Our first show with this enlarged band was at the Heatwave Festival outside Toronto. We were terrified. We were going to perform almost all new, unheard material with a completely new sound, though I think to be safe we started the set with some popular favorites played by the old four-piece band. The festival crowd was with us. Audiences love it when a performer walks the tightrope in front of them; like sports fans, they feel like their support is what keeps the team winning. It had the desired effect.
We were nervous, but ecstatic too, and the audience sensed that. In the end we might have been a little sloppy, but it worked. Backstage afterward we all jumped for joy. It was a totally new kind of performing for me. It was about surrender, ecstasy, and transcendence, and the live performance tended to really bring those qualities to the forefront.
I think audiences sometimes felt this too. With a smaller group there is tight musical and personal interaction, and the audience can still distinguish among the various personalities and individuals on stage. Everyone was both musically and visually part of the whole. The band became a more abstract entity, a community. And while individual band members might shine and take virtuosic turns, their identities became submerged within the group.proflantacen.tk
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It might seem paradoxical, but the more integral everyone was, the more everyone gave up some individuality and surrendered to the music. It was a living, breathing model of a more ideal society, an ephemeral utopia that everyone, even the audience, felt was being manifested in front of them, if only for a brief period. As I experienced it, this was not just a musical transformation, but also a psychic one. The nature of the music helped, but partly it was the very size of the band that allowed me, even as lead singer, to lose myself and experience a kind of ecstatic release.
You can sometimes feel transported with a smaller group, but with a large band it is often the norm. It was joyous and at times powerfully spiritual, without being corny or religious in any kind of traditional or dogmatic way. You can imagine how seductive this could be. Its kinship with other more prescribed forms was obvious— the Gospel church, ecstatic trance in many parts of the world, and of course other kinds of pop music that derived from similar sources.
Interesting also that we were bringing together classic funk musicians like Bernie and white art- rock kids like ourselves. We used our own arty taste to introduce weirdly mutated aspects of black American music to rock audiences—a curious combo. There was little mixing of the two in clubs or on stage. Radio in the United States had more or less the same reaction. They said it was too funky; not really rock.
There are indeed media outlets whose audiences are interested in music regardless of the race of the composer, but by and large the world of music in the United States is only slightly less segregated than other institutions. A lot of businesses might not be overtly racist, but by playing to their perceived demographic—which is a natural business decision—they reinforce existing divisions. Needless to say, white folks like to dance too. Maybe our shows, with some of us grooving on stage, made actual dancing as opposed to thrashing about sort of okay. I got the sense that what was new was not just having black and white folks together on stage—there was nothing new about that—but the way in which we did it.
Our shows presented everyone as being part of the band.
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Everyone played together; that was what was new. My own contorting on stage was spontaneous. I obviously had to be at the mic when I was singing, but otherwise the groove took me and I let it do what it wanted. I had no interest in or ability to learn smooth dance moves, though we all watched Soul Train. Besides, a white nerdy guy trying to be smooth and black is a terrible thing to behold. I let my body discover, little by little, its own grammar of movement—often jerky, spastic, and strangely formal.
The tour eventually took us to Japan, where I went to see their traditional theater forms: Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku. These were, compared to Western theater, highly stylized; presentational is the word that is sometimes used, as opposed to the pseudo-naturalistic theater we in the West are more used to. F Everyone wore massive, elaborate costumes and moved in ways that were unlike the ways people move in real life. They may have been playing the parts of noblemen, geishas, or samurai, but their faces were painted and they spoke in voices that were far from natural.
In Bunraku, the puppet theater, often a whole group of assistants would be on stage operating the almost-life-size puppet. G The text, the voices, would come from a group of guys seated off to the side. You had to reassemble the character in your head. Was any of this applicable to a pop-music performance?
A business suit again! But I applied it to clothing as well. H On a break from the tour, I went south to Bali, a place the choreographer Toni Basil, whom Eno and I had met during the Bush of Ghosts sessions, had recommended as being transporting and all about performance. I rented a small motorcycle and headed up into the hills, away from the beach resorts.
I soon discovered that if one saw offerings of flowers and fruit being brought to a village temple compound in the afternoon, one could be pretty certain that some sort of ritual performance would follow there at night. A gamelan is a small orchestra made up mainly of tuned metallic gongs and xylophone-like instruments—the interplay between the parts is beautiful and intricate.
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In these latter events some participants would often fall into a trance, but even in trance there were prescribed procedures. I was struck by other seemingly peripheral aspects of these performances. People would wander in and out, go get a snack from a cart or leave to smoke a bidi cigarette, and then return to watch some more. This was more like the behavior of audiences in music clubs than in Western theaters, where they were expected to sit quietly and only leave or converse once the show was over.
There was no attempt to formally separate the ritual and the show from the audience. Everything seemed to flow into everything else. The food, the music, and the dance were all just another part of daily activity. I remembered a story about John Cage, who, when in Japan, asked someone what their religion was. It was part of life in much of the world, and not necessarily phony either. I decided that maybe it was okay to wear costumes and put on a show. The services in a gospel church are funky and energetic, but they are prescribed and happen in almost identical sequences over and over.
In the world of the ecstatic church, religion bleeds into performance, and there are obvious musical parallels with what we were doing. Toni had worked with untrained dancers before, so she knew how to get me to make my improvised moves, edit them, select the best ones, refine them further, and begin to order them into a sequence. It took weeks to get the moves tight. It was all going to be filmed in one master shot, so I had to be able to perform the whole thing from top to bottom without stopping on multiple takes.
It was a song-and- dance routine, as she described it, though nothing like what one normally thinks of when one hears that phrase.
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We added little film snippets during the editing that revealed the source material for some of the moves: a few seconds of a kid dancing in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo dancing there is now forbidden! In thinking of what kind of performance and tour would follow, I decided to apply my insights from Japan, Bali, and the gospel church. This show would be mapped out from beginning to end.
In retrospect, the earlier tour with a big band had been a work in progress. My movements during rehearsals gradually became more formal as I realized which improvisations worked in which sections of which songs. I storyboarded the whole thing, sometimes not knowing which song would go with which staging idea. The songs got assigned to the staging and lighting ideas later, as did details of the movements. I had realized that people on stage can either stick out if they wear white or sparkly outfits or disappear if they wear dark colors.
With music shows, there is inevitably so much gear on stage—guitars, drums, keyboards, amps— that sometimes the gear ends up being lit as much as the performers. We hid the guitar amps under the riders that the backing band played on, so those were invisible too. Wearing gray suits seemed to be the best of both worlds, and by planning it in advance, we knew there would at least be consistent lighting from night to night. We avoided that problem. But I felt it was time to break away from that a little bit.
I still confined the lighting to white, though now white in all its possibilities, permutations, and combinations. There were no colored gels as such, but we did use fluorescent bulbs, movie lights, shadows, handheld lights, work lights, household lamps, and floor lights—each of which had a particular quality of its own, but were still what we might consider white.