Friday, September 14, 2007

the worst gigs of my life

Having put a downer on that event, maybe it’s only fair if I recount (confess) my least enjoyable and endearing moments. A set of snap-shots into the life of a musician / performer / improviser, I humbly present to you, in chronological order, the worst gigs of my life.

attack of youthful, humorless megalomania

AMC and I have been roped into a segment of a larger event by B.
Let me describe B as ambitious and far-sighted… but B is also overreaching and a perfectionist; a problematic combination that means hardly anything gets finished. In fact, I never heard any of B’s finished projects / pieces / compositions, only the proposals and pitches.
On this occasion, B had proposed a grand, bells’n’wistles composition / piece, but (surprise) it didn’t get finished in time. So B decides to rope in some improvisers so we can, like, jam, man.
AMC and I manage to persuade B out of the B’s original plan—one 30 minute improvisation—and propose several shorter improvisations.
No rehearsal.
Soundcheck takes far too long. I feel we’re pissing-off the sound engineers; not good, I think, not good at all.
The performance is a disaster. Humorless, shapeless, disaster.
AMC—even AMC—cannot inject any humor or lightness into the proceedings.

I fear that even our friends in the audience are ready to pretend they don’t know us.

I’m ready to pretend I don’t know us.

Recorded for posterity, I play this recording to myself (although I can very rarely sit through all of it) whenever I feel like reminding myself of my own mortality. (Maybe I’ll play this to my students.)

the stink

We’ve been invited by K to this ‘guitar and computer’ showcase (high-concept: let’s, like, get some guitarists paired up with laptopiteers, and, like, they can all jam, man).
I arrive at the venue with MK, the laptopiteer I’d been working with, and two friends. The venue is a dive. I speak as someone who loves dusty venues with an interesting vibe, colorful clientele, and a good PA system, but this place—let’s call it The Stink—has no vibe, no clientele, shit PA (and, I swear, a crack-head sound-engineer). It’s the end of summer, and The Stink has no ventilation—it’s hot and dusty in there—no windows, very little lighting, no bar. I just hope that the wiring in this place is good (I subsequently acquire a habit of carrying a power outlet tester, and wiring my gear with RCDs).
Nightmare. This is not why I became a musician.
There’s a guitarist plus computer-operator pair (I recognize them as K’s friends) who have decided to start their warm-up by doing a whole performance there on the floor. Noodling away. It ain’t pretty: it all looks (and sounds) very amateurish.

I go up to K. “Where do you want us to setup?”
K doesn’t make eye contact. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you in charge?”
“I think we should wait for [the Big Stars] to show up….”
“Well, if you know where they’re going to setup, we’ll just stay outta the way—setup elsewhere.”
“Yeah?” K looks distracted, looks away. (Looking back on it now, I wonder if K was stoned.) “But we should check.”
Check with who? I think we’re running late here.
I propose a tiered setup—last act near the back of the stage, first act at the front—that way as the evening proceeds, we can just hop out of the way of the next act. K thinks that’s reasonable, but, in a moment of anxiety, adds, “but we should check with [the Big Stars].”
The big Big Stars are nowhere to be seen!
We’re scheduled to start within an hour. I try to make eye contact: “Are you in charge?”
“We should wait.”
“Okay,” I turn away, “you’re not in charge.”

MK and I setup on what appears to be the stage. If we need to move later, we can move later.
Because K’s prevarications, we start a whole hour late. The Big Stars, being Big Stars, of course do not turn up until their start time and K has delayed the setup and soundcheck until then.
I didn’t sign up for this: this is not why I became a musician.
The two noodlers who were warming-up for an hour, dutifully open the ceremonies by doing exactly what they’d been doing for the last hour for an audience that had been (unbelievably) patiently waiting, having heard it the first time around (thankfully, they only play for twenty minutes).

I cannot believe how patient and forgiving the audience was on that night.

At the end, as we exit The Stink, we get paid cash—pocket money—pennies. Deduct transport, deduct the meal before hand….
On the journey back home, I loose it, and scream that we’d been fucked, and that the audience had been screwed and taken for a ride. This is not why I became a musician.

Thankfully, there is no record of this event. (Although, prior to the actual event, it got listed as, if I remember correctly, the Jazz Event of the Week in the local free tabloid. Hahaha.)

free labor

New place, new people. Not getting paid, but the new place might offer future possibilities. (I’m being the optimist; you’d think I’d learned by now.)
I turn up. Nice venue (an art gallery), and the curator’s very friendly (although the initial phone call had rubbed me the wrong way: “Yes, I must have your music”).
Set-up is smooth—I get carte blanche on how and where. Meet the artists (I’m playing for an opening). Interesting people; we banter without doing too much of the odious networking stuff.

Then the moment It Turns.

The curator calls to me. “You know about computers, don’t you?”
“Er…um, well….”
“Well, let me show you….” The curator invites me to the office. “I need to lay this out in a nice way.” There’s some page layout that needs to fixed for the evening's festivities. “You know how to do this…?”
“Well, uh… maybe… um,” I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. “Are you going to pay me for this?” I remind the curator that I’m not being paid for the performance, that the performance is already a Big Favor.
The curator is pissed.
“I’ll show you,” I add, “talk you through what to do, but… but I’m not going to do this; I won’t do this unless you pay me.” I still can’t quite believe what’s happening.
Bad feelings all ’round for the rest of the evening, but I still don’t understand why the curator was pissed.

On the other hand, I think my anger was justified.

No more freebies (I wish I could say that with a little more conviction).


Andrew said...

Wow, this is inspiring (you survived the gigs with your musicianship intact, after all), and a great read as well. I might have to do a JTMOU edition (with said inspiration duly noted) soon.

the improvising guitarist said...

Andrew, yes, please do a JTMOU edition—I’d be curious.

…you survived the gigs with your musicianship intact….

Well, actually, no, not really. The first disaster (‘attack of youthful, humorless megalomania’) was all our faults (including mine). I think errors cascade, but when all said and done, you are the one up on stage screwing up. I probably disproportionately wrote more about the latter two events because the writing process turned out to be a bit cathartic, but here’s stuff that I should have added to the account of the first gig:

I remember desperately clutching onto any gesture or tactic that might ‘save us’, but once you’re in that positions of trying to ‘save’ an improvisation (rather than accepting it for what it is, and making the best of it), you’re in the wrong space (musically, psychologically, socially).
Also remember playing ‘Louie Louie’ thinking that I might get a few cheap laughs—how wrong was I about that—*Groan*.
In fact, my attitude problem on that gig was trying to repeat formulas—safe tricks that worked yesterday (except yesterday was yesterday; you’re not the same person, and the audience is certainly not the same audience). If you’re a performer (not just an improviser), you know that doesn’t work.

Thanks for reading; I’m glad you found it inspiring :-)

S, tig

Good Times said...

B decides to rope in some improvisers so we can, like, jam, man.


And another thing, how does one send s,tig an e-mail?

peter breslin said...

Hey- Coincidentally, I just wrote a long (perhaps tiresome) post on my blog about disastrous gigs of my own, but only the Real Book at the Radisson ones.

You have inspired me to expand....



Andrew said...

…you survived the gigs with your musicianship intact….

What I meant was, you didn't quit playing the guitar. Whatever damage occurred wasn't permanent. You chalked it up to experience. You "paid your dues." You emerged a better musician. (Pick your platitude.)

the improvising guitarist said...

Everyone, thanks for reading, and for the comments.

Oh, and sjz, you can email tig at…

the improvising guitarist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

lovely post....(well, you know what i mean)...

name said...

Wonderful blog.