as they covered some classic rock as filler.
Day 3 Rundown:
Despite the festival appearing to a be a bit oversold and the event staff being challenged with the duties associated with a crowd of this magnitude the 2011 Hangout Festival seemed to go off without any noticeable glitches.
Trombone Shorty held it down during a hot, humid afternoon set. His stage served as the “kids” stage for the first part of the afternoon before being co-opted by the older crowd for the later part of the day. I didn’t realize this at first and thought, “man there is a lot of swearing coming from the kid’s stage.” I think this confusion spilled over to the youngsters as well because Shorty got paid a visit by 5 year-old Dylan Miles during a somewhat “blue” rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Little Dylan was everywhere with sightings around the festival from playing foosball with Dean Ween to hanging out with artist, Frenchy. Rumor has it, he sat in for a quick acoustic “sesh” with Dave Grohl. Other bloggers caught on to Dylan Miles as well.
Dylan Miles: Musical genius? Clever kid that gets backstage? Cute midget? You decide.
Ween looked lean and … mean. Both Deaner and Gene (Dean-and-Gene-Ween heh heh, huh-huh heh) dropped some weight since kicking drugs (or so I’ve heard). Gene especially as he was even skinnier than he was as a young man. Dean shredded and Gene’s voice was as sharp as ever as they moved through a wide range of excellent festy songs like: “Freedom of ’76,” “Take Me Way,” “Johnny on the Spot,” “Stroker Ace,” “Buckingham Green,” and “Ocean Man.”
The beachfront park seemed to be perfectly suited for a festival with built-in bar and stage areas and enough room to accommodate larger stages, trailers, and the armada of port-o-potties needed for a massive crowd. Although the span of the venue was manageable the delicate sugar sand made traversing the property laborious even for the most experienced Floridian. The sand did allow fans to build mountains for better views or dig custom holes with seatbacks for comfortable lounging and viewing.
Festival Moment: The area was far too packed to be safe so fire marshals cleared out the walkway to the VIP area to my chagrin. Moments later security, police, and fire officials were dancing and filming the scene on their iPhones.
Even though waste disposal was sufficient and well positioned the supposedly ecological generation didn’t seem to give a shit about piling bottles, food, and other junk on an otherwise pristine beach. I found myself fighting back the urge to A) walk around, pick up the bottles and B) trying not to choke hipsters and hippies with their own refuse. On the other hand, the overnight clean up crews seemed efficient at removing the waste and leaving the beaches a blank canvas to be painted with garbage the next day.
The Black Keys sounded great, but I was far too far away for enjoyment. Paul Simon closed out the festival. I left before he came on. I will kick myself when he croaks, but for now – meh.
The core of the Smashing Pumpkins was the telepathic relationship between Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Corgan. On one hand there is a grandiose and ambitious songwriter and guitarist and on the other, a pummeling and incredibly dynamic drummer. Avalanches of howling guitar shift suddenly into waves of shimmering melody and back again. A drummer whose thunderous rhythm, lightning speed, versatility, and incredible meter anchored the music while carpet-bombing fills and elegant flourishes added to the melody.
A prolific and storied partnership ended almost as oddly as it began. Chamberlin, for any host of reasons sought a change, one that would keep him growing and even writing music in a more collaborative atmosphere than to that which he was accustomed. A brief moment of hostility and hurt feelings as Corgan cried, “go ahead and drive around in a white van for the rest of your life if you want” [I am completely paraphrasing here from accounts read before 5.26.2011] Surely this was a jab at walking away from the monster brand of SP that they built together to start over in a smaller band. Although Billy was the songwriter and creator, only Jimmy’s drums could match this attack to fuel and propel their sound.
Enter Skysaw: A band that sees the union of some unique and powerful talent. Mike Reina and Anthony Pirog earned respect with their own psychedelic prog-pop in the Fairfax, VA / D.C. area. United as Skysaw, these guys create a new brand of music that is lush and diverse enough to showcase the awe inspiring drum work of Chamberlin while indulging the songwriter and arranger in him as well.
Out of tact and a desire to be original I quell the need to ask the nagging questions about the Pumpkins split and the personal and musical dynamics that propelled it. Yet as I dig deeper the reasons become apparent, boiling down to simple, personal creative integrity. Frontman Mike Reina and Jimmy Chamberlin took some precious time from their loaded schedule to talk music, plans, drums, and yes a little Smashing Pumpkins.
K&N:I really thought “THIS” was a cool name. What happened? Was it for the sheer fact that it would be impossible to gain any search engine traction with that name?
Mike Reina: That was an issue with the name. We were into the idea of keeping the name very general so that it could take on many meanings while avoiding specifics. By the time we were ready to release though, we traded that idea for the imagery that Skysaw might imply.
K&N:The typical trajectory of a band starting off is to tour then record – how does it feel to turn that concept on its head?
MR: It’s interesting to construct tightly wound songs and then go looking for the places where they can stretch out a bit live.
K&N: Who put together the orchestral arrangement on “Am I Second?”
MR: Jimmy wrote the orchestral arrangement, Anthony transcribed it and we recorded it at my place.
K&N:I expected a radical change when you departed SP. I always got the feeling that you are a jazz man at heart and maybe felt you thought you were “dumb-ing it down” – at least to yourself – by playing “rock.” When you made the comment about not being into the music anymore I expected something closer to the Complex – you know, a jazz trio or quartet type scene OR a crazy fusion experimental thing. SkySaw, although different, is not apples and oranges when compared to SP.
Jimmy Chamberlin: To me, music is music and it is all relevant and challenging . I never once in my life have felt like I had to “dumb down” anything. In fact the simpler music was always MORE challenging for me. SkySaw represents an opportunity for me to explore things about being a musician that don’t necessarily involve playing the drums.
K&N:I think I just had this question answered within the last two responses in a roundabout way but I ask anyway: What are you feeling right now, in this band, that you were not feeling in your last band?
JC: Basically a better chance for personal evolution as an artist.
K&N: How many songs have you recorded as SkySaw?
MR: Eleven – I think and demoed probably 12-15 others.
K&N: What was Roy Thomas Baker’s involvement with the record?
MR: We worked with Roy early on. Jimmy sent him “No One Can Tell” and asked if he wanted to be involved. He loved the song and came out to my place to work with us for two weeks. After the first two weeks we decided to remain insular and produce the record ourselves. We started from scratch and continued working together as we had previous to our stint with Roy. He was hilarious, btw …
K&N:I can see that. Beyond the production genius I see the dyed-in-the-wool rock guy; A legacy from the decadent days of rock, full of stories, anecdotes, and colorful insight.
How I came to be a Pumpkin fan was two-fold. I grew up on metal so as it phased out and grunge moved in – I liked it, but it wasn’t doing it for me. Then SP came around with walls of guitar and an appreciation for the solo that was briefly forgotten with grunge. It re-vitalized metal / hard rock by legitimizing it in a new and valid form. It was also fearless in mingling with just about every other genre of pop and revealing deep emotion.
Here, I do my best to not sound like a sniveling sycophant, but I failed …
But the first thing that caught my ear, making me listen further and appreciate SP, was the drumming. My friends and I were 17-18 when Siamese (Dream) came out. I remember listening every night on my buddy’s back porch with our friends. The guys that knew music would shoot glances back and forth at each other and bust out laughing – usually in utter disbelief – and be like, “what the fuck is that drummer doing?!!!” and “he’s not human!”
JC: Thanks, that is very flattering. I will say that those songs make me say the same things sometimes…….. Not the human part, the other part.
K&N:Ha ha ha! OK. I won’t argue, but I think they are damn near perfect.
Your drumming can be defined as pummeling or over-the-top. How do you bottle up the chops and intensity when working with a band? Is it knowing where to place the fills and flourishes within the confines of the music or is it to work with musicians that can write music that stands toe-to-toe with your attack?
JC: For me, it’s simply playing in context and listening. Those drum parts came about because of a need more than a desire. The Pumpkins provided a context for that type of drumming just like the Complex provides a different canvas and so on. It’s really about fitting the drums in the music, not the other way around.
K&N: I was drawn to your drumming because it sort of embodied everything about my favorite drummers: I could hear the hand speed and control of Chambers or Rich with the authority and flair of Krupa along with the rock power of Lombardo or Bonham dashed with the musicality and flourishes of Roach. Am I crazy? How exactly would you describe your style? It’s so distinctive and almost instantly recognizable in any song…
JC: First off, thank you very much again. I think that the goal of playing any instrument is to develop your facility to the point where you can be yourself and say exactly what you want to say. Those drummers that you mentioned, along with a few others, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and a couple hundred others, said things on their instruments that resonated with me. I took those things and learned them, when I could, and moved them around until they represented how I felt. Much in the same way you would arrange words to convey an idea. Music is a chance to be yourself totally and uninhibited. That is the whole point for me. I only want to sound like me. I’m not interested in sounding like anyone else.
Jimmy discussing creating an identity with his sound:
K&N:What have you done with your approach to drumming to help propel SkySaw that you did differently (or the same) as SP?
JC: I think that my approach is the same as it always is: To move the song forward in the best possible way whilst still demonstrating a personal opinion about the piece.
K&NHow did SkySaw become a band? Did you know each other before? Was it sort of forming anyway and then Jimmy entered the equation or did you meet first and decide to put together a band?
MR: Jimmy and I were introduced through a mutual friend. I went out to Chicago for a hang with him and to write and play a bit. We got along great and decided to become songwriting partners. Six months later I introduced Anthony with whom I’d been playing for a couple years and again it was a great fit and we continued. When we finished the record, I invited Boris and Paul to come down from New York to rehearse and we had our live band. I played with Boris and Paul in the DC based Phaser and I am a touring member for their NYC based Dead Heart Bloom. We are all thrilled to be playing together.
K&N:What is it like to play with a legendary drummer? I imagine his timekeeping is a huge bonus?
MR: It’s a great experience playing together. Each time is different and I notice something else he is doing that takes the music to a different place. My favorite drummers have arrangement at the forefront of their writing and Jimmy is a great arranger of music. Without any one element of his approach, we’d be playing a different song. Especially when I am playing piano, his precision gives me the sense that we are constructing a building together using sound. That probably sounds weird, but it’s the way playing with Jimmy makes me feel.
K&N:Not at all! I actually think I’m going to cry a little …
I always felt a differentiator was not only his impeccable timing, but also the ability to drive the music forward from the inside and actually add melodic qualities to the composition. Is that true?
MR: Very true. I haven’t heard a drummer that supports the vocal melody as well as he does. He’s driving. There is no question about that. The great thing about him is that he sees the point to which he’s driving before he gets in the car, but he’s ready to turn on a dime if the moment calls for it. He’s trained himself to be aware at all times and I think that gives him his edge.
K&N:Have you changed up your kit for SkySaw? I noticed a few pictures that didn’t seem to have the left mounted 14” tom or quite as many cymbals. If so, is this a reflection of your approach to this sound or brand of music?
JC: I moved things around for one show. My configuration is the same.
K&N:What do your jams sound like when you are hanging out / practicing / sound checking? Which direction does it go? Do you guys prog out, jam, get your metal on, heavy on showtunes?
MR: Jams are spacey and can definitely get proggy. No metal.
K&N:What is the name of this song and will it see a release?
JC: “Cathedral.” It is fairly new, not yet recorded and will be on the next release following Great Civilizations
K&N:Rumors are that the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex had a couple of tracks in the works, details?
JC: The complex lives and will rise up again at some point. Mohler and I started working on stuff before I left the Pumpkins and we continue to do so. It’s really just a time issue. We are both very busy these days.
K&N:What, if anything, can you say about the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins re-masters and re-releases?
I am very excited. Those records are sacred to me and I’m thrilled that they will be repackaged and marketed to another generation. The Pumpkins still have a lot to offer, old and new I’m sure.
K&N:As a respected musician and accomplished drummer, what is your summation of Mike Byrne? Ya know, if you were evaluating or grading him or just your opinion.
JC: I think Mike is perfect for what Billy is doing now; a great drummer with an extremely bright future.
K&N:As a social media and marketing guy in my day job, I always ask this of bands:
A) How are you using social media tools and tactics to spread the word (music) of SkySaw and engage fans and followers?
MR: Facebook and Twitter are great and are clearly changing the way music is exposed to the listening public. We are still a young band, having a great time playing out and learning to adapt to any tactic other than standing in a room together writing and playing. That said, we are ramping up on social media and are very excited about the prospect of being in contact with anyone and everyone that is into our music
B) Are there any devices – tablets, laptops, smartphones that you absolutely cannot live without; essential for tethering yourself to home (friends and loved ones) or for keeping notes and ideas for the music?
MR: I have a dumb phone, my laptop died three weeks ago and I still have a pulse (as of this writing), so I guess that means no. That said, I had to borrow Jimmy’s iPad to answer these questions, so maybe that’s a big yes? I have a lot of musical ideas coming to me throughout the day and especially during sleep right before I wake up, so part of my editing process is actually not documenting it. If I can remember it by the time I get to an instrument, than I usually consider it worth pursuing. That has definitely backfired before though. I have forgotten a couple really good ideas that I was sure were good at one time. But then again, there are things I documented in GarageBand quickly on my laptop and those are now gone as well. You have to be ready to jump on an idea the second it strikes because when it goes it goes and that moment of inspiration is very fickle more often than not….
Well, inspiration has definitely struck this band. Their blend of lush progressive pop is striking chords with critics and fans. Great Civilizations is as good as a debut album gets and the three main contributors in Reina, Pirog, and Chamberlin seem to be firing on all cylinders while sharing equal footing. SkySaw will be opening for Minus the Bear at The Ritz in Ybor City on Wednesday, May 25th. Be there.
I was just thinking to myself, “what happened to the Beastie Boys?” Then, BAM! New album. Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 is exactly what I needed right now. The right blend of hip and goofy, but an excellent mix and some songs that are down right nasty. “Ok” is one of my favorites on first listen. This album sounds like B-Boys 2011 while drawing from the best parts of Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication.
Your Tomorrow is a smart, polished, and dreadfully sad collection of music. The album surges out of the gate with a single-worthy tune in “You Were Only A Song.” Despite the charging bass and pitter-patter of the floor tom driven rhythm, the core essence is almost mournful. Even moments that seem somewhat uplifting come across as sorrowful. When singer, Duke Crider, belts “Hallelujah / We can begin again / Hallelujah / We can begin again” - first as a croon then as a howl – it sounds like a moment of redemption or triumph, but feels like a desperate cry. The entire album plays like brokenhearted critique of a lingering past love. It’s a clever mix of passionate catharsis wrapped up and energized in swirling waves of atmospheric guitar and piercing rhythm; a polished alternative pop feel that disguises the melancholy weaving through the lyrics.
Tomorrow really starts to dig its heels in when another power single, “Close My Eyes,” slides into the title track. “Your Tomorrow” starts with a delicate organ intro and transitions to a soft guitar melody before the vocals, drums and bass drop in. Luis Meija‘s layered and technical guitar work hints at mid 90′s Jonny Greenwood throughout the album, but slaps you in the face on this track. Following the chorus – at nearly the 3-minute mark - is a quiet shift led by a Bends-ish, reverb-y guitar progression. Distant strings and light piano notes accompany the guitar until it roars back along with layers of Crider’s howling vocals screaming over each other.
Following the albums title song is “Stones,” which to me signifies a transition for the band. The album is rock-solid, but “Stones” is some next level shit. Your Tomorrow is a testament to why PJA is doing so well and to their staying power, but “Stones” is the type of song that begs the question; why aren’t they world famous?
Ol’ Merle – aka The Okie from Muskogee – is one of the last real outlaws; country musicians with true grit and balls. Merle along with Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Coe, Kristofferson, Williams (Sr., Jr., and now carried on by Tricephus), Shaver, and a handful of others defined country music as the soundtrack of the outlaw, a sound that married the stark American realism of Country and Western with the backbone of rock ‘n roll. The music was imbued with a sense of experience and truth that lends authenticity. These dudes and some gals lived what they wrote about. The boots and hats worn by these guys were picked out by these guys and probably would be worn by them even if they had a job at a gas station as opposed to a performer. They made real songs that resonate with music lovers of all types in contrast to the current slew (since the 90′s actually) of over-produced radio pop sung by some jerk in tight jeans with a phoney twang and an ornamental guitar that passes for country these days. That is the type of sound that resonates with fat sorrority girls, guys in shiney pick-ups that don’t know shit about music, and moms. Anywho, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, some real outlaw music in ”Mexican Bands” from Haggard’s latest, true-to-form record, I Am What I Am.
Room 205 is a sort of an artistic co-op. A revolving cast of musicians work with any number of filmmakers, artists, set designers, and the like to create avant-garde music videos at the confluence of visual and sonic art. Director Otto Arsenault (the naked video with Matt & Kim) works with The Soft Moon and TSM band member, Ron Robinson, who did the lighting and projections on this video for “Parallels.”
It actually look like the Room 205 project is a pretty cool marketing endeavor from a company called incase that makes cool cases for Mac products along with backpacks and messenger bags.
The spunky and energetic CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy not Cascading Style Sheets – tore up the Firestone and played as if they were headlining. Aptly named uber-cutey, Lovefoxxx, invigorated the near capacity crowd with sassy dancing, pseudo-stripping, and audience engagement in between songs like the one-time ubiquitous iPod anthem, “Music is My Hot, Hot Sex.”
Sleigh Bells – defined as ‘noise pop” – has always struck me as an indie sugar pop band trapped in side the muscular frame of a metal / punk outfit. Kind of like The Refused meets She and Him or something; SB marries ultra-catchy hooks with walls of guitar and deafening volume. My perspective on them is only codified when the wall of Marshall amps on the stage is revealed and a guitar tech is tuning a classic metal guitar – I can’t remember if it was a Jackson or B.C Rich now, but either way it very thrash-y or Slayer-ish. Like Slayer, the crushing amplitude is probably achieved with the house sound system and the amps – save one or two – are probably shells there simply for decoration.
The eighties pop being played between sets (some great classics and a perfect extension to the bands showcased) faded out, the lights dimmed and then came some blasting death metal. As the stage lights hummed to life, Sabbath‘s “Iron Man” came on in synch with stacks of LED strobes between the amps. The “Iron Man” track was accompanied by Derek’s live guitar and given a Sleigh Bells remix treatment before giving way to “Crown on the Ground.”
They ripped through a short set comprised of tunes from their debut, Treats. The ultra hot hottie, Alexis Krauss, joked after a rousing encore from Firestone fans, “You should see a band with more than one album!” She crawled down from the stage to do an a capella rendition of “Run the Heart” for the crowd before announcing, “That’s all we have.” I was hoping with all the time since the release of Treats and since they were last here opening for LCD Soundsystem that they may have whipped up a few more anthems, especially since its a 2-person operation, but nothing. I’ll let it slide this time!