The evening showed promise, initially at least. My bassist Henry was behind the wheel, offering me a rare opportunity to relax to and from the gig. He even booked this one, leaving me with little to do but update the website, design some type of event flyer, and show up to perform.
I thought I had it made.
Reality set in almost immediately upon crossing the venue threshold and well before we'd ever played note one of an actual set, priming us for a sure to be unpleasant battle of wills that we; as "employees", had absolutely no hope of winning.
The tubes in our amps were scarcely warm when the first crack of the snare drum let us know that we had entered a rather acoustically-challenged environment. Strumming the first chord, through an amplifier dialed in to the same meager level we rehearse at confirmed these suspicions. If it hadn't, the anxious look on the owner's face tied up any loose ends of doubt.
It didn't take long for his un-subtle, and rather pointed hints about controlling our volume to get under the skin, but we shined it on, doing the best we could to approximate our usual sound, albeit with neutered guitar tones and a light touch on the kit. It wasn't until the pre-set commentary on his unfamiliarity with any of the song titles on our set list that I knew we were in for a real struggle. Apparently we were expected to perform several covers, and this is something we just don't do. I mean, even the majority of the covers we DO know are so obscure we may as well have written them ourselves anyway, so they would have done us no good had we front-loaded this show with them.
Luckily though, in spite of temperatures below freezing, and the threat of snow, we had several folks that drove in from hours away, and I thought their enthusiasm might turn the tide in our favor, since I'd heard our employer make the asinine comment earlier that a certain band(now a national act) I'd inquired about "could play as loud as they wanted", because they'd filled the room when they were there. While we hardly brought in the seam-splitting number of bodies, I thought it odd that we weren't allowed the same respect, seeing as we do our best work when we're allowed to be just what we are, which is a loud rock n' roll band, not the castrated shadow of ourselves that we were being encouraged to conduct business as.
It made no difference, and "the boss" made use of the infantile practice of having his employees pass notes; written in Sharpie on drink napkins, to us on stage, while we were doing our best to play through his handicapping, and gradually bring our volumes up to a level that might allow those in attendance(several of whom had made the suggestion to "turn the guitars up") to hear some semblance of our bona fide sound.
As it turns out, our efforts were all for naught, as 3/4s of the way through our second set, we were told; via napkin, to take a break. Without so much as showing his face, or conferring with us about the issue, he brought the whole thing to a premature halt. I should note that EVEN THEN we had to send an emissary; the unfortunate recipient recipient being Henry, since he booked this one, to the office to find out that we were in fact finished for the night.
We got our money, so no harm done, EXCEPT for those who made 3, 4, and 5 hour treks to this town, anxious to see us do something other than the usual 40 minutes to an hour that we are normally relegated to. For them, I feel bad…for the club, I'd just like to say that your baked potato wedges were tasty, and your waitresses were attractive and very charming….but I'd also like to offer these words of advice:
If you're going to do live music, particularly rock bands..you know, with drums, bass, and guitars, etc??….most of us doing this sort of thing don't spend countless hours writing and rehearsing, not to mention driving all up and down the highway, to provide background music. Never once have my guys sat around worrying about whether or not people would be able to have a conversation over the din of our show. We don't want them to, unless it's one person shouting to the other how great we are, and that individual nodding in agreement. THAT is the only conversation WE care about.
Now, if you want to put a guy on a stool with an acoustic guitar, murmuring like John Mayer while your clientele sips their coffee, so be it, but do your homework before you bring in the polar opposite of that scenario and try to mold them into sedate troubadours, because chances are you're going to make a mess of the situation and end up insulting and embarrassing the subjects of your experiment. Trust me, I now know firsthand.
If it weren't for the fact that we've all been doing this long enough to know our worth as a live act, I'd probably be more bothered by it. As it stands, I'm just irritated enough to feel compelled to write this bit.
We're both lucky.