Berry Live at McPeak’s Barn 10/27/08

I just arrived home from seeing my very first live concert at Greenville College Professor Rick McPeak’s barn just outside of Greenville. I’ve been out to the barn a couple times. Once at the end of last semester for some St. Paul’s get together, once for helping Thomas Johnson want the garden he planted there. Every time I went there it was warm, tonight was not at all warm. It was downright cold, indeed. 41 degrees. The concert was in benefit to Travis Hall’s “Pumpkin Patch of Peace.” Travis started the patch to help a village he met in the middle east with building a well. He plants the seeds in the summer, and waits a few weeks for harvest. This year, in spite of some tricky weather, was a plentiful harvest.
In celebration of the plentiful patch of peaceful pumpkins, the GC community was invited to the McPeak barn for food, fellowship and some rock and roll. After several rounds of piping hot chili and soup, washed down with a variety of breads and brownies, Rachel Bowden played a set. While having seen Rachel play a few times before, I was not there for her set though I heard it was enjoyable. I missed her set because I ran home to pick up my guitar for Joey Lemon.
While eating my delicious chili and brownies, Joey asked if I still had the Rickenbacker guitar I bought about 4 years ago now. About a year after I first purchased the Rick unbeknownst to Joey he bought the same guitar that I had. Obviously great minds think alike. It’s a beautiful instruments, that feels and sounds great. He wanted to know if I still had it because, while on one of their “Amtrack” or “Bus” tours between Sacramento and Las Vegas someone stole his. I extended the obvious condolences and he jokingly asked if he could play mine, assuming I had it on me. I of course didn’t have it in the car, but offered to go get it since I lived pretty close. Joey didn’t want to inconvenience me, but I went and got it anyway. That was why I missed Rachel’s set. Oh, I also had to restring the guitar because the strings were hella old.
I arrived back at the barn with my freshly strung Rick just in time for the beginning of Berry’s set. They had just finished setting all their stuff up when along came a blast from the past. Paul Goodenough nearly swore when he was my Rickenbacker (since he didn’t see me bring it in.) Matt Aufrecht and Joey were both elated and they were ready to start.
You’ll notice I only mentioned three names. Berry is now a three piece. Joey Lemon on vocals and guitar, Paul Goodenough on drums and vocals, Matt Aufrecht on piano and vocals. No bass guitar (formally filled by Sam Campbell, Kit Hamon, and many others.) No second guitar (formally filled by Zach Heyveld though about 3 years ago). No secondary keys (formally Chris Kav, Tim Mon, Liz Goodenough who also played flute.) Three piece.
Also, because they’ve been touring on buses and trains and stuff, they’ve really simplified and shrunk the size of their gear. Paul has always played a simple kit, but his kick drum was 16′ x 12′. I have NEVER seen a kick drum SO SMALL in my life. Oh, his lone tom had to have been 8 x 10, maybe, and he was playing a piccalo snare. Teeny tiny drum kit, Paul.
Needless to say, by the looks of their gear (and every rock and roll gearaphile snob will critique a band by their gear while they’re setting up always before they play their first note because that’s what you have to do to be a gearaphile snob because we ALL know that an LTD through Mesa Dual Rect stack WILL sound like shit before a chord is even thought to be strummed) I wasn’t sure what to expect. Berry opened with (I think) Running from Place to Place which is a song from the Floundering EP and I was amazed by how tight and full they sounded. Matt covers the low end (although on Empathy, he played a lot of lower keys throughout, really bassing up the mix). Berry has always been pretty good at dynamics, but they were GREAT tonight.
Their set was comprised of new stuff and old stuff, though they didn’t do Fifty-eight, they did do Tick Tock, Courtney Luv, Middle Man, There Are Several (which, no matter how many times I hear it, I’m always surprised when Joey screams doing the first noisey section) I think they played about 11 songs and it was wonderful.
Seeing Berry play made me think of two things: 1) it’s amazing how huge they sound this three guys and no bass guitar. 2) how can this “less is more” principle be applied to the two styles of music I love to play most: hardcore and post-rock.
While hardcore is rooted in the “play as hard and as fast as possible” mentality, there is plenty of room for dynamic shifts, tempo and meter changes, breakdowns, rock stops, builds and feedback for the music to be more than a non-stop onslaught of brazen loudness. My hardcore implemented these ideas some, but could’ve stretched this idea much further assuming everyone in the band in on board with the idea. Which made me think about how difficult it is to find several people who are: 1) very creative, and also 2) share the same vision for the music your group is trying to make. All the bands I have been in have had no more than 5 people in them. Even five is borderline too many people. Because its very hard to find 5 people who are 1) very creative and 2) of the same vision. While all five guys don’t have to be monotone in the musical ideas they have as that may lead to very sterile, uncreative music, they do need to know where they’re taking this music and it cannot be in several directions.
More often than not, you’ll have a band of four or five people and they will be lead by one, MAYBE two creative geniuses who will push the other members forward either dictating what they will play, or giving them a very neat outline where they can choose what crayons they’d like to use as long as they color within those lines. I think this is particularly true of groups that follow more of a pop-song format, though many, take Radiohead or Wilco for example, all contribute creatively to the formation of a song even though the bar bones structure was written by Yorke or Tweedy respectively.
A band like Berry, this probably also the case. Joey writes the songs, then the band destroys it a little, or completely, and then bring it back into a usable form that is similar, and disimilar to what it was in the beginning and is now also a creation of the whole band’s rather than just Joey’s. While in my case in Pilots, I came with a pretty well crafted song, the band learned it, maybe adjusted a part here and there, or threw in a different back beat, and the song’s done. VERY seldom could I bring a melodic idea to the group and something great would come of it (with one exception, the song “His Hands” began as a simple riff, and through several jams did Matt and I come up with a structure that eventually gave way to a song.) But even this exception is much different to most of our songs. It’s over 6 minutes long, has three very dynamic sections from very quiet to loud, and has an extended intro and outro. Not at all like a few of the songs I wrote that were V-CH-V-CH-BR.
In another way, how can I apply these dynamic ideas to post-rock? Is it possible to create the same kind of melodic weight and transcendence of an Explosions 6 minute song in 2 and half using dynamic ideas that Berry does? Instead of slowing building a giant crescendo use more subtly choices for notes that build to chords and use scissors to cut and paste the low end giving certain “heavier” sections bottom end and weight while leaving “lighter” sections trebly and airy? Maybe? Perhaps the one of the beauties of post-rock is repetition and the way it weaves a melody like a theme throughout 3, 4 and 5 movements of a piece. This is undoubtedly true, but is it possible to do both?
I don’t know. I’d like to try. This makes me wish I’ll run into a few more people who I’ll be able to create music with again and that we’ll be “of one mind.” Perhaps JB will live close soon and we’ll find a drummer and a bass player who will make post-rock music with us. Or Pilots will reunite in January like we’re taking about. Who knows. Until then I’ll just have the next time Berry makes it down, or see the Color Revolt or something like that.