I’ve been thinking about this Mackenzie Hall thing.
Though I was quoted in print saying I was going to be playing a show in January, I never really said that. At all.
The idea of playing a show was suggested to me, with no date mentioned. What I did say was, “I don’t know what I would do if I played a show, but I guess maybe it could be fun.” As in, hypothetically it could happen. Someday. Maybe. I said I would give it some thought.
I’m not sure how, “I’ll give it some thought,” translates to, “Go ahead and try to commit me to a date and venue I never agreed to without asking me if I’m okay with it first, and while you’re at it, why don’t you invent some quotes I never actually said?”
But here we are.
I probably should play some sort of show at some point where I’m not opening for somebody else or just playing one of my songs and then backing up someone else the rest of the time. A lot of people here have given me some pretty amazing support — who knew I would ever have something that could be called an audience, locally or otherwise? — and for some odd reason it seems like some of them would like to see and hear me play my own music live. So maybe I should give it another try while I still have my wits about me.
But I want to do it on my terms. Otherwise I don’t see the point in doing it at all. So this is what I’m thinking.
First of all, I need to get in there at Mac Daddy Hall myself before I make a decision. I need to find a room with acoustics I find comfortable and pleasing. I need to play the piano they have there and decide if it’s something that will work for me (and if not, I’ll probably handpick a piano, rent it for the show, have it moved and tuned, and do it that way).
The soonest I can get in there to check out all the rooms and the piano at one time is about a week from now. So I can’t make a concrete decision until then.
Part of me thinks it would be better to play a show at a place like Taloola, where I like the intimacy and complete lack of a PA system, but some people have told me if I did that there wouldn’t be room enough to accommodate the kind of turnout I should expect to get. Whether that’s true or not, maybe it’s best that the first “proper” solo show I’ve played since something like 2005 happens at a venue that can hold more people if necessary.
Playing at a place like Mackenzie Hall feels like a “big event” to me, which I think is kind of strange. Is me playing live really such a big deal? But the people I’ve talked to so far seem to think a place that isn’t a bar or a cafe would be a better venue for what I’m doing. They also seem to think enough people would come out to justify using a somewhat larger space. I don’t want any amplification going on if I don’t need it, but I would think I’d probably be able to find a room that’s small and intimate enough to get a good unplugged sound.
I’ll find out in about a week, one way or another.
One thing’s for sure: if I play a show at Mackenzie Hall, no one’s paying to get in. I don’t care what that article says. No tickets will be sold by anyone. No one will be “sponsoring” or “curating” anything. If I’m going to play an “event” type show like this, it’s going to be free admission for anyone who wants to come out. And all will be welcome, regardless of age, shoe size, gender, or species.
I don’t use my music to generate any money. Why should a show I’m headlining be any different? I probably wouldn’t end up making that much after expenses anyway, even if people did buy tickets. But that’s irrelevant, because it’s not about any of that. It’s about music. If I play a show, I want to enjoy it as much as I can, and I want the people who come out to be there because they want to hear the music. That’s it. Money doesn’t need to be involved.
CDs would be free as well to anyone who wanted them, and I’d make sure there was a good selection available. There would be copies of at least the last five albums I’ve made, in case anyone was interested and didn’t have them already. Maybe the show could be timed to coincide with the release of the next album. I’m not going to sit on or delay an album for a live show, though the timing could line up if it was planned properly. And it would be more of a CD-giving-away show than a proper CD release show.
Here’s the thing I feel I need some feedback on. It would be a solo show. As in, no band. No accompaniment. No effects or trickery to hide behind or erect false cathedrals around myself with. Just me, a (real) piano, some stringed instruments, maybe a harmonica or two, a melodica, and other odd sound-makers.
And there would be no one else on the bill. If you come out to see me, then you’re going to get a whole lot of me, and I’m going to play a whole lot of songs. Songs you might know, new songs no one has heard yet, old songs from back when I had no audience at all and so no one even heard them back then, obscure covers, and maybe a TV show theme song or two.
I would probably play for an hour or so, take a break, there would be some free stuff to eat and drink (though I’m on the fence about that idea, since it might make the whole thing feel too much like a dinner banquet), and then I would play for another hour or so. Maybe a few friends could come up for a few songs to mix things up a bit, but aside from those potential diversions it would just be me up there alone.
So you wouldn’t get the full “band” sound you hear on the CDs. All the songs would be stripped down to their core, and some of them would probably be rearranged for solo performance.
The show would also start at the time it was advertised to start. Normally when a poster or Facebook event says a show starts at 9:00, it seems to mean you shouldn’t expect the opening act to start playing until about 11:00. I know everyone does this and it’s just kind of accepted as part of the way live shows work, but I find that sort of thing incredibly disrespectful to the audience. Frankly, I think it’s bullshit.
So if I headline a show and it’s advertised as starting at 9:00, I’m going to be onstage and playing the first song by 9:03. If you don’t show up until an hour or two later thinking the normal rules apply, you’re going to miss most or all of the show, because I’m not going to sit around waiting for an hour and-a-half until more people show up. I make the same amount of money (none) whether two hundred people are there or twelve. And if you show up late and miss the show, you’ll probably have to wait another year or so to catch the next one, because even if it goes well I’m not going to start playing weekly gigs or anything.
In some ways I do think a live show should be sort of an event, or at least made special in some way. If you’re out there playing the same stuff all the time, after a while why would anyone want to keep coming out if they’re just going to hear the same songs they heard last week all over again? I realize I’m kind of in the minority here, but I think there’s a case to be made for playing less shows and not doing the same thing every time.
Still, the point of this post isn’t to get into a rant about my feelings on what other people are doing when it comes to live performances. So I’ll just cut that digression off right here and get back to the point.
And the point is this — do you think anyone would want to come out for a show like what I’m describing here? It seems a little against-the-grain to me, though it isn’t meant to be. I mean, the way it seems to work when you decide to put a show together is you get at least one or two other people on the bill for the show, you each play a set that runs thirty or forty-five minutes at the most, the music doesn’t start until two hours after the advertised starting time, you divide up the money, and that’s that. You don’t get up there with no opening act, play a few dozen songs, and then take a bow and the night is over. I’ve never heard of any local artist doing that sort of thing.
It’s not that I’m even trying to do anything radical. It’s not a case of me thinking I’m too important to have anyone else on the bill with me. This is just the only kind of show I can see myself playing where I’m comfortable and where I might end up being happy with the performance and not feel like I’d rather crawl under a throw rug somewhere and hide at the end of it. Shaving a setlist down to half an hour seems to defeat the whole purpose of what I’m trying to do musically, and at this point trying to put an actual band together to play my songs in full-bodied arrangements would probably give me an ulcer.
And I honestly just can’t think of anyone you could put on a bill with me that would make much musical sense. Except for maybe Rihanna, who’s never around when you need her. Besides, once I said, “Oh, by the way, it’s a free show and no one’s getting paid anything, aside from Mackenzie Hall getting their rental fee,” I’m not sure anyone else would even want to be on the bill.
The bottom line for me is this: if people really want to see me play live, and that’s what they come out for, then that’s what they should get. End of story. No distractions. You get what you don’t pay for, you get a lot of it, and that’s that.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, by all means fire away.
On a completely unrelated note, whoever put together that “Christmas at the Rehearsal Hall” thing for Bravo (that’s channel thirty-eight on yer cable, y’all) in 2008 must have been smoking some pretty serious crack. You put Hawksley Workman, Serena Ryder, Holly Cole, one of the dudes from the Barenaked Ladies, and Mary Margaret O’Hara all on the same stage…and then you make Mary a glorified backup singer? Are you kidding me? She’s got more talent in one of her toenails than all the other singers on the stage combined.
And I’m sorry to anyone who’s a Holly Cole fan, but I’ve never understood how she could have a career as a “jazz vocalist”. She has one of the most one-note, least compelling voices I’ve ever heard, with a range that never seems to span more than half an octave at any given time. I’d take Norah Jones over her any day, and I’m not even a huge Norah Jones fan. At least if Norah sang me to sleep I might dream of nice things, instead of mailboxes with grotesque metal faces assaulting me with arms that strangely resemble erotic dancers far past their prime.
On second thought, give me some of that crack. Maybe today’s musical climate will suddenly start to make glorious sense after hitting the pipe. Lady Gaga is teh awesomez! LOL OMG forgive Chris Brown already he’s so hot ROFLMAO!
There. That’s better.