As January draws to a close, I made good on my determination to upload some more gig video, with a couple of songs from 1/16/10 New People show from the Alchemy Cafe. The song of the two by me currently visible (though I hope to have more up shortly) is at http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer#p/a/u/1/_-9pPUESKN4, and from that URL you should be able to see the other I just uploaded (a tune by my cohort Matt Ackerman) and a few earlier posts (be sure to check out the “Love Is the Problem” video if you’ve not already).
The song in question is “Little Mina,” written mostly in 2003 when my daughter was a mewling shrieking biting baby, so the “Don’t bite me” is not a metaphor, or not merely a metaphor. The song morphed into something about trying to impart wisdom to your kids and how none of the really important stuff can be put into words.
But, I realize that the sound on the video is low quality and you likely can’t understand the words anyway, so let me rant instead about the absurdity of gigging.
A great concert in my experience as a spectator, for a band playing original music, is one where I already know most of the songs in advance, and where I can show up and clearly see and hear the band playing these tunes, with more excitement and spontaneity than what’s on the album, sitting with other people who also love the music.
As a performer, this rarely happens, first because venues usually either have a crummy sound system where you can’t make out the lyrics, or they crank it so loud that it’s unpleasant to be there (and you still can’t make out the lyrics). More importantly, the only people in the audience who know the songs will be friends that I or other band members have personally indoctrinated. Bar owners have long understood this: going to a friend’s show is like going to your kid’s school concert; you MIGHT enjoy it, but mostly you’re there to provide support to someone you know.
So, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be entertaining, i.e. providing a service, audience members are generally doing me a favor by being there, supporting my selfish desire to perform and my empty hopes of “making it.” Club owners recognize this, and typically see letting bands play there as an opportunity to have their dead nights filled with musicians’ beer-buying friends. Some clubs seem to go out of their way to ensure that no one that you didn’t personally bring to the show will possibly see you, and that the only way you can play in a time slot where people you didn’t invite might show up is if you can prove that you can bring in 100+ people in on, say, a Tuesday night at 7pm (or 2am) all on your own. It’s a sucker’s game.
As an adult, I’ve for the most part tried to avoid these situations and accepted the fact that the best I can do is to provide a pleasant place for those friends who come to indulge us a nice place to hang out and a convenient time slot, which means playing out less frequently (very few friends want to come to one of your shows every month) at places with no built-in crowd, but who will give us shows on Saturday nights, have decent enough facilities where we can make sure that the sound quality/volume is tolerable, and who don’t particularly care how many people we bring in. It’s like putting on a piano recital, except louder, usually with booze (though in Austin a couple of coffee houses became our preferred venues after a while).
The venue pictured in the video is a slight step up, in that it has a built-in crowd and (for our last show anyway) the sound quality was not TOTAL mush, and we seem able to play multiple Saturday nights there (this was our second show there in three months), so there is hope that with perseverance and an accessible show, one can incrementally move forward toward the Platonic ideal gig. …Or maybe I’m still just a sucker.