It’s been another year of ups and downs (er, pitches an’ yaws?) for the jug band of the damned, and since it’s a list-making time of year, here are a top 10 of highlights from 2012 for the Creaking Planks!
- 10. This was a new one for us — something hard to achieve after seven years! 2011’s new experience was playing in a tattoo parlour, but this was stranger still — a teleperformance between multiple Planks in different locations! Blackbox wasn’t able to join Wyoming Johnny at the Horace Phair party in Portland this year, so the night of October 6th they had to jam together employing unconventional means:
- 9. We were expecting somewhat more diversity in genres representing across Gastown on Make Music Day, June 21st, but set up at our allotted location to find ourselves sandwiched between a dozen noisy, amplified rawk bands of various makes and models hiding behind Marshall stacks. And here we were, in a minimal 3-piece format, on acoustic instruments with our gutless little PA. Was it worth even setting up? The answer: Mais oui! Vive la différence! Turns out that contrast is one effective key to garnering attention, and as naturally there were no other acts remotely like us out on Water Street, we quickly gathered a small but devoted crowd, clinging (tenaciously?) to us like shipwreck survivors to a liferaft. Even the smaller format, which we’d been concerned would be underwhelming, worked to our advantage, each instrument occupying its niche in the pitch spectrum without competing with others and muddying the mix. A new paradigm — doing more with less?
See you next year, random hoop lady!
- 8. We don’t like to go any smaller than a three-piece ensemble when confirming for a gig (so you don’t book “a band” and end up with “a ukulele player”), but circumstances compelled us to go in as a two-piece for a truly extraordinary show Nov 10th in which we were among the more normal of the acts offered to the crowd. Mixing it up with the new format, we went for broke with unusual, not-played-into-the-ground repertoire for an unusual kind of audience — chamber music-style folks, seated and politely listening attentively. Our new tack wouldn’t have worked in most of the noisy bars, cafes and tattoo parlors where we usually play, but it was absolutely the best fit for that particular room on that specific occasion. Plus, of course, the rest of the strangeness was off the hook, and for once we got to appreciate the spectacle rather than providing it.
Case in point: note the topless manservants in the mirror. They were on-stage all. night. long.
- 7. Many of the best gigs in town look somewhat humble on paper, like playing a set at the Deer Lake Rhododendron Festival, but what sets them apart is how they manage to both deliver a reasonably-sized audience and a decent payout for hard-working hungry musicians. In this case the premise seems somewhat hand-wavy — here’s an extension cord, go plug in your PA system outside in John Hendry Park and we’ll set up 60 chairs for Trout Lake patrons who may encounter you and decide to hear more. Opening this August 1st set playing to 60 empty chairs was a leap of faith, the set feeling like a gambler’s desperate double-or-nothing gambit, but skipping forward a couple of hours and wrapping the set to a full house demanding encore after encore leaves you feeling like you successfully stole fire from the gods. Where performing in public spaces is concerned, it’s like the magical opposite of busking — people actually pay attention to you, AND you actually get paid… by NOT asking for money! Then we had the great fortune to play that gig again a few weeks later, Aug 22nd! Sometimes (not to name any names) your only reward for a great outdoor set is the beautiful natural stage, but fortunately that’s not the case everywhere.
- 6. So you write a great song, but what do you do with it? A friend helps you make a great recording of it (in exchange for which we say: if you’re of the guitar-playing persuasion, you ought to consider a Tinker guitar) but you’re still ten tracks short of an album. But now in this iTunes microtransaction era, we can just serve up a single song! It’s the greatest of our great original tunes, and someday will serve as the bedrock for a full album — but you don’t have to wait ’til then! That’s the beauty of it.
- 5. Early in 2012 the Heineken beer company ran a fun (if somewhat problematic) ad campaign featuring everyone’s favorite Hindi film sountrack hit, Jaan Pehechaan Ho! Interest in the song mounted and folks out there in Internet-land began seeking out alternate renditions of it. That’s where we came in. A humble, unassuming (and not even synchronized!) performance of it we’d had recorded live off the floor a year earlier suddenly found itself thrust into weird prominence, and when the dust cleared, we found our video had been viewed twenty-two thousand times! We haven’t yet had any invitations to travel to Mumbai to perform our version but we remain hopeful.
- 4. If you trace the history of mass entertainment back far enough, you find an exciting and intriguing post-vaudeville moment in time when movies and cartoons had been invented but not yet synchronized with soundtracks, leaving live musicians (typically on a piano or Wurlitzer organ) to fill in the blanks, sonically. April 7th, we got to deliver a fun and funny live soundtrack to a great piece of black & white animation featuring the great surreal feline of the Depression era, Felix the Cat! Coming up with different riffs to suit the cartoon’s disparate weird moods was a slice and drafting our instruments for double duty doing foley work for sound effects was also a big thrill. Then getting to make it happen on-stage in a theatre in front of a packed house was the icing on the cake, and all the other great soundtracks from the other performers the cherry on that icing. Hopefully we’ll be revisiting this format annually!
- 3. On a good year, we’ll play one wedding reception. In a great year, we’ll play two. But in 2012, we got to play two receptions for the same wedding, in two different cities! (On two separate dates.) Canadian folk music royalty (well, at least the court jester) Bob Bossin of Stringband tied the knot with artist Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, first on May 20th at the Peretz Centre where we provided musical bookends for the occasion as the band from Chelm (with the best old-world village food on the reception dinner menu — cabbage rolls and kugel! — our inspired suggestion) and then later, on June 30th, on Gabriola Island at the amazing Net Loft, our first ferry-assisted gig that didn’t involve our taking a bath. 2013 is already on deck to be a good year — Cumberland, we’re coming to your wedding celebrants this upcoming July! Just as well, we need to share our inspired genius with the BC Ferries musical ecologist (presentation pictured) who teaches passengers about seaweed through song. “Kelp! I need somebody! Kelp! Not just anybody! Kelp! You know I need someone! Ke-ellp!”
(We landed this gig because of our great .GIF animation, in honour of which this post is framed by two more, anachronistically from our Nov 2011 show with the Accordion Babes.)
- 2. Bob and Sima were concerned when Blackbox mentioned that his partner was in the third trimester and there was a remote possibility he might need to duck out of their wedding in order to attend to the birth of his firstborn child. No need to worry, they still had a week left until the due date — and as it turned out, things didn’t really get rolling until two weeks later… causing us to cancel an entirely different gig on very short notice. (They were warned!) We don’t like to cancel gigs — we’ve withdrawn less than a handful of times over 8 years — but if you’ve got to do it, this is an excellent excuse.
- 1. Tracks on Tracks. Long story short, we accidentally entered a musical popularity contest, and inadvertently made it through several qualifying rounds. We don’t involve ourselves with these hyping exercises often because they’re very energy-intensive and always a let-down to not win. Since Kickstarter emerged, everyone knows a dozen musicians, rotating in a game of musical chairs, continually clamouring for votes, likes, and dollars. There’s so much focus on pre-selling the art, there’s no time for the art. (Admittedly anything that gets the artists paid is good, but it makes for an irritating baseline buzz of tedious hype at all times.) But this time, because the stakes were high (you know how much it takes to ship a band across the country?) and because our initial accidental success in advancing to the second round was so invigourating, we campaigned. It compelled us to better ourselves. It drove us to give people more ways to appreciate us. (See #6, above.) It inspired us to get organized. And, mostly, drunk on unprecedented reach as measured by Facebook Insights, it pushed us to produce an extremely silly series of doctored photographs of the Creaking Planks insensitively performing at the sites of great train wrecks. When we proceeded to round 3, leaving behind bands we knew darned well were more popular than us (though we knew that we of course were far, far nerdier than them, always a factor in online campaigning) and caught people we hadn’t seen for years boosting us to their friends, our hearts were fit to burst, not least because we knew secretly that even if we somehow won, we wouldn’t be able to go (because, well, see #2, above.) In this business you spend a lot of time feeling like you write your name in water, giving people a good time but not for a long time. It was very heartening given our increasing long-in-the-tooth-ness to find that some of that goodness we’d spent years pumping out into the world was coming back to us. Ultimately, a good investment! Definitely one of our top 3 didn’t-happens, along with not-opening for Nina Hagen and not-playing on the World of Goo soundtrack.
- 0. Monkeying with time, is it possible for us to include last year’s anniversary show? We put two astounding out-of-town acts to great use and were much entertained ourselves, to boot! Truth be known, it probably does fit — heck, the poster artwork alone qualifies it, and someday we’ll have to sell something with that on its cover — but right out of the calculations would be this year’s anniversary show, coming up in three weeks! Well, so be it. If we have to break time itself (using polyrhythms!) to include it in our list, that’s just what we’ll have to do. Heck, certain unnamed cultures mark their New Year celebrations by the annual Planks anniversary show, until which it will still be considered 2012. So there you go. It hasn’t even happened yet and already it’s among our favorite memories of last year. The best part was when you came and joined us!