It’s been a long time (since I rock and rolled – sorry, Robert).
I’ll try that again. It’s been a long time since I played out. In front of people. An actual show.
Not playing with myself, as it were.
I hooked up with with a bunch of guys who recently lost their guitar player and wanted to start again. I did this through a workmate whose block party was legendary as well as approaching.
It looked like a potential disaster. Just like every band I have been in since the age of thirteen, everybody showed up to practice not having listened to the actual tunes we were supposed to be playing.
Another endless rerun – just like television.
We had our final practice before the show last week and I was pleasantly surprised. At times we sounded like a band. I even hit The Zone<tm> a few times.
For the non-initiated, The Zone is roughly the equivalent of a musical orgasm. It is exceedingly difficult to describe using mere words… I’ll try, of course…
The band gets cooking and the communication becomes non-verbal. I’ll be playing a lead and all of the sudden I go away. I go black: nothing exists. My fingers move, seemingly of their own accord.
Eric Clapton says that sometimes he’s just a conduit. Maybe we’re plugging into something larger; I don’t know.
I have to be semi-realistic here.. this was our fourth get-together ever. Two guys eventually listened to their cd’s and we got the setlist together for the show. I asked politely for someone to print them out for the show.
We got the gear and our itinerary together and looked forward to our Great Coming Out Event.
The day started warm and got warmer. The constant humidity of the Philly area made it fairly disgusting. As much as it hurt, I was thinking positive, as there was a chance of rain. And boy does thinking positive hurt.
There were no early jitters. I slept late.
I got my equipment in a pile by the front door and went to get the car. I had to find a taxi, as the Loud Family across the street had all six of their cars parked on the street. The first thing I noticed was that the car was a huge, humid oven. The next thing was that the windows would not come down. The stereo would not work either.
Cursing, screaming, and threatening, I pulled the car in front of the house and started ripping out fuses. Chevy, in their infinite wisdom, chose one fuse diagram for all sedans. Unfortunately it apparently didn’t apply to the blue ones, of which mine is one. After pulling every single fuse, there was not one that was blown. Upon turning on the car, everything worked again. As someone who plays with electronics, that was frustrating. As someone with a gig, it was wonderful.
I pulled up and saw the stage. It was nicely put together in spite of being on somebody’s lawn. There was a p.a. set up in some sort of strange way. It turned out to be the dj’s system plus the band’s system. It was not a good sign that the dj’s system was twice the size of the band’s.
My wife was kind enough to purchase a pushcart of sorts so I could get my gear from the car to the stage. It is somewhat deficient in its design, as stuff kept falling off it as I pushed ever so slowly. Fortunately no one could hear the cursing over the dj’s system.
The first act was some Irish music, featuring a lady with a violin and a backup guitarist. The p.a. was making the most hideous noises. I wandered over to see if I could help, at which point I got the top half of my hearing taken off by an earth-shaking screech. It got worse as I turned the monitors down, which is precisely the opposite of what should have happened. Eventually somebody managed to tame it a bit, at the expense of hearability in the crowd. Another potential black cloud.
Since I had pledged to be moderately positive, I was busy letting this all go by, plus trying in vain to locate soda or water. Beer beer everywhere but not a drop to drink. I had brought a can of soda with me and became really popular with women (unfortunately only for the location of soda).
The order had shifted around (seemingly by itself) and we were up next. I got my gear out and started setting up. This activity is fairly basic but became hampered by the other people setting up. Not really knowing them and trying to be polite (another waste of time), I had to politely ask one guitar player to not leave his multi-fx pedal at the side of the stage, as I would no doubt trip over it. I am very talented and can trip over things that aren’t even there.
When I went to put my little amp down, I noticed there was a very large contraption that turned out to be a steel guitar. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that we do not have a steel guitar in our band, so I had no idea why it needed to occupy the large volume of stage real estate it was taking up. I managed to squeeze my little amp in front of the other two amps that somebody was kind enough to leave there in case we wanted to use them and then had to go in search of power.
I have experienced seemingly everything that can possibly go wrong while performing, from power to sound to strings to leaving important parts at home, so I tend to travel pretty heavy. I carry a multiple outlet so I can reach power and run both my amp and effects board. Naturally this time, the cord wasn’t long enough [note to self: add 25′ power extension to equipment bag].
Eventually the other bands stopped setting up their equipment long enough to allow us a few minutes to set our gear up, bless them. One guy introduces himself to me and we discover that I’m the guy who took his place in this band. He sees the vintage guitars and realizes I’m the `hot new guitarist’ playing with his old band (he quit to form his own band).
No pressure there.
It turns out that the other guys in the band have been telling everybody who will listen about their great new guitar player.
I had decided to only take two guitars, as we were only doing five or six songs and I had just restrung both of them, so there would be no breakage. I was about to do my own version of a fireworks display because I had forgotten a speaker cable but kept my promise to myself and just went with it.
For the fashion-conscious, I had a black Telecaster with black strings and my pukeburst (greenish) Strat with yellow strings.
I was already pretty sweaty before the first song. Speaking of songs, nobody printed out a songlist. They said it wasn’t a big deal and proceeded to list the songs we’d be doing. Apparently they don’t know me – as soon as they said the names of the songs, I had forgotten them. This is why I write them down. I had to keep asking the singer what was next. Maybe if I annoy him enough, he’ll write them down.
I had also forgotten where I put the frozen bottle of water, which thaws later so I’ll still have cold water to drink onstage or after. It had also become apparent that the amps weren’t going to be mic’d, which means we’d have to provide all our sound from the stage. Since the amps were small and in front of the drums, neither the drummer nor the bassist could hear a thing we were doing (I found this out later).
As I was figuring out I was more or less ready, the guys started talking into the mics. It was obvious that the drummer, an organizer of the event, was a little different than normal, probably due to testing the beer to make sure it was ok for everyone else to drink. A few times. He got all sorts of hammy and welcomed everyone to the event.
I had guessed correctly at that point, that they were ready to play. Since I was more or less ready, I figured I’d play too. It was a particularly prescient response, as I had to start the first song (which I wasn’t entirely sure of).
Oddly enough, everybody came in where they should. At this point, I realized that the other guitarist was not in tune with me. If I could have played from underneath the stage, I would have. No matter how small I needed to be to fit under it.
Then there came a welcome flurry of activity, which turned out to be guys from other bands trying to help out with the sound. One told me to turn up (I have a reputation for being asked to turn up instead of down – I’m not normal).
At this point my wife made her Big Entrance<tm>. This took the form of attempting to sit down on a chair at the side of the stage. Unfortunately she fell immediately off the side of the chair. I smiled, as this was par for the course. There isn’t a single member of her family possessing more grace than an elephant. If there is anyone more likely to trip on something that isn’t there than me, it’s my wife. Fortunately she saved her coffee.
We somehow made it through ZZ Top’s “Waitin for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. Some of the crowd had made it out of their stupor and away from the food. Apparently someone had made arrangements for the harp player from the next band to join us for Tom Petty’s “Maryjane’s Last Dance” and the guy really smoked. At one point while he was playing, I went offstage, as it were, and sat down next to my wife, continuing to play.
I don’t watch me a lot, as it’s physically impossible, but apparenly I move around a bit. I was drenched by the second song and had to keep hydrating. I don’t think I’ll last an entire evening – I need to build up. By the end of the set, I almost poured myself into a chair.
We had lots of help. What really impressed me was the way the other musicians would pop up and just play along. We had some really impressive help on congas and various other instruments.
I was incredibly proud of the band. For all of four practices and the lack of sound, we all started and ended at the same time, in the same key. And at several points, I found myslef in The Zone<tm>. I also did my best to stop myself from overplaying, which is a real sore spot for me.
We played John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain”, which my singer screams on, an impromptu Mustang Sally, and several simultaneous versions of Feelin’ Alright, with my Joe Cocker vocal impersonation and the band’s Dave Mason backup vocals and music. And Blues Messenger’s guitar/singer/harp player on congas. Blues Messenger is a surprisingly good band and I’m glad I stayed for the majority of their set.
Halfway through Mustang Sally, my B-string popped. The B-string that I just put on the guitar. It was very challenging, moving things around, but I survived.
You see, things happen to me onstage. I once went through three strings in one set. I have had amps refuse to work, power blown, effects boards fail, and have forgotten entire songs. I figured it was only a matter of time until something happened. I was keeping mental inventory of it so I could type it out here.
Aside from the popped string, nothing else happened. The portion of the crowd interested in music really liked us.
Blues Messenger was not so lucky. They counted to four and at three, there came a horrible hum. They got it straightened out but it kept reappearing. It was the guitar amp or cord. Three songs in, the power to the stage went out.
Once again I felt incredible ambivalence. I was really sorry for the band; after all, I have been there. On the other hand, it wasn’t happening to me for once. It was odd 🙂
Overall it was a very positive experience. Worried as I was about this conglomeration of musicians, they really came together and sounded like an actual band. For four practices, this was pretty good. My wife told me everyone on the sidelines was most impressed by the band and my playing. Hopefully I lived up to my billing. I was even pretty happy with my playing (a rare event).
We never settled the issue of band name though. I had recently come up with another list of potential names, as my personal favorite, “Male Pattern Baldness”, didn’t generate the support I had envisioned. I had some real winners, too. Some of them could even be spoken at a block party attended by children!
But alas, George Washington’s Penis, The Sphincters, and Ye Olde Phartes were not to be.
Here’s the signal chain..
77 pukeburst Strat, Van Zandt and JBjr pickups, Roger Mayer Voodo Vibe –> Dano food-themed compressor –> Dano CTO-1 overdrive –> Rat –> Boss RV3 reverb/delay –> Fender ProJr amp.
Backup: 78 Tele, Van Zandt + Fender 52 reissue pickups