Sound Advice, Part VI (The Gig)

This entry will terminate “series” on joining this band, but rest assured, I’ll have more blog entries on what new things we’re up to.

The day had arrived.  The only thing was my amp, the Flextone III was ready at the shop, and the shop was in San Mateo (about 1 hour from me, on the other side of the bay).  I didn’t have to go get it that day, but I wanted it so I did.

I took the day off from work, ran across the bay and picked it up.  Gone was the crackling and volume drops – it played like it was brand new.  Bill: $288.  These guys even have a couple of gold records on the wall.  Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

Back home, I printed out my checklist of what I would need.  The gig was up in Antioch, at least 45 minutes from me, and on a Friday evening, more like an hour.  If I forgot anything, I’d be hosed.

I believe in redundancy when playing out.  And yes, it means many more trips in loading and unloading.  Two guitars and a dual guitar stand to hold them.  Extra strings, picks, and batteries as well as  the tools (wrenches, screw drives, wire cutters, and flashlight) to make use of them.  Music stand plus light.  Extra guitar cord.  Extension cord and power strip.  Duct tape, plus colored electrical tape for marking my stuff (all these music stands look alike!).

I had about 10 friends going to see me that night, but no one was riding with me.  I loaded up the car and headed out.  I’d been to this bar once before, but my handy Droid Bionic gave me turn by turn directions so I wouldn’t miss an exit (I don’t know how I got by before without a navigation system).

I was the first one at the gig.  There is a small alley behind the bar that can hold 2 cars length-wise (meaning if you’re first, you’re blocked in).  I walked into the place and asked the busy waitress if I can use that service door to bring in my gear.  She gave me a quick and disinterested “Yeah” and so I began my trips to the car, holding the service door open with a chair.

About this time, the sound man Adam showed up.  He introduced himself and we continued are unloading of gear.

This is my first time in a band that used a sound man and his gear.  All my other bands owned a PA and we all carried it in, and we all carried it out, so I felt a bit of pressure to go help him once my stuff was on stage, even though it wasn’t necessary.

I found an outlet, pulled out the cords, got my guitars out and tuned (like most footboards, mine contains a tuner), during which other members of the band showed up.

I’ll tell ya, singers have it easy.  They show up with their microphone.  It’s always been this way but in just about every band, the girl singer sits in a booth chatting with friends while the men go back and forth.  (For the record, the girlfriends I’ve had have always helped me with my gear 🙂  This applies to male singers too.  All the glory and none of the grunting :).

By now, people are arriving.  My girlfriend and her daughter arrived, my friend and his wife from work, one of my previous band mates and friend along with her boyfriend, and an old friend of mine, Dave.  I’ll post more about him in a later blog.

Like a lot of jobs, this is like hurry up and wait.  I got there first, and seriously, even rusty at this, I was set up in 20 minutes.  The drummer has to make a lot of trips, and the PA guy is all over the place, mic’ing this, placing monitors around the stage, and setting up the mains.  And here I am, plugged in and tuned up and waiting.

Finally, around 8:45pm we called a sound check song.  I think it was Long Train Running, but I can’t be sure.  We played the song, while the sound man fixed the feedback and dealt with various complaints like “I can’t hear myself in the monitor” or “I can’t hear the bass”.

Off to the restroom where I changed clothes.  Unless it’s a barbeque or something casual, I prefer to dress up while playing – dockers, nice shoes, nice shirt.  After all, we’re putting on a show and people might consider your band for their wedding.  Then again, we’re a top 40 dance band, NOT a grunge/metal/blues/etc band with those respective images.

Finally, we kicked off the first set.  I had the set list on my music stand, plus what presets I should be using (remember, this is my smaller amp and I only had 4), trying desperately to remember how some of these songs started.  This band likes to go from one song to the next for about the first 6 songs.  This is a very good technique for getting people out on the dance floor and keeping them there.

This was the first day on the job, in every sense of the word.  Trying to remember the beginnings of songs, the breaks (I stepped on many), and which preset to use.  I’m sure I looked about as much fun as a neurosurgeon on his first operation.  I barely cracked a smile, so intent was I to make a good impression on the band.  Then the bar owner comes over and takes a picture of me while playing – huh?  I found out later she does that with every band that plays there, and posts them on facebook.  Still, it was a distraction.

The first set is long – about an hour.  Then it was break time.  By now everybody had shown up that was here to support me, including people I hadn’t seen in a while.  Complaints started popping up like “We can’t hear you!” and “You need to tell the sound guy to turn you up!”.  I have no idea how loud I am while up on stage.  I can hear me.  If I can’t, I turn up.  So I went to the sound guy and said people can’t hear me and he told me he was trying not to turn anybody up so the vocals could be heard. Not wanting to rock the boat, first gig and all, I just decided I would turn up loader on my amp.  It would increase the volume being picked up by the mic.  Of course, he could always adjust my pa volume down, but beyond that I was pretty much out of options.

The material in the first set was what I was most familiar with.  The second set was a bit shaky.  While I played well for my solos, I played on some breaks, and didn’t play where I should have.  Of course the audience doesn’t notice much of that.  I felt like I was being evaluated the whole night by the band, which I was, and so that was extra pressure I was putting on myself.

Second set done, it was time for more socializing with my friends.  Everybody loved the music we played and thought the band was great in general.  We had a very full dance floor most of the night.

The third set lasted about 4 or 5 songs.  To this date, we’ve never played through the 3rd set.  We called it, about 10 minutes before 1:00am.  My first gig in 25 years was now in the books.  I was tired.  I wasn’t used to this and the stress and excitement of the evening wore me out.

But of course now comes tear down.  Tear down is faster than set up because there’s no tuning, no sound check, just roll the cords, put them in the crate, break down what needs to be broken down and start trekking out to the car again.

Our Keyboardist approached me with $80 in cash.  It was official – I was a working musician again.

I got nothing but positive feedback from the band.  I was expecting something of a report card after all the constant correction on my playing in practice but no, nothing but praise.

I got home about 3:00am (this is why I don’t like to gig so far from home) and unloaded my stuff (6 trips out to the car up 3 flights of stairs).  The next morning I would be teaching so I had to sleep fast.

But I couldn’t wait to use my new amp.  I’ll blog more on my current rig next time.

Until then….


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