Gato Loco has been on an epic and magical adventure. Bordeaux week 2 was beyond our expectations, and I think I can honestly say that everyone in the band fell in love with this city. The tiny beautiful streets, the epic and overwhelming fountains, the life-changing ice-cream, the joy and enthusiasm of the people, the delicious and ever-flowing wine, the cuban cigars, the underground late-night glass-breaking scene……
We continued with a few more children’s shows, as well as a performance at a mental hospital, that proved to be quite beautiful and inspiring. The Winter & Winter crew showed up on wednesday, and we spent the afternoon in the courtyard garden of the Musiques De Nuites offices, a beautiful, open location, where we were to play a party that night. It was our first day as a full band meeting our new recording crew, and everyone worked exceptionally well together. It was a scolding hot day, and when we showed up Stefan Winter was standing on the roof of the building, looking like a safari explorer, hanging tarps and giant umbrellas over the stage. Thomas Schmidt was rolling cables along the wall, shirt unbuttoned and giant smile on his face, and Mariko was preparing dozens of bottles of water in the shade. This was obviously a highly experienced, hands-on crew, one that we could trust and be comfortable around. Clifton was immediately wowed by Thomas’ razor-sharp ears, and the rest of us felt comfortable with Mariko and Thomas’ relaxed energy. This is absolutely critical when you combine a tightly-woven 11-piece band with 3 new characters 6 hours before the first recording session. Personalities had to gel immediately, and they did.
The evening was great fun, and there was a large, enthusiastic crowd. People hanging from the roofs around us and holding up bottles of wine right and left; we had been playing 2-3 gigs daily for over a week, making the music razor sharp and filled with cut-throat enthusiasm. We were playing with the joy and nonchalance of a tight-ass band in front of a joyous, intoxicated, screaming crowd. The challenge, of course, would be to recreate that energy in a controlled environment over the next 2 days.
The next day, we set up the recording studio in a music school auditorium, on a nice large stage with the green-room converted into a control room. We started with a piece called, “5th Slip”, and we just couldn’t fire it up. Playing in a sterile environment at noon when you’ve been playing in front of stimulating and enspiring audiences at night for a week and 1/2 is hard. We got nothing usable for an hour. Then we decided to moved on to the next song, “Splinter”. Focused and regrouped, we slayed it in one take. The session was on. We cranked out 7 of our 10 songs in the next 5 hours. Steam wore out, and the brass players started getting tired around 7, so we sent the rest of the crew home except for Clifton, Stefan, Chia & Rich. It was now overdub time. We wound up scavenging the music school rooms, and found 4 timpanis and a vibraphone set that we used on 2 songs for added textures and increased madness. It sounded great.
That night we went to a little outdoor cafe and sat in the Bordeaux moonlight drinking several rounds of beers, back-lit by the opera house and the Garonne river further in the distance. We discussed the sessions, pros and cons; we discussed annals of jazz history, hearing dozens of one-on-one anecdotes of Stefan’s; we discussed NYC and it’s still vibrant music scene; Bordeaux was vibrant and alive and fertile for us crazy cats, 4000 miles from home, and we were settling into a thick and furry skin surrounded by this beautiful city. Things were good.
We arrived again at our makeshift studio the next morning by 9:30, and were cutting tracks by 10. Things went smoother the second day; we knew our producers better, and we were familiar with the problem of transferring our krazy kat live energy into a music school auditorium at 10am. We cut the final 4 tracks before noon, and broke for lunch.
We packed up the gear and shuttled off to Chateau Tranchere. This was the final, and largest, show of the festival, situated at the top of a hill overlooking the Garonne valley, with downtown Bordeaux in the distance. That night, after our opening band Contreband, a local swing/latin/21-piece marching band led by our good friend Mathieu Galy, played a blistering set to warm up the crowd, we entered the audience through the backdrop of the chateau, playing our rhythmic dirge song “Zero” into the middle of the crowd, with marching drums and horns only. We then ascended onto the stage. We had never played a set of music over 1 hour, and we were wondering if we would have the stamina of physical strength, energy, and focus to keep the momentum going the entire time. Not only did we play over 1 1/2 hours, but we left the stage to a screaming audience chanting for more. We played an encore of our song “Splinter”, which we had already performed 45 minutes earlier. I guess we need more repertoire next time.
That night we were all ecstatically high from the success of the show and the success of the recording sessions and the success of Bordeaux. The 3 of us that had been with the project since its earliest inceptions in 2006 (Tuba Joe, Greg Stare & Stefan) were thrilled to see so much hard work put to good use. The whole group celebrated by going down to our favorite fountain, the Monument aux Girondins, and wound up celebrating with many of our new-found friends til dawn…
…and by 11am we were on a train to Paris,, where we would play at La Dynamo, a gorgeous art/performance space in the suburbs of Paris, (run by Xavier LeMettre) and is the hub of the Banlieus Bleues festival. The show, in the midst of summer vacation, and during the penultimate game of the World Cup, had a considerably smaller crowd than the screaming madness in Bordeaux the night before; none-the-less, the small crowd was eagre and envigorated by the music, and the staff and space provided a more-than-comfortable atmosphere for our show to really rock.
Our trip home was less than stellar. Jesse’s ticket was mis-issued, and he had a 4-hour unbearable lay-over in Heathrow (London); the other 9 of us raced through Heathrow with what turned out to be a 20-minute transfer (between terminals, no less!!!), and when we finally found our way to the luggage carousel in JFK, good old British Airways had lost ALL of our luggage. I repeat : ALL!!!! Including a Tuba and a giant duffel-bag filled with irreplaceable percussion instruments. But all’s well that ends well….. Jesse was home a few hours later, and we all wound up getting our luggage door-to-door delivered later that night.