Friday, September 28, 2007

Adieu to a great band; thanks for the jams

Last night, I said farewell to a great group of people I have had the pleasure of meeting this year, the members and entourage of the band Alowishious Farhatt. Hopefully, it's more of a "farewell for now" as they relocate from the busy D.C. area to the storied musical hotbed in Memphis, Tenn., which has called out to them. They're in search not necessarily of stardom but just appreciative audiences. "L.A.'s too far, and New York's too expensive," said Rick Patoray, founder of the group, last night.

The first time I saw his band was on April 14, a Saturday night out with some friends at a bar in Arlington, Va. We were seated in a booth, sipping down Red Bulls and vodka while munching on some quesadillas. We were trying to have a conversation when we all started to pay attention to the band performing on a tiny stage hidden behind some uninhabited tables.

Song after song, solo after solo, this classic rock cover band made our ears perk up. It wasn't just each member's abilities that made us take notice but also their song choices. For instance, they tore up the Rolling Stones' faux-disco radio staple "Miss You," and they strutted their way through a version of "Stray Cat Strut" that incorporated a small passage of Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme. What topped everything else was when, at my sarcastic "like-they'll-ever-be-able-to-play-this" request, these guys impressively launched into the entire medley on the B-side of the Beatles' Abbey Road, using only guitar, bass, drums and their own vocals. These were things I'd never heard a band do before. Holy crap, are these guys for real?

It was obvious to me that they really appreciated good music. That's why it struck me odd to find out, upon further investigation, that they were all under the age of 24. It was a pretty amazing respect for music they possessed, something I also had at that age although I was unable to find likeminded individuals who were willing or able to put it toward forming a band that would play out for the sake of having fun and making good music.

During a break between sets that night, I chatted with these three guys and described myself as a frustrated keyboard player who can jam with the best of them. Casually, they invited me to sit in with them the next time they were around. Were they sure they wanted to take my word for it and let me sit in next time without first hearing me? Wouldn't they want to invite me to a few rehearsals first just to get some kind of inkling of what kind of player I am or what songs I know? No, said Rick Patoray, the oldest member and who started the band six years ago. He told me they are playing over 100 shows a year and never rehearse. Or maybe he said each show is a rehearsal for the next.

Either way, they called me a few weeks later to tell me when I should be at their next show at the same bar. Friends and I arrived early, towing my keyboard and minimal necessary components and wondered whether they would really invite me to the stage at some point, for a couple of songs in their last set maybe. We got there about an hour before they did, and so I'm sure I looked pretty silly trotting in a single giant keyboard and not knowing exactly where to stash it in the meantime. Finally, when they arrived, they told me to get set up right there with them. They would have me play the first few songs, and if it was good, I could jam all night.

On guitar and vocals, Rick Patoray was capable of squelching out solos in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughan or whichever guitarist was appropriate for each song. Bassist Zach Bossart provided smooth support for every tune, also doubling on backup vocals. On drums and vocals (alternating lead duties with Rick), Kenny Thomas banged out some masterful rhythms and fills. And in the middle of it all, I was there, telling them between songs whether or not I could play the suggestion they made. Most of the time, it was a yes, and we just jumped right into it so quickly that we didn't even discuss what key we would play it in. But we all came in together, and it all worked out fine -- so fine that they invited me back for each of their monthly gigs. I gladly participated in three of them, including last night, and they warmly accepted me into the fold each time, even giving me the spotlight for some of their famous organ solos, namely Del Shannon's "Runaway" and the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."

Now they're heading off to Memphis, where they hope things will go better for them. They've been around Northern Virginia for long enough to see that audiences generally don't take too kindly to the noise they're making. Here in the D.C. area, bars are full of guys who just want to "mack on chicks," and a loud band playing "daddy's music" is bothersome. That's exactly what we saw last night in Arlington, Va.

Last night, we played: "One After 909" by the Beatles, "Pride and Joy" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Runaway" by Del Shannon, "Stray Cat Strut" by the Stray Cats, "I Shot the Sheriff" by either Bob Marley or Eric Clapton (our rendition was a mix of both), "Get Back" by the Beatles, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" by Bob Dylan, "So Happy Together" by the Turtles, "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles, the traditional "Happy Birthday" for someone turning 21 followed by "Birthday" by the Beatles, "The Lemon Song" by Led Zeppelin (you bet!), and "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones.

For the beginning of set two, Rick handed off his guitar to Kenny and went over to play the drums. They trade instruments regularly for a few songs, and what's surprising is that Kenny has a fine command of guitar too! With this alternate lineup (shown in the photo at right), we played "Have a Cigar" by Pink Floyd, "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" by the Guess Who, "Karma Police" by Radiohead, "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, and finally some song by either 311 or Sublime that I didn't know apart from fudging my way through it at each of my previous three gigs with them.
Thanks to my buddy Ben for the photo above.
The rest of our second set, with the normal lineup back in position, continued as follows: "Say It Ain't So" by Weezer, the Abbey Road medley by the Beatles (including that "Her Majesty" bit after "The End"), an impromptu "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" while Rick used the men's room, segueing nicely into "Don't Let Me Down" by the Beatles upon his return, and "Let It Be" by the Beatles. During that song, my note taker left, and all I can remember playing afterwards are "Up on Cripple Creek" by the Band, "My Name is Mud" by Primus (which I had never heard before and so I didn't play along until the second verse), "The Weight" by the Band, and we definitely closed with "Tomorrow" by Silverchair.

The audience reception last night to our sets was tepid and apathetic. A couple of dudes stood with their backs to the bartender to face us, applauded every tune as soon as they recognized it, and came up to us after each song to tell us how great it sounded. Other than these two guys, the place was packed with twentysomethings engrossed in conversations aimed at drowning out the band. One buxom blonde did approach me and asked if we could play requests, and I said yes, but there was no song title she particularly had in mind, so she went away and we didn't see her again.

This is typical for the area, Rick told me, adding that he hated that place in particular because the patrons there were always like that. Now he and his bandmates have themselves become jaded, apathetic and tired of the D.C. area, to the point that they would run through a song for the first time ever onstage, without any rehearsal other than telling each other what song they were about to attempt.

That's how our Guess Who cover came about. They said they'd heard it on the radio on the way to the gig and decided they wanted to try it out. It was the second song after the break. But the funny thing is that it actually comes off well whenever they try something new onstage. The reason is, Rick explained, that they've been together for so long -- six years -- that now they just instinctively follow each other.

Their overall notion for their shows in Northern Virginia has been that there's barely anybody who will be impressed. That also accounts for why they didn't bat an eyelash in telling me to come and jam with them at a gig, and then having me back month after month. Basically, they had nothing to lose when it came to these gigs. They were already assured of a testy reaction, so what would be so bad if they made a mistake in playing an unrehearsed song or inviting a total stranger to sit in?

As with their successful performances of unrehearsed songs (seven last night were things they never played together before), their decision to let me tag along was the right one. They said having me there broke up the monotony of those 100 similar shows a year. For instance, on the Beatles medley, Rick could sit back a little knowing I would play all the keyboard parts, whereas normally he would overextend himself to pick at them on the guitar. It also meant Rick could hand off solos to someone who wasn't playing bass or drums, and that he and I could do some back-and-forth interplay. We were doing this right from that first night I jammed with them.

With the lethargy of their listeners having grated on them long enough, now Alowishious Farhatt is actually doing something about it. Memphis, to them, represents greener pastures, where they're told nice folks go out to a bar with the specific intention of watching a band. And because alcohol is there, they drink too. The group may not make it big-time, but they are optimistic in believing there are more pleasant experiences to be had.

Farewell for now! I'll see you guys in Memphis someday.


  1. Dude,

    Sorry I missed it! I was stuck at work from 8am to 8:30pm and was too dead to come out. I was among those 'friends' with you that night you met Alowishious Farhatt, and I'm really sorry to see them go. Maybe if they hung around a bit longer we could create a 'critical mass' of bands and audiences that'll appreciate real 'live' entertainment. I hate to gripe, but as a fellow musician, I don't understand why these folk -- who can go to ANY BAR in DC/VA with a jukebox or a DJ to drink and meet people -- choose to go to a bar with 'live music' only going to IGNORE it and then complain if it's too loud because they can't hear each other talk? I just Don't Get It, baby. Griping over. Sorry again to see those guys go. We need more of them here.

  2. Totally agreed, Karlin. 'Tis a shame to lose such a great band, guys who could really jam. That being said, I don't know when the next time I'm ever going to look down from a stage, and that's a shame too! We have to do somehing really cool, man.


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