My 2020 Colts Drum and Bugle Corps All-request Fundraiser

Saturday, May 23 I will be taking all of your requests on Facebook live to raise money for my DCI Alma Mater, the Colts from Dubuque, IA. The 2020 DCI summer tour has been cancelled due to the Coronovirus outbreak and drum corps are struggling to make ends meet. Help me keep this one afloat!

 

I will be going live every Saturday in May from 6-9 PM central time. The 23rd I will be raising money for the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps. May 30 I will be raising money for Chicago Youth Centers. Click the link here to see the videos live, and to watch previous live shows.

New Videos are here!

Hello Loyal Interweb Viewer(s)!

Been a minute….like a two-year long minute. Been busy. and lazy. and playing Nintendo Switch in between. Also played on a cruise ship for a while, went back to Europe for the first time in 11 years, and learned how to omit pronouns from the start of each of my sentences.

But the drought of Adam A Nelson content is over! My determination to make a recording is renewed, and the first steps are almost done. I’m making some skeletal demo recordings, and also posting my songs on Youtube! I’ve got many cover songs posted there, but I’ve finally posted another original song up.

It’s a tune called “Picture Yourself”. I’ve put off performing it and posting is mostly because its very difficult to sing. I’ve always second-guessed my voice, especially its falsetto range. I recently listened to a recording of myself singing “Thunderstruck” in the original key, and didn’t like it. But Picture Yourself isn’t as high as often. And I recently posted a video of myself playing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” (check it out here) and wasn’t too offended by my falsetto. So it was time to get a good video recording of one of my favorite original songs and share it with all of you. I wrote it around the time that my wife and I started dating. This stage of my life was already a decade ago and I’ve changed a lot since then, but back then I was rather self-pitying about my own love life. This song is a bit cheerier, emphasizing how there’s no need to feel that way anymore, and that perhaps there was no need to ever feel that way.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, please check it out and leave some comments. Maybe even subscribe, and like, and stuff like that. You know the drill. I’ll need a lot of help very soon when I’ve finally got some studio time to lay these tracks down, so stay tuned!!!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

I made this video a year ago, hope you dig it.

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been so busy driving, gigging, and learning new songs that I forgot to tell you that you can now see me EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT at Chicago’s famed Redhead Piano Bar! I play from 11:45 – 3:15 in the morning. Don’t everyone get up at once! Yeah, I know its late, and right before the start of a new work week. The venue is usually full of people, but on this night the crowd is usually very intimate. Means you can actually get your obscure song request played, cuz no one else is there to object! I’ve been padding out my songlist quite a bit since I was scheduled there every weekend, so that’s mostly what I’ve been up to. This is the best way to see me perform in Chicago, and it often turns into a great campfire kinda show. Hope to see you there!

Despite playing at Redhead every Sunday night, I won’t be there in April or the first 2 Sundays in May, because I am performing on the Norweigan Cruise Line “Epic” in the Mediterranean! Afterwards I’ll take a quick vacation in Spain. But I’ll be back in full force in the second half of May!

Surveillance Footage

I have started a Youtube Page! For the past year I have been amassing a few Terabytes of video culled from my 130+ performances, and when I found a single song performance that didn’t personally make me cringe (or contain inappropriate material), I slapped that sucker up on the interwebs! See for yourself! I have posted a handful of videos proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that I do, indeed, play piano and sing from time to time.

But wait, there’s MORE!

Most recently, I have been dusting off my original songs. I have some rather lofty goals for these potential ear-worms, but one of the first steps was making a video recording of each of them. So my youtube page is also populated by videos of 3 original songs! More are being recorded as I type (well, as soon as I’m done typing!), so make sure you subscribe, tell your friends, and keep your eye on this webpage (and my twitter and FB and don’t forget to camp out in a van across the street from my apartment with a very high-powered telescope and one of those hand-held plastic satellites that lets you listen in on far-away conversations), because updates will be raining down in fast succession!

“Like Musical Herpes”

“Welcome back to the world of blogging!” I am now telling myself. It’s been a little while, and I can’t quite guarantee that I’ll be writing blogs at any consistent rate. But when an issue like the following comes up, I’ll be sure to milk it for all I can get.

In a recent interview for the A.V. Club’s HateSong series, a lead singer I’d never heard of for a band I’d never heard of took aim at a song I have heard all too often – Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.

I don’t mean to make light of Tesco Vee, his band the Meatmen, or his opinion. The fact that I’d never heard of him really doesn’t amount to anything – there are many musicians I’ve never heard of, and hell – practically NO ONE has ever heard of me.

On this issue, I happen to agree with him on many of his points. Let’s get that out of the way right here:

  • My knee-jerk reaction is to want to grab the drill out of the dentist’s hands and shove it into my eardrum, then drill out my eardrums so I don’t have to hear it anymore.
  • That song is a frat boy singalong
  • It has harmonica in it. I think all the harmonicas in the world should be gathered up in a big pile. To be Earth-friendly, maybe they could be made into an instrument that is more pleasing to the ear. Unless you’re Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson—and last time I checked, both those guys are dead—you should not play the harmonica. Then, to add insult to injury, he’s got an accordion. He’s got a harmonica and an accordion in the same song.

As a dueling piano player, make no mistake – I also hate this song. What’s worse is that my job description says that I’m pretty much expected to play this song every night. When I pull into a town I’ve never been to just to play a show, and that audience is full of people who have never seen a dueling piano show and never will again, the ONLY thing they can think of to request is Piano Man. They seem to be under the delusion that we can’t play a song unless it has piano in the original recording, and the first song they think of is that song, thinking that we’d love it because it epitomizes what we do.

Nope, just the opposite. Even people who have seen dueling pianos many times still pay me a measly dollar to play Piano Man, prompting many duelers to instill a $20 minimum for the song. For many reasons:

  1. We hate playing the damn thing
  2. If we played the song every time someone requested it, we would be playing it once an hour, not once a night (which is already too much)
  3. Someone just gave me $5 for Life On Mars, and even though there are only 3 people in the audience who will even recognize that song, I’d rather play that than the $1 Piano Man request, even if it will get a 95% audience reaction. I have lots of songs in my back pocket that get that same reaction that I’ll play for free if I need to bring the audience back into the show, and I don’t have to rely on a cliche, uninspired piece of musical ubiquity.

I always run into trouble when talking to older duelers about Piano Man (or Sweet Caroline or Don’t Stop Believing) because they invariably insist that “without these songs, we wouldn’t have a career”. I heartily disagree with that statement. Without Blurred Lines, people would have still thought Get Lucky was the song of the summer and wouldn’t have cared that they didn’t have Blurred Lines. Without Sweet Caroline, some other song would be the perceived slice of musical nostalgia. There is no shortage of songs that people embrace, so I owe these songs nothing. I owe my living to the fact that there is a music industry and the fact that the masses identify so strongly with whatever the industry puts out. But I don’t owe my living to any individual song. And I can do an entire night of dueling pianos without playing Piano Man, Journey, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond and Jerry Lee Lewis and still get the house rocking.

But Tesco, I did take slight offense to this comment:

  • The dueling piano bars are bullcrap.

I’m splitting hairs here, because I do almost entirely agree with what you have to say. But don’t think we’re not on your side. Piano bars were around long before Piano Man (or Billy Joel wouldn’t have shit to sing about in the first place) – dueling piano bars came shortly afterwards in the late 80s and may have relied on more mainstream hits like Piano Man and Sweet Home Alabama, but nowadays I rarely get a request for those songs. We aren’t intentionally perpetuating the popularity of Piano Man (at least I’m not). Infact I encourage the audience to request other songs every night. My job is to use nostalgia to create a unique experience for each audience. Sometimes I’ll flat out ask a patron what their first CD purchase was, or their first concert experience. That’s what builds the real connection with the audience, and that’s what I think any decent dueler should strive for. Duelers who rely on Piano Man to get the audience involved are going through the motions.

Some dueling piano bars may be bullcrap. Tesco, if you ever see me playing Piano Man, please don’t run out of the club, and please don’t push a dental drill into your ear. Instead, do me, yourself, and the entire audience a favor, and tip to have it stopped. I’ll play anything you want to hear (that I know how to play). Hell, I’ll play all of your song requests for the rest of the night if you did that for me. But in the end, if the audience insists on hearing it, then the dueling piano players are simply a casualty of the song’s popularity, not a cheerleader.

 

Perpetual Chord Progressions and the Man-made Isle of Geese

It was last February, some Thursday night, when I first attended a show at Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago. It is the only brewpub I’ve been to in Chicago serving indigenous beer, though I must say I was sad to hear of Budweiser’s acquisition of the brewery some years ago.

Anyhow, I had a quick chat with the booker there before I made a pivotal walk across the street to Slugger’s and started playing some dueling gigs there. And now tonight is my first show at Goose Island. As far as promotion goes, I’ve made more effort for this show than any other I’ve done – at least, the most effective effort.

I didn’t make posters

Thus, I didn’t have anything to post all over DePaul, Roosevelt, Loyola, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Park, Andersonville and Edgewater, as I have done in the past.

I didn’t contact any press (like that would do any good anyhow).

I also didn’t get a chance to plug the show at any open mics – just other gigs I do like Live Music Trivia.

All I did was bug people incessantly – in person, on facebook, via email and with my mailing list.

It works for pop music, right? It’s the repeated listenings that start to hook people into liking pop music. If the label says that the radio has to play it (cuz what power does a DJ have nowadays?), they will play it….Over, and over, and over, and over…

Even if the song sucks, we are conditioned to like it because we can’t escape it, and we’re too lazy as a society  to look for great music on our own. I know I am!

But there’s a trend I’ve noticed that will soon stop, I hope. It’s not autotune. It’s not how everyone repeats words three to six times (tonight we’re going hard, hard, ha, ha, ha hard).

It’s the perpetual chord progression. What makes it perpetual? The fact that the progression rarely, and very often NEVER plays the one (I) chord. Think of the opening arpeggio of “Twist and Shout”. What if the whole song revolved around that arpeggiated chord and never moved on to the next chord? It would feel unresolved – it would never feel finished – the song could seemingly go on forever. Many current songs play this trick on us. They center the song around the V chord (which typically resolves to the I chord), but instead of the I chord, they play the IV and the vi chord.

Listen to Teenage Dream. The major 3rd interval played over and over by the guitar in the beginning sound like the I chord, until the bass comes in when Katy Perry sings “before you met me…”. The bass note is a half step above the guitar’s top note, which implies that the chord is actually a IV chord with a major 7th. That intro is the only time you hear anything resembling the I chord. The rest of the song pulses between the IV, vi, and V chord. It’s what every popular party song sounds like right now. Here are some other examples:

Tik Tok
Last Friday Night
Domino (try singing “T.G.I.F.” over the instrumental part in Domino and then tell me that this music is truly “new”)

Some songs  follow this pattern but still resolve to the I chord..sometimes. Wanna know what songs those are?

Call Me Maybe
Raise Your Glass
We Are Who We Are
California Gurls

It’s a way of manipulating music and using music theory to create a sound that seems like it will go on forever. The party will never stop, the DJ will be playing all night, and we can stay young forever. Songwriters and producers have discovered this and have flooded the airwaves with this sound, and its time for it to go.

Do you know any other songs like this, with the perpetual chord progression? Also, why are all of these songs by girls? Your thoughts….

I can name that tune in one blog

I’m going to try and blog more. Promise! nuff said about that I spose…

Except for my excuse. Ever been busy? I hear employed people use that word a lot, and now I even get to use it! Not because I’ve got one of those hoidy-toidy day jobs, but because I’ve found some good motivation to learn new songs:

LIVE MUSIC TRIVIA!

I always have to learn new material for dueling pianos, but its hard to incorporate new things into your show, especially a show driven by other people’s requests. You probably will be asked to play “Do Ya  Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart, someday…At tonight’s show? I doubt it. I could practice the song all week and after just a few shows of not playing it, I’ve forgotten it.

But now that I have to play 80 different songs every week for Live Music Trivia (which happens every wednesday night from 8-11 at Grace Street Tap), and repeat customers can’t just be asked the same questions over and over, I’ve got a lot of homework.

It’s a fun work-in-progress. At first it was all just an elaborate “name that tune, if you can recognize how its being played on the piano”. It’s split into 8 categories – Music from the 70s, 80s and 90s covers three of them. Then we songs associated with Television (most often theme songs) and Movies, a bonus round that, so far, has included cover songs or rap tunes, and a rotating round that’s different every week. Last week it was good guy/bad guy themes, this week its cartoons.

Infact, this week is almost entirely songs that I didn’t know how to play before yesterday. I was given a list of songs to learn for a nice gig downtown in Chicago, so I’ve put most of those songs onto this week’s trivia. So Wednesday nights have become my “dueling pianos beta-test-site”, so to speak. And its become a lot of fun. The music featured ranges from sing-a-long staples like Livin on a Prayer to obscure movie songs like “Will You Be There” from the movie Free Willy.

….but thats what I’ve been up to all month. learning songs. freaking out. never having enough time for Angry Birds, now that I got a replacement phone that doesn’t scream at me to delete shit. ..

 

so!

If you’re in the Chicago area, definitely bring your friends to check it out. The overall prize for the winning team is a $20 bar tab. The winner of the bonus round gets a free round of shots. If we get some more people through the doors, and keep that consistent, we may be able to offer even more for the prizes!

Here’s the game: Every wednesday, come to Live Music Trivia and tweet with #LiveMusicTrivia to receive 10 extra points for your team. Then sit back with the shot and PBR drink special, and see which Toto tune I’ll be playing next.

How Not To Write a Song

Ages ago (ahem, last June), when a long winter that cursed the lands succumbed to summer winds without any sign of spring inbetween, I started writing a song. The only line or thoughts I had came to me while listening to David Grey’s “Babylon” on my running route on Madison Wisconsin’s west side. The line went something like “looking through the blades of grass and locks of hair, wouldn’t even know there was something to see if the veil wasn’t there”. 

The general idea of the song is pretty clear from that line – I like people who don’t flaunt their beauty, have something to discover further down the road. The initial intent of the song was to try and make myself feel better after a breakup. Most of my songs are therapeutic in that way (see Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)). I thought it would become a rather tepid sort of song, like the David Grey song that had been playing when the lyrics came to me. 

I spent weeks, maybe 2 months, trying to elaborate on those lyrics, find the write chords and melodies and meter for the lyrics. Everything seemed to sound contrived to me, and this wasn’t a song that would work if I had to force it. So I kept running every day to see what other bit of inspiration would come to me.

One day in late June, I was running and trying to think of how I could sing a song to someone and propose a course of action that we both knew was stupid…but we’d do it anyway. Soon I came up with a line very much like “Everybody knows that running away is a fairy tale ending, but I’d regret asking you to run away with me tonight”.

I repeated the line to myself for the rest of my run and completely ignored my need for a shower once I got home. This song was ready to be written. I can’t attribute my next impulse to anything, except perhaps my need to write on an instrument other than piano because my fingers tend to play what they’ve already played hundreds of times before. So I picked up my out-of-tune, unamplified electric guitar and proceeded to jam away on a B chord. I liked the idea of using barre chords so that I could choke the strings easily and create a percussive sound. After I played the B chord, it seemed natural to follow it with the ii and the V chord, because I had tried singing the line to that progression. I thought of what I could say to justify my feelings, and debunk my relationship’s potential affiliation with the terms “star-crossed” or “ships in the night”. I wanted to prove everyone wrong, myself included, and just say something honest, sweet, and green. Not naive, green. 

An hour later, I had written my latest song – all of the words (except the bridge, that would come 2 weeks later), all of the chords, I even had ideas for the solo that I would play on piano.

All this is a great way to write a song. 

But I’ve had to fix a lot since last June. The song had me singing a B in my falsetto, and everything else in the song was strained head voice. I’m still not convinced this was a terrible idea, but I’ve been unable to sing this damn song for the last two months – time to change the key!

Also a bad idea – writing a song entirely with barre chords when you don’t know proper guitar technique. 

Bad idea #3: buying a brand new acoustic guitar just for one song that you can’t even play!

So for the last 10 months or so, I’ve struggled with what instrument to play this song on, which key to put it in, what other instruments to include, and mostly, how I should translate it to piano. 

You all will have the answers to these struggles very soon. My song “Fairy Tale Ending” will be performed, in its new key and solidified style this Friday at the Elbo Room, somewhere between 9 PM and 12 AM, on piano and vocals. The master recording will still have the guitar as the driving rhythmic component, and hopefully very soon I will have that recording ready for you to all hear. Stay tuned, and come see me Friday to hear the song for yourself. 

How I Listen to Live Music (no, I’m not sleeping)

There’s no denying the power of seeing music live, as opposed to just listening to a recording. You can see the artists creating the music in real time. You’re a first-hand witness to the passion, technique, focus, talent, the blood sweat and tears that go into every great performance. That’s not even saying anything about hearing a piece for the first time and getting your mind blown when something you’ve never heard before triggers that g-spot in your brain. And when you are hearing a piece you’re familiar with, there’s a sense of excitement and suspense, wondering if it will be as good, better, or worse than the recording you’ve heard countless times before.

But sometimes that passion and suspense can trick me. I find myself enjoying something live that I would never listen to in the solitude of my home, simply because I am drawn in by someone’s performance.

This happens the other way around too. I find myself disliking a live performance because they are playing a great song, but with very little effort or passion included in their performance. Yet I know if I was listening to that song in my home or in my car, I would very likely enjoy the song.

Over the past few months I have seen very many acoustic performers at open mics and piano shows, and for the most part they have been extremely good. I’m not trying to out anyone as a joyless musician or a phony, because I haven’t met any.

What I *AM* trying to do is disprove a potential statement that someone may have for me if they happen to witness me listening to live music, and that statement would be:

“…dude, he fell asleep!”

I am easily deceived by the wonder of seeing music live, and it distorts my aural perception of the song. So sometimes I try to eliminate the judgmental sense of sight by closing my eyes and just enjoying the sound of the song. I tend to judge people and music unfairly because the I think the song they are playing is too easy to play (a common and unfortunate mistake to make when trying to assess the value of a song), or they’re the eighth guitar player I’ve seen that night. There are a myriad of visual and circumstantial reasons to unjustly dismiss a live performance.  The best way I can think of to keep myself from making these hasty and unwarranted conclusions, or falling prey to the potential juxtaposition of sight and sound,  is to close my eyes. I try to imagine myself listening to the song in my home, without the influence of the venue, the lighting, the audience, how long I’ve been there, or the performer’s presentation.

I usually find that I like the song a lot better when I close my eyes. I can focus more on the lyrics and the overall direction and style of the song. I often find a much deeper appreciation for what is being performed. Its hard to separate music from its visual representations. We hear classical music and think of people in frumpy clothes and wigs. We hear country music and see cowboy hats. We hear Lady Gaga and think of a meat dress…or a mermaid in a horse trough, or Janus giving birth to her (his?!?) own head.  My eyes really do deceive me. I see live music and hear an awesome plucking guitar performance from someone who looks to be barely moving their fingers, or dismiss a visually subdued performance of  two chords repeated over and over again when the music gives me goosebumps the second I close my eyes.

So for Big Brother out there, live music does not bore me to sleep. I free myself from making unfair judgments when I listen to music with my eyes closed.

That is, unless you’re a piano player. Then I’m watching your fingers like a hawk, even though I can rarely tell what you’re actually doing.