Today was the yearly work gig. The yearly work band came together (yearly) to practice. If you have been following the follies, it has been an exercise in futility. I don’t know if a band has ever felt like Job but we might be one of the first. Thus far:
- I got very sick and missed the first practice
- The keyboardist had to troubleshoot a system and missed the first practice
- Brand new bassist couldn’t make the gig, forcing singer to go back to bass
- Drummer forgot second practice
- There was no P.A. system until two days before the gig
- Other guitarist had a nice little car accident hours before final practice
To say that Murphy (of the Laws) lives in my gear is gross understatement. I have taken to carrying several guitars, two amplifiers, tools (including soldering supplies), and a briefcase full of adapters, all just in case. For this gig, I wanted to start a practice seldom-used by me, called Gigging Light. Two guitars, one amp. This was aided and abetted by my main amp and pedalboard hanging out where my (outside) band practices. I simply didn’t want to pick them up, plus I do have a bunch of other gear to take.
Last night was the first practice where everyone showed up. Normally I’d be bouncing off the walls but for some reason, everybody stopped worrying two weeks ago. Instead, it hit eighty degrees inside and we could barely stand there, drenched, and practice.
The band is an incredibly pleasant surprise. For five guys who only really got together once, everything sounded like it had been well-practiced for a while. I guess this is what they call professionalism. I’m guessing because I have never had it happen in over thirty years of playing the guitar.
AND THEY’RE OFF!!!
After waiting way too long for the hotel to open the loading doors, we early birds got our stuff in. Mind you, waiting for the doors was nothing compared to waiting for the brand new traffic jam they installed on the way to the hotel. I leave very early for a reason.
On the way in, the sound guy ran up, seemingly happy to see me. It has been my experience that it is never a good thing when someone is happy to see you, either at work or on a gig. His first words were to ask if we had any mic stands, as they had none. Foolish me, I thought, as I went into one of those dream sequences, wherein I saw myself telling the band that there was no reason to bring our old ratty mic stands, as there was a large sound company there… what sound company didn’t have stands? This one, apparently.
We had an hour to load in, park, and set up before the follies commenced. Note that this did not include a sound check. I have a strange suspicion that a sound check is really just a mythical concept that people like to hold over the heads of poor working musician-shlubs.
This might have been a good thing, as Murphy was having a rather amusing time with my (one) amp. I went to turn it on but it flatly refused. I tried again and it flatly and determinedly refused. A quick perusal of the rear panel indicated that said amp was short a fuseholder/fuse. This would have been a good time to have brought a second amp.
I started going through my mental inventory of what I could do in the absence of a fuse. I decided to look deep in the recesses of my amp, where I fortunately found the fuseholder, fortunately with fuse intact. I plugged the bad boy in, amazed at my good luck, and proceeded to turn the amp back on. At this point I became amused at my luck because the amp still didn’t come on. No magic red pilot lamp, no humming or buzzing, not even so much as a pop.
Further inspection revealed that the fuseholder didn’t really fit too well into the socket as it should have. Much jiggering (and cursing) later, I was still without magic pilot lamp. Hoping for a miracle I asked my coworker the pastor to locate a paper clip. True to form, the pastor came through, although the paper clip kinda refused to mitigate the situation in a way that would cause the magic pilot lamp to at least create its wonderous glow. After removing the fuse, I tried again with the clip. After a few minutes I had ascertained that the amplifier would operate properly if I simply stood there and held the fuseholder/clip assembly in (instead of actually playing the guitar). Finally I located a position in which the amp stayed powered on by itself and I basked in the red glow of the pilot light. I reasoned that I needed to be careful, lest the entire assembly spring forward, catapulting itself a few hundred feet into the audience, impaling itself in some hapless person’s eye socket (or boobie). This meant no playing, no standby, no standing on the stage, and no powering it off. I spent the rest of the day watching that power light as if my life depended upon it (as opposed to the gig).
Our drummer was an hour late, as is his wont. Time is a highly variable concept in general. They tell me at work that there’s Time, CPT (Colored People Time – about an hour or so late), and Company Time (about two hours late). Apparently now there’s also Drummer Time, which eclipses all other time (and always comes in late). Regardless, there wasn’t even a moment to tune up or play something.
The sound guy joked that they had to pull the monitors out of deep storage for this gig. This was even funnier when the band remembered the monitors from last year. Fortunately they remembered them working, so hope was still alive.
THEY’VE GONE ALL JESUS ON ME…
After the mad rushing to get everything in place, it was Hurry Up and Wait (for 6 hours), while the corporate back-slapping continued. Since we’re social services, part of the show included clients. Since part of the show included clients, there is some sort of law about part of the proceedings including Jesus rather a lot. It got so bad that even the pastor got tired of hearing it. Songs, acapella, and the traditional ridiculous over-singing typical of the genre. Apparently one needs to prove how serious one is about Jesus via the amount of syllables included in his name. I like to think of Jesus as having two syllables. Unfortunately at this show, Juh-HEE-zus was just a starting point.
Of course they had to pray over the food too. They attempted to make it ok by including a Christian, Jew, and Muslim prayer. I guarantee you that, just like Congress, the moment someone includes a satanic prayer, all prayer will stop.
Meanwhile, two of our number went back to work, under the illusion that there was so much to do, they couldn’t possibly miss a few hours. To be helpful, they agreed to return with another amp for me and a few mic stands. I passed the time reading Vintage Guitar magazine, which I was smart enough to bring for the occasion. Some guy had a 1960 lefty Broadcaster for sale with no price. No matter, there’s no way in hell I could afford it, even after a second mortgage.
The other guitar fella was being incredibly useful, ticking off the acts as they went onstage, so we had a rough idea what time we’d be on. We were scheduled for 4pm, more or less (Corporate Time). Round about 2:45, we started noticing there weren’t many acts left on the program. Attempting to unseal the almost unbreakable bond between me and the chair, I left in search of someone in charge to find out when we’d actually be hitting the stage.
The person running things was very kind. She used a phrase never heard in the forty year history of the company:
“We’re running an hour early.”
In fact, I had to ask her to repeat it, as I thought my ears were playing rather nasty tricks on me (as opposed to Murphy). She advised me to have my personnel ready to perform in five minutes.
There were a few mathematical impossibilities here, as the two people who went back to work weren’t due for another thirty minutes. Even if they were leaving at that moment, it would take them fifteen minutes to arrive.
Fortunately it turned out they were walking out the door at that moment and intended to heed my advice to drive quickly.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE GIG…
Our five minutes had elapsed, with a few to spare, and we were still without three fifths of the band. The only thing that stopped us from going up as a trio was the complete lack of mic stands. Not that I have ever seen this but duct-taping a wireless mic to one’s face is unsightly.
So we tuned. We stared. We puttered. We wondered aloud when the others might pop by to join us. We stared out at the rapidly dwindling masses, wondering if they even knew we were going to play. I almost wore out my neck joint shaking my head over the futility of it all. Not that any of us were feeling self-conscious.
I finally saw some friendly faces. Unfortunately they were my departmental faces. I wondered internally how my department showed up but two fifths of the band was still missing in action. It occurred to me that at that particular moment, there was probably a freak traffic jam, affecting only band members.
I’m not a superstitious guy or a religious guy (no, really?) but the preponderance of evidence indicated that someone or something did not want us to play this gig. I have never experienced this level of sheer Murphyism in over thirty years of playing the guitar.
Somebody from a poetry group took the other stage to buy us some time. No, really, a poetry group. I’ve never heard of that either, but this is work, folks. I stopped asking why years ago. As he was finishing up, he asked the fragments of my band to help him out. Never at a loss for attention whoring, the drummer gave him a beat.
Finally, in walked the errant band members, complete with backup amp and requisite mic stands. The bassist/singer started funking over the drum beat and the rest of us eventually found a key (and our inner poetry funk).
The audience dug this boundlessly and showed their appreciation verbally and via motion. Things started looking good.
We hit our first tune and the place exploded. The singer called out tunes, as making set lists would have been going against the entire Gigging Light thing. And everything got shuffled so badly that we never could have stuck to any list at all.
After the first tune, we needed a few seconds, as the drummer’s drums were developing the annoying habit of running away from him as he was playing. This is fairly rare on carpeted stages so we certainly didn’t expect that. Perhaps they didn’t like him. Perhaps they, unlike him, had the desire to start showing up on time for once. I don’t know and I shall not speculate (further).
I only brought one pedal with me, which is a really high-gain clean boost. It’s decorated with all sorts of kamikaze-like logos, which is sort of like how I was feeling about playing this gig. I was just kinda hoping that we all exited the building alive and with all our limbs after the gig. Regardless, the folks who built this pedal missed something in the wiring, as the ON LED stays lit regardless of whether the pedal is on or off. I should probably fix that sometime soon.
Regardless, my lovely early silverface Deluxe Reverb amp, which sounded heavenly at the last huge outdoor gig, sounded particularly crappy at this gig. In addition, there was so much local interference that it started doing weird things to the reverb circuit, requiring me to turn it off. I could produce some stellar impersonations of thunderstorms, but they weren’t going to go over all that well musically.
We kept going, with our Don’t Give a Shit attitude intact. We were so laissez-faire we coulda been French (sorry). It’s amazing how an enthusiastic audience can overcome most, if not all obstacles. A tune or two later we noticed People That Matter standing up on the other stage, ready to do a presentation. We asked if we should break and were met with a (way too) resounding yes.
As the presentation went on, we decided we were going to return after with a few tunes before closing. We took time to ponder Corporate Math. This is a concept whereby we discuss how “We’re Running an Hour Early” becomes “Aren’t we supposed to play a full set instead of four songs?”
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
As musicians, we can’t help but look out through the crowd to see what’s happening while we’re playing. There are hordes of people, some quite fetching, grooving to the music (and doing other things). One particular lady was waving some streamers and singing along. In conference, the band agreed that this person had a skill with streamers that was uncommon in the large room.
As I mentioned, this is a social services company, and as such, the party included clients. It’s not always a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Last year my wife commented that an entire table of women was pregnant. Of course they were, I explained… that particular program is for homeless pregnant women and families.
Better, of course, not to pursue. And yes, it matters not to me, due to the aforementioned wife.
To show some personal growth this year, I even managed not to ask a coworker who that incredibly attractive babe was, as it turned out to be her daughter. Growth was shown in that I now utter only the second thing to come into my mind at any time.
Regardless, we placed ourselves back onstage for a final number or two. The crowd was effusive, ebullient, and partially over the top (just like we like them). The women AND the men were bumping and grinding and singing along. These people were clearly starved for any kind of entertainment :)
Since I’m typing this (and logic would dictate that you’re reading it), you know that at least I made it out alive (and hopefully with all of my original parts intact). I can relate that things went relatively well, in spite of Murphy’s repeated attempts at sabotage.
Getting out was a bit of a challenge, but I rose above it. There was an Orkin truck blocking the drive to the loading dock. So I parked behind him. I entertained the concept of having the exterminator paged in the hotel but decided against it. But damn if the S.O.B. didn’t call management to have my car moved when he couldn’t back out. F- him.
As an aside, Bones is on tv in the background. I just heard someone use the phrase “Jimmy Page is always relevant.”
I couldn’t agree more.