Parlour to Parlour begins today with Episode 0. This footage, filmed in San Francisco, CA, during the weekend of November 14-15, 2008, on my grandfather’s old analog Hi8, was “just practice” and not originally intended for the series. But we liked it so much that it deserved a place in the series, even if it was out-of-concept in that it was the band visiting me, rather than the other way around. Hence “Episode 0.”
The Parlour to Parlour “concept” wasn’t completely set in stone yet, nor had I begun the process of putting together a production schedule for the series, when Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights were passing through San Francisco last November. But even in its formative stages, P2P was always meant to begin with Chris.
There were many ways in which Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights were the ideal band to kick off the Parlour to Parlour journey. I have known Chris since we were teens, up to no good in that raucous, rambunctious little Rhode Island town of East Greenwich, back when he played guitar in the high school jazz band (the way we reconnected after 11 years was itself a great story, which led to a lighthearted interview for Bullz-Eye). So starting with a friend took some of the edge off as I slowly worked my way to a point where interacting with musicians I admire, with a video camera, felt less like an intrusion and more like the act of doing a good deed for a good friend. Not only that, I had already become friendly with the rest of the Fear of Heights band as well, having hung with them during previous tour stops in the city. Keyboardist Rachel Taylor Brown, in particular, was a real sweetheart and a gifted solo artist in her own right, and we’ll be visiting her up in Portland in a later P2P episode.
Chris and his band — Taylor Brown, drummer Peter Swenson, bassist Arthur Parker, trumpeter Daniel Adlaf and viola maestro Ben Landsverk — had plans to be in San Francisco the weekend before Thanksgiving, despite not having a proper gig booked in the city during this particular tour. Chris wanted to find a way to play here anyway, so they did — at Jack Kerouac alley, nestled between two institutions of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, Vesuvio Cafe and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s famed bookstore, City Lights. With guitar case open and CDs to sell in exchange for tips, the band were set to pull in almost as much dough as they would have at a regular indoor club gig.
During the performance footage, Arthur is the only one who is plugged in — that’s his bass amp you hear giving off a split second of fuzz at the start of the band’s cover of Gillian Welch’s “One Monkey.” The rest are all un-amplified, au natural, stepping back a little bit to the quieter, folkier sound of Chris’ 2007 album The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love. He left behind the neo-folk of that album for Movie Theatre Haiku, credited to Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights, for a harder hitting pop-rock sound that is far more indicative of Chris’ love of the Beatles. And yet, when he broke out “User Friendly Guide to Change” and “Concrete and Nails” that day, they sounded perfectly at home in the more stripped down setting.
This weekend busking excursion also served as my opportunity to return a favor to Chris. Earlier in the year, I visited Portland, Oregon, for the first time. Chris and his wife Krissy gave me some much needed shelter during my trip on their comfy couch, sharing only occasionally with their cat, Fellini. This time, it was my turn to play host, not just to Chris but to his entire band.
Actually, I split hosting duties with my good friend Kelly Low — Rachel, Peter and Arthur stayed with her, while Chris, Ben and Daniel stayed with me in my smaller apartment out in the Lower Haight. You can catch a glimpse of Kelly in the video as the band goofs around in her living room. Well, it was her living room at the time, anyway. But in the months since this footage was shot, Kelly moved to SoCal, and I took over her old apartment. So it’s my living room now!
And so begins Parlour to Parlour — in my living room, before it was my living room.
Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights – “One Monkey”