To whoever was at the show the other day because they wanted to catch my set — sorry about that. If I had to grade my performance and how I felt about it, I think it would come in at around a C-minus.
Nothing about that show really felt right. Walking through mounds of mud…picnic tables smeared with dirt…people shovelling mulch (I first thought it was manure) in front of the stage while we were playing…and the audience being so far away they might as well have not even been there from the performer’s perspective, because between songs you couldn’t hear any applause at all. I was also led to believe I would be playing for hundreds of people. There couldn’t have been much more than twenty people there.
I thought that last thing would help take the pressure off. Instead, it threw me a little. I work off of the energy of an audience a little more than I thought I did. The more I talk, the more comfortable I get, and the looser I get with the performance. When you don’t feel there’s anyone there to talk to you don’t do so much talking, and things feel a little strange and disconnected.
But the thing that really threw me off my game was the sustain pedal for the rented keyboard not working. During soundcheck, when we were setting up, I noticed it was doing this strange thing where it just sustained endlessly whether my foot was on it or not. I tried turning the keyboard off, unplugging the pedal, and plugging it in again before turning the power back on (that tends to take care of any polarity issues). Still the same thing. Even resetting the keyboard and restoring it to the factory settings didn’t clear up the problem. No sustain pedal for me.
It didn’t hit me just how important that little pedal is to the way I play piano and how much i use it until it wasn’t there anymore. I knew I was going to lose a lot of sensitivity without a real piano, but after the sustain was gone too the keyboard felt completely one-dimensional. A song like “Do the Mountain Hop” needs that sustain in order to sound right. When it sounds wrong, everything I do feels wrong.
It was bad enough that it didn’t feel like my voice or my fingers were cooperating with me entirely onstage. Taking away an important tool at the keyboard fucked everything up for me. I had to rethink a lot of my playing on the fly in the middle of each song, because half of what I wanted to do wasn’t possible anymore. I do a lot of floating around the keyboard with both hands, building up chord clusters and letting things sustain, and then sometimes soloing on top. None of that was going to happen without a sustain pedal.
After a while I almost felt like I didn’t really know how to play the piano at all.
Liam and Dan were great as usual, grabbing onto every improvised tangent I threw out there. And the sound guy was great to work with, making sure everyone could hear what was going on without things getting too crazy loud. I just wasn’t happy with my performance at all and didn’t once feel comfortable on that stage. I even tried a scream in the middle of one song in an attempt at firing myself up — something I haven’t done in ten years now — but my vocal cords said to me, “What the hell are you doing, man? We don’t do that anymore, remember?”
After the show I realized I forgot to tell the audience who I was, aside from introducing myself as Avril Lavigne before the first song. I was kind of glad. I wouldn’t want anyone who didn’t know me to think that set was indicative of what I sound like when things are going my way.
The funny thing is, in the immediate aftermath of the last Mackenzie Hall show I didn’t feel that great about my performance either. Now, weighing it against this one, that show was an absolute masterpiece.
If nothing else, I can be thankful for that unexpected bit of perspective.
I guess I learned a few things, anyway. I learned something I didn’t know about the way I play piano. I learned a digital piano absolutely does not cut it for me anymore in any situation. And I learned if I do play live again at some point (and it’s a big “if” given the way I feel at the moment), it needs to be at Mackenzie Hall or a similar space where I can play a real piano with a working sustain pedal and have more control over the atmosphere. Otherwise way too many of the subtleties get lost, I don’t have a good time, and I end up remembering why I started avoiding live performances in the first place.
In happier news, I managed to find a great shelf for not much money through the magic of Kijiji. The shelf I’ve been using to store my vinyl records has pretty much been maxed out, and it was time to give it some assistance. The shelves I could find in stores that would be of any use to me ran several hundred dollars. That seemed absurd to me.
Then I found this shelf someone was selling on Kijiji for thirty bucks that was much more interesting-looking than anything I’d seen anywhere else. It looked pretty sturdy and maybe just the right size to hold records. It turned out to be both of those things. Now it’s hanging out in the sitting room, doing its job with gusto.
Score one for glass with steel reinforcements.