Saturday night at the Tractor Tavern, a rumor managed to work its way through the room packed full of music fans awaiting performances by local hot-shit-band-of-the-moment the Head and the Heart and the evening's headliner, Grand Hallway. The buzz? Grand Hallway leader Tomo Nakayama had, earlier in the day, dispersed a full five members of the orchestral pop outfit. Saturday's show, the whispers claimed, was to be the band's last full-on affair before stripping down to just a few members and heading into the studio to record the follow-up to 2009's critically-acclaimed release, Promenade.
The band quieted the whispers with an inspired performance later in the night. Before playing the final song the set, though, Nakayama invited a few close friends to the stage to help with vocals (including recent Style Profile subject Josie Markiewicz), looked around at his assembled band and expressed, simply, his feelings. "I love all you guys," he said, and then started in on the band's biggest hit, the conversely uplifting and contemplative "Raindrops."
"Oh, the sound of life," he sang. "Oh, the sound of change. Oh, the sound of starting over from the start." It was a touching moment, and though there was an encore, this seemed the most fitting end to the band's current incarnation.
Wanting to know if I was reading Nakayama's song selection correctly, I asked him about those rumors, which, Nakayama informed me, were only partly true. Of course. To wit:
Well, the only members who are leaving for sure are Joel Harmon and Chris Zasche. The reasons for their departures are two fold. One is purely practical, as the success of all of our bands (Grand Hallway, The Maldives, Sleepy Eyes of Death, Head and Heart) over this past year made scheduling increasingly difficult. It's hard enough running a band with 8 people, and damn near impossible if you want to make a living, as I'm sure folks like Damien Jurado and Dave Bazan can tell you. Competition is only useful when it motivates bands to push each other creatively, and I could see it potentially becoming a detriment rather than an asset to our community. Better to set those cats loose and support them as fans and friends rather than gripe about time management, you know what I mean? The other reason is musical. We've explored the huge-orchestral-pop thing to its logical extreme (literally, with our shows with the 50-piece orchestra and kids choir), and the time is right to try something different, something more intimate. What that thing is, I'm not quite sure yet, and we'll have to figure out where everyone fits into the big picture, but I feel really good about the relationships between everyone in the band, and we're all excited for the future. We're going to start our next record in September with Cory Gray and some other good friends in Portland, then take that show down to New York for CMJ with our friend Dave Ulrich from Philly on drums. "Grand Hallway" as an entity and as a community will survive and thrive so long as I'm writing songs, and I plan on doing that for many years to come.
And, as if to snuff out any lasting doubt that Grand Hallway was not moving foward with gusto, he added, "Thanks for your concern and continued support. And on a side note, we'd love to take part in next year's City Arts Fest if you'll have us (wink, wink)!"
Read City Arts' January feature about Tomo Nakayama, his band and his high hopes here.
Photo by Kyle Johnson