Thursday, July 31, 2008

Early Rising

Josiah Early made his on-stage Joe's Pub debut Monday night, moving from behind the bar to the lime-light with ease. Turns out Josiah is from Harrisonburg, just like me, but he had to get up on stage and announce it between songs for us to make the connection. He's playing Rockwood sometime soon, but I guess we'll have to wait for him to get around to making a MySpace page to find out when . . . He did get a nice write-up from his last show though over at

Monday, July 28, 2008


Jemison designed the poster and then we all hung out over at Caithlin's one night last week and played a coloring game where we used crayons and markers to see how many different posters we could hand-color. You'll probably see them around here and there.

You should come to the show because Josh is gonna play in every band and I'm gonna draw during the Balthrop set because that's what I do . . . Have you seen Josh and Annie's video? They made it with Adam when we were down in Memphis. Seems they snuck up in to one of them rooms that used to be part of the brothel and just started singing. If you like the song, you can download the studio version for free over here at Serious Business Records (but you should spring for the whole Jack and the Pulpits ouevre, because the songs are great).

Finally, if you wanna come, my drawing hand is gonna be appearing live on the big screen as a guest artist during Elizabeth and the Catapult's set this Saturday at Joe's Pub. It's gonna be a lot of fun; my hand and I hope to see you there.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Sometimes at parties, I sort of shrink into the background and doodle in a corner. I pretty much do the same thing when I'm not at a party, but it can stand out more when everyone is drinking and celebrating. All evidence to the contrary, I'm actually pretty shy and tentative when it comes to social interaction. In general, I'm an awkward guy who'd rather be drawing.


At the Huntsville party after the show, I was towards the back of the room, listening to the spontaneous concert and doodling when this guy came up to me, looked at my drawing pad and said, "watching you draw tonight made me wish I'd never stopped drawing."

"Why'd you stop?" I asked.

He held out his hands before him, looked at them and said with some sadness, "I got diagnosed with mild hand tremors."

"Use it." I said. "Draw Differently."

Hirschfeld once said to me that you have to figure out what your limitations are and then work within them. That about makes sense to me.

Anyways, the guy with the tremors, his eyes got real big and he wandered off and stood in a corner, looking at his hands and I went back to drawing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Making Movies

I spent Monday afternoon at the Belasco Theatre watching Spike Lee and his crew as they finished principal shooting of Passing Strange. They had spent the last couple of days recording the show's final Broadway performances with audiences in attendance, but today was devoted to getting close-ups; there was no one there but the crew, the cast and another twenty or so folks who were friends and students invited to watch.

Years ago, I went to hear Spike Lee speak as a guest lecturer at the University of Texas. I don't remember much of the talk, but a moment from the Question and Answer session afterward has stuck in my mind and been fairly influential to me; I think it's safe to say I think about it more often than most any other lessons I learned in grad school.

This young man, dressed well and clearly star struck made his way to the microphone and said, "Spike, I'm a big fan of yours."

Spike acknowledged the affection and asked him what his question was. The young man proceeded to tell him how he had modeled himself on Spike and his career, how he had started his own film company, how he had incorporated, how he had created a logo and even had stationery made--and all of this before he had even left film school.

"Spike," he asked, "Do you have any advice for me?"

Spike looked at him and said, "Make a film."

Well, today I got to watch Spike Lee making a movie and he was every bit as commanding and charming and inspiring as I imagined he would be. It was slow-going but there was a lot of positive energy and, for all I know, they may still be at it in these early hours of the morning. It was a fitting (if, one might argue, premature) end to the saga of Passing Strange on Broadway and I look forward to seeing the finished product whenever it makes its way to PBS or wherever it's heading.

Late last summer, after it was announced that the show was going to Broadway, I found myself talking to Heidi Rodewald, the co-writer with Stew of Passing Strange, at the bar in Joe's Pub after most everyone had left for the evening. She had just gotten back to New York, had nowhere to live yet and was about to start rehearsals for the Broadway run.

I congratulated her on her success and she just smiled and said she'd been at it long enough to know that every time she'd thought she'd arrived somewhere she realized she wasn't where she thought she was. I laughed and agreed and we talked a bit about that for a while.

Now her Tony-Award winning show is closing on Broadway and I heard her say at one point that she wasn't sure what she was doing with the rest of her summer.

And I don't know her feelings about this particular curtain-call for Passing Strange (it has ended runs before and moved on), but, to me, she and Stew and Spike and the cast and the crew and the students watching today seemed to just be enjoying with abandon the intensely difficult and time-consuming day devoted to making their movie.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Joe Iconis and his friends, performing their Rock and Roll Jamboree at The Laurie Beechman Theater last night.

Speaking of Showtime, our show at Joe's went great, but we were without Bernie and Kevin wasn't working that night, so we have no photos to prove it happened. Except, wait. Someone with a camera was there! It's good to have evidence; I'd hate to think we made the whole thing up. It seemed so real . . .

In other news, my brother Ben Arthur was the singer and songwriter featured on NPR's Song Of The Day a couple of Songs-Of-The-Day ago and you should check it out here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Blast and Some Past

We've got another show at Joe's Pub tomorrow night and if you're not coming, you should.

Hey, I never told you nothing about Huntsville, Alabama, did I?

Huntsville is where we landed smack dab in the middle of a nest of fans the likes of which most of us had never experienced. They knew all the words and all the videos and all our town names and even a bunch of restaurants we might like to eat in if only they were open. Heck, Nick and Muffin even dressed like Jemison as if he knew something or other about fashion. I guess when people dress like you, you must know something; still, I'm glad he invested another three-bucks-and-change in a new pair of overalls.

After the show at the Flying Monkey (my favorite venue of the tour), a couple of us went over to someone's house and Jemison and Georgiana played some more and we listened to some songs our new friends had written and we made a stab at some drunk-journaling and I fell asleep in the van but moved to an air-mattress when the dust had settled. And it was really nice ("nice" in a way that words don't quite do justice to) to see a bunch of folks so moved by Pascal's body of work and the band's music and just this silly amazing notion of a town that we all live in and play.

At one point in the party, Nick was holding a video camera in one hand and a cel phone in the other and singing along with Pascal and Lauren while Muffin sat next to him exhaling something or other. On the phone was an absent group of Nick's friends in Portland who had listened to the whole show via the phone and were now "attending" the after party as well. I hope Nick has a good calling plan.

Anyways, you can get yourself a taste of the Huntsville show down below here, because Nick up and filmed the whole thing and posted it on the YouTube. This clip here is the first of five, but you can hunt down the rest yourselves if so inclined.

Sometimes folks ask me why I don't post the drawings from the shows and it's mostly because I feel like you have to be there to see them, that the live drawings only really exist in the moment that they're being made and to look at them afterwards, if you weren't there, doesn't make much sense. I like the idea that these drawings are music and theatre and they only happen in front of and with the folks who happen to be there. It's not a firm and fixed notion, but it is prevailing at the moment and I'm gonna pay that impulse heed.

But, in case you were wondering what it all looks like, check out the video below. (Thanks, Nick.)

And come to Joe's Pub on Saturday because this is the most fun thing I've ever done and who doesn't like to have fun?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dead Horse Jam Band

Monday night was the opening party for Sam Shepard's new play, Kicking A Dead Horse at the Public. The horse wasn't invited (or chose to remain upstairs), but everyone else hung out in the pub to listen to Shepard drum, strum and sing with some old friends, including Peter Stampfel and Jennie Scheinman and Shepard's sister, among many others. It was the kind of free-for-all hootenany that always ends when everyone breaks into "Good Night Irene" and it did.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Alan Toussaint playing from his extensive songbook at Joe's Pub, Sunday at noon.

Stew at the album release party for the Original Cast Recording of Passing Strange last night at Joe's.

Bill introduced the event and then fell off the back of the stage. He's getting too used to all those railings they have on the stairs to the stages up at Lincoln Center. That's not how we roll downtown.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Disco Ball

Friday night Cousin Joey, Laurin, Tessa and I went over to Midsummer Night's Swing and caught the disco fever with Loser's Lounge.

Now, Tessa knows some moves, She's got the Ski Pole Skootch and the Escalator down, but if you really want to see her bust her moves, you gotta get her to spank you. We did.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The Real Tuesday Weld played Joe's Pub with their projection screen and offbeat musical numbers, songs that feel like they fell out of the past and landed in a computer keyboard; it's a unique sound, modern and a throw-back all at once.

Cousin Joey said it was hard not to watch the videos, but I figure that's why they were there. I was pretty intrigued to watch the way they used the projections, but sometimes it seemed like they were just playing live to music-videos; it's not completely integrated to me, visually interesting and musically satisfying, but not a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Luckily, they sound right good live--it's an almost completely different experience than listening to their CD, which is also very satisfying and strongly recommended. And, if you're gonna be distracted by visuals, it's not like the videos are uninteresting; they're beautiful, if at times arbitrary.

Alex went and interviewed them about their antique beats; you can hear that here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Mike O flew out to meet us in Atlanta. He had helped coordinate our performance for The Monster Show at Eyedrum and it was one of my favorites. It was certainly the largest stage, with the biggest screen that we had played up to that point.

Mike had gotten there early to build this huge cardboard city and the plan was to burn it down at the end of the night, after our performance--I guess those people in Atlanta just like to see a city burn every hundred years or so. Anyways, one of us had the idea of performing Explode while the flames climbed high into the night, so we figured Balthrop would teach it to the crowd during the set and then go outside and provide a soundtrack to the pyrotechnics.

Needless to say, it was a lot of fun and it went well, although, as you can see in the video, Luverne got kind of possessed and we had to make sure she didn't throw herself into the flames.

Not on the video is the spontaneous song Jemison wrote on the spot, "Burn It Down Again" which would be a hit in any period, but you had to be there to still have it stuck in your head like I do.

Mike O was overwhelmed by the success of his flaming urban landscape (or something smokey) and laid down for a bit with his head over the side of the loading dock. Some say he just wanted a better view of the spot where the truck wheels meet the pavement, but Chris says he was smiling, so we weren't too worried.

This Summer in the City

Bill Bragin opened his Midsummer Night's Swing tenure over at Lincoln Center with Nellie McKay's debut as a swing singer.

It was a warm, moist night, but the crowd packed Damrosch Park inside and outside the official dance area and a good time was had by all. I've always sort of viewed The Midsummer Night's Swing as a crowd to walk through on my way to the Met, but Bill has put together a great program for the summer--the kind of musicians that make you want to stop, meet a stranger and dance a bit. It's going to be a lot of fun there this summer . . .

Monday, July 07, 2008


In Birmingham we played at this downstairs bar with Every Alice On Earth. They were old friends of Pascal's and they are awesome; so much fun. They played their own songs, covered the Kinks, AC-DC and Spinal Tap and jumped around so much Georgiana and Luverne started bouncing too.

But the bar was not so great. It was really smoky (anyone know how to get the stench of cigarette smoke and beer out of the non-flammable piece of muslin we use as a projection screen when the club doesn't have one)? During Andrew Vladeck's opening set, the entire crowd had to move away from the bathroom which was just to the side of where we were all playing. Reviews are mixed about what caused the smell; might have been something in a stall and it might have been popcorn from Hell. Either way, Andrew was motivated by the sensory competition and broke out some banjo chops that made everyone forget the funk.

By the by, Jemison's gone and done a good tour-blog round-up over at the Balthrop website. You can read it here.