Collaboration is a tricky art. Mastering it can make all the difference at an all-star recording session. Just ask drummer Anton Fier, who brings the Golden Palominos, a rock band with both a stellar cast and, finally, an exhilarating album, to the Bayou tonight.
Fier and guitarist Arto Lindsay worked together several years ago on the Palominos' first album, but the results were far less successful.
"Basically, that was supposed to be more of a collaboration than it turned out to be," says Fier. "I ended up having to tell everybody what to do and how to do it. To me, that album wasn't very musical -- like a rhythm track with sound effects . . . I really blame it on my inexperience in putting something like that together. That's why I waited three years until I knew I was ready to try again."
It's no surprise that the variety of musicians who appear on the new album "Visions of Excess" reflect, at least in part, the diversity of Fier's musical tastes; they include Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), John Lydon (Sex Pistols, PiL), Jack Bruce (Cream), Chris Stamey (db's), Richard Thompson, Bill Laswell, Carla Bley and Bernie Worrell.
What is surprising is that, unlike the Palominos' first album, which featured a different mix of talent, the performances are both cohesive and accessible.
The combination of several ingredients -- notably an irresistible cover version of Moby Grape's psychedelic hit "Omaha," Bruce's unmistakable voice and Fier's obvious affection for the hard rock he grew up listening to in Cleveland -- give much of the album a '60s feel, but, as Fier insists, the band's music isn't merely nostalgic.
"I don't think you can find an album from 1968 that sounds like this one," Fier explains. "The influence is there, but the music is really quite different because there are so many other influences involved. We wrote the first two songs with Michael [Stipe] in mind. Then we started on something for Jack [Bruce], and later for Syd [Straw], a very promising female vocalist and the album's real find. So all the songs were done with something different in mind. Yet I think there is something running through the entire album that brings all of it together."
Much of the reason for the album's success, Fier believes, has to do with the relationships he and guitarist and collaborator Jody Harris maintain with the musicians this time around.
"These are people I've worked with over the years," Fier says. "I didn't work with them because they're famous; I worked with them because they are friends and they're great at what they do. They all have very individual skills, I wanted that -- but I could be very honest with them . . . if I thought something wasn't working, I could say so and we'd work it out."
Originally known for providing the rhythmic impetus for such experimental rock bands as Pere Ubu, the Feelies and the Lounge Lizards, Fier has become increasingly busy as a studio musician and a sideman of late. He performed on the recent solo album by Mick Jagger and Yoko Ono and toured with Herbie Hancock.
"The only other job I've ever had, other than being a musician, is working in a record store," he says. "I've always had access to all kinds of musical information and have always taken advantage of that fact. I listen to everything because it's important to me to know what exists musically. As far as working with anyone else, I'll play with anyone who calls me and I have respect for."
Fier has been preparing for this tour since last October with the idea of making the Golden Palominos more of a band than just a recording project. When the group began touring last week, it played for nearly two hours opening night, supplementing the music on "Visions" with some new tunes from various band members as well as some older, and generally obscure, songs composed by Bruce.
Although the seven-piece touring band includes Bruce, Stamey and Worrell, it was obvious from the start that several musicians who are on the album -- notably Stipe, Lydon, Thompson, Lindsay and Bley -- would not be able to go on the road with the band.
So far the response has been gratifying, Fier says, which no doubt comes as a big relief, since he admits he was originally worried about whether the touring group could live up to the recording.
"At this point, we're well rehearsed and confident that we can really play the music," he says. "The main problem with this tour is the money it's costing me. I'm taking all these people on the road and I'm paying them very well because I think they deserve it, and it's very pleasurable to be working with them. But, believe me, I wouldn't take them on the road and lose my shirt if I didn't think the music would be as good or even better than what's on the record."