Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.
Date: Early enough to never turn down a gig.
Venue: The diviest dive.
Crowd: Far more than we deserved.
Home truth time. Some gigs you should turn down, you need to look at all the angles and figure out if this will be a good gig for you to play. It’s not about the pay or the “exposure” you’ve been promised by that asshat of a promoter. Will the gig be fun? Will you and everyone else enjoy it? If not you should definitely consider a big fat “no”. Another truth for you, you won’t. You’ll play every damn gig you’re offered. But sometimes you really shouldn’t.
We get a call from a friend, Mike, he’s in a fairly popular local band, a bass playing hero much like myself, but the band is splitting up. Which happens a lot. They’ve decided to play one last show, a goodbye mosh, all self organised in an amenable local venue. Odds are it’s gonna be pretty packed. And their opening act just pulled out. Let me make this abundantly clear, this is where you live as an early band, waiting, pleading for misfortune to strike a gig and open up a slot for you. Yeah you’re untested, but they’re desperate. And desperate he was because the gig was in 2 days. Of course we agreed. I nearly reached through the phone and bit his damn hand off for it.
There was one major issue with agreeing to this gig, and in my excitement I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought. We were currently “in between” drummers, Nicky had yet to shamble his way into our lives and spring on us his particular brand of explosive freneticism and our last drummer had moved to the other end of the country. Possibly to get away from us. Two days is not a great timeframe to find a new drummer. Frantic calling of all the beatmen we knew got us nowhere but one day closer to our gig. Which was fast looking like it would be a whole series of nails in our collective coffin. Then we get a little ray of sunshine, a friend called Dan knows his way round a kit, it’ll do for me but Graham was in full panic mode, which he alleviates by demanding we rehearse. The night before the gig. For three hours. At 1am.
Gig O’clock: We’re bleary eyed, no one slept much through nerves and adrenaline. Dan vaguely knows the songs. Ritchie is running on fumes but is excited because he bought a new gig guitar. Downside is it’s right handed and he’s a leftie so he’s currently restringing it upside down. But he seems happy. Graham’s last nerve has been frayed down to a stub and there’s a wild look in his eye. I’m rocking a cocktail of nerves and stone cold dread. None of us drink anything. We need to be sharp to get through this Frankenstein’s monster of a gig. Mike sidles up to us and eyes the tiny space we have to play in.
“Ready when you guys are.”
So never then? I’m 5 seconds from running out the door but Graham stands up.
“Sure thing, let’s go guys.”
Man, he can fake the shit out of confidence.
We set up and forego the pleasure of a soundcheck, everything is set to loud, it’ll do.
The next 20 minutes is an absolute nightmare. The back line is in front of the drum kit. In layman’s terms, our stand in drummer can’t hear a fucking thing that’s being played, so he doesn’t know where we are or what’s going on. This becomes painfully apparent after he keeps drumming for a minute at the end of the first song. A quick and panicked conversation leads to the following stunningly rock ‘n’ roll plan; I have to stand dead in front of him so I can mouth “verse”, “bridge” or “chorus” at him and he can watch my hands to figure out what fucking song it is. From that point on I don’t see the audience that I presume hates us, which I guess is a small bonus.
As if that’s not enough, Ritchie’s lovely new upside down guitar? The volume dial is positioned perfectly so that he keeps hitting it with his forearm on the downstrokes and turning his volume off. He spends his gig looking confusedly at his amp or desperately turning himself back up again. Myself and Dan our drummer are locked on some sort strange miming conversation, Ritchie is eyeballing his volume dial like it said something about his mother so that just leaves our charismatic frontman.
Graham’s account of the gig was like some sort of horror story, like a nightmare you’re afraid you’ll never wake up from. He alone took the brunt of the crowd’s ire. Like a stalwart spartan he stood before them and weathered the looks of disgust and contempt as we fumbled our way through a 20 minute set. By the end he was a broken man, he apologised between every song, sometimes during middle eights and twice over Ritchie’s solo which we only heard half of. His last words into the microphone? “Don’t worry, we’re done.” This was no mere trial by fire, this was trial by all the elements and everything else on God’s green earth.
We didn’t gig for a good three months after that and the next offer we got we rehearsed for a solid week, everyday leading up to it. And we probably still sucked.
Kids, do yourselves a favour, say no to gigs.
Photo by Dineshraj Goomany via Flickr.