An interesting thing, this music biz. The highs are SO high, the lows are, like, unbearable. It’s a constant balancing act between artist and laborer, bandleader and promoter, musician and…well, pick your day job. How do you get the bodies into the club? Does music have anything to do with it? Is packing a club even important to your career? So many questions, precious few answers, and loads of gear to be moved from your fifth floor rehearsal space at the warehouse to whatever club in whatever town, and back again.
This can grind you down to the proverbial nub, people. Year after year you struggle just to hold a band together. A band that you know could be next year’s big thing or last year’s big nothing. So you keep reinventing yourself. You go through your personnel changes and your musical chairs on four-band bills. You get used to the crappy (or non-existent) pay. You suck it up, you play hard.
Sometimes, you get forty-five minutes in front of a big crowd, and in that small vacuum of time you just…burn. You can feel that you’ve won the night when all the other bands are standing there watching, smoking and drinking, their eyes never leaving the stage, their girlfriends checking you out. If you’re good, you can sense this victory and use it to your advantage. You feed on the vibe in the room and you forget about trying to play things right. Any self-consciousness you may have felt while you hurriedly set up your gear in between sets, any worries you had about whether to tuck in your shirt or not – it all just melts away, baked off in the heat of the multi-colored lamps that are all pointed toward you. You aren’t thinking about the lyrics, the solos, whatever…the performance is just flying out of you, and the only time you wonder what to do is during the spots in between tunes. And when there’s four hundred people shouting, clapping, hootin’ and hollerin’ – it really doesn’t matter what you say or do. You just spew some indecipherable rock star rap into the mic, take a drink, and on to the next song boys, we ain’t getting offa this train yet!
Other times, you’re simply working. You’re like the doorman, the bartenders. The room is large, the crowd is not. You can still win the night, that’s easy. You get up there, your gear is rad, your tone is smoking. Your tunes are tight, your drummer kicks ass. You had a few cigarettes before you got onstage, maybe a drink or two. And why not? This ain’t radio, it’s okay if your voice isn’t 100 percent there. Nothing more forgiving than a loud P.A. in a sparsely filled room. Just rip through your set and let the other bands worry about how crappy they’re gonna sound compared to you.
"Whoopie, we were the best band here tonight. Big deal. How fast can we load out? Do we have to hang out while the other bands play? Man, I never ate, I could really use a burrito. Let’s just get paid and get the hell out of this rat-trap."
Yeah, that happens too. What really matters to me is this: What’s next?
Good show, bad show, it doesn’t matter to me at all. I need to know where I’m going, not where I’ve been. Last week I played to a pretty full house in a big, famous bar in Boston. How’d we do it? Simple. We knew someone. That certain someone thought our idea to play an hour-long set of classic, David Lee Roth-era Van Halen was fantastic. So he gave us a primo Saturday night slot. We rehearsed for 6 weeks, learning some of the most difficult rock music ever produced. We were a trio, learning the riffs and styles of a four-piece, world-famous act. The rehearsals – man, the rehearsals alone would have killed most bands. We’re talking a whole ‘nother kind of burn now, friends. My fingertips still have deep creases from hours and hours of shedding Eddie solos. My drummer now hates me for making him sing all the high harmonies, and I think our bassist might have not slept last month.
Anyway, the show rocked, we got paid AND we felt the burn big time. It was awesome.
So now what? More Van Halen gigs? Probably, there’s good money in it (thanks, Diamond Dave!). Now we gotta figure out all the different rooms we can take the show to and make it happen again, again, again…until it’s dead. Until the next great idea for the next great show plants its bug firmly in my skull, demanding that I sacrifice all that is sane and comfortable in favor of the lifestyle that I committed to so long ago.
Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.
ABOUT JEFF MILLER
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.25.03 @ 11:06a
i hear ya, jeff.
look at your boston compatriots the figgs (pete hayes *is* one bad-ass mutha fuckah) or guster who tour all over the place all the time and still often play to only partially filled halls unless they're opening for a "major" band. and even then...
i think y'all play because you can't imagine *not* playing. it's gone beyond the cash and the recognition, though they are very, very nice. it's because you know no other way than this.
same for hack writers like me who write because, simply, there's no alternative.
4.25.03 @ 11:23a
I think the only people who like Guster are BC/Tufts girls.
4.25.03 @ 12:30p
i'm neither, but i am a girl. they're nice guys!
oh, and i forgot the pills!
4.26.03 @ 1:52a
When I read this all I could keep thinking was how much love for the work was coming through. I also kept thinking "Out here in the spotlight, I'm a million miles away."
Man this was fantastic.
4.28.03 @ 3:48p
Hey Jeff, next time you play around Boston (or anywhere else) you should plug the show on this site. I bet there's a few of us who would come out and listen.
4.28.03 @ 8:40p
sorry to chime in so late! just got back from a birthday trip to st. thomas (awesome!)!
Margot - yer right, I just can't seem to stop!
Mike - I've seen guster, and yer right - LOADS of chicks!!!(now what could be wrong with that?)
Robert - thanks!
Sarah - will do, I haven't been leveraging my IM presence in any way lately. Hopefully, with more columns will come more entertainment news from yours truly.
Thanks for reading all, and stay tuned fo rmy new site,www.arena-rock.com!