Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Veruca Salt/Local H/Fig Dish

Birch Hill, Old Bridge, NJ

sorry, Mike has not yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

Labels: , , , , ,


Warped Tour

Mighty Mighty Bosstones/Social Distortion/Pennywise/Blink 182/Reel Big Fish/Less Than Jake

Bradley Park, Asbury Park, NJ

sorry, Mike has not yet written about this show -- coming soon!

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Lilith Fair

Sarah MacLachlin, The Cardigans, Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, Paula Cole, Juliana Hatfield, Once Blue, and Victoria Williams

PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

sorry, I haven't yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Shawn Colvin/Duncan Sheik

State Theater, New Brunswick, NJ

Sheik performed with a second guitarist, a bass player, and a percussionist. The sound mix was terrific. Very mellow, yet you could hear every note...

As a sidebar, here's a 1996 interview I did with Sheik on his birthday (11/18):

Mike: One of the things I love about your album is it's not just great music--songs, I mean--but also it's such a great sonic environment. Was that the kind of thing you heard in your head when you were composing the songs, or was this something that evolved in the studio?

Duncan: Well, definitely my aesthetic comes from people like Brian Eno or David Sylvian or the later Talk Talk records. Whether they're electronically produced or they're acoustic-instrument produced, I still like these things that sound really organic and moody and have their own kind of darkness. That's always been a really important part of creating recordings for me.

Mike: So when you have something like in "Reasons For Living"--you have that kind of gentle beat that kicks in there--is that the kind of thing that you hear in your head and set out to do, or did you have a general impression in your mind, and then you stumbled upon that sound?

Duncan: Actually, "Reasons For Living" is the only song on the record that.... Well, it's kind of unique in a couple of ways. It's the only one that uses a lot of keyboards. And it's the only song where the demo and the album version are very noticeably different--a completely different arrangement. Every other song on the record, if you listen to the original demo and then what we did on the record--of course, there's a difference but not a qualitative one.

In this case, we took the song--which started off as a kind of Beatles-esque, eighth-note heavy, vintage electric guitar sounding--and turned into a much more ambient, keyboard, world-beat piece. It's actually something I think I will do much more of, and it's odd that it's the only thing on the album that's like that because I love Everything But the Girl's new record and Massive Attack. I'm definitely into a lot of the new English ambient electronic music. It's something I want to do more of in the future, but meanwhile this is the one song that developed that way. In this case, yeah, it was more in the studio that that happened. But that's atypical.

Mike: Most of them are things that you set out to do?

Duncan: Most of the time it's very clearly produced even in its demo form.

Mike: I have to ask something I've been wondering--at the beginning of the song "Home," what's the sound right at the beginning?

Duncan: It's the accordion breathing.

Mike: [laughing] That's funny because when I heard that it startled me, so I listened to it a couple of times, and it sounded like some sort of breathing, but I couldn't tell whether it was human or mechanical.

Duncan: Yes, mechanical, that would be it. [laughs]

Mike: Wow! When the album gets sonically more dense, how many overdubs or recording tracks are there going at any one time?

Duncan: Everything is essentially made up of an acoustic guitar track, a vocal, and then equal amounts of bass or electric guitar or real string arrangements--which may be what you're thinking of when you hear a lot of stuff happening. On the five songs on which there are strings, there's a much denser environment because there's a lot of players.

Most of the time, there's a pretty sparing production--it's not like there's ever ten guitar tracks, or something like on a Smashing Pumpkins record. It's was really a much more minimalist approach. Things did end up getting full, but it was very careful.

Mike: I think that does come through. I was curious about it because it seems like a lot of what's going on is you, at any one given time. It does have quite a spatial sound to it, so because of that, it gives an impression of the density without actually being like that.

Duncan: Yeah, exactly. It's good if it affects you in that way--it's definitely achieved the desired effect.

Mike: It's a great CD if you have a good system to crank it right up loud, because you feel a sense of an environment around you, as opposed to just the songs. That's one of the things I've always loved about big band music--most people listen to it these days on crappy records or AM radio, but if you listen to a good recording and listen to it really loud--

Duncan: It's pretty intense.

Mike: Exactly. Let me back up a little bit. You grew up in New Jersey, right?

Duncan: Well, I was born in Montclair and I grew up in South Carolina. But I spent some time--until I was four or five years old--in North Caldwell. When I was in second grade, I lived in West Orange for a year. But other than that, I grew up in South Carolina.

Mike: What happened between then and putting out the album. What were your musical experiences up until that point?

Duncan: I went away to boarding school when I was twelve up in Massachusetts. Also at that time, I went to music camp. When I went away to music camp, there were some older kids there who were listening to more sophisticated music than what I had been listening to--if not much better. They were listening to a lot of Yes and Genesis and King Crimson and stuff like that. So when I was that age, I started really getting into the prog rock stuff. Having grown up in South Carolina, you listened to AC/DC, Van Halen, and all that.

I was playing a lot of guitar and though The Beatles and the Stones were stuff that I had heard, I just didn't know them that well. So when I was away at music camp I started getting into those two, and all this English music--I really latched onto it and listened to it heavily.

Later on, as the eighties progressed, I got more into that second invasion of British bands like Tears For Fears, New Order, The Smiths, Depeche Mode--all that stuff. After that, I started getting into more esoteric versions of that like The Blue Nile, the later Talk Talk records, David Sylvian. Those are my big influences.

Mike: That's quite a melange of influences.

Duncan: Yes. All of them are, pretty much, English, too. That's the one thread.

Mike: That make sense because it seems that British popular music tends to be more pop influenced or interested, while a lot of American popular music has more Blues influences. Would you say that the earlier things, like the prog rock, had an influence in your sound? When you're writing your songs do you ever hark back to some of the stuff you were listening to then?

Duncan: Yeah, definitely there are certain kinds of--if you listen to a song like "November"--there's a kind of baroque quality to it. And bands like Yes were doing that a lot--borrowing from a lot of different musical eras and genres, sometimes in subtle ways, and sometimes in not-so-subtle ways, and putting it together and making this new creation.

I think all of those things are in my subconscious and unconscious and they definitely come out.

Mike: And after being into all that early 80's British invasion kind of stuff, what was it like working with people like [producer] Rupert Hine and Howard Jones and [bass player] Pino Palladino?

Duncan: Since all three of those guys were big characters in that time? What's interesting is that a lot of that music--listening today--I really find the production atrocious. [laughs] Howard Jones is an incredibly great guy and I really admire his musicianship and I love a lot of his songs, but I listen to some of those songs--and I know he does, too--and you just cringe. The synth programming was just so cliched, and the drum sounds are just horrible--huge mechanical snare sounds which I find aesthetically disgusting.

All of those guys, they've all moved on from that time. Rupert was happy to make a much more organic record--as opposed to a computer-oriented one, which is what he's used to doing. Although not all the time, to be fair, he's made records with Les Negresses Vertes, this band of gypsies from France, and there's not a computer anywhere near their music. So he's made that kind of record as well.

Mike: Did you hook up with Howard Jones through Rupert?

Duncan: Yes and no. Rupert had mentioned that he wanted me to get together with Howard. I said, "that would be great," but then it wasn't going to work out since I was leaving London--this was the summer before last [1995]. The day before I left London, I went to a Buddhist meeting--I'm a practicing Buddhist--and who happened to be there but Howard Jones! It was totally random. It turned out that Howard had heard something about me from Rupert, so when I introduced myself, we had a conversation and he invited me back to his place and we spent the afternoon listening to music. It was really cool--kind of a coincidental, chance meeting. He's been very supportive.

Mike: That's interesting--I've been reading a bit about Buddhism lately. In all your travels, do you find that people in America are pretty receptive to ideas that aren't the mainstream, so to speak, like that?

Duncan: Well, it totally depends. Sometimes I'm very surprised by the open-mindedness of people who I have some preconceived notions that they're going to be very closed. I did go on tour for two months with Jars of Clay--as you may know, they're a Christian band who've crossed over. The guys in Jars of Clay were very respectful of my Buddhism--we had a few conversations about it--and I respect what they're doing. Christianity is old and cool, but it's been so perverted by so many different things, and I think they're trying to bring some of the purity back to it.

So I respect them a lot, but meanwhile, some of their fans were definitely not as open-minded. When it came out in the press that I was a Buddhist, there were people who took major issue with me being on the tour with them. But it never really got in the way, except for some people complaining.

Mike: A guy I knew a couple of years ago was a stand-up comedian as well as a practicing Buddhist--I didn't really know much about it at the time. And when I would mention it to people, they seemed to think it was some sort of cult because they didn't seem to know anything about it.

Duncan: Well, meanwhile Buddhism's been around longer than Christianity, so it's not fair to call it a cult...

Mike: I guess if people don't know anything about it, they tend to think it's some weird thing, or otherwise they would have heard of it.

Duncan: Actually, Christianity was a "cult" for a long time. It's very unfortunate. The whole reason why there is religion is so people have some way of communicating and getting along with one another and living together positively. It's ironic that it could come to cause so much grief.

Mike: Another interesting thing about Buddhism is that some people try to totally push it off the charts and say it's not even a religion because it doesn't deal with a God.

Duncan: The thing is there's an important distinction you have to make--I've been reading a lot about this lately--in Christianity, it's said that you need the power of God in order to be saved. There's a reliance on this power outside yourself. Whereas in Buddhism, you say that you have this diamond inside yourself, and if you polish that diamond you can manifest your inherent enlightenment, so to speak. The difference has come to be--in Christianity, they're looking for this outside power to save them and to rely upon, whereas in Buddhism, it's all totally personal responsibility. That's not to say that there's not a conception of "divine" or "holy." I think enlightened Christians will say that "God is within me," and I think that's much closer to the idea of Buddhism.

Mike: On a different note, today is your birthday, right?

Duncan: Yes.

Mike: Well, happy birthday!

Duncan: Thanks!

Mike: How old are you?

Duncan: I'm twenty-seven.

Mike: I was thinking of that because I was listening to your album earlier, and time seems to weigh heavily in your lyrics. You've got [the songs] "November" and "Days Go By." In "The End of Outside," you have the lines about the past, present, and future. Is that something that intentionally happened?

Duncan: It's one of the big realizations for me--and I think it has something to do with Buddhism, but I think it's a general realization--is the fact that everything changes from moment to moment, and time is a quality which permeates everything and changes everything. Everything is constantly different. If at one moment, you're blissfully happy, the next moment you could be in the depths of hell. For example, in "She Runs Away," in the chorus it says "the darkness comes and the darkness goes." I feel like I need to say that even if things are so horrible right now, time happens and everything changes. Things get better. [with a chuckle] Or vice-versa.

Mike: Another point of curiosity about the song "November"--does that have anything to do with the fact that November is your birthday?

Duncan: It's an important month for me certainly for that reason, as well as for other reasons. Also, there's a certain kind of quality to the month--a darkness, but a really beautiful darkness. It's before the holidays, and there's always been this kind of excitement for me, but also a strange kind of fear, too. It always brought up a lot of deep emotions for me.

Mike: That makes a lot of sense--a lot of times, you use months as metaphors for people's lives, and it's interesting that people will use November and October as a symbol of old age. Oddly enough, though, December is kind of left out of that despite it being maybe more appropriate because it's the last month.

Duncan: Then, when you're talking about old age, you're talking about death. Luckily, there's Christmas there to brighten the whole month.

Mike: [laughing] That's true. Bright it up, or--

Duncan: Or make it even more depressing.

Mike: Yeah, depending on your outlook, that's for sure. On your CD, the front cover picture of yourself is you looking rather casual, but the inside picture of you, you're dressed more formal. Which picture of you comes closer to your personality?

Duncan: I'm definitely not walking around in suits all the time. It would be incredibly impractical for me. [laughs] I wouldn't mind that and I won't rule it out--there may be some point when I get really pretentious and I wear a suit everywhere I go, but I'm not there yet.

Mike: Although, there are some people who don't go around wearing suits all the time but they are more formal types of people--you know, metaphorically.

Duncan: Yeah, I think I am that way. I think I am a bit more formal.

Mike: Going back to your early career, is it true that you were in a band with Lisa Loeb?

Duncan: Yes. I played lead guitar for her for a year when I was a sophomore in college.

Mike: Was it a just a band that she was in, or was it her band?

Duncan: It was her and another singer, this girl named Liz. The band was called "Liz and Lisa" at the time. It was their songs, and they were singing. I was the ambient guitar whiz who showed up, and they were the really popular duo. So when they put a band together, they asked me to be play lead guitar for them.

Mike: Which do you prefer--performing your songs live, or the process of putting them together in the studio?

Duncan: I'm most definitely most happy in the studio, by far. It's fantastic when you're having a great show, to directly communicate with people and feed off of their excitement and enjoyment of the show. That's a great thing and I love that, but I'm not really an extrovert, and I'm not really a performer by nature. It's something I've had to grapple with over the past year. I'm enjoying it more and more, it's a process I'm going through, but it has its difficulties for me, personally.

Mike: I know you mentioned a couple of your musical influences, but if there was any band or artist--anytime throughout music history--who would you pick to share a bill with?

Duncan: Well--that's a good question. The shows I'm doing right now, it's just myself on acoustic guitar and this woman, Juliet Prader, playing percussion. I have a few string arrangements we took off the 32-track masters and put on DAT--they exist during the show to show that side of the record, because I think it's important. So given that I'm doing very much an acoustic show, I'd love to share a bill with Radiohead. I also really love Jeff Buckley's record. And Eric Matthews is also doing a similar thing, and that could be interesting.

Mike: What's the next single going to be after "Barely Breathing?"

Duncan: It's going to be "She Runs Away." I'm excited for that only because there was a degree of practicality in releasing "Barely Breathing" as the first single. It has the most immediate energy and is probably the most radio-friendly--though certainly not the best--song on the record. So it is serving as a really good introduction, and it's doing quite well at radio right now. But I'm much more intrigued and interested to see how well something like "She Runs Away"--which is closer to the record and slightly more of an atypical song for radio--fares.

Mike: I'm sure you're pleased with the way all of the songs turned out on the album, but if you had to pick one song as being the most musically successful recording--something that you really strove to get a good sound to and it really clicked--which would you pick?

Duncan: The three that spring to mind are "In the Absence of Sun"--it works in terms of the string arrangement being really powerful and really helping the song a lot. It really made it a satisfying production for me. "November," for similar reason but very different effect. That was the most moving moment for me, when they put down the strings for "November"--that was a pretty intense moment of my life. And "The End of Outside," as a song, is probably the most interesting, structurally and otherwise, on the record. I'd say those are the three.

Mike: Well, it guess that's about it. Duncan, once again, have a happy birthday!

Duncan: Thank you!

Labels: , , , ,



Coney Island High, New York, NY

This show was apparently part of the Intel New York Music Festival.

Labels: , , ,


Better Than Ezra/Ednaswap/Knockout Drops

Tradewinds, Sea Bright, NJ

In the afternoon, Better Than Ezra popped by WHTG and did an acoustic version of "Desperately Wanting" on the air.

That evening I was the M.C. for the show. Before their performances, I chatted backstage with Ednaswap and was given a CD by Knockout Drops.

post continues....

Although their performance was good, BTE had a touch of the rock star attitude. When I went backstage and told them I was supposed to introduce them, they merely waved me to their tour manager to set up the details. After the show, I tried to chat with them a little and they just seemed kind of bored.

It was a weeknight, which was always tricky since I was on the air at 6am the next morning. I ended up only getting 3 hours of sleep before my hated alarm clock went off the next morning...

Labels: , , , , ,



The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ

this is not the correct date for this show.

Labels: , , , ,



The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ

billed as The Jimmy Wilson Group

Labels: , , , ,


Surfstock 4

John Easdale/Jill Sobule/Burlap to Cashmere/Coward/My Drug Hell/Weston/Holy Hand Grenade

Surf Club/Planet Surf, Ortley Beach, NJ

Below is a contemporaneous review of this show I wrote for

post continues....

Surfstock 4, the July 4th concert at the Surf Club in Ortley Beach, was a worthy successor to the fine previous shows on the beach. This year, sponsoring radio station FM 106.3 selected bands to give the show a well-rounded diversity of styles, and the approach seemed to work well for most audience members.

The whole of Surfstock was greater than the sum of its parts, and each performer contributed a great deal to the fun and energy of the event. Not only was the music terrific, but the atmosphere was appropriately party-like. The weather was ideal, the crowd was eager and receptive, and the bands and artists themselves were largely accessible to fans--most of the performers strolled around the beach when they weren't on stage, gladly signing autographs or simply chatting with admirers.

The headliner, former Dramarama frontman John Easdale was clearly the crowd favorite, beginning his set with an a capella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in honor of the Independence Day holiday. Easdale structured his set cleverly, beginning with simple acoustic renditions of Dramarama favorites like "Work For Food," "Haven't Got a Clue," and "Wonderamaland." Joined onstage initially only by Dramarama guitarist Mark "Mr. E. Boy" Englert, Easdale was gradually joined onstage by Peter Wood (yet another Dramarama bandmember), and then a series of other musicians, culminating in the show-stopping electric encore of "Last Cigarette" and "Anything, Anything." Easdale--clearly enjoying himself--dug into his set with relish, and by the end of the performance, few people watching weren't on their feet.

Jill Sobule showcased many songs off of her current Happy Town album, playing with a full band to complement her sound. The singer/songwriter played selections like current single "When My Ship Comes In," "I Kissed a Girl," and "Bitter"--the latter of which Sobule used to close her set by stepping behind the drum kit and pounding the skins herself as she sang the popular song.

Making their American debut at Surfstock, My Drug Hell had two primary concerns: (a) lead singer/guitarist Tim Briffa was worried about hitting the guitar solo properly in their local hit single "Girl at the Bus Stop" (which was recorded using overdubs to give the trio a fuller sound on the record), and (b) bassist Paul Donnelly was afraid that he and his British bandmates would be the most pale people on the entire beach. But not only did they play a perfect version of "Girl at the Bus Stop," but they introduced new fans to a variety of well-performed songs, some from their album This is My Drug Hell, and some not yet recorded.

Despite their relative newness to the music world, Coward already seemed to have a decent amount of fans. The band, which kicked off a new leg of their inaugural tour at Surfstock, played rousing versions of songs from their self-titled debut, Coward. Sometimes, the band seemed to want to be in the audience as much as being on stage. They hung out on the beach for quite a long time, and lead singer Sheppard kept remarking on the stage how great the waves looked and how he wished he had a boogie board.

The other performers did just as well. Local favorites Burlap To Cashmere (who were celebrating their recent signing to A&M Records) seemed to dominate the attention of the crowd, despite their early time slot. Weston was a hit with those on the beach seeking a more dance-inspiring, energetic groove (after an initial delay, when one of the bandmembers got stuck in traffic!). And Philly band Holy Hand Grenade put on a good show even though they were sweltering in the direct midday sun.

The M.C. for Surfstock was wildman Mojo Nixon, who delighted fans by strapping on a guitar to do a rendition of "Elvis Is Everywhere." He otherwise introduced all of the other acts, occasionally fired water balloons into the crowd, and did not disappoint those who engaged him in his surreal brand of conversation.

Photo, above left: me making announcements to the crowd at Surfstock.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,