So I bit the bullet, and my teeth hurt. Or, in non-artillery-speak, I just got back from booking Mackenzie Hall for Sunday, March 7th. There’s no turning back now. At least it’s far enough in the distance that I won’t start to feel the nerves for a little while.
I asked some people whose opinions I respect what they thought of my idea for a show, and pretty much no one agreed with what I wanted to do. At all. Actually, they were in very strong disagreement with just about everything I planned on doing. They said there was no way I should just eat the cost and play for free. I should at least try to break even, since I’m already giving my CDs away as it is. They said there was no way I should play for any longer than forty-five minutes, or I would start to lose the audience and people would get bored. I should leave them wanting more (doesn’t the fact that I never, ever play my own material live sort of do that already?).
They said there was no way I should throw out the idea of having someone else on the bill, because you always have to have at least one other person or band play to justify having a show. They said it would need to be bigger and better than the last time I played my own stuff live (at the FM Lounge for the Field Assembly CD release show), and I should put a band together and do something really ambitious and exciting. Otherwise I would end up puncturing this balloon of hype that has built up around me with a less-than-life-altering performance, revealing (shocker) I’m just a normal guy who happens to write and play music.
I considered all of these things. It got to the point where I was thinking maybe I really am going about it all wrong and everyone else is right.
Then I remembered I didn’t get to where I am now by ever listening to what anyone else thought I should do with my music, and I didn’t build up the audience I have by doing things “by the book”.
So. If people get tired of listening to me play and sing after forty-five minutes, they’re welcome to leave. You’re under no obligation to stay if you’re not having a good time. I wouldn’t stay at a show if I wasn’t into it on at least some level. I’ve walked out of shows before, just because they’ve been way too uncomfortably loud for me and I didn’t have earplugs with me, or because I didn’t enjoy the music.
Maybe that’s rude. It’s also honest. There’s no point in subjecting yourself to something you don’t enjoy if you don’t have to. But I try to avoid doing that sort of thing. Most of the time I don’t go to a show in the first place if I know it’s going to be (a) ridiculously loud, (b) not my cup of coffee, or (c) both of those things. Pretty simple.
And in this case, it’s not like you’re going to pay to get in and will be able to use the excuse of wanting to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. So feel free to take off if you feel like you’ve heard enough, but I’m going to keep on playing until I feel content that I’ve hit all the musical things I want to touch on or I’ve simply run out of energy/vocal power.
Also, maybe this is because I just don’t go out to see shows anymore, but I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about playing for ninety minutes or two hours,with no one else on the bill to pad out the show. People have been doing that for decades. Hell, for some people (Springsteen, anyone?), that would be a pretty short show. Just because most local artists don’t make a habit of doing that sort of thing, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it.
And that’s not an egotistical statement. It’s just an observation. I’m not saying I won’t fall flat on my face. But if you don’t try, how the hell are you supposed to even know what you’re capable of?
For me, a thirty or forty-five-minute set is pretty flimsy. That’s not even as long as one of my shorter full-length albums. At this point I have way too much material to even try to shave things down that much and still feel like I’m getting across even a fraction of what I have to say musically. The set at the Field Assembly show, as well as it went, was abbreviated foreplay.
I figure if this is the one big show I’m going to play this year where I dig into my own material, I might as well make it count. That means playing a lot of music. If people can sit through one of my CDs that’s almost eighty minutes long and not get bored, I think they might be able to tolerate a live show that lasts for longer than half an hour. Just sayin’.
If people want to see/hear other artists and bands play who aren’t me, they can skip my show and go see them wherever they’re playing. With how frequently everyone else plays gigs around town, I’m sure they won’t have to wait too long for an opportunity. If, on the other hand, you want to see/hear me play my own songs, this is pretty much the only place that’s going to happen anytime soon.
If people want to hear the songs exactly the way they sound on CD, well…that’s what the CDs are for. It seems I’m in the minority here, but for me the whole point of a live performance is that it’s not the same as the album. It’s about stripping the songs naked, or giving them different outfits to wear, and getting at what makes them tick. It’s also about interacting with the audience and creating a dialogue of some sort. If I feel like it’s not working and the performance isn’t where it should be, I’ll be honest about it and tell you. And then I’ll try something else.
There was a song at the FM Lounge performance back in June that fell apart halfway through. Instead of letting it ruin the whole set, I apologized, threw it aside, and moved on to the next song. It’s almost a given that I’m going to fuck up at some point. I’m not someone who’s going to not hit a wrong note or six somewhere in the course of a performance. There’s too much improv and anxiety going on for that to happen. But I don’t think there’s any sense in trying to put together something that’s some polished-to-death spectacle. I’d rather try to play some music as well as I can, and have some fun doing it, and hopefully create an atmosphere in which whoever else is present can also have some fun.
If that doesn’t live up to the hype, whatever the hype is, then that’s fine by me. I think hype is pretty stupid and ridiculous anyway. Get up there in front of a group of people with very little amplification and no band behind you, no effects pedals or sonic trickery, just you and some songs with nothing to hide behind, and let’s see what the fuck you can do. Either you can play and pull out something interesting, or you can’t. That’s the bottom line for me.
Hype is just hot air at the end of the day. Hot air can’t sing you a song. It doesn’t even smell nice. Good music played well will win over flash and bright lights for me every single time.
People who feel really bad about me not making any money can give me a hug or something. I like hugs. They feel nice. Or they can take some CDs home with them, or talk to me. Knowing there are people who listen to the music and enjoy it means a lot more to me than making money off of them or selling X amount of copies ever would.
Eating the cost and playing a free show is my way of saying thank you to the people who have supported the music. Playing live causes me a lot of anxiety. I would be very happy to never play live again in any capacity for the rest of my life. And if I’m honest, I’d rather not play any kind of show anywhere. I’d rather concentrate on recording all the new songs I need to get out instead.
For some reason, some people apparently would like to see me play out in a public place, and I don’t know if I’m going to have the audience I have right now forever. A year from now it might go back to no one being interested in what I’m doing. So I figure I should probably play a solo show while enough people are interested to justify doing it.
This is my way of saying, “Alright. I’ll put myself in a situation I’m not entirely comfortable with for you. But I’ll do it in a way that I’m somewhat comfortable with. And that means no tickets are going to be sold, and no money comes into play on the audience’s end. Come if you want to come. If you don’t want to come, then don’t. I’m going to be there playing music either way.”
It’s also a gift to myself. It’s me saying I won’t play “the game”, whatever that even is, and I’m not going to do things the way other people do them just because that’s the accepted way of doing things and I’m supposed to follow suit (according to who? And for what reason?). If that limits the amount of people who are going to be into what I’m doing, so be it.
Finally, it’s me saying once again that I don’t do this to make money. I never have. I never will. If you want to know who I am and what I’m about, and not what some writer with an agenda who doesn’t know shit about me wants you to think I’m about, come see me on March 7th and I’ll show you.
I also still can’t really think of any other local band or artist you could put on the bill with me who would make a whole lot of musical sense, aside from Rihanna, who isn’t exactly local. So that pretty much takes care of that. Someone told me I should try to find someone else like myself to open the show — someone in Windsor who doesn’t play live, who doesn’t fit neatly into any genre/category, and who produces a new full-length album every few months.
The jury’s still out on that one.
I respect the thoughts of everyone whose opinions I’ve solicited. I wouldn’t have asked them what they thought otherwise. And I thank them for giving me some things to think about. Except for the people who were kind of dickbags about it. I’m not so thankful there. But I think I’m going to stick with my plan. If only ten people show up because it’s a free show and no one else is on the bill (the horror!), that doesn’t bother me. And if some people don’t want to come out because it’s not at a bar and they can’t get drunk and rowdy, I probably wouldn’t want those people in the audience anyway, because they wouldn’t be listening to anything I was doing.
It’s not going to be a loud, rowdy show. It’s going to be an intimate thing that’s more like me playing for you in a rather large living room that happens to be a hall with a really sexy grand piano in it. If you come expecting a spectacle, you’re going to be disappointed. As we’ve hopefully established by now, I couldn’t care less about flashy bullshit. That’s not what I’m about.
There will be ample time before, during, and after the show for people to socialize and chat with me, or themselves, or their chairs, or whatever they feel like doing, and there will be free non-alcoholic refreshments (including a cooler full of Boylan Bottling Co. soda — some of the best bottled pop you’ll ever drink in your life, in my humble opinion) for anyone who wants them. Though I doubt I have many fans who are not of legal drinking age, it’ll be an all-ages show just in case.
I don’t like how a wall is often erected between the artist and the audience, where the attitude is, “I’m here to perform for you, you’re here to listen, and then we’re done.” It seems a bit too much like musical prostitution for my taste. So there will be no wall at this show. I’d like it to be more of a communal thing.
If you want to talk to me or ask questions, even between songs, go for it. I’m not some big shot rock-star-in-the-making who thinks his shit doesn’t stink. I’m just a hairy guy who stinks up the bathroom like everyone else. Anyone who disagrees with the kind of show I want to play is entitled to disagree. I’m still going to do it my way.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…if there’s anything in particular anyone would like to hear, I think it would be kind of fun to do a “requests in advance” sort of thing. I have so many songs I plan on playing, if I took requests at the show there’s no guarantee I would remember the words for things I hadn’t prepared. I don’t tend to play many of my songs again for any reason once they’ve been recorded to my satisfaction, though I would obviously be making an exception for the show, so some things aren’t all that fresh in the memory. This way I can get an idea of what people might want to hear ahead of time and make sure I remember — or remind myself, if need be — how those songs go, so I can sprinkle them in amongst the things I’m already going to do.
So, if there are any specific songs anyone would like to hear, let me know. If I see you at the show I’ll probably play them for you, as long as you don’t request something that would require me to shred my vocal cords to pieces with guttural screaming (not that you would have heard those songs anyway). And if you’re not there, maybe I’ll play what you want to hear anyway and then put some video of it up here.
For example, I know Meryl would like to hear the heart-wrenching ballad that is “Highest G”. Murad, if he’s there, would want to hear something off of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. Kacper, if he’s there, would want to hear one of my most moving love songs, “Dr. Squid Bids a Problem Patient Bon Voyage”. Even if you request something ridiculous, I’ll at least consider it. I do have a soft spot for certain kinds of cheese. Just wait until you hear some of the covers I plan on playing.
It won’t be a CD release show, because the new album should be available at least a few weeks before the show itself. But there will be copies of the most recent five or six CDs for anyone who wants them, along with some homemade box sets in case anyone wants to dig a bit deeper. The box sets won’t look anything like this, but this is what they’ll have inside of them:
Please forgive the not-so-slick-or-spatially-correct collage. What’s included there is really just the tip of the iceberg, but it would be a good starting point for whoever wants to know what I’ve been up to over the past little while. There’s also room for expansion in some of the boxes, for future CDs and such.
Part of me is tempted to put up some posters poking fun at the hype with absurd invented quotes (“Johnny West is really one of the Backstreet Boys…the truth comes out at last…so come on out and hear him sing the old favourites — Backstreet’s back!”). Another part of me doesn’t really care about promotion at all. But I should probably put some posters up around town in the next little while at least saying when I’m playing and where, if only because I’ve never done this sort of thing before, and I guess it’s a good idea in general to let people know when you’re playing a show.
I’m not going to be putting up a Facebook event or spamming people with reminders. From what I’ve seen, 80% of the people who say they’re attending an event on Facebook don’t bother showing up, making it a pretty piss-poor barometer of how large of a turnout you should expect. I have no idea how many people I should expect to come out to this show. If thirty people show up, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. If eighty people show up, someone will probably have to stand behind me to catch me when I faint. I’ll put one or two messages up on Facebook to establish that I’m playing a show, and then I’ll say something to remind people as the date draws near, and that’s about it. Self-promotion is not my bag.
To summarize: for anyone who’s been wanting me to play live for a while now, this is your chance to get a concentrated dose of me-ness. If I do this sort of thing again, it probably won’t be until next year at the earliest, and if this one goes well, it’ll probably be another solo one-man-show affair with no one else on the bill. If you’d rather wait until I have a full band backing me up to flesh out the songs and I get some popular band to open for me, you might be waiting until I’m dead. ‘Cause that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. And if you’d prefer to wait until I play somewhere else on a Friday/Saturday night where you can buy booze and yell, “Freebird!” during the set, that’s probably not gonna happen either.
I will not be playing any of my own songs at the Outside the Factory Gates CD release show on February 19th. That’s Travis’s night, and I don’t want to make it about me. I might take the lead for some cover songs and obscurities, maybe, but for the most part I’m just going to play a bunch of different instruments and back Travis up.
If you want to see me do my own thing, you’ll have to come to Mackenzie Hall and suffer through the terrible fate of not having to pay for anything. There may be a double-headed show at Taloola sometime later on in March where I play my own solo set after playing with Travis, but it won’t be anywhere near as far-reaching as the Mackenzie Hall performance, and none of the songs from that show will be revisited/reprised, nor will there be a real piano present like there will be at Mack Hall.
After that, I’m getting back to the seventy or so albums I need to work on recording, and I’m going to forget all about playing live for a good long while. In the words of the departed Michael Jackson, this is it.
Oh, Michael…you always knew just what to say.
So, if you have any interest in hearing me strip things down and turn some things inside-out to see what their guts look like, musically speaking, by all means come on out on March 7th (that’s a Sunday — the day of rest and of not competing with Friday/Saturday shows) at 7:00 pm and watch it happen. It’ll be a pretty casual affair, with at least one intermission period during the show. I imagine (if you’re in it for the long haul) we’ll be finished sometime around 10:00, so it’s not going to be a ridiculously late night. You might want to show up a little early, sometime closer to 6:00, if you want to chat for a while before the show, or to make sure you get a seat in case all hell breaks loose and it’s somehow a full house.
When I say the music starts at 7:00, I mean it really starts at 7:00. If you show up at 9:00 figuring things will start late like most shows tend to, you’ll end up missing almost the whole thing. I’m not going to sit around waiting for the place to fill up before I start playing. And again, if there’s anything in particular you want to hear, let me know and I will probably play it for you. I will also be accessible after the show to anyone who wants to talk to me or throw balloons filled with mouthwash at me.
Don’t actually throw a mouthwash-filled balloon at me, though, or I will kick you in the shins so hard you’ll see the face of God. I don’t like getting wet when I have clothes on, man. Even when it’s Scope.