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TONY LEVIN'S B.L.U.E. Tour Diary

April 5 thru April 19, 1998

April 5 - Tokyo

Bill and Tony in rehearsal

Arrived two days ago with Bill Bruford for our Japanese tour. David Torn and Chris Botti are arriving today, then after travelling tomorrow, we'll play our first show Tuesday in Nagoya. Very much looking forward to it. Rehearsals in New York were fun - our live versions of the music from the "B.L.U.E." cd will bear some resemblance to it, but they're going to be more stretched out. We'll also do a composition from David Torn's "Cloud About Mercury" cd. And improvise, of course.

Yesterday there was a press conference - Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn are also here, to promote their new "Projeckt Two" release. (on DGM Records) They and the Bruford Levin Upper Extremities group will be playing as a double bill here in Japan (only.) Should be very interesting. The Tony Levin Club of JapanThe "press conference" was also open to the public, (I thought I saw a PapaBear t-shirt out there, and even some funk fingers being waved. Maybe it was my imagination!) and was well attended.Each of us spoke about our respective cd releases, and tracks were played from them. Since the four members of the '80's King Crimson were all there, we also spoke to the press about the coming release of "Absent Lovers" which is a live recording from 1984 of the last show we did before the band broke up (for 10 years, that is - perhaps 'took a long break' is a better phrase.) (That cd release is coming this Summer, I believe, from DGM Records.)

As usual in Japan, I'm only sleeping a few hours a night for these first days. Spend much of the night trying to get my modem to work (perfect activity for the middle of the night!) It's having a bad hair day now, so I've logged onto Trey Gunn's account and computer to send this update to the page.) Today we'll do a couple of "instores," which consist of the musicians being parked at a table in a record shop, and autographing their respective cd's for the public. It's a bit strange, but helpful to sales - I would like it more if there were time to talk to the people, but here in Tokyo it'll be too big a crowd. On the U.S. tour, Bill Bruford and I will do a few instores shortly before our soundchecks - the locations are below. Other than those, Papa Bear Records is just selling the B.L.U.E. cd over the web, and by 800 number. (and at the gigs, of course.)

There seem to be Starbucks in various parts of Tokyo, so decent espresso isn't far away anymore here. We've hit Japan at their lowest exchange rate in years - remarkably a cup of coffee costs about what it does in the U.S. A few years ago, it was up to $10 a cup here. I'll update in a few days - looking forward to seeing some of you on the upcoming tour.

Riven?    Torn and Bruford at rehearsal

B.L.U.E. Japan Tour: Day 1
April 7, Nagoya - Japan

The audience at our first show in Japan

Tonight was the first show for Bruford Levin Upper Extremities. The double bill, here in Japan only, includes "Projekct Two" which is a Crimson off-shoot with Robert Fripp, Trey Gunn, and Adrian Belew playing electric drums! Nice double bill - they're completely improvised, and we do written material from our cd - but we won't be doing any shows together after Japan. The show went very well, with the expected foul-ups. The monitor engineer speaks no English, so when things are wrong, it's a comedy scene up on stage to get it fixed. The B.L.U.E. part of the show is only an hour long here in Japan, and we had to shorten the set while it was underway - again no way to tell the monitor mixer that!

Belew and Fripp

One of the big challenges for me was singing my one-note drone on "Cerulean Sea" - it's the first time I ever sang lead (albeit, it's only one note!) and, to increase the challenge, I start the piece with just voice. Having decided to introduce the piece in Japanese, I got so focused on the pronunciation of the introduction, that I forgot the pitch of my note. I started it anyway, and after a while, when I added the bass - ouch, I was flat! In my clamor to get the pitch up to where it belongs, I must have sped the tempo up a bit (still just me singing and playing) so when David Torn's rhythmic loop entered, (another challenge to be going at exactly the right tempo) again, I was off, and needed to adjust. Sweat dripping down my forehead, I tried to enjoy having given myself some decent musical challenges. Now hopefully, I can move on to actually getting it RIGHT!

The show features a wonderful combination of things. Chris Botti's stage presence is great - at times he seems to be speaking right to each member of the audience. Then, there's David Torn's wild loops and 'seagulls on acid' solos. Bruford's feeling and playing great - you never know what to expect from him. We're starting the show in the Crimson manner, i.e. Bill comes on and improvises, then we each join one at a time for some chaos - finally joining to go into the first piece. The U.S. tour, with at least an hour and a half in each club, is going to be a lot of fun for us all - I only wish the tour could be longer.

B.L.U.E. Japan Tour: Day 2
April 8, Osaka

Second show went well too - funny how quickly the chaos has subsided. It's always fun doing the first show of a tour when you're under-rehearsed and don't really know what's going to happen. By now, we're working on the finer points - endings and cues - and the only real shocks from here on will come from somebody counting wrong, or just plain old mistakes (lots of them around.) We got our needs translated to the monitor mixer, and I decided not to introduce "Cerulean Sea" in Japanese, so I could focus on the vocal instead. Much better.

Japan street scene

Here in Japan you generally travel between cities on the 'bullet train.' It's nice, but our baggage needs to travel the night before, so typically we return from the show, have to pack and have the bags outside the room door by 11 pm. Next morning, meet in lobby, taxi to train, train to next city, taxi to hotel, (no luggage yet) lunch, taxi to soundcheck, taxi back to hotel (baggage there by now) and .... taxi back to the gig. You can see that the short part of the day that's actually PLAYING is the easy part.

Back in the U.S, we've had a great response to the B.L.U.E. cd - both in pre-release sales and in people saying how they enjoy it. Almost all of the sales so far have been from the web site - funny that we almost didn't add the on-site-ordering feature, thinking not many would use it.

With the holiday weekend and our travel back to the States, I don't think I'll update this letter until next Monday - having done a couple of live internet chats over the weekend. Happy Passover and Easter to all. Hope to see some of you at the shows in the coming weeks.

B.L.U.E. Road Diary: US Tour - Day 1
April 13, New York City

The Crowd at Toad's Place

The show at Toad's Place in New Haven was marvellous. Much jetlag within the band, but it was shrugged off for a fun evening - helped along by a great crowd. Reminded us why we've always liked playing at Toads.

Bill and I did a medium sized signing at Cutlers Records, a nice shop near the venue. I took some photos of Bill signing, of course - we saw a lot of the same faces later at the show.

Drove to NYC after the show, and now on to Philly on Tuesday - instore at Tower Records, and what should be a very good gig at the T.L.A.

Note: quite a few people have written asking if it's o.k. to take photos at the shows (unlike with Crimson!) I've contacted all the clubs, and neither they nor the band mind photos as long it's without flash.

B.L.U.E. Road Diary: US Tour - Day 4
April 16, Alexandria, VA

The Bruford Levin Upper Extremities tour has been .... breathtaking! Fantastic audiences every night, very appreciative and receptive. Bill and I have done some instore cd signing (in New Haven and Phily) and met with quite a few of those who like our music - amazing numbers of whom mention having visited the web site!! Bill signing at Cutler RecordsBill kind of shudders when he hears that because he's a staunch non-computer guy ("I like to communicate with the quill") and doesn't want to hear about how some people actually get the virtual thing to work well for us. The shows have been wonderful - the band is getting better and better - still lots of surprises from Mr. Torn over in guitar loop land on stage left! You never know with David what's going to happen - one of our pieces, "Cobalt Canyons," is sometimes begun with him strumming a tape recorder over his guitar pickup in time, the recorder playing what sounds like a middle Eastern call to prayer - he samples the rhythm of the distorted pickups hearing the player, and that becomes the guitar rhythm! He's also been known to sample Chris Botti's trumpet as Chris is playing, and quickly echo it back, backwards and an octave lower - stuff like that. Whee.

Some notable events: Philadelphia, down on South St, at the T.L.A, I got my second parking ticket of the tour when I had to park at a meter which demanded to be fed hourly till 9pm. Do they expect me to leave the stage to feed the meter! Same happened in New Haven. Also in Philly, I was doing an interview backstage after soundcheck, didn't notice the time, and showtime came while I was still being interviewed, not in stage clothes, and totally not prepared to play. Same night after show, a minor crisis when Bill's pants took a walk! What I mean is that, having removed his sweaty stage clothes, he couldnt find his other pair, for a LONG time - and was wandering pantless, trying to find them. We decided that Chris might have inadvertantly packed them in his bags, and I went out into the house looking for Chris. The 150 people who had remained there to have their cd's autographed, assumed, naturally, that I was among them to perform that function, meanwhile Bill remained pantless. Eventually, the errant trousers turned up, being black, and having been hung on a black door in a dark corner of the dressing room.

By the way, the after show cd signings have been a big hit. The impression I get is that the Crimson fans can't believe that Bill and I can be so accessible, since Crimson isn't! The BirchmereReally, it's a pleasure to have some contact with the audience, and with such a small record label, I really appreciate those who want to plunk down their dollars on our product -- it's just with Crimson that, alas, there are more rules imposed about signings and photos (as many of you know, I'm sure!) The Birchmere, in Alexandria VA, is a wonderful club - very organized, nice sound, and great backstage room for the band. Made for another excellent show last night. Now off to Baltimore for a gig there tomw. I haven't had time to update till today, and my powerbook isn't in the mood to let me send graphics - I'll upload some photos when I hit NYC and some more news of this thoroughly exciting tour.

P.S. Yesterday we set a one-day tour record with 4 U turns, all within blocks of our hotel, (two of them were actually legal ones.) It was a pretty ifficult place to find. Then, after doing a Voice of America show in Washington, Bill and I, late for soundcheck, were given faulty directions to the venue (we think!) and found ourselves again on the same hotel road, again going the wrong way. This time after doubling back, we thought that maybe they had been right -- so we re-doubled back, went a few miles, and found that the directions were indeed wrong. Another U turn, and we were on track for soundcheck, though a tad late!

B.L.U.E. Road Diary US Tour: Day 5
Baltimore, MD

Yesterday, our first day off - a much needed break and band dinner (they're always fun - it's funny how musicians so appreciate a night free to go out and get a bite to eat.) Not so many U - turns yesterday - we found our way from Washington to Baltimore with only a little travelling in the wrong direction. (In my car, with me driving, and Bill Bruford's navigation, spoken impeccably in his BBC voice, it always surprises us that we go wrong so much!)

Yesterday's Washington hotel, actually in Arlington VA, was pretty bad for us. It's hard to describe the dejection one feels when, having been working solidly from 9am to midnight, you arrive finally at your hotel after the gig, and they've given away your room. Bruford and Levin signThat was the situation there for only one of our touring group, Paul, who does our monitors and asst. in sound. We're without the usual exclusive road manager, (Robert Frazza is doubling as sound engineer and some of the road managemt - and I'm doing some - some just isn't getting done) but, faced with this hotel mess (the lobby was full of angry travellers also unable to get their rooms) we had a surprise. Mike Nunziatta, who's doing our merchandising at the shows, stepped to the front and took over the situation. He demanded the manager - he pulled out faxes he'd received guaranteeing the room - he had documentation of faxes and calls he'd made to the hotel - he wanted them to call the daytime mgr and wake her up - seeming indignantly outraged, he said we'd refuse to pay for all 7 rooms - he was GREAT. They, of course, responded that they had no rooms, but somehow (an hour later, at 1am) Paul got his room! So Mike's the hero of the day, and will certainly handle all hotels from here on! (It could be that his experience being road manager for NYC rock groups touring Eastern Europe has prepared him for the inevitable hotel disaster. He sure seemed to be expecting it.)

Tonight will be a long one - two shows here in Baltimore, then drive 4 hours to New York (though a tornado system that's arriving here from Nashville) for two shows tomw. in NYC. At least, from New York, I can upload some photos from the tour.

I'm off now to do some instore cd signing at a record shop called "Of Sound Mind" - somewhere in Maryland!

David Torn   Chris Botti and Bill Bruford

B.L.U.E. Road Diary: US Tour - Day 6
New York City

The shows in Baltimore were a hoot. The Orion Studio's venue is quite small, staffed by really nice, helpful people, and attended by a very enthusiastic audience. My pals Mark and Lee flew in from Detroit for the show, and I enlisted their help in filming the show. I hadn't been in a place that small since Uncle Funk, our local Woodstock bar band, last played the Tinker St. Cafe. After doing the two sets, and signing some cd's (I'm getting to really like that part, but my signature's getting pretty hard to read!) some of the band took off for New York, with me driving. I had feared the tornado weather following us, but I guess we drove too fast for the raindrops, because it was clear all the way. There was some fudge backstage, and though I don't love chocolate, it was a correct guess that a couple of pieces of that made me buzzed enough to fly to NYC. I dropped Torn and Botti off in the village, and made it to my apartment by about 5am. (should I apologize for being too tired to update the road letter? I think not.)

The NYC crowd

Bands always get phyched up about playing in New York, but this isn't a normal kind of tour, and we were too tired, and also, the Knitting Factory is a very laid back kind of place - I thought I saw a sign saying legal capacity is 199 -- odd, since there were 400 people at each of the two shows we did.

At the Knitting Factory, the music went great again - it's really fun with this linuep - we're all bemoaning that we can't keep touring for the next month. It'll be sad to see it end. I shot some video from the stage at the shows. Torn's solo segment with the electric bouzouki was especially tasty, and we had a great band improv. in the second set. A great pleasure not driving anywhere after the show - tomorrow we'll be off to Boston for the last night.

B.L.U.E. US Tour - Last Day
Boston - April 19 (Patriots Day)

Shows Saturday night at Knitting Factory were lots of fun. Dinner afterward w. Chris Botti went pretty late and I overslept Sunday morning - was a bit late picking up Bill Bruford at his hotel. He and I had a nice drive up to Boston - discussed how and when we can re-convene the group for more touring and/or recording another cd. Biggest logistical problem is that he's booked his jazz band, Earthworks, for occasional Euro-gigs through the Fall, and it's not easy to find a slot we could book.

Directions to our hotel in Allston (near the gig in Cambridge, MA) were faulty, so we made the inevitable U-turns hunting it down. (This is normal in Boston, as people from there - including me - know; streets are designed to lead you away from where you're going.) The other band car, with Mike Nunziata driving, got delayed a bit on the Mass Pike, and went right to the House of Blues.

At 5pm, showing up for soundcheck, we found that we'd be sharing the miniscule dressing room with another act: John Hammond, an excellent blues singer and player, who was to play solo at the same club (a separate show, they assured me) at 7:30pm, before our 9pm show. Quite a crowd with 7 of us, and John and his wife and record company promotion rep, all in a room with a couch and a chair! Then my parents showed up! By the time my friend Joe Beesmer (Uncle Funk) arrived from Woodstock, the dressing room was clearly a place not to be. The only thing that kept us coming back was the discovery of the House of Blues Bread Pudding, a remarkable concoction, which we loved. It was so good that those who left briefly (Mr Torn for example) returned to find that their portions had disappeared. (He's still asking me just HOW good it was. "Unbelievably good.... sorry...." I keep answering.) I believe we ate all the bread pudding that the kitchen could make.

The show was excellent - what a treat for me to see my parents out in the audience. Before "Cerulean Sea," which starts w. my vocal, I mentioned that my mom was in the audience and, though she'd always encouraged my singing as a kid, she had never heard me sing a lead vocal till that night (albeit it's only one note!!) She got a kick out of that, I was grateful to hear, after the show, that those standing near my parents had kind of protected them from the roughness of a standing-only audience. Bill and I introduced the band and crew - Robert Frazza/ sound and rd mgmt, Paul Schiavo/ sound and gear, Mike Nunziata/ merchandising and hotel negotiations - with heartfelt thanks for a wonderful tour. I do feel that the tour, though sadly too short, was quite successful, in that the band had a great time, the audiences seemed to all love the music, and we even sold a bunch of B.L.U.E. cds at the shows - giving it, already, more exposure than the earlier Papa Bear releases have had.

As all were packing up, we agreed to meet at the hotel bar for a goodbye drink. Arrival back at the hotel, at 1am, proved surprising - a huge, loud all night Carribean Dance party was going on there, and the hundreds of people in the bar made any meeting impossible. So Monday morning at breakfast proved to be the goodbye event for us all, sending us in all directions from Boston.

It's amusing how quickly a band disburses as soon as a tour is over - my scheduled instore for that day having been cancelled because of the Boston Marathon, I headed West in the rental car for Woodstock with David Torn. Mike drove Chris Botti southwest to NY with him, as Bill flew east to England and my parents headed due south, back to the Cape. Robert Frazza took the equipment van west too, so I guess nobody headed north. (that I know of!)

Now, I've got some time to listen to our tapes from the shows - very much hoping that they're good enough to make a live album possible - I know the performances were, but you never know if the good ones are getting onto tape. I'll be heading to Europe next week to do some promotion there for the June release of the B.L.U.E. cd there, and will continue trying to find some weeks the musicians are all free for us to tour again.

My thanks to those who have written with helpful info and ideas for the tour, ranging from good cafes (I had so little TIME free, I hardly got to any, alas,) to show reviews, suggestions about press interviews, and even some promises to mail Papa Bear Records tapes made from the NYC Knitting Factory shows that we couldn't tape.

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