Monday, November 24, 2008

Grumbly Bore

This past weekend was a great reminder of the downfalls of touring. I try not to be too jaded. You know, I've done a lot of this stuff in the past. First, it was with Humbert and the Aloha Steamtrain and now it's with my current bands. I've also gone on excursions here and there with other acts when they needed someone to fill in. I went on short tours with Spouse and the Winterpills as a bass player and I've gone out with The Greenbergs and Mark Mulcahy as a multi-instrumentalist. Brian and I even went to Cambridge as Chris Collingwood's backing band to play a bunch of Fountains of Wayne songs once.

Some of these experiences were amazing and some of them were just downright depressing. Don't get me wrong, it's always an adventure. It's always kind of fun to take a road trip, no matter what the destination reveals. But it also can be exhausting and costly and sometimes it just feels terribly silly.

On Friday, Lesa and I took a ride out to Boston so I could play a solo slot at the International Pop Overthrow. I've played this show for a lot of years in a row now and sometimes it is great and sometimes it is not. The Fawns and School for the Dead once went all the way to Chicago to play one of these twenty minute long sets. It was insane to do that, but the trip yielded some great memories and photographs. It was really, in all senses of the word, a road trip.

Friday night's trip to Boston was not so note-worthy. For starters, I was still in the throws of recovering from a hurt back. We left as early as we could after rushing around like mad and we sped through the cold baron hilly Mass Pike feeling tired and rushed. Then we hit the maddening traffic at the final toll booth, where some world-class genius decided to make fifty Fast Pass lanes and two Cash lanes available. It took us over 45 minutes to move about a quarter of a mile as four lanes of fast moving traffic suddenly all tried to squeezes thought the eye of a needle. Welcome to Boston, you endless trail of tired, red-faced drivers!

We found our venue and parked in an overpriced and exceedingly sketchy parking garage and fought our way through the windy streets and into the club with no time to spare. I literally took off my jacket while on stage and tuning my guitar.

It wasn't the best state of mind to be in to play an acoustic solo show. If I was in a hard-core punk band it may have worked. But, there I was on the stage, feeling rattled and warn and negative while I was trying to sing my quirky little pop ditties to a small crowd and some guys who were playing pool.

I should have been able to suck-it up and taken a breath and entertained and brightened the days of my audience but instead I was snarky and snotty and I don't think I made any new friends.

After my forgettable set, Lesa and I stepped out to eat an average meal in an exceptionally cold restaurant. We were beat and busted and achy when we headed back to the venue and I just collected my things and we drove home. Overall spent on the trip: six and a half hours, a tank of gas, ten dollars in tolls, ten dollars in parking. Earnings from pay and CD sales: Zero. Memories to treasure forever: few.

…So needless to say I was not so psyched-up about Saturday's journey to New York City to play at the Parkside CafĂ©. What's wrong with me? There are gazillions of bands out there just dying to play a Saturday night slot in New York City. It's the most famous city that there is. Still, there are also gazillions of people out there right now all excited about eating some Chicken McNuggets.

The ride with a band is usually pretty fun anyway. Brian, Max, and I goofed around and caught up and that was nice. But getting to and from New York City is never a very peaceful activity. It requires all kinds of chaos.

We left at six and got to the club at nine after walking a few blocks with our equipment. The place was packed to the point of discomfort. There was nowhere to sit and barely anywhere to stand. In the back room of the club, a cover-band was playing. I stuck my head in and felt like I was at a wedding reception. The band was charging ten dollars admission and the room was fairly well attended with a crowd that was obviously made-up of friends and co-workers.

We played at this same venue not too long ago and it seemed to me that the clientele had changed somewhat since then. It seemed before, that the room was full of artists and hipsters. On this night it was full of broad-shouldered clean-cut guys with expensive clothes who liked to push you out of the way as they lumbered through the crowd.

Still, we met our friends in The Campbell Apartment and got to watch them play a really nice set of Ari Vais' perfect pop-rock gems. Of course, despite the fact that we weren't charging a cover for our show, when we took to the stage at midnight there were about eight people in the room. Most of them were The Campbell Apartment.

Once again, we should have pulled it together and been able to somehow mold a magical night out of it. Maybe if we had brought everyone forward and tried to do some sing-alongs around the piano, or maybe we could have enticed some more folks from the front room in by just going out there and talking to people, maybe then we could have made the night special. Instead, we took the safer and easier route of just playing a loud rock show.

I felt like we were too loud the whole time, but I didn't really know what to do about it. The room was small. The whole night had been rock. Anyway, we played our songs and we did fine. I was once again distracted by my aching back and also by the wet spot on my knee from when I knelt down to unpack my stuff. Apparently, the carpet was drenched with something. I'm hoping it was beer.

We played our set, packed up and headed home. We arrived at 4:23AM. Total spent on the trip: ten and a half hours, one tank of gas, a few tolls, whatever that really crappy pizza cost, and a burnt-out Sunday the next day. Total earned from pay and CD sales: zero. Memories to treasure: Some. We all managed to stay awake for the whole way home with good conversation and for the first time, I think ever, I didn't drive us home from the gig. Thanks, Max. And thanks Brian for letting us use your car and for driving in.

So, what am I doing? Am I complaining? Yes, I guess so. But mostly, I am just reporting back and trying to capture the mood of parts of the trips. It takes a lot to play these shows and sometimes the pay-off (and I don't mean financially) is not equal to the pay-out. The fault always lies with me, or us. It's totally up to us to ensure that the room will be full and that we will put on a great unforgettable show. It's just takes a lot of work, that I don't know how to do.

I like spending time in a car with Lesa or with band mates. I can't really think of many things I'd rather be doing. It's important to remember to sometimes consider that as the destination and to think of the gig as just an excuse for the adventure. If you put too much weight on the importance of these gigs, it'll get you down.

The problem is that time and weekends seem to be getting more and more valuable. Is it just me or is everything speeding up? Maybe I'm slowing down. Since when did I start looking forward to quite nights at home?

Uh oh.


ina said...

henning--i love when you write about stuff like this; the joys and struggles of life as a working musician. i appreciate that you transcribe your inner dialog.

and this line speaks for me:

It's just takes a lot of work, that I don't know how to do.

my musical goals are simpler than yours. i would love to be thought of, to be included, in group shows here in town. i (almost) never am.

it just takes a lot of work that i don't know how to do.

dennis said...

man, i'm sorry to hear these gigs were like this for you. i totally understand how that can be. so rough. if it feels any better to know "we've all been there," well, then there's that. not knowing how to do that work, and just in general how to play shows that are meaningful and feel good, is such a struggle. i've personally been feeling that about northampton recently; not sure where to play that will really feel good and be the kind of night i want to have, you know? it's a mystery.

No Stand In Will Do said...

you're so aggravated that there are at least 4 typos in your blog post! you must really be down. sometimes trips out of town are too much work, for you the performer and for us, the audience. just take a break for a bit. next time will be better, probably-your back won't be ow-y, at least.

Rick said...

I'm hopeful you've recovered by now! That said, like others have posted, I'm always glad to see the working side of a musician's life. Touring and playing gigs always seem (to an outsider like me) like they should be "fun", but evidently from your posts, that's not always the case. Who knows? Maybe your music did connect with someone in New York and Boston. Good luck when you tackle the next road trip.