My life took a magnificent turn last Spring when Trixie Whitley called me to play some shows. Trixie is the musical soul sister I never knew I had, and I am still marveling at the opportunity to play with her and the legion of warm-hearted music makers and creatives orbiting in her galaxy.
Since last June, four of those musicians have been playing together a lot. Guitarist Scott Metzger, bassist Alan Gevaert, Trixie and myself met six months ago in a rehearsal space in Gent, Belgium. (You can see us at left taking a bow in Brussels.) This week we are finishing our last shows of the year together in Europe, playing with a special richness to what we are doing. I am savoring every minute, every note. Last Tuesday we played a sold out concert at Roma Theatre in Antwerp and rocked the bejeezus out of the place. In the front by the stage was the great Belgian singer Helmut Lotti and his girlfriend, we were told, rocking their asses off.
The music making between the four of us is a slam dance between ferocity and cosmic elegance that by nature has to be found fresh every night and on it’s own new terms. Alan can hardly regard any of what we do as really happening unless the tubes in the amps are glowing and we’ve broken a sweat. “I’ve got to feel it, man,” he will say emphatically, lighting the doused end of a rolled cigarette for a drag before attacking his bass. Alan and Trixie share flesh and blood and a lineage of music and artlife: Alan’s sister Helene is Trixie’s Mother, Alan played with and introduced Helene to Trixie’s father, Chris. That Alan and Trixie can manage the weight of their relatedness with our work is at least partly hinged, I think, on their all-or-nothing commitment to the act of music making. “I played music through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s until today,” Alan told me proudly when we met. For Trixie, there has never NOT been music. “I didn’t choose this life,” she says, “the music chose me.”
Like our band mates, Scott and I are driven to play from the source every chance we get, not because we can, but because we see no other logical reason for us to put an instrument in our hands. “I have to do this,” Scott said during a late night drive. “I have to play. People get caught up in all these aspects of the gig, all kinds of bullshit, but I have to play. As long as there is a bar down the street where I can play, I’ll be fine.”
In New York the night before leaving for Europe, Trixie and my wife Traci considered the daunting realities of the tour ahead. Trixie was feeling the responsibility of every “what-if” and “have-to”, and if that was not enough, she was gonna be the only girl on a bus of dudes. A plan was hatched – this would be The Broth Tour. Whatever came our way – insecurities, shitty sound, smelly bodies, the static of inner and outer worlds – it would all be put in the broth and stirred up, made into something that nourished.
It is this kind of mindfulness that has made falling in with Trixie’s plans nearly effortless for me, even in a year of moderate chaos when, without management, Trixie had family and friends pitching in to help her with the tasks of world touring appearances and a bunch of amazing shit I don’t even know about. (On one of the band’s days off Trixie played solo on a Belgian T.V. show, at one point speaking candidly with the Belgian Prime Minister of Immigration….WHAT????) Throughout the rigamarole, (she recently signed with new management) Trixie’s wavelength remains ever generous, and I am struck by how she minds the creative moments with great intuitiveness, careful not to over-articulate. Like me and many of the folk she gathers to her side, Trixie is independent in music and mind, reaching through the traditions for the next language of these arts, not to copy the ones before. I have heard her say more than once “This is sacred.” For 6 months I’ve been taking my seat behind the drums and asking what’s next, feeling pretty certain that Trixie will have an answer, and that it’s gonna be good.
We set out on a course for the real and rapturous. Trixie puts superhuman pressure on herself to deliver, and we do our best to follow suit. There is no diluting the music, no room to be inattentive, but also little room to think, which makes the stakes deliciously, terrifyingly high. When we only come close to channeling the wild spirit, it can be as excruciating as not getting it at all, usually worse. We evolve in our recoveries. We do our best to ride out dark moments with care for one another, with humor and space, never asking a passionate soul to be anything but. There’s another chance we can find it tomorrow night. In this pursuit we are lifers.
A reviewer writing for indieberlin.de wrote of our Berlin show last week: “Trixie was burning, and I mean burning, to play that night. And her enthusiasm must have rubbed off on her band, who let rip from the first note of the first song, and didn’t ease up until the end of everything… impressive, and instructional. That’s how you do it, I thought. That’s how you do it.”
The reviewer also wrote, “The drummer [me!] was no spring chicken, he had a nice sticky-out beard, was a bit overweight and played the whole gig with his Hawaii shirt open to his waist. He was leaning forward, listening to her [Trixie!] intently and watching every move and playing off her. The bass player [Alan!] was also great, a study in absolute concentration, and the lead guitarist [Scott!] left so much space you wouldn’t believe, extremely unusual for a lead guitarist…and when he did effortlessly drop in a note or two it was right in the right place, there wasn’t a note wasted.”
I’m sure quoting a review of your own show is lame, but fuck it! – it’s all true except the Hawaiian shirt part.
Berlin was indeed incredible, but the night before in Muenster was when a man stopped me in the bathroom and said “Very good show! You kicked my face in. I love it when you kick my face in!” That night we stepped onto the little stage at Gleis 22 with blood in our teeth and EVERYONE had it good. Afterwards, lit up from the show, Scott and Trixie volleyed truisms about the joy of music and the art of living, an oft-chewed-on dual subject with this bunch. “It is all about knowing your place in things,” said Trixie, “knowing what it is you bring, what those around you need from you…”
One man who gives what is needed on a nightly basis is our sound engineer Tim Lessens, who facilitates the face-kicking. (Tim is pictured at right) In the time that I’ve known Tim he’s become a proud Papa of one little Wolf, the second generation of Tim’s family to be born into a musical world. (Tim’s Father is a famous Belgian drummer.) Tim cannot mask his joy that tour is nearly finished.
Our Tour Manager Eric Verberdt (left) is also responsible for this good time, giving our unit a precious sense of security from day to day AND teaching Scott and I how to play Texas Hold-Em. His attention to the human conditions of travel and music making is the stuff of greatness. Over a dinner in France, Trixie asked him how he handles problematic situations with people that operate on different frequencies or with different values. Eric said, “I tell them they are right. And then I ask, ‘Now what are we going to do about it?'”
One of the gifts of this tour was hearing Annelies and Jochem of Echo Beatty (right) begin each night playing their folky cinematic-trance music of found sound-percussion and sparse melody, with Annelies crooning and wailing at the same time .
Anton Coene is a longtime friend and collaborator of Trixie’s. As you can see, Anton’s photography makes this blog post way more special than words can do. His eye and spirit are one in the same and everyone on tour developed an unexpected sense of wonderment at seeing our likenesses amidst the changing and challenging landscapes. A Deluxe Edition of Trixie’s album Fourth Corner was released during this tour, filled with Anton’s great images.
The Wikipedia page for the Spree River in Germany states “Many people died in the Spree while trying to cross the Berlin Wall, including children who drowned with rescuers not allowed to enter the river to save them.” Our bus driver Bassie did not meet such a fate. Backstage in Berlin he told a few of us about being born in East Berlin, and how his Mother smuggled him across the waters of Spree and through the wall. No surprise that the man drives a steady haul.
If not for these folk taking their place, we would not enjoy the music making as much as we have, much less the luxury of post-show art-of-living talks. Our tour ends this week and I will count the days until this pack of exotic animals converges again. My gratitude and deep admiration goes out to all.
And then, the music continues… a week after we return, I’ll join Trixie and a few of her other NYC musical legionaires Sam Cohen and Josh Kaufman for shows in Burlington VT, Montreal, Quebec, and LePoisson Rouge in NYC. The shows are exciting for many reasons – they will cap an exhaustive year for Trixie traveling the globe supporting “Fourth Corner”… AND MESIKO WILL BE OPENING THE SHOWS!!! Woo hoo!!!! So please: if you or anyone you know lives in the cities, come and bring your face and let us lovingly kick it in! (Click TIX links below for tickets and info)