My third solo show was my best yet. I’m starting to figure my sound out. I had decided to try to let a little bit of folkiness through and strip things down further.
Some of this is from observations from the tour. I never used to much go for the solo artist with just guitar and vocals thing. Maybe it’s just my tastes changing a bit as I get older, maybe I’m mellowing out or something, but on the tour with Sam I saw singer-songwriters in a variety of configurations: the kind with a backup band (Lonnie Fisher & the Funeral, Bob Taylor’s Latest Review), the kind accompanying themselves with something very pre-programmed and polyphonic (The Bassturd), and the kind with just an acoustic guitar (Simon Joyner, though he frequently performs with a band also, and Bonnie Whitmore). I gained a whole new respect for this latter set, especially since while Bonnie and Simon really impressed me, there were still plenty of solo-acoustic singer-songwriter acts that I found much less exciting. I reasoned that there is a particular sense in which this kind of act can be done really well and stand out from the usual dull coffeehouse crowd. It requires some combination of one or more of: a big personality and/or audience rapport, a really great sounding singing voice, or unusually interesting songs and/or lyrics.
So before, I was still trying to be a one-man version of a rock band, which I’m not sure worked as well as I liked. Part of what’s impressive about seeing a rock band play is the coordination of a group of people playing together, and another part of it is the volume. As one guy with a guitar and a drum machine, I don’t have as much of these. So I have to compensate a bit through intimacy, immediacy, and songwriting, particularly considering that my singing voice is serviceable but definitely not stellar. I do have some pretty fucked up lyrics though, so what I decided to do was to allow myself to be vulnerable by stepping out from behind the big guitar sound.
So this time, I dared to not even bring along the looper pedal, cut nearly all the guitar solo bits out of the songs, and even do several numbers with no drum machine. Putting together the set, I decided to throw out some of the big-rock songs, particularly “Jackhammer” and the Blue Cheer and Cheap Trick covers, and replace them with quieter fare: a mellow/creepy open-chord arrangement of “Hell Is Flooded,” and covers of Daniel Johnston’s “Lousy Weekend,” The Godz’s “Ruby Red,” and a melancholy slow-burn version of The Wipers’ “Wait A Minute.”
I showed up nice and early because I didn’t want to be rushed with my setting up and gearing myself up mentally. I went ahead and set my gear up a little early, since I figured my setup is minimal enough not to be in anyone’s way and I was going to be opening the show anyhow. ‘Round about 9:40 I had everything set up so I decided to flip the amp on and strum a quick chord or two to make sure all my cables and pedals and the amp itself were in working order and sound was coming out of them. There was barely anyone in the bar at this time, some middle-agers who had been there earlier had already moseyed along, so a quick couple chords shouldn’t annoy anyone much.
So I strum and adjust for literally about five seconds when suddenly Sara the bartender comes walking up. “Cody will be here soon to check your sound, sweetie.” Yeah, I know, I’m just doing a quick check of my… “Yeah, he’ll be here real soon, okay, so can you stop that please? The between-time here is my quiet time.”
What the goddamn fuck, lady? I felt seriously disrespected. Look, I know you’re hard at work sitting around at the bar staring at the TV there, but I came here to do a job too. If I do a quick ten-second check of my gear to make sure it’s working okay, it’s to make sure there aren’t unforeseen last-minute complications that would cause the show to go anything but smoothly. I shouldn’t have to deal with any ballache from you about it. I’m just being professional here. Get your fucking “quiet time” at home on your own time, bitch. Grrrrarrrr!! I was pissed enough about it that I didn’t bother tipping her for the couple beers I had before my set.
This being the final days of The Reverb in its current configuration (all its operations are shortly moving to Spicoli’s), Cody seems up for some experimentation: for a Venom Electric show a couple weeks back, Dylan suggested doing away with the cover charge, and I guess Cody reacted almost as if the idea had never occurred to him before, but was up for trying it. So that show was free, and the turnout was pretty good. Sometimes for local bands I think a cover puts some people off. I experience this as a music fan at last as much as a musician. “Oh, look who’s playing, I like them… meh, but it costs five bucks to get in. Maybe I’ll just stay at home and try to get
this blog post written some work done instead…” Hell, I even ended up going to that Venom Electric gig, where I saw Audrey Robinson for the first time, yet another in my series of solo acoustic-guitar singer-songwriter acts to have impressed me lately. So anyway, Cody decided to try the same with this show, have no cover and pay the bands a little something out of how the bar does. Cool by me.
I hadn’t timed my set, so I was slightly worried that it might be overly long. But another part of me took on a defiant stance that “I’m going to play ten songs, I intend on wasting no time, and the set is going to be however long it takes to play those ten songs.” I had decided to forgo almost all between-song chatter, which is a good idea for me anyway. The Reverb tends to like to start shows a half-hour late to wait for a crowd, but some bands like to wait around longer still, which I had no intention of doing, and which annoys the Reverb anyway. In fact, I was slightly annoyed that Cody was having me wait. But by the time I went on, The Where Have You Beens still hadn’t shown up, so I was pretty well greenlit to just do my thing.
The set went really well. I felt really in the zone throughout it, the songs were just flowing out of me and I had totally no worries. I can’t remember when I’ve ever felt like that before playing a gig. It was awesome. Reports from my wife and sister, who both came to check it out, were overwhelmingly positive, and neither of them are the type to sugar-coat their opinions even of/for me. In fact, Leah seemed really surprised at how good the set was. She says this really seems to be my element, that bands just hold me back. After such a good set my mood was considerably lightened, so all of a sudden Sara was my friend again and I put the earlier incident mostly out of my mind.
Project Sock Monkey did a good set of their hard alt-rock tunes. There’s a very “definitely a local band” quality about them though, I’m not sure if they’ll ever be able to shake it. Also a lot of times it sounds like Erik is singing in a different key than the riffs that the band is playing, or just like there isn’t enough melodic affinity between the two so it almost seems like the vocals and riffs are from different songs. Apart from that they’re plenty tight and would definitely go over well with the college crowd; like, they should really check into doing some gigs at The Hub if they can and haven’t already.
Somewhere midway through PSM’s set, The Where Have You Beens showed up, and seemed to bring their crowd along with them. I suspect they’re local, as they were loading their gear out of a large black station wagon with Black Hawk county plates, but I’d never seen them before. So they went on after PSM, a trio made up of guitarist/vocalist, bassist/backing vocalist, and keyboardist/drum machinist. They had a very British kind of vibe about them, sort of like grebo dance-rock with a sensitive side, and they were actually really good. Also, vocal harmonies. I was surprised. Forget about where have they been, where the hell did they come from?
Not only that, but they quickly left after their set, without sticking around to get paid, so Cody ended up splitting up what he was giving to the bands between just me and PSM. He said The Where Have You Beens pulled the same disappearing act last time they played there too. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s basically nothing online about them anywhere, apart from a YouTube video of one song’s worth of an earlier Reverb show. Weird.