the john lilley project at the auction house

the counter...and "the vault"...

you won’t find many other venues like the auction house in audubon, new jersey.

it’s literally minutes over the walt whitman bridge, nestled in a small community that belies the typecasting that people far from being in-the-know like to bestow upon “jersey”…which is probably just fine with them.  the building looks like it’d be right at home in any number of new england towns – it appears to have been a bank at one point in time, and now serves double duty as a bona-fide auction house AND a performing arts venue.  the building has a grandeur that you don’t see in modern-day banks, to be certain – high ceilings and…yes, a vault.


the stage is all the way back against the wall to your right as you walk in the door, backdropped by floor-to-ceiling red curtains…and seating is provided by sixty or so antique chairs, complete with armrests.  around the perimeter of the room you’ll see everything from antique furniture to a stuffed (as in “by a taxidermist”, not as in “i just carried this home from the carnival”) bear – no shortage of vibe here.

the snack bar, complete with wooden indian
the snack bar, complete with wooden indian

when i got to the gig, john was standing outside with rick bell – i was the third person to arrive.  i managed to snag a spot directly across the street from the venue and wheeled everything in and waited for instructions regarding where to set up.  john had me set up to his left, just as we did at the puck show.  i tried to stay out of rick’s way until he’d staked out his territory, and i set up in front of him, just as before…it was tommy and rick in back, then freddie, john and myself across the front.  george pierson (longtime tin angel soundman) was on hand to ring out the system and run the house and the monitors for us…it took a while to get everything set, but george is a pro and he did well by us.  i know there were particular things regarding the sound and lights that john wasn’t one hundred percent happy with, but considering the venues’ status on the food chain, i don’t think we could’ve asked for much more than what we got – they’re a new room, starting out in a very small market, and i was personally really iimpressed with the place.

john lilley during soundcheck at the auction house
john lilley during soundcheck at the auction house

we set up and ran through a bunch of things as soundcheck was happening around us – it was a bit chaotic, but it was productive nonetheless.  the only major change involved moving the time signature of “diggin’ deeper down” back to its original tempo and feel…john tried to psyche me out by telling me that he’d moved a bunch of songs to a-flat since the last rehearsal, but he relented when i didn’t flinch.


after we’d gotten through everything to everyones’ general satisfaction, john took the band out to dinner at a diner around the corner from the venue, where i had the absolute worst stroghanoff i think i’ve ever had in my life (note to self: learn from those around you and order a friggin’ sandwich…to everything, there is a season, and so it goes with pre-gig food…) and we all went back to catch patty blee’s set.

i hope that i can someday convince patty and ernie to record a live album – the chemistry that those two have when they play is unbelievable.  ernie is so tasteful and talented, and he’s a great compliment to pattys’ songs – they rise and fall at the appropriate times, their dynamic is impeccable, and they’re just damn good.  in front of that crowd, respectful and appreciative, they really shone…it’d be a real treat if they ever captured that somehow.

i was standing there, watching them play, and kenny barnard walked in with his wife.  it was the first time i’d seen kenny since robert hazard’s memorial service.  he had come from a birthday party to see the show.  i gave him a big hug and shook hands with his wife and we caught up for a couple of minutes…i try to be as quiet as i can during other peoples’ sets, and i figured we’d have more of a chance to talk after the show, but he slipped out before i got to see him.

so after the openers’ set, i went out to the car to fetch my “robert hazard boots” and came back in to the dressing room, where john and the band were already prepping for the show, changed clothes, and got ready to hit it.  john went out first, as per the plan, to do ” a couple of acoustic songs”.  the first song he did, though, was robert’s “out of the blue”, just himself and the guitar.

that was a moment, man.  we were standing back in the dressing room, and it fell silent for a while.  keep in mind that four out of five of the members of this band are robert hazard alumnus…robert’s shadow never fully recedes from the ground underneath this band.

gods' own rhythm section..tommy and freddie
gods own rhythm section - tommy and freddie

the band walked out for the third number and…well, for the first six or seven songs, it seemed as if we weren’t going to get our footing for this show at all.  it wasn’t so much that there were glaring mistakes or anything like that as…well, it’s hard to put my finger on.  it just felt perpetually awkward, somehow.  like something was wrong, something was either too loud or too soft, or too fast or too slow…all at once.  somehow, though, about seven songs into the set, something clicked.  all of a sudden, we were formidable again…and that carried through most of the rest of the night.  my biggest faux pas of the night was actually committed long before showtime – apparently, i took my 12 string electric out of the car at some point, and had to use the baritone guitar for the intro to one of the songs…to say it was a different sound would be something of an understatement, and it threw the song off considerably.  on the other side of that coin, though, it was my first gig with my new blue fulltone fulldrive2 pedal, and the difference in the overdrive sound for the rickenbacker lap steel was erection-inducing…i’m surprised i was able to play the damn thing sitting down.  WOW.

actually, i’m not sure how much of that night can be attributed to the pedal alone, and how much might actually be attributable to the fact that i had my princeton reverb up to about 4.5, as opposed to its customary 2 or so.  it’s not something that i get to do often, and i have to say – i definitely like playing in the bigger rooms with a little extra volume.   my dormant inner adult tells me that this shouldn’t matter much, but when you’re feeling it bounce off the walls in the room, it does.  plus, it’s generally accepted within the boundaries of conventional wisdom that tube amps sound better when the tubes are “pushed” a bit, and that the sound opens up considerably…especially when overdriven.

this is a duality that i try to straddle as much as possible – i do my best to use one amp for everything electric…guitar, baritone guitar, pedal steel, lap steel…all of it.  the problem with that is that while i love having the dirt for some of the electric guitar and lap steel stuff, i really need a solid, throaty clean sound for the pedal steel, the baritone stuff, and some of the regular guitar stuff.  for every time i think about getting a vibro-champ or something like that for the smaller gigs, i think about getting a super reverb to handle the baritone and the pedal steel.  the reality, though, is that i’m probably right where i need to be, between the princeton reverbs and the deluxe and the vibrolux.  one of those amps is probably always going to be the right one…as much as it’s possible for any one amp to be the right one.

so we got up there and slammed through two hours worth of material…which is kinda hard to believe in retrospect.  it certainly didn’t feel like it, but the clock doesn’t lie.  most of my personal highlights were in the second half of the show – “say yo“, “ordinary lives“, and my favorite song to play live, “second chance” – which, when you hear us do it, will be my obvious favorite…what with it being a lindley-esque lap steel orgy. 🙂

playing with this band is a real rush – and it’s only going to get better as everyone starts to get their feet underneath them and we all learn the songs well enough that we’re not “thinking” when we’re playing, and it’s just flying up from underneath our feet.  once we get to that place, it’s gonna be pretty ridiculous.

One thought on “the john lilley project at the auction house

  1. Thanks for the blog, I was there and it was such a magical night! LOVED IT!!! and the venue I can not say enuf about very cool!!!! Bring on Steal City!!!

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