Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That's Mr. 4TA to you


That's Mr. 4TA to you
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's almost been a full two decades since my first friend (well, first friend who stuck) in Milwaukee insisted to me, "You have to come see this amazing band with me," and we trudged over to the Polish Falcon Hall to see an incarnation of the Trance and Dance Band. It was like nothing I'd seen before (and I'd seen a lot.) The VFW post atmosphere of the hall had been transformed into almost a seance -- candles flickering about, dark lighting from the ground, plenty of goth and hippie scensters floating about, and this band comprised of the standard guitar/bass/drums flanked by strings, odd percussion instruments, and a frontman who crossed playfulness with danger in a David Lynch sort of way. We sat down and within 10 minutes of their set a mutual friend whispered to both of us, "They're so good I don't want to tell anybody about them."

Needless to say, we all became presidents of the Trance and Dance Band fan club that night, and it was indeed a rare occassion when we missed one of their shows. Over the next fifteen or so years, we'd see them go through personnel (and instrumental) changes, but Jerry Fortier's songbook and presence remained constant. Their shows were always happenings, and yet their sets seemed to always be there, drifting in and out of songs. And then they just sort of drifted out.

"Hey, check this out," Brian said to me last Friday, while I was nursing a particularly nasty fever-cun-sinus infection. "Trance and Dance band at Linneman's Saturday." Huh? I immediately began concocting antihistamine cocktails of some sort (a mixture of Rhinocort along with a prescription Allegra frosted with 600-mg ibuprofen chaser ended up doing the trick) so that I could be in condition to catch the show. We had a Bucks game that night, but the Linneman's listing said T&D started at 8. "Yeah, but nobody starts at Linneman's at 8," I said, a lot more confidently than I really felt.

We ended up leaving the Bucks game early, not so much to catch the band, but because it just wasn't worth paying the sitter to see the last five minutes of Shaq getting away with ridiculous amounts of offensive fouls. (That's the thing about NBA seniority -- you don't get called on all your shit.). I dropped Brian home (he had the same thing I suffered Friday and it was peaking), ran the sitter home, and ran up to Riverwest, hoping to catch something of the set. I saw a band in the window, and made it in time to catch the last hour of what apparently was a three-hour pair of sets.

Fellow hardcore T&D fan Reed Conway was there: in fact, she was the only one I recognized. Used to be I could turn up at a Trance show and know at least 10 people. Then again, I suspect not a lot of the old crowd even knew about this show. There were only a dozen folks in the audience, and even Reed had to call Linneman's and confirm that this was THEE Trance and Dance Band, not some upstart emocore band of twentysomethings. Not to worry: 4TA was standing behind a music stand with a cheat book of his old songs, the book looking like some borrowed sacred texts with plenty of marginalia scrawled on what looked to be an entire pack of sticky notes inserted about. Chris Loss -- a longtime band member -- was on bass, ANDd guitar, AND various items including a homemade percussion thingy that he shared with Dale Kaminski, also in the band since I could remember. Kaminsky also picked up bass, and guitar, and whatever sounded right, and that's the way the whole band was.

You could tell it had been awhile since they played out; not everything sounded as seamless as I was used to, but that's not to say they've lost their essential magic. The songs still have a combination of both innocense and macabre, the band is still adventuresome in their arrangements and unconventional use of both conventional and unconventional instruments. And they still had us happy to see them on a stage again. MAybe they didn't promote this heavily because this was the first time out in a while, maybe they're like a lot of the older bands who don't promote heavily because a) they don't need to and/or b) they're doing this for the love of it, not because they expect to be the next big thing. But either way, it would probably do them a lot of good to promote the next show (and I hope it's soon) to bring in more people. They're a band that does well with the ol' give-and-take between the audence. Nevertheless, although I only caught the last third or so, I caught old favorites like "Buffalo Muskrat Show" along with either new songs, or arrangements of songs so fresh that I didn't recognize them. And that's probably what I remember loving most about this band-- the combination of familiar and foreign, so that I could be both comfortable and on guard during a show.

Glad to see you back, Mr. 4TA! Book another show soon! (Oh, and try not to make it when the Bucks have a home game.)

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