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All in a day’s work: (l-r) Lahaie, Langone, Krak and Vitali.Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

Art Brut
By John Rodat

Great Day for Up combine an improvisational instinct with riff-rock force for a sound that is ambitious and heavy as hell

Hoods and hunched shoulders, eyes just visible beneath ski hats pulled low. The rehearsal space is cold, so that’s an explanation.

Tweaking their gear in a room decorated with rock- and pop-culture tokens and totems—posters from Reservoir Dogs, Taxi Driver and a Monster Magnet tour; a lava lamp; orange velour couches; a meditating Indian Buddha image; prayer bells hanging from the ceiling sprinkler—Great Day for Up look every bit the stoner-rock hard guys. They’re friendly, easygoing and funny—but a little intimidating. It’s probably just circumstantial. Burly guys in hoods, you know? The room is cold, after all.

When the band are ready, vocalist Mike Langone removes his hooded sweatshirt—revealing two armfuls of stylized dragons and tribal skulls—grasps the mike with both hands, adopts a spread-legged stance of readiness and a thousand-yard stare, and takes a breath.

“La-dee-da-dee-da-da-dee-hee,” Langone sings in a rough melody.

Then it kicks in.

“When we started, we were more experimental,” Langone says, laughing at his understatement. “We wouldn’t even finish writing a song and we’d play it out the next night, you know? We were more loose, more out there.”

Which wasn’t a new approach for him. Before moving to Albany from New York City, Langone had played in a couple of bands who took a similarly free-ranging and undisciplined approach. “I was playing in a band called the Greys,” he recalls, “and all we did was improv. It was sax, drums and guitar through a bass amp. We’d rehearse twice, then record a 45 at the second rehearsal. We played at CBGBs and the Continental—that’s what we did, record and play out, almost no rehearsal.”

Guitarist Mike Vitali, a former student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, came from an “out there” musical tradition as well: “I had played with this band in Boston that had a lot of music and played out regularly, but what we would do would be these 20-minute King Crimson epic improvs, so when Mike and I started talking we really overlapped on that aspect.”

Early on, that looseness and improv orientation were reinforced by guitarist Tom Burre of Bone Oil, who played with Great Day for Up for a spell. Through Burre, in fact, Langone found himself collaborating with a number of other local players—with consistently exciting and unpredictable results.

Langone says, “I first hooked up with Burre just from seeing him at the Daily Grind [where Langone was working at the time]. I sat in with him, he had some kind of jam thing going with George Muscatello, James Lanni, Danny Whelchel, just about everybody. I sat in and just improv-ed stuff at some café—and it just blew up. I was so psyched. And then I started doing spoken-word stuff with George down at Savannahs.”

The band’s recollections of that time are enthusiastic; it’s evident that the looseness, the decentralization and lack of structure provided kicks (they’re named after an early—and now out-of-print—Dr. Seuss book, to give an indication of the spirit of the days). Burre’s commitment to Bone Oil, though, made scheduling difficult and eventually necessitated an amicable parting of ways. And in the time leading up to that decision, Great Day for Up found that they were changing as a band, discovering a new direction and a new focus. The whimsy and spontaneity of the improvisational approach, which had been a fertile ground for discovery, began to seem too diffuse and undefined.

“I think that we weren’t really satisfied,” says Vitali, “because it would all vary so much from rehearsal to rehearsal and night to night. . . .We were just exploring and playing all kinds of crazy shit, and we just started finding all these songs in the improvs we were doing. So, we said, ‘Instead of just messing around so much, why don’t we try to find a direction and a writing style?’ ”

Making that decision was only the first step, however, as the time-honored exigencies of band dynamics would stutter progress toward an integrated musical identity: “From 2000 to 2001, we had three or four different bass players,” says Vitali. “So, back then, it was really solidly me coming down with the music, then we’d all learn the music and Mike would work up the vocals on it.”

It was only with the addition of bassist Dave Lahaie in 2001 that Great Day for Up started to fulfill their potential, according to Langone and Vitali.

“Lately, we’ve been working together more than ever,” says Langone. “In the beginning, as Mike said, he’d write the guitar stuff and I’d write the lyrics and that’s the way it went. Since David joined the band, he’s been adding a lot more. We never really had a bass player who contributed to the band.”

“Now, we can really work up a lot of stuff and all give input,” Vitali adds. “It’s to the point where Dave is really contributing to a lot of the vocal work that we’re doing, and we’re all interacting so much more as far as the music.” And, he notes, the bass slot was not the only musical chair in need of filling. The recent addition of drummer Jared Krak has only furthered the cohesion of the band.

“For the first time since starting the band, someone showed me something on the guitar,” Vitali laughs. “Jared’s like, ‘Yo, lemme see your guitar.’ And he showed me this different rhythm thing to do—which is really nice.”

This feeling of purposeful togetherness, the band members say, has energized them, strengthened their resolve. They feel that in the four months or so since gaining Krak, they’ve progressed at a more rapid clip than ever before.

“We’ve grown tremendously,” says Lahaie. “A lot of bands have to spend time to find their sound and the state in which they’re most cohesive. And even though the process has been a long one, it’s recently accelerated. We’re at a point we’ve never been before, and I’ve never been as excited as I am now.”

The sudden development of the band puts Great Day for Up in an enviable but curious position. Next Thursday (Dec. 19), the band celebrate the release of their new record, Ready Rock, at Valentine’s. As proud as they are of the disc, they admit that their present live sound now differs significantly from their recorded identity.

“We’re a lot heavier than the record,” Lahaie says quickly when asked to pinpoint the difference. In the opinion of the bassist, though, most listeners won’t be thrown by the aggressiveness of band’s live presence. He notes that many riff-heavy bands—he mentions Queens of the Stone Age and Simon Screams as examples—boost the volume of their performances. That being said, he hesitates to liken Great Day for Up to popular drug-rock bands in any broader way, contending that the band’s emergence from the improv-heavy world of avant-rock distinguishes them from that crew.

“There’s such a huge riff-rock movement in the underground right now, that I think the things that set us apart from that are going to work to our advantage in the long run,” Lahaie says. “We’re all goal-oriented: We play the music we’re doing because we like to do it. It’s not about becoming rock stars for us, and it’s not about where our music fits in, you know? There’s not melted candles and a bong on my coffee table at home—it’s OK if we don’t fit in there, we’re doing what we like to do.”

Seconding the sentiment, seemingly reinforcing the notion of Great Day for Up as everyday working guys possessing everyday working-guy work ethics, Langone says simply, “We’ve all got 9-to-5 jobs, you know?”

Great Day for Up thunder through “Chess Fiend” in rehearsal, stampeding toward the bridge, a bright interlude in an otherwise ominous and charged song. It’s atypical of stoner sludge, more in keeping with the aesthetics of guys raised on art rock. So, when—after another “La-dee-da-dee-da-da-dee-hee”—they reemerge into the verse, when Langone bellows with the determined energy of an obsessive, “I’m a chess fiend, I dig my scene/I’m a sex fiend, I dig my scene/I’m a dope fiend, I dig my scene/I’m a chess fiend, I dig my scene,” when the palpable grit and desperation of the scene set in the lyric hit, you wonder: Man, just what has gone down in the alleys and backrooms that border the court of the Crimson King?

Great Day for Up will celebrate the release of their new CD, Ready Rock, at Valentine’s on Thursday, Dec. 19. Also on the bill are Catch Fire, Black Inc. and Indiana; admission to the 8 PM show is $10.


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