Archives for category: Show Recap

On May 15th, 2012, I played a show at Room 5 in Los Angeles. You may have heard me mention this. No offense to all of my other gigs, each of which I hold near and dear to my heart, but the L.A. gig was in a league of its own. If recording, releasing and promoting my debut CD was the ice cream, chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles…the L.A. gig was the culminated glory in being told: “…and would you like all that deep-fried?”

And like all things deep-fried, my L.A. experience touched my heart. Staying with another musician in a lovely house in a lovely neighbourhood, putting around L.A. seeing and meeting fascinating folk, sharing the bill with the extraordinary Dahls and Sara Melson and even making $20…for a few days, I was living the dream. But considering that dream has been over for two months, so where does it fit in with reality…?

Reality

I once jokingly told someone, “why would anyone bother to listen to a 30-something melancholy Chinese folk singer?” and she answered without missing a beat: “THAT’S exactly why.”

I was stunned by her optimism and strangely inspired sense-making. But in my more cynical times(i.e. all the time), I still stand by my original question. Add to that the pointless bar gigs, the inverse proportionality of audience size to gig frequency, the scores of other talented artists doing what I’m doing with more success, the scores of other talented artists doing what I’m doing with less success and Justin Bieber, getting a little down on myself is inevitable.

But having had the L.A. show affords me something I’ll always have now: the right to say, “well, at least I had the L.A. show.” And that is something important for me to remind myself of because letting the challenges of being an indie artist overshadow the epicness that was Blue Blue Satellite In Los Angeles is truly an insult to one of the most exciting 5 days of my 30-something Chinese years.

Blue Blue Satellite

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For many moons now, I’ve always claimed to be a songwriter first and foremost. Not a singer, not a guitarist, not a CD pushing self-promoter, but a songwriter.

My Ottawa CD release made me realize that this is a false claim.

Almost all of the elements that made me very satisfied with the Ottawa CD release were not song-related. For example:

  • Taking the stage to a projected visual intro with an accompanying instrumental piece.
  • The uninterrupted, three-song, no banter set of songs to kick off the show
  • The un-amplified mandolin song while walking into the audience
  • Having a backing band for Thieves but having them take the stage halfway through the first chorus:

    (impatient? go to 1:26)

There were more but I can’t reveal all my performance secrets now can I(especially since most of them are stolen)? But therein lies the keyword: “performance”. It turns out that while I still consider myself a songwriter, the performer in me is just as strong. Maybe even slightly stronger. And this can be heard on the record as well. Every element, every transition, every nuance that pushes the CD or live show beyond a simple collection of 14 songs: this is performance.

So why is this important to me? I guess I’ve become very aware of my audience whether they’re at a show or reclining with headphones  on at home. As a songwriter, my job is to write a song. Ok. Check. But as a performer, my job is to give the audience a fresh experience that will resonate with them; make them come for the music but stay for the experience…which I hope I succeeded in doing at the Ottawa CD release.

I’m still very much a songwriter. But now I’m adding the performer aspect. I suppose it marks an evolution in me, but it begs the questions: what is it that I am evolving into…?

An artist.

Thieves

Thieves @ Gallery Studios

Blue Blue Satellite

I really thought I was keeping the Toronto pre-release show pretty simple. And I believed this right up to a few days before showtime. Although I probably should have known better as I left my apartment in Ottawa.

It's schleptacular!

What I should have known was that I had to coordinate the set up of a rental P.A. system, a slideshow intro for two performers, that two out-of-town couples were well taken care of, three never-before-used stomp boxes, lighting logistics, a constantly changing guestlist and of course, the worst weather(or weather warning) of the season. Add to this the fact that I was trying to deal with these details with a shirt, tie, sweater and fitted faux-leather bomber jacket on, and it was quite the ordeal. Albeit a very fashion forward ordeal.

So what began as a musical extravaganza featuring a few bells and whistles became The Bells and Whistles Super Stress Show, featuring a bit of music. But that’s okay because the music served an oasis of calm in the middle of gigzilla. I was hardly nervous at all and yes, technical glitches did occur but I tried and hope I succeeded in moving past all of it with professionalism to deliver an entertaining show.

It was fun to be a headliner for the first time and to have a class-act like Kristine St-Pierre be my opening special guest. It was also fun to call her up during the encores à la George and Elton in “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” Also, the beauty and uniqueness of the venue helped distract the audience from, oh, say, daisy chained pedals disconnecting from each other in mid-air and crashing to the unforgiving floor with the even more unforgiving PA system amplifying the cacophony as if to say “Hey Blue, maybe plan a little better next time, yeah?

Nonetheless, the things people actually said to me at the end of the night was just all kinds of nice and made me feel like it was all worthwhile. And you know what? It was. Even if the grand piano’s supports had given out and crushed my legs and carefully colour-coordinated pants, it would have been worth it. Because having your own professionally produced debut CD, releasing it in your hometown to attentive, close friends and family and hearing their words of praise, encouragement and support can only make you strive onwards and upwards.

Thank you attendees. It was my humble honour to share some music with you for an evening. We’ll do it again. Soon.

Blue Blue Satellite

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with cover songs. As a songwriter I feel that original songs is where the artistry lies. As a performer it’s fun to do covers but I always felt like a bit of a cop out because it’s an easy way to engage an audience without earning it. Unless, like me, you like to screw with your audience by doing really obscure covers.

Then there’s YouTube where a cute girl or two will do an acoustic cover of some pop-song-du-jour and garner over a million views. Case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae-qoFPINCc. Meanwhile my original songs languish in an obscurity deeper than the covers I perform.

But in this whole equation there was one thing I never considered: What happens if someone were to cover a song of mine? Surely in that case I’d flip-flop and sing the praises of doing covers? Well, normally no…I’d easily avoid the embarrassment of flip-flopping because the notion of someone covering me seemed laughable. I mean, I can’t even employ the sentence “My YouTube views are in the ___’s” because I haven’t even cracked 10 is some cases. So just by the numbers alone, who would cover me?

But alas, 10 years of dipping my toes in the Toronto indie music scene must’ve put a black ball of cynicism in my being because I didn’t realize what a generous, kind, supportive, solidary and talented singer/songwriter scene I’ve joined since moving to Ottawa. A scene where Chrysalis, a free Ottawa-artists-covering-other-Ottawa-artists show could be put on, where TWO artists would end up covering songs of mine.

There’s a little known human emotion called elevation that is described as: “A mental ‘reset button’, wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration.”* Chrysalis was a beautiful, uplifting evening that moved everyone present. It was telling that there were zero Alanis Morissette covers and only one Paul Anka and one Kathleen Edwards cover….and yet 2 Blue Blue Satellite covers. Blows my mind…the singer/songwriter community here in Ottawa is THAT supportive, close, respectful and humble.

I’ll admit, when I first signed up, I didn’t “get it”. To cover an Ottawa artist seemed restrictive for the performer and the audience. But last weekend really opened my eyes. The point wasn’t to do a cover of Sweet Home Alabama and have the audience rock along with you. The point was to nurture and demonstrate the wealth of talent in this city with the spirit of community driving it all. I’d take that any day over a million YouTube views.

For the record, here were the covers that were Blue Blue Satellite-related at Chrysalis:
Jeremy Owens performs Thieves by Blue Blue Satellite
Missy Burgess performs Blues’ll Always Be the Blues by Blue Blue Satellite
Blue Blue Satellite performs My Blue Sweater by Missy Burgess
Blue Blue Satellite performs Go Cast Your Shadow by Sjef Frenken

Blue Blue Satellite

I debuted my two of my newest songs live at an open stage the other night. It’s been awhile since I’ve played live and it was a good feeling to “be back” of sorts. I was at Supermarket in Kensington and this seems like a pretty high profile open stage. By which I mean it’s very much a showcase of people who want to show off. Me included.

It helps that there’s a full band setup on stage so there’s a wide range of musical styles represented. Which is a good opportunity for me to sit back and silently pass judgement on the acts. Yes, I’m that shallow and competitive. But not delusional though and I’ll readily admit that many of the acts schooled me. But mostly because they played a style of music that is very condusive to large, late night drinking crowds who really aren’t there to see you. So up-tempo full-band blues and rock jams always got a good response from the crowd. Singer/songwriters not so much.

But I was comforted in the fact that very few people are doing what I’m doing, which is moody folk songs using a finger picking guitar style. In *my* mind, that says that Blue Blue Satellite is unique. Realistically however, that says that nobody is interested in Blue Blue Satellite’s music. Whatever, while I’m still independent and “undiscovered” I’ll stay true to myself…which is a good thing because I’ll therefore probably be true to myself for a long time to come…

Blue Blue Satellite

A couple of weekends ago I played my first benefit. It was for METRAC, a local organization which raises awareness of violence against women and children(metrac.org).

It was a very fun evening with 20 or so acts going on in a span of 4 hours. Pretty epic but if you think about it, it’s essentially just a by-invite-only Open Stage. But hey, Blue Blue Satellite got an invite, so who am I to judge? It may have been a rapid-fire 10 minute set but it was a great cause.

I was lucky enough to have had a very stable and happy childhood so the thought that there are women and children in my city who are victims of violence or who live in fear thereof, during this time of year especially, is sickening. I hope the money we raised that night does some good.

Regarding the show, I did two songs…tried to keep the mood light, so I did a Christmas song and an upbeat song(covered Sara Melson’s “The Holidaze” and did my own “Photographs and Wine”). I guess it’s a good thing that we only had 10 minutes…any more and I would have run out of happy songs to sing. And if there’s any truth to the “know thy audience” adage, well, a Sunday holiday crowd full of children was no time to be playing my moody, melancholy shoegaze tunes like “The Fair’s in Town Tonight” or “Against the Northern Sky”.

So thanks Monique Barry(organizer), Cadillac Lounge and METRAC for a good time!

Blue Blue Satellite

Two Sundays ago I played a show that was not at the Free Times Caf. Take a moment to wipe up your spit takes. I played the Cadillac Lounge in Parkdale as part of the monthly Songwriter’s Expo(http://www.songwritersexpo.com/site/this-month.html). It was a very good show. Probably my best all-around show. My performance was tight, the crowd was kind and the sound was handled very well and professionally. It was a quick 30 minute set so it was hard to pick songs especially since I was debuting 3 new songs(I wanted to do 4) and I had planned to do a huge crowd pleasing cover(which I cut as well).

Still though, I guess it’s a good sign that I’ve got a big enough repertoire that creating a set list is not a trivial task. Or perhaps it means my live shows are not evolving as quickly as my songwriting ability. In fact, I’m sure that’s it.

Anyway, Kirk Hammet from Metallica once said “To imitate is to create, you have to start somewhere.” And ain’t that the truth for Blue Blue Satellite. I have to admit that few of my songs are 100% original. There’s always some little hook or maybe a melody, sometimes more sometimes less that’s borrowed or at least inspired by another song. So for fun, here’s the setlist from my Mar 22nd show along with the source(whether on purpose or not) of its inspiration.

Smiling Hoover Catastrophe – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Belle and Sebastian)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjvanSWW_NA

Oh Arizona – this may actually be a full original!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZoAI8rl2DY

Sister Rachel – Some Kinda Angel (Mojave 3)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZuopGstHRU

Photographs and Wine – You Were Meant for Me (Jewel)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgikzz7TaRY

The Scientist II – The Scientist (Coldplay)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eOXG7w1hpY

Tornado Heads – Lord Don’t Slow Me Down (Oasis)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYciS08olH8

Blue Blue Satellite

First off, Happy New Year.

Now then. I’ve come to regard New York City as the mecca of modern popular western culture. There just seems to be an aura about New York that beckons people no matter what their interest…be it sport, music, fashion, art etc.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit New York on a number of occasions and after getting all the touristy stuff out of the way on earlier trips, I decided on a recent trip to find an Open Stage down in Greenwich Village(where Bob Dylan and other legendary musicians got their start)�and perform a few songs…thus earning the right to say that I’ve played in NYC.

And earn that right I did…with the help of openmikes.org, I found a cool, un-pretentious little place in the Village called Caff� Vivaldi and performed “Against the Northern Sky” and a more ubscure tune of mine called “La Dance” which is a French song I wrote which I thought would hold people’s attention a bit more, knowing how Open Stage(or Open Mikes as the U.S. term seems to be) audiences tend to be musicians simply waiting for their turn. The audience was very receptive to my tunes…I got a few kind compliments and met�some musicians who invited me to Kenny’s Castaways down the street after Vivaldi’s open mike ended. At Kenny’s the audience was pretty sparse since it was midnight on a Monday so I�decided to give ‘er and played the more upbeat “Sister Rachel” and “Smiling Hoover Catastrophe” again to a good reaction from those who were there.

The New York talent was solid…not as phenomenally heads and shoulders above Toronto’s as�its storied history made me expect, so I felt very comfortable and would recommend these two�venues to anybody who’s looking�to play New York.

No, this blog is not some self-gratifying pat on the back about how I’ve now played in NYC, this is all leading to something: given that I now have played in the area where Bob Dylan once played, I posted a new song…well, actually it’s�an old song I recently recorded but it’s one that’s as Dylan-esque as I’m going to get since I’m just a casual Dylan fan. So check it out…it’s called “I Can Tell” and it’s on�my myspace homepage.

Blue Blue Satellite
(have I mentioned I’ve played in New York City?)

My latest show was on November 25th. It was a good show because I was very well prepared for it. This time around I actually rented some rehearsal space and actually rehearsed(even though the room smelled of feet…who the hell takes their shoes off to rehearse?!).

Unfortunately, this show was many trials in the making. I was originally supposed to play with a cellist. We got practicing afew timesbut then she had to withdraw. Then I starting collaborating with another singer but she got laid off from her job just before the show. And even when she soldiered on, she got sick days before we were hitting the stage. And even at the show at the Free Times, I was upsetto find out there was no host, so it was pretty much a DIY evening for *everything* from setting up the sound system, to introducing the acts, to passing the jar around. It’s amazing we didn’t have to serve drinks or unclog the toilets… the crowd was a little sparse too.

So this was a goodtest of the old “Show Must Go On” adage and go on it did andI still had a great show because I felt I was tight, I debuted a handful of new songs andfun covers and the duets Idid with myfriend Jenncomplete with recently added harmony turned out pretty good.And of course thefabulous cheering section of co-workers from my job. The rest of the performers were top notch as well: The Om Tree Folk Collective and Amanda LeBlanc.

This was also the show I decided to make my YouTube debut with. There’s a seperate video for each song but start with Sister Rachel and click around from there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KQtH4nPfMM

Blue Blue Satellite

Last Wednesday I played yet another show at the Free Times Caf. And what a show it was. The crowd was on fire that night thanks in no small part to a good 10+ lovely young ladies from my workplace that came out to support me. They really took the energy of the crowd to a whole new level and it made the place come alive.

Of course, it made me look like a superstar as well, what with their cheering with every(woo!) move(woo!) I(woo!) made(woo!). Ah, Ego…well fed were you that evening…

But even though a dozen girls cheering for me is always welcome, I have to say, my performance itself was slightly disappointing. I made some key mistakes here and there, my mandolin became horribly out of tune(even after I did the unthinkable and re-tuned it on stage), and the way my loop pedal integrated with the sound system was less than ideal. Still though, I definitely fed off the crowd and I guess it helped my stage presence be distracting enough from the less-than-stellar musicianship seeing as the feedback was pretty positive.

And with all false modesty aside, my two slow, melancholy ballads I nailed…and it was arresting how quiet the room got. I just hope it was from rapt attention and not lethargic boredom…

I look forward to my next show…gonna be tough to top this one but I still have a trick or two up my sleeve…and maybe even a song!

-Blue Blue Satellite