Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime: A Review

Surrealism is an art form emerging in the early 1900s in both art and literature and was defined by its illogical juxtapositions of dissimilar things and ideas. It was a method of unleashing the subconscious in those boundaries that know no definitions. Listening to Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime, the spectacular new Live album from decker. is a surreal journey.

First, an admission. I did not go to the amazing show with Haymarket Squares and Hot House Orchids. I kick myself over it all of the time. It was not one to skip. That is the way with local music. It is like Brent Babb was saying in our interview. Record it. This stuff will vanish from the world, and you will never experience it again. Record it! And decker. did. I did however see two of the three Arizona mini tour shows that decker. did with Banana Gun and Wyves to celebrate their 10th anniversaries, and much of this live album material was played during those shows as well.

I started off my research for this article with a social media question, as I often do. I asked folks if they liked live albums, and what they liked about them. I was curious. Here is why. When I was younger, I didn’t care for them. They were not clean enough. But, then I discovered vinyl bootlegs in the Import Section at PDQ Records in Tucson. There were recordings of Bauhaus at the BBC! Interviews with The Cure on vinyl records imprinted with pictures of the band. There were rare live tracks from a million different shows, and the Internet did not exist. Not like today. So you could not get this stuff….. anywhere! I started to eat it up.

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

Most answers to my social media questions centered around two points: the artists reason for wanting to make a live album, and what fans enjoy about live albums. Sarah Chapman, lead singer of Ghost Cat Attack, for instance answered, “Personally I’ve always felt more comfortable onstage than in studio” which was a bonus because they used the recording of their live album almost as “a useful pre-production for our studio album that is currently in progress. We even had Ari Leopold master the live album, which helped him get to know the songs before we went into Lava Lake Studio with him.”

Fellow music writers Jason Kiel and Mitchell Hillman both voiced perfectly what we want as listeners to a live album. Jason wrote, “Has to be different from the studio album or perfectly capture a show.” To which Mitchell added, “It has to stand out from the studio work or capture a magical moment in time and space. I sometimes find there is an unhinged, loose and liberated quality to live album material, which there should be. Sometimes artists are so focused on perfection in the studio, they sacrifice a bit of soul, so to speak.”

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

My personal feeling about live albums is that they make a lot more sense than best of compilations in today’s music market. Jim Bachmann, of the Day Drinkers, agrees, “Greatest hits albums in the current landscape don’t make much sense when every song is only a click away.” So it stands to reason that both Banana Gun and decker. release live albums for their tenth anniversary. The Banana Gun album remixes and rearranges some older favorites, brings in a new song, and was recorded as a live session in Mund’s Park, Arizona near Flagstaff. decker.’s album is a live recording of a special anniversary show. But both serve as ten year compilation albums of material you cannot already get with a click.

While preparing to write this review, I listened to the album. Then I listened to it again. Then I made a playlist of the album versions of the songs. I listened to it again. Then I went back to the album. Half way through, with the track “Invocation” my journey divided in a wood with many trails. And the stream of consciousness trip that track took me on illuminated my entire way of processing the songs that the album contained. Everything reset…. with Invocation.

“The only way this album could have turned out better is if they went double album on it… but sometimes a succinct single platter is a more potent production, a synthesis of the evening, the pure distillate of decker.” – Mitchell Hillman

Ryan B. Clark : How do you go about making the hard decisions of what material to include on a project like this?
Brandon Decker : I have been playing shows for over 10 years as decker. Most of this group has been playing shows together for about 6 years. We love to play. We’ve toured the country exhaustively and played 3, 4, sometimes 5 hour bar gigs. So, we knew the kind of set we would play for the 1st half of the evening – the songs that really work for us and which the audience seems to take in and get “there” with us. I had a setlist of 18 or so songs in hopes minimally a dozen would work out for an album. The night was so joyful and energized that we ended up playing for almost 3 hours straight. Most of the 2nd half of the night was off the cuff, especially the covers and some of the deep cuts. There’s no shortage of material. We cut some songs because you just can’t put out an an album with 3 hours of content. It gets expensive. And boring…for everyone.
Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime

Danny Torgersen is everywhere. This guy and his brass playing brilliance lend themselves wherever they are needed. He guests in the decker. family, he shows up with Harper & the Moths, he guest appeared on the new Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers album, to say nothing of Captain Squeegee and all the other guest appearances he does. He is like a lucky leprechaun, a merry Rumpelstiltskin, and he is becoming a legend in this town. And what a fitting intro he gave to this magical night, in which he inadvertently, named the live album.

Burnin’ Grass

When decker. takes the stage, any stage, you immediately get the sense that yes, as Brandon said, these folks play together, a lot. It is rare that you see a band that is so polished, precise, and specifically tuned into each other that still allows for life, and passion, and spontaneity to burst into the performance. Here they come out with one of the first songs off their newest album Born to Wake Up, and it is a great tune, but like I said, everything in this set is reset for me with Invocation. It seems to back everything up, and say, “We have invited you in, and you have danced, and you have reveled, but you need to go back, keep your eyes wide open, shut your mouth for just one moment, and listen, because life can be like a locomotive coming this way.
The Holy Ghost

This was the very first decker. song I ever heard. The band goes back ten years, and I have only been back in Phoenix, keeping the greasy side down for two years now. I am quite late to the decker. family, but it has not stopped me from consuming the band’s body of work and rejoicing in having our very own psychedelic, Pink Floyd inspired, Tom Pettyesque, Springsteen style workin’ man, desert dweller of a song master right here, and back for good, in Arizona. And as the song surges, and the energy is starting to channel, I am left with the idea that when we let go, allow something not of us in, to permeate in our souls, we get to this place where we put our heart in your hands and just let go.
The Garden

This is one of my all time favorite decker. songs. I absolutely love it. I love its message. I love how it sounds. I love the staccato lyrics at the end. With these first two songs, I am pulled directly in to Mitchell Hillman’s precisely composed liner notes:

“A decker. show when done right is part rock’n’roll show, part traveling salvation show and a whole lot of psychedelic desert blues. It is inspiring, designed to move you, to leave its grooves on you, to raise you up a notch, either through the words of wisdom from the lead visionary himself, Brandon Decker. This is what his following has come to expect of him, part front-man and lead singer, part preacher – because through there’s no real religion being spoken of, there is a gospel according to decker. That gospel is love, that God is love, and its all there in a nightly prayer.”

The Phantom

As I was expressing at the top, I found after listening to this entire album once that Invocation changes my interpretation of the entire experience. That moment, that daring, honest moment forces me to go back and re-examine those pathways through the desert, through the dream, and dig for … something else. You begin to realize that Mitchell is right, there is a gospel of decker. and it weaves throughout the lyrics and the music and the experience to ferment into something much deeper. Something that demands fuller attention.

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As Brandon explained in the beginning, decker. has been touring and playing, hard, for years. They know the songs that work for them, and for their audience. That is obvious in the first half of this record. That is why I made the comparisons to a best of album, this collection of songs is exactly that…. but it more because of the nightly prayer of it. It becomes a quest to find a light to hold up for the ages…. It becomes a journey of rebirth because we get so tired baby, we get so tired out there… We are here, dancing, feeling, loving, acknowledging that everybody wants a piece of {us}… and we all are all just Phantoms lately…. and we need to be recharged.
Spades

By this point in the evening, Brandon and his band are feeling it. They are channeling it, and this record has captured it. Turn it up! You can feel the energy from that room at Last Exit Live. You can feel the passion from that crowd! You can pick up on the memory of why we LOVE LIVE MUSIC. That feeling. That euphoria. That release! decker. is the totality of that experience, and it is perfectly reflected in this album.

Each song blends and purrs into the next. By this point in the set I am reminded of Pink Floyd concerts, The Cure concerts, bands that are simply superb at weaving songs into each other and creating an entire tapestry of the evening rather than a simple set list.

And when Spades, transforms into Tom Petty at 3:16 and those beautiful guitar notes precede Its alright if you love me / its alright if you don’t/ I’m not afraid of you running away honey / I get the feeling you won’t…. and something inside you/ is feeling like I do/ we’ve said all there is to say… and then it folds right back into Spades. It is perfect. And it is that kind of mastery that we have become accustomed to expecting from decker. and the band captures it on this album.
The Saint

The simple, clear beautiful piano is so welcome at this moment. decker. has been whipping the night into a fury of powerful emotion, and suddenly, we laughed till we cried and we cried till we laughed… and Brandon’s voice is so impeccably genuine and heartfelt that you feel that he is speaking directly to you. Though you can run, you can run, but you’re going nowhere, you can climb you can crawl but you’re already there… and again, in light of Invocation, my mind goes down the pathway again, and I realize that light we are reaching for is that Love. And Brandon is treading water with us. He sounds so genuine because he has exchanged glances with those pallbearers too. And his music is his way of trying to share that pathway to the light, so that you and he and all of us can hold that light to our souls. Because light needs light. And life breaths life.
Snake River Blues

Before I ever saw a decker. show, my very first experience of decker. was a viewing of the short documentary Matty Steinkamp made of decker. on tour. They showed the film at Film Bar Phoenix, and I was blown away. It was cool to have that song, with its grindy blues and haunting vocal woven into this set…. because we are gonna have to choose and we have nothing to lose…. and we are hear to surrender to these Snake River Blues.

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I Wanna Be Your Dog

This has been the first single released from Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime. It perfectly showcases what you can expect from the experience. It is a driving, pulsating song, and the band masterfully blends it together with Five to One {Iggy & the Stooges/ The Doors}. It is a fantastic introduction to what you can expect on this record.

Cellars

And again, the mastery of this album is superb. I Wanna Be Your Dog just purrs right into those first driving beats of Cellars, and this band is rolling. Did I mention how stupid I was for missing this 3 hour show!! Gonna kick myself over that one for quite a while. And with this rousing, raucous first half, the walls have come down, and Brandon takes a beautifully heroic risk.

Invocation

This is the ROOT of everything. But in order to really discuss it, I feel it is important to discuss Risk in Art. We live in a culture where folks really don’t want to be told anything. In general, as soon as they hear that trigger of pushiness, they check out. But as artists, the entire reason you are putting yourself out there into the world is to SHARE your experience. So, there is a risk/ reward relationship with how far you can push that.

For instance, both Mitchell Hillman and I overheard negative remarks at the shows we were at. Mitchell even saw a guy walk out at the mention of God. There is a risk. But Brandon does it anyway… and this forces us to think deeper on his motivations.

Brandon Decker : Was it risky to talk about God in the middle of the set? I did consider that – that people have a problem with that word. Can you talk about God at a bar at midnight on a Friday? I trusted that the people would be there with what I was saying – that it wasn’t religious, or preachy. And, most of them were. It was a message of hope. I wasn’t afraid of losing anyone. This is my offering. This has been my message, mantra and ethos for some years now; my practice, my work. We are Spirit. We are the One. It’s not up for debate. One might debate the particulars of that but there is one Universe and we are it. Not only am I unafraid to talk about that, it is what I most want to talk about.

Brandon addresses the risks right out front. He calls out the triggers. He hints at the fact that our culture right now has kind of trained us to be wary, and he mentions that this is a good thing. The trigger he is discussing is quite simple: is this guy a guru from Sedona trying to get me to drink the Kool-Aid, or am I experiencing something…. deeper.

Isn’t it sad that the thought even comes up? That we have so much mistrust, that that shines through first before we can scrape it away and find the real light underneath. But it is a fact, and that wariness is good.

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

An artist has the responsibility to do due diligence to stay humble, reverent, and do it with all of the right intentions. It does not mean it shouldn’t be done. Regardless of the risk of people walking out. “I think Brandon and I are cut from the same cloth,” Mitchell Hillman writes. “People come to me for advise all the time, but I don’t go pressing my views on others unless they ask. My writing isn’t being forced on anyone, I just offer it to the universe and I think decker. feel that way about their music. They want those that will receive it to get it.”
Awake

The lyrics for this beautiful song speak for themselves, but the video is certainly a bonus. There is really no better song in the entire decker. canon to follow Invocation.


State Trooper (Bruce Springsteen Cover)

This is the moment where you realize, “oh yeah, The Haymarket Squares opened this show”. And that is an interesting combination, and it showcases an interesting omission. The first single from Into the Red, was Matchstick Man, a song decker. wrote about and for President Trump. But, the message of politics, as necessary as it is, is even more polarizing at times than talking about God at a rock’n’roll concert. On first listen, I was surprised that that song was not on this record, but on a second listen. I realized that as important as the message is, it was already served by The Haymarket Squares, and this Springsteen nod to the crisis at our borders.
Songs for Cohen

This particular section of the concert is so special. I have one biological child. I have lived most of my life without her in my life. It has been very difficult. So, that said, and remembering back to the entire purpose of recording a live album – to perfectly encapsulate a moment in time – can there be a more beautiful gift to a child from his parent? That is that the next two songs on the recording do. One a cover of a beautiful Leonard Cohen song Famous Blue Raincoat and then the lovely lullaby, Mexico. What a gift, Brandon!

Down By The Water (P J Harvey Cover)

“When you really want to win a room over you play a PJ Harvey song for ten minutes. I come from that school.” Brandon Decker at Club Congress Tucson, Arizona.
Blackwash

When the record finishes, and as you are resetting it to play again, I think you will find yourself reflecting, like I did on that lack of passion and honesty in modern music. And that is a damn, sorry fact. But not when you dig into our local music. Not here. Not now. And certainly, not decker.
Brandon Decker : I have a good sense that most humans appreciate thoughtfulness, humility, genuineness, kindness and respect. If we do our best to make those ways our intentions, then we can’t get too far off.

Word!

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Keep the Greasy Side Down, My Friends.

Published by Gho5tWriter

Arizona Enthusiast. Writer. Rider. Dreamer.

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