Last weekend, I had the privilege of playing a show in Trenton with some truly talented artists. None of these were more interesting than the artist known as Gavin Riley Smoke Machine.
As with any show that I play, I go super-sleuth and try to get excited about the other bands with whom I'll be sharing a stage. Most of my results were standard: hardcore punk bands and the like. Fun to play with, but unfortunately, still a dime a dozen. I was confused when I found Gavin Riley's Facebook page, as most posts were just 3-D animated GIFs set in a floating loop. After a cursory "scroll through" of the page, and not finding enough to go on, I gave up, and forgot about it until the day of the show.
Cut to last Saturday, where most of it was spent panicking and drinking (first time playing live with this band, but I digress), and because of this, I didn't spend nearly enough time watching the first act, and kind of staggered in as the second was setting up. What I saw would set the bar to which I would measure all future shows.
This show brought context to all of the images that had confused me weeks before: they were all part of his visual display, which played through a projector onto a screen behind Gavin Riley as he rapped. What separated this from any other local rap show, was that this show followed the plot of a story. More interesting yet -- it was a choose your own adventure story. At the end of each song, the audience was presented with two options, and it was left to a vote. Would you turn left or right? Would you do a new mystery drug known as Jazz, or would you just say no? The choice was ours, and the songs and video reflected accordingly.
I can't rave enough about these songs, either. From a song about having dinner with your dad, where he ends up having a Vietnam flashback, to a song where you see the principal of your middle school digging a shallow grave, these songs reflected a dark sense of humor, while keeping a somewhat lighthearted tone. All in all, this was something different, and something remarkable.
These songs weren't just silly, but held an actual narrative, and excellent wordplay. Something that I envy. The fact that he played this early in the show set a tone too: this was something that my band, and our friends in others, knew that we weren't going to be able to top. This might be something we'd never top. The amount of thought and effort put into this display is something that you don't see often, and something that I hope more people take note of.
I hope to see the name Gavin Riley in lights some day, because we need more artists pushing the envelope in this way. In a year where we've lost many heroes, and many musical innovators, it is refreshing and relieving to see something so new, and so bold. To see an act this revolutionary. I can only hope that it catches on, because we need more Gavin Rileys in our scene -- we need more Gavin Rileys in the world. Take note, because with any luck, this is the next step for music. The choice is ours.