Come When Life Calls

I've said before and will again that life is a game you can play as you will and that it can play with you right back. In fact, I'll go as far as to say this:

It wants to. It may even be The Point of being here.

Now whether you believe that it's all neurology and that a brain in good shape can work so fast at filtering and steering that its efficiency feels like magic, or that it's kindly souls one step beyond who play the guiding hand, or if you've come through practice and peace into union with the Tao and have the wind of the universe at your back, you're welcome to it.

I don't know which of these or which of the infinite alternatives it may be and I wouldn't spoil the fun and tell you if I did. There's room enough in 8 billion minds to carry the balance of possibilities. The point is to show up for the game.

Storytime. About 20 years ago, I was in college and taking woefully full advantage of the steady internet connection. I was disproportionately shy. I found it much easier to stare into the all-seeing eye of America Online and converse with people scattered across the country but sorted into a pool of more or less like minds. I met some lovely people and many of those bonds survive to this day, but the dark side was that I was missing out on the joy inherent in discovering new friends out in the wild.

I already knew quite well the value of digging through the shelves and racks of secondhand shops and the used bins of record stores to keep myself supplied with new things to explore and enjoy, but I was too shy to apply the logic to meeting people. I was lucky and managed to find a great little crew anyway, because you always find the people you need, but that's getting off the point. One of these digital pals was named Greg. Being local, he decided it was worth it to him to break into my physical reality, and he did me a great many favors.

One day when I was distracting myself from the combination of prerequisite courses and social anxiety, overloading my senses with television, AOL chat and my first real forays into electronic music, Greg messaged me out of the blue one day and told me he was coming by to pick me up. I was pleasantly surprised, having no idea what to expect when I hopped into his car. He got right to business. "Have you heard of The Legendary Pink Dots?" Not yet knowing this was a band, my mind scanned for a reference and found nothing. He didn't wait for me to answer. "We're going to see them now."

We did, and I was blown away. The opening act was the Silver Man, a soloist making dense and beautiful structures with electronics. I was mesmerized and inspired. I was overjoyed when I found he was just part of the main band, joined by Edward Ka-Spel, a golden-throated front man straight from Alpha Centauri who played loops and synths while weaving worlds with his voice, live drums/bass/guitar, and a horn section. It was an absolute banquet. I had seen a fair amount of live shows but nothing came close. Some bands get labeled as "psychedelic" and all you get is swirly guitars and too many colored lights. Like whoa, man. The Legendary Pink dots never bother to use the word, but they create the state without requiring the drugs.

It was a real touchstone moment for me. The bar had just been set very high, not only for the kind of music I'd grow to enjoy seeing live, but the kind of music I'd wind up making. We enjoyed the show so much that on a whim we decided to follow them to the next stop, a few states over. We slept in a Denny's parking lot and made it in time to meet the band. We were too spent to stay up the extra 6 hours to see the show, but it was worth it. I had just met these musical gods and it was now clear that they were just people excelling in their element. That lesson stuck.

Greg did this sort of thing with me several times, subjecting me to music I wasn't ready for on road trips that became my favorite bands, making sure I didn't miss good shows (There was the time his car died and we missed Negativland, but I got to open for them this year so that one's all better), introducing me to all manner of fascinating people, playing music with me and just being a great all around friend. Then as soon as he came, he vanished completely, after boosting the novelty in my life by tenfold. I spent a few years trying to find him and nobody seems to know what happened. Based on Greg alone, part of me leans toward that angel theory. If they're only human, that's good enough for me.

So years pass, and I catch this band when I can. After a long hiatus I heard that the Pink Dots were touring again this year, and that they were crossing through Arizona. Twenty seconds after I knew, I took a page from Greg's book and informed my darling Christine that we were going. She was familiar with the recordings but we hadn't had the pleasure to catch the performance together. The nature of her job is random scheduling, so even though we got up at dawn the day of the show and she got there the minute she could start, it was still pegged to be a long day for her. Stormclouds gathered.

I decided to go stoic about it and accept the worst: the Dots had played a significant role in our courtship, so missing our first chance to see them together with no idea when the next chance might be was a hard pill to swallow. I made peace with it and sank a bit.

Then I meditated for a minute and asked myself, okay, but by contrast what's the best case scenario? I called ahead to see when they went on. It was doable but pushing it. I saw it clearly: We would get to the venue and walk in just before the Dots went on.  I was amused by how perfect that would be, and laughed it off as too much to ask. I decided to just play it as it came.

Well not long after, I heard that her day was going better than expected. It worked out that everything in my Dad/Daughter routine happened early and I dropped her off with the Grandfolks. I got back home just after she arrived. Standard progression of outfits, dinner in the car, and we were on our way. The drunken afterthought layout of Tucson means crossing the diameter of the city to get to the highway from where we live, so it was white knuckles for a while until we got to open road.

We were 5 minutes ahead of schedule when the gas light went on. We got the gas and got back on the road, which took exactly 5 minutes. At this point I knew that there was a sense of humor about the whole situation and that it would be fine. We navigated into a part of town we hadn't seen before, and found the music venue nestled into the corner of a strip mall between a nail salon and a Chinese restaurant. Surely this was not the place, but the venue name matched and I heard a guitar tuning.

I felt a pang of sadness, thinking these might be hard times for the Dots as they are for any touring band. Then I remembered how lucky we are to have these international acts coming through at all anymore. We approached the "Will Call" area (a card table with a laptop), got our wristbands, and the game was on. The venue was sized just right for a very intimate show, but with good sound and lights. The crowd was small but thickening. I looked around just in case Greg was still following the Dots. I felt relieved that this band would get the space and audience they needed. We walked in, turned to face the stage, and they played the first note. Believe it or don't, it was exactly as imagined, and worth all the stress on the way up.

It was everything I hoped. Phil Knight (Silver Man), Edward Ka-Spel, and some bloke I don't know calling down angels on guitar. They only needed 3 this time to do what all great bands do regardless of lineup. Time vanished, space expanded, and every spirit in attendance received the meal it needed. Seeing this band is always a Master Class in how electronically driven music can be performed with the heart of an orchestra, the balls of proto-punk, and the tenderness of a crooner in equal measure. As I said, there are loads of trippy bands playing trippy music, but tripping is stumbling. The Legendary Pink Dots are shamans on stage and gentle geniuses off. Christine and I had the pleasure of meeting and thanking them for our favorite record, (and catching them giddy over cheap pizza. The angels are human after all.) and I geeked a bit with Silver Man about gear. All in all, perfection.

So, lesson learned? Play, and play well. Take the chance all the way to its best outcome. As the Dots themselves have in the liner of every CD, "Sing While You May." And if you're able to, see this band while you can. If you're reading this in 2016, there are still chances on this tour.

Here are tour dates:

Now, I am clearly in post-show glow, and this is where I could link to live footage of the LPD on YouTube, and there is a lot. For me though, there is no comparison to Being There. No phone camera and pinhole microphone is going to relay the quality of the music, and only being in sight of performers gets you That Feel anyway. So instead, here's one of the pieces they performed, at the perfect time in American history to hear it.