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Personal/Musical: Ten Years Ago Tonight: George and the Freeks in Dayton

Tonight is the ten year (ten years!) anniversary of the George and the Freeks gig at Flanagan's Pub across from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. It was a particularly fun gig for a number of reasons. I suppose one of them is simply that it produced what I thought of as one of our best live recordings of that year, music I still listen to and which I would normally have posted in this entry if my ftp space were still available, but no such luck right now, so that'll have to wait.

We arrived the night before and stayed overnight at Laura Portune's home in a suburb of the city. This was the second time I had been hosted by the Portunes, as they had also hosted the Notre Dame Folk Choir for a party earlier that year (school year, that is – the primary years in which I think) when we had taken a weekend's concert-and-Mass trip there to St. Albert's parish in Kettering, Ohio. There we had met Karen Schneider, their music director, who in a matter of months would join us at Notre Dame as the Assistant Director of the Folk Choir. Along with new husband Scott Kirner, the two of them would enter into my circle of friends and their house would become the center of our dinner-party and music-making gatherings. Laura Portune was a gifted soprano whose talent was more than evident in the Folk Choir of our years at Notre Dame, as well as the girlfriend of one of the Freeks. (She's now an active performer and educator in opera in North America and Europe.) So between the Folk Choir/Freek connections, it was no surprise that we would be seeing the Portunes, and their willingness to actually host the band was fabulous and typical of the family. Laura had come home to enjoy the gig and her sister Emily, an engineer who had recently graduated Notre Dame, was also there. Our first night there was thus spent simply enjoying the conversation and hospitality of the family.

It was also wicked cold, and the gig is also memorable for the band's electrical engineering discoveries that amplifiers and other electrical equipment left stored in the truck overnight in -27ºF (with the wind-chill) weather did strange and unpredictable things. We started setting up the equipment only to short out the stage's side of the Pub. After replacing that fuse (or those fuses) we began to hear curious sounds coming from the amplifiers and speakers. Perhaps they would be best described as the moans of inanimate objects used cruelly. Perhaps they were odd analogues to whalesong. But, ultimately, they were probably best described as the sounds of electrical equipment thawing, which ought to be recognized as an unusual thing for electrical equipment to have to do. Once the gig was in full swing, strange interactions were observed between pieces of equipment:
Mark: "Hey Mike: I figured out what it was. It ... it's just messed up. It's the bass: it's messing up my amp, believe it or not."
Doug: "Which makes him want to shoot out of his brain...." (Post-Modern Inter-Textual GATF In-Joke)
Yes, sounds from one piece of equipment were producing sounds from other, unconnected pieces of equipment, which no doubt involved things about electrical fields that I don't pretend to understand, but which seems very much like amp fornication. As I said, weird night. Despite this, as I mentioned, the band put on a great show, and as clean and fine a quality of soundboard live tape as was produced during the year-and-a-half I pretended to be a "Sound Guy" or "Sound Reinforcement Engineer," as the guidebook Doug/weaklingrecords bought for me put it. (There was a point that year where, from that fine text, I actually knew what an algorithm was.)

Highlights included:
• Mark Lang's best performance on lead guitar to date, after having moved over from rhythm guitar in order to fill in for Erik Goldschmidt's departure from that slot – signs were becoming apparent that in a year's time he would transform into an incredibly talented guitarist;

• Mark using the re-arranged "slow" entry to the then-titled "The Search for Aeneas," personally exciting for me as I had suggested the new intro to him;

• The hottest version of Doug McKenna's new "Wanting, Waiting" thus played, with Chris Whiffen's beats taking over everyone's mind and bodies in the place, and which ought to have had the entire nation dancing if only they weren't currently being told to listen to Hanson;

• The band feeling casual enough to play a surprising five covers that night, since they usually – and rightly – focused on their own large body of work, having the songs of four songwriters to draw upon;

• Laura Portune leaving opera and liturgical music behind to hop up on stage and lend her voice to a cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Southern Cross;"

• Mark's clearly singing a hitherto-unknown English word in that song when he firmly sang to the crowd at the conclusion that they would survive being "fested," at which everyone's heads turned to their neighbours and asked what that word meant;

• Doug's ever-changing song "Thoughts" now featuring an ending pulled from a saying of Mother Theresa's that he had read in a book at the Portunes' the night before: "Yesterday is gone/Tomorrow is not yet here/Because all we have is now/So let us begin."

• Andy and Doug's sudden and bright enthusiasm in welcoming "everybody who just got here" when an unusually-stunning woman (and her date) entered the Pub at the start of the second set;

• Doug having to hose down bass player J.P. Hurt at the end of "Bittersweet Highway" because he was on fire;

• A rare extended solo by Doug on the 12-string guitar during the instrumental jam "Eat Popcorn;"

• The band pulling out two tracks from last year's graduation-celebration performance of the back side of the Beatles' Abbey Road: "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" now segued into Bob Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo" to create an incredibly fun homage/mix to those two great influences;

• The best version of Doug's "Only Beauty" ever, with Mark's restrained lead guitar rising up to mesh with Andy's/abrenner's piano solo, with something very close to a perfect blend of mood and execution;

• The infamous "Fairy Tale" spoken-word telling of the story of the Pied Piper by Doug while band members improvised weakly-appropriate bits of music to illustrate the telling, leading to "Piper Piping," a more stylish and rocking retelling. Chris here wins Funniest Line of the Night when he jumps into the pause after Doug says "So the moral of the story is–" with "Doug tells shitty stories!" And this while the band was haggling orders with the bartender who wanted to buy a CD with shots rather than bills. (George and the Freeks = one vodka, one rum, and three buttery nipples.)

George and the Freeks: Live at Flanagan's Pub, Dayton, Ohio – 11 January 1997

set 1
Beginnings
[GATF: Firm Grasp on the Obvious]
Join Us On the Ride
Good-Bye
Let Your Spirit
Gotta Be Good
The Search for Aeneas
Don't Go
Wanting, Waiting
I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home
Southern Cross (Fested Version)
Thoughts (Mother Theresa Version)

set 2
Bittersweet Highway
Fell ––>
Eat Popcorn ––>
When I Think of You
Golden Slumbers ––>
Carry That Weight ––>
Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)
Only Beauty ––>
Gypsy Moths and Cantaloupe
Tree
[A Fairy Tale]
Piper Piping
Gratitude
Tags: friends-notre dame era, george and the freeks, musical, personal, quotations, setlists, travel
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