Jam Report #92–5/10/09: Dear Gods the Cake Edition

In which we have a tiny Jam but a huge Jam’s worth of tasty snacks; in which we expand our musical horizons by breaking out a little Queen; and in which we celebrate the new Trek flick by breaking out the most infamous filk song there is. Songs: “By and By”, “Captain Kidd”, “Goin’ Up”, “Elf Glade, “’39”, “Outbirds”, “Stars”, “Banned from Argo”.

Much of the jamming group was unable to make it this time around, but we did have userinfokendaer and userinfodoragoon and Trey, who came armed with two guitars and a drum and a fiddle and a bunch of flutes and some tasty cake and pie between ’em, which all just goes to show that a small group can have just as entertaining a Jam as a large one.

We also took the opportunity to branch out a bit into stuff we hadn’t played with before–partly to give JT a chance to practice his chords, but also just a chance to actually jam a bit, which was nice. So we hung out on the Heather Alexander/Alexander James Adams duet “By and By” for a bit, which had a very simple chord pattern and melody. Not too many words to have to memorize, either. Which is good, because it’s not actually documented in the Heather Alexander songbook and Alexander/Adams lyrics are thin on the ground, or at least, thin on the Internet. So it required us to play by ear. This is good practice.

I also even broke out my flutes for some of the improv on this song, since it felt like it needed something, and three guitars and Dara on strings as well were a little much especially given that Molly was the only one who knew the words. She offered me one of her G flutes, although I have one of my own, and of course I have Jade which talks G and E minor just fine. We also had a bit of discussion as to whether to kick the song up into A, and that warranted me having to break out the piccolo since I don’t have any flutes that talk A major.

(This also led into a nice side discussion of flutes and what minor flutes are good for. In Dara’s and my experience, the answer to this question is, playing songs in the relative major yet having enough range on the flute to go down a few notes under the octave if you need to.)

In a simpler vein I opted to take us over to “Captain Kidd” next. This was a weird experience with me being pretty much the only voice driving the thing, and without much drumming, either; my voice was a bit of a mess, too. Bweh. Sorely missed on both takes: userinfocflute on the flute during the bridge, and userinfomamishka keeping time.

We sort of leaned over into “Goin’ Up” next, not out of any deliberate planning on my part, but mostly because Dara was showing Molly the bridge she’d made up for it. So we rolled with it. I still can’t sing it properly in G, but I was feeling too lazy to capo.

“Elf Glade” however is a sure cure for laziness. Now that I have these new strings of Awesomeness on Rags, I’m still working on learning the new nuances of his voice–and I’m not entirely sure yet if I want to play farther down the strings on this song or not. This is less of a question of voice and more of a question of starting to get used to the muscle movements I’ve already learned, and playing further down the strings messes that up. I’ll have to experiment more.

We also tried capoing “Elf Glade” up to fret 1 this time around, partly because that’s how Meg Davis recorded it, and therefore that’s how JT and I both have it lodged in our brains. This is what makes me wonder about whether to keep playing further down the strings, though. With the capo on, if I do that, I start losing depth of sound.

Molly led us over into trying something we’d never thought of trying before: “’39” by Queen, which was a trad-flavored ditty of theirs I’d never heard before. This was interesting and different and required Googling not only for tabs, but also for a YouTube performance of the song since neither Dara nor JT nor I had heard the song. It was neat just to work with some of the chord sequences, even though there’s a big ol’ vocal improv bit in the middle that sounded quite complicated chord-wise and which was not covered by the tabs I found. One of the less batshit set of tabs did have this one seven-chord progression that I want to work with a bit more, and which went like this: G, Bm, Em, D6, C, Bm, Am. The chords themselves? Simple. The fun part? How they were hit very quickly in sequence. Made for a nice little descending-y sort of progression.

Challenging song for our blood, though. We’ll have to check this one out again when we’re feeling adventurous.

Speaking of challenging chord progressions, next we played with Dara’s “Outbirds” for a bit. Not an up song, this, but like she does, Dara loaded that thing with a bunch of unusual chords, tightly packed together. I don’t have to break out G minor and Gm7 very often. It’s good for me when I do.

After that, though, we had to close with something perkier. And since I’d threatened to inflict “Banned from Argo” on the group, I went off to run off copies of the lyrics. I came back to find the others had taken a side turn into “Stars”, which is also significantly perkier than “Outbirds”, but significantly harder to play than “Banned from Argo”.

Closing with arguably the most infamous filk song there is was fun. I hadn’t actually heard the thing in full form in ages; I have it on old filk tapes of course, but what with the shift in popular music listening off of cassettes and CD players and onto MP3 players and iPods, I haven’t actually listened to any of my cassettes in years. And the ones old enough to have “Banned from Argo” on them also haven’t been digitally released.

And yet, oddly enough, the words were still pretty much emblazoned in my brain, as was the melody. JT was solid on them too, of course. But I printed out words for folks nonetheless, so that we could also scribble chords on them. Because here’s the thing: I could find lyrics for this thing, both original and parody, all over the net. Actual chords, not so much.

But thankfully the tune is fairly easy, and Molly and I had no trouble reconstructing the chords by ear. We settled on the key of C as easiest for the majority of us to play, although C is not a JT-friendly key; Molly offered the good advice though that he consider capoing up to the 5th fret and playing the G chords from there.

“Banned from Argo” is of course very, very silly. For those of you who aren’t actually versed in the history of filk, it’s a bawdy Trek-themed song, all about the crew of the Enterprise on shore leave. When I first came into the periphery of filk in the late ’80’s, the song had already been played so much at filk circles that it was infamous by then and Leslie Fish, the woman who wrote it, refused to perform it. The problem here for me was of course that I was coming in too late; I thought the song was hysterical and was sad to not hear it very much.

So yeah. Fun to do it, and I’m looking forward to doing it in a larger group. Definitely needs the full roar of all our voices on the choruses.

Last but very much not least we had both pie and bundt cake, the latter of which was homemade by Molly’s own hands. Let it be said: ZOMG THAT WAS TASTY. Dara had to implore her to take the rest of it home, explaining that if she did not, we would be faceplanting onto it and let’s face it, that would just be messy.

Still, though, if people are going to show up with homemade baked goods at these things, I’m totally willing to bend the traditional Pie rule. ‘Cause I mean, damn. JT’s apple pie was tasty and all but it had a high bar to jump with that bundt cake up against it. Dara and I wound up having some of each, and then we had to have a very, very tiny supper!

Next Jam: we don’t know yet! The rest of May is full of important weekend events, not the least of which will be Folklife, so we’re not jamming again until some time in June. Watch this space for updates. And tasty baked goods. Because mmmmm cake.