Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Two's A Crowd

By Dave Chamberlain

MAY 3, 1999:  If you ever have an itch to see a one-man band, two come to mind. The first is Captured by Robots, a one-man/three robot act out of San Francisco that operates under the assumption that the man has been captured by the robots. Giving away any more than that would be a crime - you just have to see it.

The second is in Chicago -- The Lonesome Organist, Jeremy J. Jacobsen's solo menagerie. The Madison, Wis., native and former member of Tarbaby and 5Style made quite a splash with his debut full-length record, 1997's "Collector of Cactus Echo Bags" (Thrill Jockey). Last week, Jacobsen followed it up with the Lonesome Organist's second record, "Calvacade," also on Thrill Jockey.

Seeing the Lonesome Organist play (which might be a while -- he's about to tour Europe with Sam Prekop), is something you don't forget. Jacobsen takes the stage with a drum strapped to his chest, a brass instrument (usually a saxophone) slung over one shoulder and a guitar over the other. A bass drum rests at his feet. Watching Jacobsen perform is a spectacle in itself; the fact that the music is interesting makes it all the better.

Jacobsen can take you to every region of the musical nation in a span of three minutes. One minute - say on the opening track of "Cavalcade," a song called "The Storm Past By" - the Organist rides a wave of Asian-influenced calypso; the next you'll be entranced by an overwhelming R&B rush. If nothing else, the lack of band support forces Jacobsen to squeeze every bit of musical diversity possible out of himself.

But with so many talented musicians out there - especially in Chicago and in his previous bands - wouldn't it be easier to NOT be solo? Isn't it highly stressful?

"Sure, it can be," says Jacobsen. "I'd always wanted to do a solo act. I'm not really a singer-songwriter, and I thought doing this was a little more interesting than a DJ or techno kind of thing.

"In some ways it would be easier [with someone else]," adds Jacobsen, "but people seem to really enjoy watching someone struggling on stage alone." Do his shows ever collapse into a disastrous pitfall, what with everything relying on one person? "As a matter of fact," he laughs, "somewhat frequently."

Regardless of Jacobsen's ability to pull off the live show with or without a hitch, the fact that he can play all the instruments at once - even when recording in a studio - is a testament to his incredible ambidextrous musical ability. Aside from taking piano lessons as a boy and being part of bands in high school, much of his instrumentation is self taught.

Perhaps most difficult to envision is Jacobsen's songwriting process. In a band, there is a forum of ideas. Both the good and bad can be bounced off of and altered by band members, a process that - like any form of art - can be vital to the end product. But how so with one man?

"It depends on which songs," he answers. "For some of the songs on the record, I basically just sat down with an instrument in my left hand and tried to come up with something interesting. But for the more straight forward songs, it's basically just a matter of piano composition."

And does the Lonesome Organist get, well, lonely while on tour?"No, no," he chuckles. "I get to tour with other bands [including Red Red Meat, Spinanes, Isotope 217], and they keep me company."

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