Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Charles Bissell @ IOTA 14-Nov-2005

Well, last night ended up working out for me. Not only did I do seemingly well on my exam but I also got into last night's Charles Bissell show with no problems. IOTA was pretty dead when I got there and it wasn't until after Charles had started his set that the place started filling up with people there to see Okkervil River later that night. Charles' set was incredible but I'll hold off on the review until the end of the post.

A Few Notes
I got to the club over an before the start of show which is a good thing at IOTA. The beer is cold, the food is delicious, and there is always something very tasteful spinning on the PA. (In the rotation last night was Josh Rouse's Under Cold Blue Stars. Excellent.) While Man Man (the second act) was sound-checking on stage, Charles was chilling out by the bar so I decided to say hello. After a bit of gushing on my part (I think I came off like a teenaged girl) I did ask him when the next Wrens album would be coming out. After some chuckling and a "that's a good question," he told me that the better question would be when will they start recording the new album. "In a week." That's good news. With any luck the album should be in the can by the beginning of next year. Let me also mention that he came off like a very nice guy. He seemed like an Average Joe who happens to be in a really really good band. It was nice to see.
The Gear
OK, here's some info for anyone that may be a gear slut like me. Caveat: This is all based on what I eye-balled on stage and a lot of guesswork. This rig descripion is by no means accurate.
Charles was playing a late model Fender American Strat with stock pickups in the middle and neck position. The bridge pickup had been replaced with what appeared to be one of either of the Seymour Duncan "stacked" or "rail" line of pickups (single ceramic bar magnet as opposed to the staggered Alnico magnets). I didn't hear a lot of especially "hot" tones but he mostly played on the neck pickup so who knows.
Now for the amps. In hindsight I can't believe I didn't think to take a closer look but I saw what I immediately assumed to be 2 Tweed Fender Twins. It is possible that they could have been Peavey Classic 50's but like I said I didn't lean in and look at the grills. But I'm pretty sure they were Fenders so I'll stick with that.
The effects rig had a lot going on. I'll get to more about this in the review but he did make great use of the of the 14 second digital loop on the Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler (Santa, make note if you're reading this). He also had an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man (an older model than the Deluxe unit linked here), Fulltone OCD, some kind of A/B/Y switch, and a few others I did not recognize. In particular there was one effect being used that created a sort of volume/tone swell. It's very similar to what a pedal-steel guitar is capable of. I'd be interested to know what effect that was. Anyway, I think he had his rig set up so that he split the outputs with the A/B/Y switch such that DL4 was run to one amp while the rest of the rig ran out of the second. In effect, he was able to loop background parts through one amp and then play over top those loops on the second amp without the independent signals getting all mashed up. Pretty f'ing cool.
The Show
I can't say enough about how cool this performance was. The material was mostly unreleased or obscure (by his own admission) as there were only two songs off of The Meadowlands and nothing I recognized from Secaucus. However, the arrangements he did with the looping station really brought the performance to life. Watching him build the loops on stage and then jump into whatever song he was performing was a lot of fun. He also used the mic to great effect by moving off of it at times to create a "background" effect. Another cool trick was picking up the shakes from a Rhythm Egg on the guitar pickups and then looping them through.
The most impressive aspect of the performance was how well the material came across given that the bulk of Wrens' material has a lot of rhythmic and "moving parts" that interplay with each other. He was still able to accomplish this due in larg part, I think, to the DL4. The crowd seemed appreciative of this as well because while I think everyone was there to see Okkervil River, the room was quiet and attentive to what was a low-key and intimate performance. All in all, I am really glad I made it out to see this. One of those shows that makes me want to go straight home and pick up my guitar.


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