Thursday, June 7, 2012

Peter Gabriel - San Jacinto

This is about Peter Gabriel, and specifically about San Jacinto, but I have a brief story that might show what I mean more than just telling you would. When I was just barely 20 years old I saw the Jerry Garcia Band do a show at Stony Brook University. It was the winter of 1980, two weeks after my birthday. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember all that many details, but I totally remember the show. Things I don’t remember? Well, how I got to the show is one them. I suppose I took the Long Island Railroad out to the University. No recollection. Cold northeastern middle-of-February winter, with blowing icy winds? Probably, but not at all sure. I remember being cozy and warm inside the gym, but how did I manage to get those fourth row seats? No idea. I remember being there with my friend Larry from high school, who I haven’t seen in decades now. 

It was over 30 years ago, but I remember it as if it happened last Monday. We were up close, center section, on the aisle, right in front of where Jerry would play. But right across the aisle there was this exceedingly nervous guy. I love the Grateful Dead, but the guy across from me was practically in ecstasy. At the seats, at the atmosphere, at the anticipation of seeing Garcia play. But, almost like a mantra, all he could say to us, the people he came with, anyone who would listen, was that he hoped Jerry would play Sugaree. We had gotten there early, and he must have said a hundred times that he hoped Jerry would play Sugaree. Over and over, again and again, Sugaree. Must’ve been an hour, easy. By that time we *all* hoped he would play Sugaree. Because that was what the guy across the aisle came for, lived for, and probably even heard in his head all the time. It seemed like that one song drove him through his life, and I don’t at all mean that in any kind of bad way. For whatever reason, that song gave him meaning, filled him up, made him happy. And then the lights dimmed, and the crowd roared, and the band came out. And there was Jerry Garcia, right there in front of us, checking the tuning on his guitar one final time. And when he started to play the first few notes of that first song of the night, the guy across the aisle just closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and looked heavenward with a blissful smile on his face. And my friend and I looked at each other, and pronounced it good with a high five. Sugaree. First song.

And that’s me, going to see Peter Gabriel. I’m always waiting for San Jacinto. Goose bumps, every single time. I can’t even explain it. For whatever reason, that song just fills me up, gives me peace. Every time. 

So today Gabriel posted a newly restored version of San Jacinto, from the Us tour in 1993. Almost 20 years ago, but I can still see him crossing the river on his raft, breathing in front of the giant shadow screen, singing with arms raised high. Goose bumps. 

So yeah, this post isn’t quite about synthesizers the way most of them usually are. But the driving, pulsing Fairlight sequencers that start things off always get me. And it’s not about textured soundscapes that might shape a song, although Tony Levin’s haunting Chapmann Stick does indeed shake the arena (as it should). And it’s not about ethereal guitar tones complementing both the bass and the sequences as they lumber along, although watching David Rhodes stand motionless in the shadows while Gabriel sings his heart out seems to fit the song perfectly. 

It’s all of these things, all of them together. For me, San Jacinto is my Sugaree. Goose bumps every time. 

I’m seeing him at Jones Beach in September. 

I hope he plays my song.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Takla Makan - Timorianne
Listened to Timorianne for the first time today, the new album from Takla Makan (who in “real life” is Tony Allgood of Oakley Sound Systems, purveyors of fine analog synth modules). Totally loved it. And in some ways I can’t really say why. I mean, it’s not like music I end up making, and you could also say it’s been done before, and that there’s nothing really groundbreaking or new about it. And yes, that’s all sort of true. 


I guess the best way to say it is that there’s something about it, something that fires me up, catches my thoughts, and I guess that it just hits all the right spots. It’s simply good, and exactly what I like hearing. 

One could say it’s just like Tangerine Dream from days gone by. And yes, that’s somewhat fair. On the other hand, you could instead say it’s modern modular music, the sequencer music of today. So the tools are similar, but it’s just so good that it’s almost not even worth making the comparison. It’s as if Tangerine Dream abandoned this sort of thing long ago, and the Takla Makan records picked it up years later and continued the thought. And all I can really say about it is that it makes me very happy. 

Burbling sequencers, rich textures, shimmering pads, pounding drum machines, synth bass lines, even a 303ish phrase here and there, not to mention the occasional heavenly choir. It’s an exquisite blend of all those elements, done just right, totally replayable any number of times. Perfect for that long drive into the mountains late at night. Or for giving your morning subway ride into the office just the right amount of floating surrealism if you have a good set of headphones. 

Highly recommended. Synthesizer music at its finest.