Shane Fontayne's Online Journal

Friday, May 20, 2005

It's A Wrap!

The psychology of the last few days of a tour is quite different from what precedes it. There is a subtle realisation that takes hold that the end is just about on top of you, and for each person that means moving on to whatever comes next - domesticity, another tour, a vacation, whatever it may be. All of the above, possibly.

Dominic mentioned to me one afternoon in the dressing room during the last week of the tour that we were all going through feelings of separation, and how no one talks about it. I replied, "Well I'm glad someone brought it up!" We talked about the self-preservation aspect of keeping these things internalized. I suppose it keeps one from getting too visibly emotional, especially when there is still work to be done. You find yourself teetering on an emotional precipice - and then you talk yourself down, so to speak.

The musician's existence, as for people in many walks of life, is predicated on uncertainty. We often find that others are experiencing the same feelings as oneself and, like in adolescence, where one can feel so alone and freakish, an opportunity may arise where you discover,"You too? I thought it was just me!" Being adolescent and being in a band bear many similarities.

It has been documented that when The Beatles were falling apart around 1968, each one of them thought that the other three were closest to each other, as each one considered quitting the band. They all experienced the same kind of alienation and insecurity while imagining their bandmates to be the ones who were happy and healthy. And this is The Beatles! On the outside, all that you perceive is confidence and stability. Each one feeling like a "castaway, an island lost at sea". So as each day brings you closer to the inevitable final separation, each person is dealing with their preparations for assimilating back into a life where there is no "Catering" or "Showtime". The routine of your rarefied existence is about to take a radical turn!

Our run through New England produced some of the best shows of the tour. Boston and Manchester stand out in my mind as shows where everything fell into place. Then there was quite a counterpoint between the two final shows in New York. Jones Beach was huge and freezing, while Irving Plaza was intimate and steamy. I experienced my first helicopter ride when we flew from Manhattan to Long Island and loved it.

From the feedback we have received, it seems that the fans have truly enjoyed this tour and after reading Jon Pareles' review of the Jones Beach show in the New York Times, it is satisfying to have the bookends of reviews from San Jose to New York and most places in between, where the external verification in the press has been so positive.

As with any period of intensive activity, the body lets go when it knows it can, and my energy is now coming back after a few days of feeling exhausted. While the tour itself lasted only six weeks, the preparation for me began last fall, and from that point on, my daily focus was on the work at hand. I don't know that I have ever worked so hard. Some days you succeed and some days you fail. Ain't life grand!

There will be further thoughts and images to post in the coming weeks, and I will do so here and via my website where I invite you to stay in touch with me. I am moved at how I have been embraced within Sting's fan community. Thank you for listening.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Brief Note...

I am doing the equivalent of what you see writers in old black and white movies do, as they rip the piece of paper from the typewriter and throw it in the waste basket! Rather than fashion something for the sake of it now, I will save my thoughts for a more expansive review from the comfort of home next week. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the comforts of New York City.

Suffice to say that after a run of shows through New England which, for the most part, have been excellent, we are down to just two more. We play Jones Beach, Long Island tomorrow - keeping the faith for good weather - and then Saturday night at Irving Plaza in Manhattan, a downtown New York club. Also on Friday night there is the Late Show with David Letterman broadcast.

It's turning into a beautiful day so, "excuse me, while I kiss the sky".


Friday, May 06, 2005

Some "Opening" Thoughts...

I'm in the dressing room at Mohegan Sun, hearing the booming sounds of Fiction Plane doing their soundcheck for tonight's show through the wall. They have done three shows and are doing really well - playing great and going down well with the crowd.

It's not an easy thing to open a show for an established headliner. I've been in that situation many times. Crowds often don't realise that the opening act has probably been invited to play by the artist they're opening for. Not that that should be a guarantee of a good response. But it's something worth bearing in mind, particularly if one is a dedicated fan of the performer whose show it is.

In this case, it's father and son. Proud father and son. Sting last night mentioned during the show - briefly - that it is an honor to follow one's child onto the stage. It is something I can well relate to (excuse the pun), as my own son is a very talented musician. One difference is that I may end up opening shows for him! C'est la vie...And that would be no less of an honor, either.

Also, for the first two shows, two of the four members of Fiction Plane were stuck in England waiting on work permits, so they started with two musicians filling in on bass and guitar/keyboards. A day of rehearsal and a show to prepare for their opening slot. The regular guitarist arrived for the show last night. The show must and will go on. You can't apologize for yourself or make excuses. Who would care anyway?

When you're the opening act in a situation like this, you have a wonderful opportunity to play for thousands of people every night. But many of those thousands may be streaming in while you're playing, chatting and milling around. The crowd may like you, or they may look at you with bored indifference. You might say it builds character - and you might as well put a good face on it. But what starts out portending entry to the big time, can - if the above scenario occurs and you're not eqipped to handle the antipathy - be very deflating. On the other hand, you can make the most of it and go for the jugular. You learn what it is like to perform on a large stage in a big setting. It is a very different experience in every way than what one has previously been used to.

You look back on these times and realise that these are some of the dues people have been talking about, that one ends up paying. The show in Boston last night was a night when all of our hard work paid off. See - you never stop paying your dues. It was strong from the outset and we didn't let up. And now our mission is that tonight be even better. Find a way to make that happen.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Memories Of Days Gone By

We played Reading and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania this week. I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania in the early '90s and while I don't know either town well, the surroundings were very familiar. Both shows were exciting and the arenas were packed.

Changes and refinements continue to be made to the music on a daily basis, and occasionally we will rehearse a song that we have not yet played. There's always something fresh to memorize for that night's show.

I last played Wilkes-Barre around 1991 with the Merchants of Venus, a band I had an equal stake in, that was signed to Elektra Records. That band was the reason I moved to the area, as we were able to fund a band house in which to live and rehearse. It was convenient to New York City and a great place to raise a kid.
(For more about the Merchants of Venus, see my biography and click on 1990's.)

We're entering the final turn as we prepare to head up the East Coast through New England. There's an acceleration and an intensity that seems to be quietly pervading our environment - an unspoken committment to make all of these shows as positive as they can possibly be. It's a "lean, fighting-machine" mentality. Honed and vicious! Lock up your daughters!

On the other hand..........don't.


Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Meet me tonight in Atlantic City".....

Rainy Saturday in Manhattan. The Borgata in Atlantic City, where we performed last night and again tonight, is the only venue on the tour with multiple shows. It's good for the crew, as they can leave the gear setup at the end of the show and it's good for the band because we can take the stage tonight, arriving later, yet knowing what to expect.

Soundchecks are very important and I am someone who likes to feel prepared, but in this rare instance of playing somewhere that we played the previous night, it's an extra luxury to be able to walk in and go perform. Last night's show was today's soundcheck!

The venue itself is an anomaly, as it is really a large ballroom, compared to the arenas we have been playing. There is no innate positive atmosphere in the room, but the crowd last night was great - filling in whatever the room itself lacks.

On this last day of April I can look back at the first day of the month when we opened the tour in San Jose. Each show holds unique memories. In many ways we've come as far as the miles we've traveled.

Now we'll see what May flowers come from the April showers.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ghost (what ghost?) In The Machine

As we were traveling back to our hotel after last night's show in State College, Pennsylvania, I looked around and observed the moment. I was struck by the realisation that it has been less than two months since we first convened as a unit. I had to count that again to make sure I was correct. Yes, it was just the beginning of March that we embarked on this journey. Not even two months.

Of course since our coming together we have spent almost every day in each other's company, but in my observing last night, it was the closeness I felt to everyone that spoke of a span of time far greater than what "two months" represents in my mind.

One might sentimentally call this a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, but I prefer a less syrupy depiction. In moments such as this of which I'm speaking, the computation of an event attains a sharper point of focus and perspective. It's almost as if one is outside of oneself, truly observing, and in that detachment there is a clarity which has a quality that is rarely felt. It may be momentary and not necessarily factual - but one certainly feels that, at such a point in time, you see something for what it is. It is subjective and elusive and maybe just something to be logged, filed away and "forgotten" as in not dwelled upon.

The experience of this tour is being shared by each one of us in the band and those who travel closely with us, and in this shared experience there are as many subjective interpretations. It's funny how life will always find ways to put situations in front of us that we, as individuals, need to confront. And it continues to do so until such a time as we have conquered whatever that issue is that needs addressing.

I am presented daily with opportunities to learn more about being flexible - physically and emotionally! Sting made a small change in the running order of songs last night. In doing so, it meant that I would change guitars four songs in a row rather than once, with the routine I had going. My goal right now is to always find a way to simplify, whether it's with guitar changes or with my playing within a song. Can one chord do instead of two? That may sound like a joke, but I'm serious. The answer often is "Yes". Especially if one wants to find a way. And "Yes" is such a beautiful word. I much prefer it to "No"!

So I decided to play one of the songs, Synchronicity II, on a different guitar than usual - a guitar with a different tuning. I sat with it and realised that I could play it in this new configuration and that the change for me would help keep my life and the overall show more simple. That may, quite possibly, change again tonight! Who knows? Who cares? It's not important. At the end of my stint with Chris Botti last year opening up the Sacred Love tour, I wrote a retrospective of my experience on the tour. It begins with Sting's advice to me "not to sweat the small stuff". Aye-aye, Cap'n!

Change can create "chaos" in the "routine". Maybe the best way to minmize or neutralize chaos is to maximize flexibility. Think "Yes" before the knee-jerk reaction of "No". Also, if there's no "routine" then one can't interject chaos into it either! No ghost in this machine!

I am learning much from Dominic on this tour. Musically that is a given, but I'm speaking about a larger perspective. It is about the kind of response he will give to a request Sting might have. Even after playing together for fifteen years, Sting may request a different approach from a "routine' part in a song, and Dom's reponse is always uncategorically "Yes". The spirit behind that "Yes" conveys, without hesitation, a willingness and belief that he will find a way to successfully execute the request. There's never any intimation of "I'm relinquishing something that I hold precious". What it speaks of is committment to the big picture. I think this is what defines success.

Tonight is the last show for Phantom Planet. Each one of them - band and crew - has been a pleasure to be around. They joined us onstage last night, playing with us during Lithium Sunset, and will do so again tonight, taking a communal bow at the end of the show. We all wish them the utmost success, which seems to be the direction they're headed anyway. I'm sure I'll run into them in Los Angeles.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bosses Past and Present

I have just finished watching Bruce Springsteen perform on the Today show. Devils and Dust - capos and open tunings! Bruce was using different guitar tunings on each song he performed, from what is considered to be "standard". I don't know how much he has experimented with alternate tunings over the years, but in the time that I worked with him, it was not something that I was aware of.

What he did in the song Devils and Dust provides a simple droning aspect to the instrument, and particularly when performing solo adds a greater degree of "bottom end" or bassiness in the absence of a bass guitar, broadening the sound and adding richness and texture. In the second song - All I'm Thinkin' About - he accompanied a beautiful, and for Bruce an unusual, falsetto vocal with an open tuning which has most recognizably been associated with Keith Richards since Honky Tonk Women days.

I use both capos and open tunings a lot. The use of each on an instrument can be like changing from jeans and a T-shirt into a well tailored suit. Different looks for different moods. The key is to not get locked into unchangeable patterns of behavior. And now I'm playing harmonica onstage also - complete with Dylan-esque harmonica rack - which is a recent development and one that I am really having fun with.

The first time I was introduced to Sting was backstage at a Springsteen concert in London. Little did I know then what I know now! I have been afforded the opportunity to learn from the best and in return, to make my reciprocal contribution. Both of these artists are pushing the envelope of their experiences and challenging themselves to learn more each day and the fruit of that challenge is savored by each listener, each fan, in the communion of this offering.

The results speak of a personal quest that is borne out of effort and discovery. Something inside drives one, even ones who have seemingly attained unimaginable success, to keep learning and to continue growing. Stagnation is not an option, or at least the mere suggestion or intimation is a powerful enough "drug" that the choice then is the "sobriety" of effort channeled into the reinforcement of what one knows can make one stronger and more nourished. No steroids or Viagra here!

What could be more inspiring than to be offered Sting and Bruce's examples of ongoing personal resolve. Each day is a blank sheet tinted by our accumulated experience - not governed by it.