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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection #38: The Fire Show LP #1

I can trust the liner notes for the first Fire Show LP more than I can trust my own memory. More often than not, if I am not romanticizing past experiences, I am misremembering and romanticizing them. The names, dates and other details in the gatefold liner notes are thus a godsend.

The Fire Show was born out of the ashes of Number One Cup. Very dramatic, I know. Shouldn't it have been the other way around? The Fire Show was 1/2 of Number One Cup--Seth and me. I picked up electric guitar, dropped the drums, and became a full time vocalist. Seth carried on with guitar, some keyboard and contributed a few backing vocals and some lyrics. He did a lot of the arranging as well. We pushed the band out of dry dock in 1999 under the name XVesselX, changed the name to the Fire Show in 2000 and decommissioned it in August of 2002. The HMS Fire Show had a compact yet full life.

It was the most fulfilling and challenging thing I had ever done up to that point. I still feel that way when I listen to Saint The Fire Show. While the first record, self-titled or eponymous or whatever you call an unnamed record, is also really good, I can trace the structures and ideas in the recorded songs. We wrote them mostly as a group in a practice space. I understand the components for the most part. The final Fire Show LP is a different entity altogether. (I will talk about that when I post those songs on my YouTube channel.)

At the end of 1999, I was hired by the Safer Foundation and began working at the Cook County Jail as a teacher. We had the group together but with a different drummer, Mark, at that point. He bailed out of the group shortly before the New Year. Then we found Eric Roth pretty quickly after that. He had just graduated from music school. He was a significant upgrade. But drummers, like bass players, would prove hard to keep.

We started recording the first LP at Clava Studio for the Perishable Records label in April, May and June of 2000 with Brian Deck. The studio was in Bridgeport across a park from the White Sox stadium (whatever it is called nowadays).

Driving down there every day was like entering a part of Chicago unchanged by money and time. It was a little bit strange. Everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know each other. It was vaguely menacing, insular and claustrophobic. I was no stranger to that feeling since I spent my days locked underground in the jail on 26th and California. At that point, being unwelcome and uncomfortable was a familiar sensation.

Of the recording process, I remember precious little worth talking about. I can more readily recall what I ordered at the pizza place on the corner across from the studio. The food kind of sucked. It seemed like a front for some nefarious operation.

I can't visualize tracking the songs, but I can still picture the back of Brian Deck's head and torso as he deftly navigated Pro Tools. I did not understand how he did it. It seemed like wizardry. And he made it look simple.

My last experience in a studio was at Pachyderm with People People Why Are We Fighting in 1998. The recording world was starting to transition from tape to computer at that point. We tracked on tape and then did some of the mixing on the board and some on the computer. This Fire Sow record was done exclusively on computer. There was only one tape machine in the studio, a mix down deck, and we never turned it on. Seth loved the ease of digital editing. I don't think I really cared much one way or the other.

Brian Deck made us sound incredibly good. The first bit of recording the band did prior to this session was in our former drummer Mark's attic practice space a half block from my house on West Farragut Ave. We did that on some crappy ADATs and a Mackie mixer I carried over from Plastic Skull, my studio.

This session at Clava was a massive step up. Not to knock our primitive attempts which yielded some interesting results, but it was nowhere near what Brian was able to do with our songs. We had ideas for crazy transitions and implosions in songs, and he was able to execute each of them with relative ease.

Take the song Conception Blues as an example. The digital meltdown in that song was something we dreamed about doing but had no idea how. He made it sound like the song was pixelating into oblivion at the beginning. Then with a swoop and a whistle blow, it comes roaring back full tilt. Or the sonic barbed wire of Explosion: Cerebellum. Brian figured out how to make the mix sound like it was pumping out of a massive yet tiny telephone speaker.

To help matters, we had a good band at that point, too. Brian Lubinsky was a very solid bass player who played mostly with his fingers and not a pick. Unfortunately, he exited the group shortly before we recorded the record, and we forced to him stay on through the recording to finish what he started. This turn of events added to the saga of the missing bass player. His explanation for quitting was that he was tired of having to think like an artist. He just wanted to play. He is referred to as Crian Lubinsky in the liner notes. No wonder.

Eric Roth's drumming was stellar. I like it because I would not and could not have approached the drums the way he did, and that is a really good thing. He made the songs swing in an off-kilter yet more sophisticated way.

Tim Rutili of Red Red Meat and Califone also made an appearance on the record on guitar. (Tim also ran Perishable Records with his bandmate and drummer/percusionist Benny Massarella). His off the cuff style, while not really what the Fire Show was usually about, was a welcome addition.

With this record, I had my first opportunity to really write lyrics that I was proud of. In Number One Cup, I was trying hard, but I was just a novice. I hear it now when I listen to older songs. They seem lyrically incomplete. With the Fire Show, if I couldn't figure out what to write, Seth would help. He would often selectively mishear the words or offer alternate choices, and together we would come up with something that was demonstrably better. As a result, the words on the record still resonate with me. Whether a listener could perceive that change and growth, I am unsure.

Seth's guitar playing and pedal machinations progressed with this recording as well. I never know how he gets the sounds he does. He has a special knack for crippling and transmogrifying guitar sounds. Then he arranges the results with little emphasis on demonstrating traditional guitar technique and values. We both appreciate that approach. If you have enough technique to make interesting things happen and can convincingly replicate them, then you have enough technique. The rest is showing off.

This record is a fitting opening salvo. It is the document of our post-millenium tension. It is a success on our own terms.


F. Pilate

Please Kill The Barium Swallows

Explosion: Cerebellum

The Antipathetic

4 Times Through the Angel

Conception Blues


Pilate F.

A good taste of what the LP is like. A wicked pop song with intense distortion included. Beware.

Liner Notes:

The Fire Show made by Nil/Resplendent and Brian "Tim" Deck

assist: Greg Ratajczak

4,5,6/00 at Clava>Bridgeport>Chicago>IL>US

Mastered at West Westside by Alan Douches

M. Resplendent-voise, gitar

Olias Nil-gitar, voise

ES Roth-drumms

Crian Lubinsky-bas

string(s) arranged by ES Roth with O. Nil

all songs: 2000 Nil/Resplendent, published by Voce Di Collo Rotto (ASCAP)/Bargeld Fur Herzeleid (ASCAP)

except: Pilate F., 2000 Nil/Resplendent/ES Roth, published by Voce Di Collo Rotto (ASCAP) /Bargeld Fur Herzeleid (ASCAP/Roth Music (ASCAP) and Who Do You Love?, Ellis McDaniel, published by Arc Music Corp(BMI)

cover design: Poppy at band photo: Jim Newberry

thanks: Ben, Tim, Brian and the Perishable/Clava nexus, Poppy, Jim, Jane, Cohens, Lenzis, "they call life our only refuge"

--Paul Celan

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