Sunday, March 05, 2006

Exhausted, seeking perspective

Last night was a howling success, if you measure success by the number of people crammed into the bar for Kat's debut with a band. The place was standing room only before we even got started. More and more people kept coming in the door until it seemed impossible to squeeze even one more. When I say "standing room only," I don't mean simply that there weren't any chairs available. I mean that when we took a break between sets, there literally was nowhere for us to go. Often there wasn't even room to sit on the side of the stage. Several friends came to see me play; I noticed them come in while we were playing the first set. They settled for a spot in the crowd about 20 ft. from the stage. During the break, I tried to reach them, but was met by an impenetrable wall of people. I couldn't even force my way between folks, because everyone was MASHED into everyone else, physically squeezed until there wasn't an air space anywhere. After about ten minutes, when some people ahead of me moved a bit, I was able to thread my way through the crowd to greet my friends.

Now, remember this is a lesbian bar. So 95% of the people were women. A few men were sprinkled in the crowd - some came as singles, and some came with their wives - probably friends of Kat's.

The crowd screamed after each number, sometimes at an almost deafening level.

That's the good part.

The bad part was that I couldn't hear jack. The stage was tiny, and we were a 5-piece band. I arrived there first, around an ahour and 3o minutes before we were supposed to start. I got most of my equipment set up before the drummer arrived, so the two of us staked out our miniscule bits of real estate. The drums went in the corner, and I squeezed my keyboard rig right in front of him. I practically had to sit on the bass drum. Since space was such a premium, I used my little Gallien Kruger amp. It puts out 100 watts but weighs only 25 lbs. I can set it up on a little tripod stand so the sound comes out closer to my ears. I was backed into one wall of the stage with my little amp facing me from the right side of the keyboard. The amp has several line outputs, one of which was fed to the PA system. The two monitors were placed in front of Kat and the guitar player, who stood on a secondary stage about 2 feet below the main stage where the rest of the band was. So I couldn't hear anything from the monitors; the only sound I could hear from the PA was the reflected sound of the mains, which were in front of us, hanging from the ceiling.

The bass player stood next to me, so I could hear the rhythm section real well. Fortunately the drummer wasn't one of those guys who has to play at 100% volume all the time, so my ears weren't ringing too bad when I left the club about 1:30.

When the sound level gets to a certain point, it all starts to sound like mush to me. I lean a lot on what I hear to influence my playing, so when it gets like this I just have to rely on what I think is the right thing to play, without being able to verify it 100% by ear.

I played okay on most of the songs. "Ring of Fire" got me confused. I play the brass part on one keyboard and piano on another. The problem is the song started before I was ready. So I was playing that signature trumpet part without really knowing whether I was playing it in the right place. Then when the singer started, I kind of got back on track. But somewhere in the middle of the song, she either repeated a verse or assumed I was going to play the brass instrumental lead. I played what I thought was right, but somehow this engendered a confused look from the singers. Then later on in the song there appeared to be a verse where nothing happened. I think that was where I was supposed to play the brass lead, but by the time I realized it, I had gotten lost and then really didn't know where I was. So I decided to just sit that verse out instead of trying to guess and maybe getting it wrong, precipitating a train wreck. So we all kind of looked at each other while the music played and no one sang.

Mostly I think I played okay, like I said above. Several people said the piano sounded good, but some said they couldn't hear it, especially in the first set. We need to do a sound check before we play there the next time.

We played from about 10 to 1. I got started home about 1:30 and got into bed around 2:30, taking a little time to unwind after I got home.

Wife called from Tampa, where they landed safely and were about to go to sleep. They were able to upgrade their rental car to a convertible (Woo-Hoo!), and today they'll have lunch in Tampa, then drive southward to Ft. Myers, where they'll pick up wife's friend's mother and head out to Sanibel.

I awoke this morning about 8 a.m., not really refreshed but not sleepy anymore. So I made a cup of coffee, showered and got ready for church, for which I'm about to leave in a minute.

I'm quite worn out from last night. I have a couple hundred pounds of equipment, all of which had to be loaded out through the crushing crowd. My clothes stank of cigarette smoke, so a load of laundry will be in order soon. My back and knees are tired from all the lifting and climbing up and down off the stage. I made a video of the evening; there was a miraculous tiny space I found where I could set up the tripod for my camera. I have no idea what it sounds or looks like; I'm a little afraid to watch it right now. But maybe later this week I shall.

Maybe I'm getting a little old for this. I love doing the songwriter's nights, playing at a reduced volume level where it's possible to hear the smallest nuance of every note. I love doing creative work, co-writing and recording original material. I suppose I don't mind doing one of these howling, cheek-to-jowel club dates every now and then, especially since I have a crisp $100 bill in my wallet as compensation. So I know it'll all fall into perspective eventually. Right now I'm just looking forward to a relaxing evening. That is, after I get home from my afternoon gig running sound for the Interfaith Music Festival and loading my piano in and out of the Downtown Presyterian Church.


1 comment:

obxbill said...

Wow! Sounds like a rough night. Hopefully the next gigs will give you a little more room!