Under Investigation: The Ultimate ’80s Festival

Question: What do acting troupes and musical groups have in common? Answer: The ensemble experience.
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Question: What do acting troupes and musical groups have in common?
Answer: The ensemble experience. Sure we get paid and some achieve fame, but for many actors and musicians alike, being part of an ensemble—a virtual family of performers and crew—is really what it’s all about. We gather as a group of talented people with one common goal, work our collective asses off for the duration of the production, and then go our separate ways. It’s an intensely rewarding experience like no other.

The call came out of nowhere. I had been hired in 2008 as musical director for another tour called It Was 40 Years Ago Today, which recreated the entire Sgt. Pepper’s album with featured artists Todd Rundgren, Denny Laine, Lou Gramm, Christopher Cross, and Bo Bice. This time the gig required an M.D. for the opening set of the Replay America tour, which was billed as “The Ultimate ’80s Festival,” featuring Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes, Martha Davis and the Motels, and Patty Smyth of Scandal. The headliners were the Go-Go’s, who were completely self-contained, but we would be sharing their crew. Though slightly out of my comfort zone, I accepted the offer and looked forward to joining this new ensemble for the month of July. My work began two months earlier.

PRE-PRODUCTION

As M.D., my first duty was to put together a band. Spending a month on a tour is not unlike living with everyone involved, so personal compatibility is every bit as important as musical ability. After a couple of dozen calls, I had assembled a group of musical avengers as worthy as any, who also happen to be some of the nicest guys on the planet: Greg Hawkes from the Cars on keyboards, former Motel and bassist extraordinaire Doug Lunn, and uber-drummer Gregg Bendian. I had done various Todd Rundgren shows with Greg Hawkes and Gregg Bendian, and played with Gregg and Doug in Bendian’s amazing Mahavishnu Project, so I knew we had a winning team. The next step was to interface with the producers and artist management to determine set times and song choices. Once each artist’s set list was established, and any changes of key and/or arrangements from the original recordings were confirmed, it was my job to get reference materials to each band member. This task was expedited via YouTube, which provided ample links to both studio and live versions of every song that could easily be forwarded. The non-musical part of the job involved interacting with tour manager Brian Chubb to clarify rehearsal schedules, backline, transportation, and so on.

REHEARSALS

Our three days of rehearsal began in Atlanta on July 1st, at the esteemed Crossover Entertainment Group facility. Day one was reserved for the band alone and we spent the bulk of it working out Martha and Patty’s sets and fine-tuning our sounds. My rig consisted of “Swirly,” my Beck-necked custom Fender Stratocaster, and a Line 6 James Tyler Variax for acoustic sounds and altered tunings. I ran the Strat through a Hermida Zen Drive, Analog Man Comprosser, Klon Centaur, vintage Pro Co Rat, Boss PS-5 Super Shifter (for chorusing), and an old Boss delay, all of which fed a 4x10 Fender Hot Rod DeVille. I generally plugged the Variax directly into a Fender Vibrolux Reverb reissue.

Martha Davis arrived on day two along with multi-instrumentalist and original Motel Marty Jourard who would be playing saxophone and keyboards throughout her set. Martha was playing on three songs, using a Silverburst Gibson L6-S and an Ibanez UE-300 multi-effects pedal with compression, chorus, and a built-in Tube Screamer through a Fender Deluxe reissue. All went well and Martha’s down-to-earthiness was infectious. Pete Byrne arrived that evening and we spent a few hours getting his stems (Brit-speak for tracks) up and running. Greg Hawkes was assigned to start and stop the stems, which Pete was running with Logic on a MacBook Air and M.O.T.U. interface, and a click track was routed to Gregg Bendian’s in-ear monitors.

Day three was another story. We were scheduled to spend the day with Patty Smyth and Glen Burtnik (who covered lead guitar duties during the first half of the tour), and then stage a final dress rehearsal with all three artists, but fate had other plans. Patty and Glen’s flights were cancelled and we were informed that our only rehearsal would take place during our first soundcheck. Yikes! The next day we boarded the bus and headed to Clearwater, Florida for our first gig where (thankfully) everything went smoothly.

PETE’S SET

First up was gentleman Pete Byrne performing updated E.D.M arrangements of three Naked Eyes hits. The band’s job was to supplement Pete’s stems—synth and percussion tracks sans guitar—either by playing along with existing parts or adding new ones. Pete was firing away on his Ovation Adamas acoustic throughout “(What) In the Name of Love,” but finding an electric guitar part on the song was a no-brainer—I just latched on to the song’s killer bass and rode it. Ex. 1 offers two fingering options for this gargantuan riff, one with open A’s and one without. It’s an ingenious and irresistible F#-Dorian-based line that bounces the 5, 6, and b7 (C#, D#, and E) off of a b3 (A) pedal.

The chordal intro and re-intro figures in “Promises, Promises” served up great gobs of Nile Rodgers-style funk and offered the chance to play parts not included on the stems. Complete the four-bar figure by getting comfy with the two-bar rhythmic motif shown in Ex. 2a, and then superimpose onto it the Am7, D9, Dm7, and Em7 chords illustrated in Ex. 2b as indicated. This funk fest was also the bed for an eight-bar improvised guitar solo.

Pete never failed to rev up the crowd every time he ended his short set with the smashing “Always Something There to Remind Me.” He improvised a different acoustic guitar and vocal intro every night as a teaser, before Gregg Bendian had a mere two clicks to hit the opening tom fills and sync us with the stems for the song’s signature C#-C#/B-C#/ A#-C#/G# whole-note intro hits. The crowd goes crazy, the fabulous Go-Go’s crew does a quick reset, and we segue into…

MARTHA’S SET

Playing with Martha Davis and keyboardist/saxophonist Marty Jourard was an absolute delight. Adored by her fans and singing better than ever, Martha’s musical well runs deep, and it shows in her writing. Every time we began the opening strains of the Motels’ hit “Suddenly Last Summer,” the crowd immediately voiced their approval. The song’s intro and verse rhythm figure (Ex. 3a) features a Police-influenced Asus2/add9 arpeggio, but in typical Motels fashion, there’s a twist— a #4 (D#) inserted between the root and 5. I played it four times during the intro, and then laid out for the entire first verse and chorus while Martha covered the subliminal muted eighth-note chords originally played by session rocker Waddy Wachtel. I emulated original Motels’ guitarist Craig Hull’s second verse and chorus figure as follows: Rhy. Fig. 1 (4 bars); Rhy. Fig.1 transposed down a whole step to G (2 bars); Rhy. Fig. 1 (2 bars); repeat the whole she-bang. The pre-chorus figure entails Ex. 3b’s deliciously dissonant Dsus#4-D figure—the #4 appears often in Martha’s music—followed by two more bars of Rhy. Fig. 1. These four bars repeat with slightly different rhythmic phrasing, before we add a crashing open G5 and arpeggiated Bm for one bar each, reprise two bars of Rhy. Fig. 1, and repeat the previous four bars. Next we move to the instrumental interlude illustrated in Ex. 3b, where we’re letting the open-A ring and cascading down a series of descending parallel fourth intervals (a.k.a. inverted root-5 dyads). Shades of McCoy Tyner!

Next up was Martha’s guitar tour-de-force, “Mission of Mercy,” which I approached as half Yardbirds-era Jeff Beck and half Todd Rundgren. Ex. 4a portrays the ferocious Beck-style intro, which begins with an octave slide to low E and two bars of heavily vibrated b3-plus-5 major third intervals. Bars 3 and 4 feature the coolest response riff ever. It contains only two components— an E5 chord and a heavily vibrated low G— but Martha has unwittingly constructed a rhythmic palindrome that can be flipped to read the same forwards or backwards (if you flip the tie). The Todd part comes sixteen bars later, with another progression involving the #4. Take the rhythm motif in Ex. 4b, and apply each pair of ascending A and B/A inversions shown in Ex. 4c to each subsequent pass. The first verse segues back to the intro, while the second verse tacks on Ex. 4d’s joyous E-B-D-E barre chords (bars 1 and 2), and A-to-B/A punctuations (bars 3 and 4), both played twice (Tip: Use the first two voicings from Ex. 4c.) Add two bars of B5, a bar of G5, plus two beats each of F#5 and F5 to lead back to the second half of Ex. 4a and some wicked guitar fills.

The set progressed through “Take the L,” “Remember the Nights,” and “Total Control,” before concluding with “Only the Lonely.” Martha devised the song’s intro and verse rhythm figure in the key of G on guitar, and Marty Jourard adapted it to its signature Prophet 5 synth sound. Additionally, the song was recorded a half-step higher (in Ab), before it returned to its original key for live performance. Ex. 5a, which has been rearranged for guitar, documents Martha’s use of fourths, fifths, and sixths to create an exotic harmonic backdrop over the verse’s I-VI-IV-I root progression (G-E-C-G). Ex. 5b, also written a halfstep lower than the original recording, offers my live take on Waddy Wachtel’s beautifully rendered eight-bar solo, which is played over Rhy. Fig. 2. Topping it all off, Martha never failed to hit that beautiful high note on the final chorus, leaving an ecstatic crowd primed and ready for …

PATTY’S SET

Her canned intro states that she’s “the ultimate rock chick who was once asked by Edward Van Halen to replace David Lee Roth,” but Patty Smyth simply sings her ass off and rocks the house. She also brought to the party two fine six-stringers and singers, frequent collaborator Glen Burtnik for the first leg, and original Scandal guitarist Keith Mack for the West Coast dates. One of those aliens who plays left-handed without re-stringing, Glen ran his Jimi Hendrix Strat (painted all Xmas-y) through an Xotic SP compressor, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, Boss DD-6 delay, and The Depths and Speaker Cranker (both by Earth- Quaker Devices) into a Fender Blues Junior. Keith’s rig comprised a PRS SE with Lollar P-90s, Boss DD-20 Giga Delay, HBE Distortion, and Suhr Shiba Drive feeding a 100-watt Marshall JCM 900 and 4x12 cab.

Patty opened with “Hands Tied,” before assaulting the audience with Scandal’s megahit, “The Warrior.” Ex. 6 depicts the song’s powerful D-G5-A-Bm intro and chorus figure, which Keith Mack devised from a keyboard demo. It’s a testimonial to ’80s rock, with huge power chords and palm-muted single notes peppered with just enough space to suck in the audience. Combine that with Patty’s sing-along chorus and you’ve got one happy crowd.

Keith plays a beautiful, thematic 16-bar solo over the G-Lydian-flavored IV-chord rhythm figure shown in Ex. 7a, and Ex. 7b takes us halfway through it. Here, he begins with sliding fourths (bar 1) and follows up with two bars of legato phrasing that segue into sweet major-third feedback in bar 4. Bar 5 reprises the sliding fourths in a new rhythmic configuration, before things get even more legato, with only four pick attacks over the course of the next three measures.

After three acoustic numbers— “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” “No Mistakes,” and a swampy rendition of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” (with sax by Marty Jourard)—Patty gives her audience what they’ve been waiting for: The steady stream of 160 bpm eighth-notes that signals the intro to “Goodbye to You.” Ex. 8a lays out the basic I-IV-VI-V verse progression in A (though the accented E chords in bar 4 are often varied). Add three rounds of D and E chords for one bar each, and then head straight to Ex. 8b’s chorus figure. You’d be hard pressed to find a more fun figure to rock out on than this broken A5 chord, chromatic bass run to F#, the 3 of the following D chord, and ensuing F#m and E chord stabs. But if you’re going to keep up with Patty, there’s one prerequisite: You’ve gotta jump up and down like you’re on a pogo stick! The audience goes nuts, there’s a brief set change, the beautiful Go-Go’s hit the stage, and barely halfway through their set we’re either back at the hotel or on the bus heading to the next city—one big, happy family.

Speaking for Greg, Gregg, Doug, and myself, I’d like to thank Pete, Martha, and Marty for making us feel like a real band, Patty, Glen, and Keith for rocking our socks off, tour manager Brian and bus driver Hans for moving us right along, and the fabulous Go-Go’s and their illustrious crew for making it all happen. It was an awesome ensemble experience!

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