Rockin’ the ‘Bat House’
It was quite a surprise to be asked by the San Francisco Bath House to do a gig just before Christmas – it was quite short notice, but what the heck? It’s not every day you get asked to headline a gig, after all… plus, the proposed date was The Day After The End Of The World, and who wouldn’t want to celebrate that? (Assuming we were still here, of course!)
As we now know, the world didn’t end on the 21st (hooray!) so it was all systems go on the 22nd!
The San Fran Bath House has quite a modest-sized stage, so a small group of 15 of us (plus Tim C and Darryn directing) had been selected to play. The venue got a noise control complaint during our afternoon sound check/rehearsal, so we were definitely going to be loud enough!
Crazy Fat Brazilian (with Darryn on drums) did a couple of sets earlier in the evening to warm up the crowd, which had been steadily growing throughout the night, and by the time we hit the stage at 11-ish, the venue was pretty full, which was extremely gratifying for a short-notice gig with not much time for publicity, so close to Christmas.
We began with Samba (which is always a good one to start with) and the audience immediately got into the carnival spirit, dancing and leaping around with great enthusiasm. It was completely brilliant to see so many band members up the front, really getting into it. It must be quite fun to step back and listen to the band, as opposed to being the ones actually playing the music – most of us don’t get much of an opportunity to do that, as so many of our gigs are parade and festival-type events where everyone’s expected (invited) to play.
Our lovely dancers, Arawhetu and Hillary, sashayed on-stage to join us as we prepared to do the Batucada Vai break, to a roar of approval from the crowd, and they did a fantastic job right through the entire gig (which was over an hour long – great stamina!).
This was my first-ever on-stage gig, which I suppose is quite surprising, as I’ve been performing for quite a few years now, but generally there are simply too many of us to fit on the stage, even when there’s one available. If we’re performing as part of a festival, for example, we generally end up in front of the stage, rather than on it – so it was quite a novel experience to be looking down onto the crowd, rather than being on the same level as them.
Six-Eight is one of my favourite patterns. It’s generally played during Samba, and has a lovely waltz-like groove and time-signature (hence the name). If you’ve seen us perform, you’ll recognise it as the one where the entire band normally does a 360 degree step-turn every four bars in pattern #1. During our afternoon rehearsal we’d realised that the stage was simply too small for us to incorporate the step-turn – we’d most likely have crashed into each other mid-spin, and someone would inevitably have fallen off the stage at some point, so we decided we’d leave that to the dancers and the audience instead.
Special shout-outs to Matthew, Dr Phil and Lucy (and others in the audience too numerous to mention) from Wellington Batucada, who danced like crazy people right at the front throughout the gig, did all the “actions” associated with each pattern and break, and (as we’d hoped) did a sterling job with the Six-Eight step-turns. Great job, guys!
Another of my favourite patterns is Afoxé (pronounced “afoshay”), which is also played mid-Samba, and which has quite a different, funky groove. After signalling the turn into Afoxé, Darryn and Tim swapped places, with Darryn joining the band to play timbau, and Tim moving up-front to take over the directing. I just love Afoxé – it’s got such an infectious rhythm, you just can’t help dancing to it. I’m dancing in my seat listening to it as I type this blog post, actually.
During the piece, Tim signalled the first (of what would be many) “play quieter, and play lower” breaks, which actually means “gradually lower yourselves to the ground while still playing, until you end up in a crouching position on the floor and keep on playing“. Not as easy as it looks – especially the keep on playing bit. Tim was clearly in full-on director mode, as he also signalled the audience to do the same thing – which they obligingly did. Batucada members are clearly well-trained to obey signals from the director – even when they’re not actually playing!
Tim then moved us seamlessly from Afoxé back to Samba and then into a different pattern altogether – Samba Reggae. This is Tim’s speciality, and he always does a great job with getting the crowd involved. Towards the end of the piece, he invited Carin and Darryn to do a bit of a featured improv on timbau, which went down pretty well. Tim did a bit of call and response with the crowd to finish, and then we were into Merengue, our fastest pattern. The dancers moved down into the crowd and led them in the Merengue moves, which definitely looked pretty cool from our vantage-point.
The thing about Merengue, is that it’s pretty darned fast and virtually relentless, apart from the short 5-Beat breaks. We have an unspoken agreement in the caixa section that when you feel like your arms are going to drop off, you can pull back into a simpler version of the pattern for a few bars to re-gather your strength while the other caixas carry on with the main rhythm. It works pretty well as long as everyone doesn’t pull back at the same point, and it saves you collapsing in a heap during the gig.
Tim has recently introduced a new variation to Merengue – pattern #3 – which, for the caixas at least, is a far simpler pattern, and gives us all a bit of a break. Phew!
Our encore piece was Samba, featuring each of the sections in turn: Nigel, Vlatko, Emily and Anny on surdo; LaRochelle, me and Kirsty on caixa; Tim G on repinique; Carin and Darryn on timbau; Charlene on chocalho; Kate and Vanessa on agogo; Caroline, Tanya and Geeta on tambourim. Tim had us all crouching again during the featured solos, signalling each section to stand up when it was their turn to be featured. What fun! I have no idea how we managed to get to our feet while soloing without losing the rhythm, but we did – and it was lovely to each get our turn in the spotlight this way.
We continued with a couple more breaks, and then Tim signalled Nosebleed Samba. This is Samba played at extreme speed, which gets faster and faster until it’s literally impossible for us to increase the speed any more without completely losing it. The hand signal is basically a mime of having a nosebleed, but when Tim first started signalling it, I was rather confused. “Is he telling us he’s caught a cold in the middle of the gig?” I wondered idly to myself…
Christian took the opportunity to get up on stage with us during this part of the gig, so he’s been able to get a whole lot of quite cool close-ups in this video:
We finished Nosebleed Samba with the Jump break – which often signals the end of the gig, but Tim G decided it wasn’t quite over yet, and did the repinique re-intro into Samba (at nosebleed speed) once more, just to finish us all off good and proper.
What a great gig! So many people there – including some wonderful faces from the past (I’m looking at you, Lester and Darryl) – come back and play with us again! You know you want to!
Click on any thumbnail to see a larger version: