Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Gig

Whenever I write about drum stuff or band related things, people lose interest. Comments decrease, viewings go down and "regulars" sit and wait for something interesting to come along. I don't mind that, I've got my new found sense of writing for myself to fall back on and I've got the biggest gig I've ever played to tell you about. A number of people have asked me how the gig went and I wondered how I'd write a "review" post on it. After all, I can't make a claim to be an objective reviewer and I'm hardly going to tell you that my band was crap am I? So I've decided to be self indulgent. I'm going to attempt to describe the thoughts and feelings that I had during the gig. You probably won't last until the end, but just in case you do, I'd like to thank you in advance.

It happened on the Thursday before last. The "Funk Vibes" gig.

For about four months we have had the thing booked in the diaries. In itself that is an achievement, after all we're looking at musicians here and diaries, paperwork and admin aren't things that slot into the average musician's lifestyle too easily. Fortunately we in Mimosa are all far from average, considerably below it to be precise. In the diaries therefore was this "big one" a full blown proper gig in a theatre that holds a proper sized audience. We were one of three bands on the bill and we were the second band in order of brilliantness.

We had our last band practice on Tuesday night and were as meticulously and as thoroughly prepared as we thought possible, all our own individual practice was done and we felt as ready and as raring to go as a starving Chikungunya mosquito on a pay per infected person bonus scheme. There was just the wait to go through. On Wednesday night I did no practice, not even to sit down at the kit. I always think that it's better that way. On Thursday I came into work as usual then left at about lunchtime to go home, get my stuff ready and attempt to get "in the zone".

Home I headed, with thoughts zipping through my brain from "How much hair product should I use?" to "Will I remember the fills in Little Wing, the ones which for some inexplicable reason I either play perfectly or make a total hash of?" There were many other things, including my work issue which was still looming large, in the old grey mass. For your information though I went for the "not much and probably not enough product" approach and the "total hash" approach.

I did all my stuff at home. I'm not superstitious and don't have a set routine prior to a gig so this time I ran through most of the set on the practice kit, paying attention to the trickier bits. I undressed, showered, brushed the teeth, all that kind of stuff and then spent ages dressing and messing with hair product to give me an unkempt, unshowered and unclean look that would befit the rock 'n' roll image. Then the tools of my trade had to be loaded in the car. It was a kitshare and I was using the kit belonging to the drummer in the headlining band, the norm in these things, so I only had to take a minimum of stuff. The minimum for a drummer that is, which is still roughly seventeen times more things than most drum shops hold in stock.

That consisted of two snare drums, a bag of cymbals, my double bass pedal, my own stool (in case I couldn't adjust the height on the other one) and my bag of "consumables" (sticks, nuts bolts etc). All this just about fitted in my boot. Oh, and Shalimar the Clown too, not to be confused with Ronald. Shalimar is deadly, very obsessive and from Kashmir whereas Ronald is continually laughing, full of junk food and wears big red shoes everywhere.

And off I went, with a drumpitty drum, drum drum, drum.

Further shattering your image of the rock 'n' roll drummer I got there about an hour before I had to, settled into the warm car and got out Shalimar the Clown, Mr Rushdie's latest. It's had me engrossed for the past weeks, albeit in a way that's slow and painful. I have to reread every other sentence because the language is all poetic and flowery and I'm just not used to that. It's magical language, but it takes some getting used to. After my alloted time I strolled into the theatre, trying to portray the image of nonchalent funk drummer who's cool as a cucumber yet still a bit excited. I pulled it off superbly, but no one was there to witness the act. Damn!

Now up until around this point I had been feeling calm and relaxed. I knew we'd be playing to a largish crowd. Not large by the standards of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or the Foos, they'd probably have more crew than we would have crowd, but by our standards this was a biggie. I'd been calm though, I felt ready and relaxed and I knew that the paying punters would be on our side. Mistakes are all part of a live performance and, from my perspective, this gig, as with any, wasn't going to be about playing every note perfectly. It would be about getting out there and grooving, making it feel good, keeping good time and being solid.

Then I walked into the theatre.

OH FUCKINNN 'ELLL!!!!

is the only accurate way to portray my feelings. It was a proper theatre, with seats, stalls, those balcony bits, fold up velour chairs and a full size stage. There was even a stage curtain. Hell, there was even a "Green room" backstage. It had settees and fridges and dressing rooms complete with a closed circuit TV camera to watch things going on onstage. This wasn't the local pub in Basingstoke, it was a real venue.

I spent some time wandering around and eventually found the stage. It was at the front of the place and about four times the size of Luxembourg. I located the drummer from the main band setting up his kit and headed towards him. We've met before and he's a nice bloke and a superb drummer so we exchanged the usual drummer pleasantries; what do you think of Bush's foreign policy? Did you watch the Panorama programme about Alexander Litvinenko? What do you think the Bank of England will do to interest rates next? What kind of sticks do you use? Just the normal idle chit chat between drummers.

There wasn't much I could do to help him set the kit up so I sat down and began to warm up with some sticks and a practice pad, a marvellous nerve settler. Then we went through the rigmarole of getting all the levels set correctly. This is the bit where you hear the singer saying "one, two" over and over again, where you hear the bass drum being hit endlessly and all musicians try their hardest to play incredibly hard musical snippets yet make them sound easy and relaxed. The sound man is the one setting levels and balancing things and the rest of us are busy trying to impress, without looking like that's what we're doing.

You see, making an impression on the run of the mill boisterous punter is quite easy, it's impressing other musos that's hard. We all try to do it, we rarely admit it though. Just don't tell anyone I told you.

Kaldera, the main band, did their soundcheck and they were their usual tight and slick selves. Then we got up and soundchecked a brace of songs. All was smoothly juicy, the other bandmembers were playing their own instruments and I had to adapt quickly to another drummer's kit. I had my cymbals, my snare and my bass pedals so all I had to get used to was the positional stuff.

It's an exciting and whooshing type of experience to play on a stage where everything is done properly, but even more so when you're used to a different scenario. I was suddenly faced with the luxury of two monitors, a drum kit that was fully miked up and a sound engineer that could give me the exact monitor mix I wanted. It's not something I'm totally alien to it so I was able to ask the engineer for the mix that I knew I wanted. But it's the feeling of playing a fully miked up drumkit that' s vastly different to the norm for me.

When I'm doing a gig in a small venue, which is pretty much all the time, the drums will have no miking up at all, except some rare occassions when the bass drum may have a mic in, just for a bit of extra bottom end. So all the balance of the drum sound is down to me, the drummer. If you're in the audience the balance of my kit, ie how much bass drum, snare drum or hi hats you'll hear, will be dictated entirely by how hard, or softly, I hit each respective thing. The great drummers can change the feel of a song by the balance in their play and often, when people talk about groove, they are referring to that balance as an intrinsic part of it.

When you're on a bigger stage, in a bigger venue and the whole kit is miked up, it's the sound engineer who dictates how the crowd hear the drumkit. The noise levels are so great that hardly anyone can actually hear the natural acoustic sound of the drums, all they're hearing is what has been amplified through the PA, all I'm hearing is what is put out through my monitor mix.

The result is that everything changes. I can tap the bass drum like a feather and the sound guy can decide that it should be the loudest voice in the kit, or I can smack seven bells out of my snare drum and he can decide that he wants just a tiny whisper to come through. Now, in practice he wasn't as extreme as that but there's still some very different conditions to become accustomed to in a short time. I find that the best thing is to concentrate on playing the correct notes and not worry about balance too much. That I did, or tried to do.

So we finished our soundcheck then vacated Luxembourg. It meant that all my stuff had to be taken down from the kit but that's showbiz. We left the stage, headed for the bar and the Green room and watched the young Indie band hit the stage for their turn to do the honours.

I have noticed in myself that, immediately before a performance, I struggle with the whole socialising thing. I feel as if all I want to do is get on and play. I see other people happily chatting and laughing and all I want to do is get out there and get on with it. I used to struggle with this, now I accept it and leave the socialising to others while I get warmed up and ready.

I wandered around the theatre, fluttering from the Green room to the bar to the stalls to the circle, then doing it all again. Surprisingly I wasn't recognised by hoardes of screaming fans. At one point the wife recognised me, I think it was the fourth or fifth time I walked past her, but I managed to evade her before a conversation started.

I hung around in various places and watched the theatre fill up with people. This filled me with a mixture of electrifying excitement and terrifying tension. Excitement that many of these people had actually paid some spondulicks to see us and terror that they had paid some spondulicks to see us. Then the Indie kids came on stage to do their stuff. They're a nice bunch of lads if a bit angsty, all good musicians with hair, beany hats, attitude and most likely repectable city jobs during the day. They did a half hour or so set, which I watched from every part of the building, just because I could. I had a yellow wristband, an "access all areas" thing. It wasn't quite like having one at Glastonbury but I sure as hell wasn't going to waste it.

They did their thing, their parents, friends and girlfriends applauded wildly and keenly and then we took to the stage to get our equipment set up again. After about twenty minutes we were ready. We convened in the Green room, all full to the brim with a mixture of nerves, excitement and fear. We did one of those group hug bonding things, you know the ones that all Americans do fourteen times a day. Well we're not used to that kind of touchy feely stuff in England so, on infrequent occasions when I'm involved in one, it's quite a motivational and powerful thing. Off we headed, through some doors, down some corridors and through one more door until we appeared out on stage, in front of our adoring fans.

I felt a rush of blood, a twinge of exhilaration and quite a lot of wind. The culmination of all the months of rehearsal, of all the practice and all the songwriting was about to take place and it felt unreal and dreamlike. In the few seconds between sitting at the kit and counting in the first song it felt as if a lifetime of thoughts and feelings went through my head. At least it does now. At the time my main focus was on recalling the tempo of "Summertime", our first song, correctly. I did.
Debby, our most beautiful and wonderful singer, said some singerish things to the audience. Things like "we're Mimosa" and the routine stuff all singers say. From the very back of Luxembourg and behind a drum kit with lights shining on me I couldn't see much of the audience but, like a silent but deadly, I was well aware of its presence.

"One, two, one, two, three, four", I said, although I didn't actually say it, just clicked it in with my sticks.

Bang!! We were in with the introduction to "Summertime", my favourite song of ours. We launched into its smooth Latiney first eight bars, then stepped it up a notch to go into the bridge before the first verse. We played the song faultlessly and kickingly, a damn fine way to start. When we had written the set list I'd been dead against starting with one of our best songs but, with hindsight, I was probably wrong. It set us all up for a good gig. Don't worry, I'm not going to talk you through the nuances of each song we played, but the rest of the set continued in the same vein.

The audience was with us, which is always useful. They cheered and whooped and hollered at all the right times. We've got a certain looseness about our live persona that I think is a positive thing. Not a looseness in our tightness, just that we feel like an older style funk band, there's more grit than I've seen and heard in other bands, a tad more of an edge, as if it could all go horribly wrong at any moment. In band practices it usually does.

I had a few mishaps, nothing drastic or lifechanging but there were two or three occassions when I mis hit my ride cymbal and just played some air instead of metal. Each time it happened it was noticed by the band and there was brush of eye contact together with a smile and a laugh, a good sign that we are tight as a unit and that we can take these things lightly.

I know that there's a smattering of musicians and thespians who read this blog and I'd be eager to learn if you have experienced this same feeling when you perform live, or if it's just me. It's the feeling that I get on every gig, looking down at the set list and I suddenly have the thought that we've spent so much time practicing and suddenly we're halfway through the big climax. There's no going back, no "can we just do that again from the second chorus?" no "I'll run through it a few times at home and have it sorted for next week".

It's knowing that I could have played that verse a bit better, or I could have come out of the fill with some more emphasis on the one. It's also knowing that it doesn't matter. It's not like a recording, where you, and others, may listen to it for years with a critical ear. It's a moment in time that people have loved or hated or anywhere in betweened, and it's the next one that you need to do well. The big thing that seems to hit me on every gig is how much of a build up there is for a forty five minute set that flashes by in a blink. I guess professionals who may be out gigging much more frequently don't share that feeling as they might be playing the same set the following night and will have that chance to slow down the fill or do something a bit differently if the mood takes them.

We moved on, then three songs before the end, we came to our slow and moody song, featuring a guitar solo. Only this time it didn't. At the point of the guitar solo, after the build up fill on the drums, there was a massive loud deafening silence coming from the vicinity of Rich, the guitarist.

Anyone familiar with guitarists will tell you that this is unusual. Silence? Guitar solo? - they just don't compute. It meant that one of five things had occurred; either Rich had died, fallen unconscious or had a major equipment failure, or I had died or fallen unconscious. My highly tuned brain sped into action, unlike Rich's highly tuned guitar, and within minutes I realised that I was both alive and conscious, thus eliminating two of the possibilities. Our esteemed guitarist, who had chosen to wear a black and white shirt on the night, presumably in case someone was filming the event on a very old camera, was busily looking like one of those old fashioned mimes. He was rooted to the spot, guitar slung round neck, making frantic waving actions and gesticulating wildly with his arms.

Frankly I thought this behaviour strange. Here we were, on stage, guitar solo due and he decides to do a Rowan Atkinson impression. And people say my timing is bad! I did the honourable thing and carried on playing. After about sixteen bars I realised that Rich probably had some kind of equipment failure, he was just so wrapped up in his mime that he hadn't figured it out himself. We rose to the occasion, we played on and skilfully kept our cool and the song together. Finishing the song with some very clever ad libbed vocals and saxophone twiddly bits in place of guitar we then had to sort out the problem.

Debby made a brief announcement that we'd have to take a short break to fix the broken amp, I came out with a side splittingly hilarious joke which she relayed to the audience, along the lines of

"can someone call an ampulance?"

She ruined it by telling them to "blame" rather than "credit" the drummer for it. A simple mistake, could have happened to anyone.

And then we left the stage.

Behind the scenes there was much panic. The amp was blown and there were problems getting hold of the guitarist in the other band to try to borrow his amp. Frantic phone calls were being made, our guitarist had given up on the mime stuff and was now looking worried and I was superfluous to requirements so I wandered off to mix with my public. One of the characteristics of being a drummer in the average band is that you're the least recognised person in the unit. This suits most of us groovers, it's probably a fundamental reason why we chose the role in the first place. If we had wanted limelight, stardom and recognition we would have been a singer, a guitarist or a blogger.

I can stroll around straight after coming off stage and people may just look at me with a hint of recognition in their eyes, usually followed by a "didn't I go to school with you?" type of statement. At first I used to get pissed off with this, the other band members were busy lapping up the adulation, being bashful and having sex with groupies while I had to fend off weirdos from my old school. These days I've accepted my lot, although sex with groupies would come in handy.

I strolled through the theatre and was accosted by an old woman dressed in black with wide open staring eyes. She was sniffing something and looked at me. I was just about to say "No I didn't go to that school" when she muttered to me, sounding like a cockney villain played by an American actor in a low budget film, the kind who thinks we all know the Queen and talk like Dick van Dyke.

"Here d'ya want some?"

"What?" said I.

"Some of this" she thrust this glass bottle under my nose.

"What is it?"

"Poppers" said the mentalist.

A three week discussion ensued. Mentalist trying to persuade me to have some, me just wishing she's be struck by lightning and get out of my way. Eventually she did, well not the lightning bit but the get out of my way side of the wishlist.

Up I went into the upper bit of this theatre, the balcony bits, to find the wife and friends. I was chatting away merrily, they were complimentary about us, then I saw a band appear on stage. An unusual band in that they had no drummer. Already you've probably figured out why, but it took me a little longer. With a burst of speed that hasn't been seen since I was told

"Errm you'd better come down, I've had a small crash in your car"

I ran towards, well anywhere in the general direction of the stage. I flew past the off her face mentalist, through some doors, down a corridor and got there. We only had two more songs to play, an original and our version of Little Wing, the Hendrix song. We blasted through the first one and I bumbled my way, just about, through Little Wing. It's become evident that it's a kind of jinx song for me. On every gig prior to this I've played it perfectly, but in band practices, it can be hit or miss, quite literally in my case. You know when you think about something too much and then mess it up, well that's what happens. I miss a fill and then make a total hash of the same fill every time I have to play it later in the song. Luckily for me the fill only comes up about nine thousand times in the song, so I can get away with it!

There were plenty of stares in my direction from bemused bandmates as they were left wondering if they had come back in on the three instead of the one. I just smiled, shrugged and gave that look that implies they had all messed up. Six of them all making the same mistake at the same points and me being correct, that plan was never going to get past the selection committee. It was worth a go though.

It didn't really matter. We finished, we soaked up the applause, we patted each other on the back and shook hands, we felt mighty fine and we were going to revel in it.

And that was it. We all stayed back to mingle and watch the stars of the show go on after us, they were wicked, slick, groovy and classy. I know that sounds like a cheesy American detective show but it's how they were.

Then off we went. It was my biggest gig so far, top fun with a top band. Hopefully it won't be the biggest I'll ever play.

It was one of those targets that I was working towards and, as I look back at the recent past, it's becoming a fading speck on the horizon. I still haven't come down, that'll take some time. We played well, I played well, I enjoyed every minute of it. I made some mistakes, which I've learned from but, above all, we had fun.

The music and performance effect is like a drug, once it's got a hold of you there's no turning back. But, it's all good. I used to look at struggling musicians and wonder what the attraction was, why they'd live a life of financial poverty and often sacrifice success in other areas in order to pursue their music. Now I understand. I wouldn't do it, I don't have the ability, the drive or the talent, but I understand.

If you got this far, thanks for sticking with it. I promise not to post for a while.

Next stop - Colombo.

Yay!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hugely entertaining and informative read at 3am in the morning while coughing and spluttering and blowing my nose!!!! Good on you. T

the1truecoolguy said...

Wow! That was a long read...very interesting though! You're a quasi-celebrity then? ;)

"I used to look at struggling musicians and wonder what the attraction was, why they'd live a life of financial poverty and often sacrifice success in other areas in order to pursue their music. Now I understand."

I still look at struggling musicians/actors and wonder the same thing. I guess I'd have to experience it to fully appreciate it. Although the post gave me a peek! ;)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Ian and T - Thank you so much for the kind words. I think it took me far longer to write the post than to do the gig!

Darwin said...

That was very cool indeed, and I read all of it too! Well done! Usually I can tell if a concert is any good by reading a review; if it makes me feel slightly restless reading about it and makes me wish I was there its usually a good concert (or a very very good review).

In your case it was both:) If ever I'm in the general neighborhood I'd def come watch Mimosa I reckon.

julesonline said...

Interesting read in my lunch hour! I like the insight from your point of view as a drummer. :) PS - Colombo is v. hot!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Darwin - Thanks too, if you're down here it would be an honour to play to you.

Jules - Thanks. It's about minus one here in LHR, snow is forecast for later in the week. Roll on CMB!!!! Yay!

Java Jones said...

Heey maaan - now dat dose groupies are gadderin roun yo new found rock-star image, take good care! Good post too. Try to bring some recordins when yo get yo ass over here so dat we can give yo our humble.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

FUCKMESILLY RD! when u said it'd be long u werent kidding eh! :) unslept n way too groggy to read it right now - dont wanna lose detail to haze. but without reading, just wanted to say kudos for pulling it off! :)

mala

sach said...

Hey R,

The highest compliment I can pay for this post is that somewhere into the second para I got goosebumps and they still haven't gone away. Wonderful post.

You've asked a question from musicians/thespians. Ironic because when I was reading about you practicing,etc I thought about how we musicians spend hours and hours practicing, perfecting minor details, sacrificing other things to better our music and then when the time comes to perform, it's just one chance to do your thing and do your thing right and it's over before you even know it. And then I came across the paragraph where you mentioned it :)

And what is strange is it is never in the beginning of your performance that you realize that you can never go back. It's somewhere in the middle, most probably when you have just finished playing a tricky passage. I get that feeling every single time I perform and it's always bitter sweet, especially when I mess up something I have practiced for so long.

Thank you for writing this post. One of your best.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sach - To say thank you isn't enough, I'm touched by your compliments, really.

It's extremely interesting that you have the same thoughts about practice and the actual performing bit too, I'm really intrigued as to how many others who perform get the same thoughts when they're on stage. For me too it's never at the beginning of a gig, maybe I'm too busy thinking about what's to come, it's usually at least half way through that I get a kind of yearning for the gig to go on for even longer than I know it actually will. As drums can be a bit more free than clarinet, or any instrument where you have to play specific notes, there is more scope to try things but I make it a rule never to try and do things I am unsure of during a gig, that's what practice is for.

Thanks again Sach, I'm chuffed.

theena said...

Great post.

And the part about the amp screwing up during the guitarist's solo was hillarious. I could so see a million other guitarists doing the same - gloriously unaware of their immediate surroundings as they go about masturbating on their fretboard.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thanks Theena. It's 8.30 AM here and I had a band practice last night, he's still going on about his amp too. Guitarists eh!!

Nazreen said...

better had bring your band over then...

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Naz - It's high on the agenda, I'd seriously like to do it.