DARK ROADS – Come the Romans – Sample Track
You just don’t know. You rehearse or you don’t; you talk about the set list for a good long while or you scribble it down five minutes before going out; you’re at the mercy of the house sound guy, or you bring your own guy a generation younger than you but he understands all the knobs and dials; you do some version of the show seventy times, or it’s your second twitchy night in a hall that looks and sounds nothing like the description you had when you rented the place eight months ago: you do all of that or none of it, and you don’t know how you sound on this night, or what it’ll all become this night, the only night you have in your hands.
This is what keeps me nervous and alert and alive on the road with this band: you never know. You chase an electrical storm until it catches you: that’s what recording live work is, to me. Forever pursuing the finest thing you can hear in your mind, imagine in your heart, then being granted another chance to get it right, to find out why you’re still alive, why you lived this long.
Each night is a lucid dreaming out loud, placed into the hands of six allies. We hover off-stage together for a half-minute, catch each other’s eye, whisper something that sounds a lot like prayer, and somebody says: “Let’s go.” And we’re in the light, and we’re gone from the ordinary hours. And we try to end in wisdom, if the Gods are prevailing.
I’ve been asked many times what this is that we are doing together. The usual genre suspects are considered: folk show, gospel opera, excessive rock dream, some kind of agit-prop theatre piece …
Just before the Greeks turned into The Greeks, those paragons of civility and scrutiny, they were a twitchy, fringe-dwelling, empire-hungry lot. They laid their heavy hand on ceremony and turned it into something we’re a lot more comfortable with now. They invented the idea of an audience – people who hear only. They invented the idea of a script – banishing the Lords of Chance by predetermining what the outcome of the gathering would be. They invented theatre, in other words, the predecessor to spectacle.
With the Nights of Grief and Mystery, we banish that old apartheid, or we try. No auditors. Witnesses instead. Allies even. Collaborators. And no script. Just a set list, a frail allegation of what we’ll pursue that very evening. The spirit prints of the Old Gods all over the thing. Seven people, subject to the stormy weather of these very days. “Let’s go”, we say to each other.
DARK ROADS is what happened one night in Los Angeles in the fall of 2019, when our end was in sight. With one night’s exception, we haven’t played together again since. Gods willing, we’re granted some other Nights, other Roads, other allies. For now, though …
Let’s go, friends.
Live concert recordings and studio recordings can have very different DNA. One is a recording in the truest sense of the word (to enter a certain happening into the record) and the other is more akin to working on a painting for months.
98% of DARK ROADS was recorded Nov 21, 2019, at Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The penultimate concert of that tour and the last band show in the US, it came at the end of a run of dates that had us outrunning snowstorms, windstorms, high altitude sickness, and dodgy routing. Seven of us on stage and our man at the soundboard, all in varying degrees of weariness.
I have learned that if you can—especially if you are in a great sounding hall and have excellent tech available to you—you should record concerts, because you never know. Even after the concert, you still might not know. Or you might think you know, but you might be wrong. Even after a cursory listen to the raw tracks, it’s possible the jury is still out on whether or not it was a good idea to record.
Sometimes you need distance, to round back on it. That’s what I did. I first noticed Come The Romans…a heady piece of work from Stephen that distils an unauthorized history of the Western World into 10 or so minutes accompanied by a grinding groove. Mixed a rough version, brought it up to the farm. Played it for Stephen in the truck on the way into town for burgers or something and he seemed unimpressesd, but that may have been a reaction to being confronted with the thing. It’s what happens a lot with recording of any kind: at some point you are confronted with a realized version of an idea, and it can be strange. You think, was that what that was?
The trick is, though, to hear what it is trying to be, what it was aiming to be that night. You need the raw material, though, and it turns out we had plenty from that Night in Los Angeles. From the infectious Come The West, through the sweeping climb of Dying Nurse, the explosive transition from Shadow into Beauty Bereft, the spare tenderness of Hippie Radio, and the last strains of Regrets (the only track not from LA) and all points in between, DARK ROADS succeeds at being what it set out to be: a faithful iteration of work that is always alive and changing.