Recently I played live in the presence of my fellow work employees, marking the first time I’ve played in front of anyone before. I’ll guess there were about 100 people lingering around the parking lot, but as for how many were actually paying any attention to what was coming out of my PA speakers, I have no estimate. If you were there, you didn’t really have a choice but to hear it, but yeah, I don’t know how many people were actively listening. Admittedly, nobody was there to listen to me and my guitar make grating sounds, but no one seemed to care, at least from my perspective. Maybe that’s just as well though, because I had a heck of a time on the stage…I mean sidewalk.
Backing up a bit, I spent the previous two days loading and unloading my equipment. My load was made up of a smallish PA system, speaker stands, a 120 watt guitar amp, a guitar amp foot controller, a vocal effects processor, 2 guitars, 2 microphone stands, 3 microphones, and enough cables to kill a horse. It was a chore transporting all that stuff where it needed to go, especially since it was pretty hot outside.
My onstage setup was kind of laughable. To compare, one of my favorite bands is Hanzel und Gretyl. Their live performances have changed somewhat drastically over the years. Once upon a time, when they played live, it was as a 4-piece: Vas and Loopy were on guitars and vocals, and they had a bassist and a drummer. Nowadays, Vas plays bass, Loopy is on guitar, and they share vocal duties. Everything else is playback from a Macbook. Simple as eff.
My playback rig was a Zune 120. Awwww yeah. I’ll get to specifics in a minute, but in short, that wasn’t a good method for playing back non-live music, drums and such. As disastrous as it proved to be to my short set, it took a little of the edge off for some reason. It was almost funny when the sound from the Zune either completely stopped or morphed into bizarre alien music. It was comic-relief for me, but since it was screwing up my sound, it was a stressor at the same time.
It turns out that to the best of my knowledge, no one recorded any of my set, save for the playback intro. And that was basically just an abbreviated version of a song from Danganronpa. So…everything you are reading now could be a lie since I have no proof of it happening. But trust me, this is how it was.
If you couldn’t make it, this is what you would have heard. And if you were there, you still probably couldn’t comprehend exactly what I was trying to do.
- house music was the first few tracks from The Sounds’ Living in America album while I got set up
- Danganronpa Intro
- Eff It
- Punk Rebel Renegade
- Countdown to a Breakdown
- Everyone I Know Is an Alcoholic
Things went pretty well until about halfway through “Eff It.” Ever since I first recorded that song, years ago now, I envisioned it to be the song I would begin with in a concert setting. Few people have heard the only recorded version of it that I have, a decent demo-quality track. It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written. Musically, it’s likely my most varied and dynamic, and it just sounds like what future Robby Suavé music should sound like, in my opinion. It’s snarky, heavy, and a little dancy.
Looking back on it, part of the reason why “Eff It” fell apart during my performance might have been because I was embarrassed to be uttering various forms of the word “eff” every 5 seconds. I should calculate exactly how many instances there are, but right now I’ll estimate that the word is used no fewer than 50 times.
There were certainly other factors that screwed up my playing though. For one, I couldn’t hear myself. Before I even had anything set up, I feared my small PA system wouldn’t be loud enough, but that didn’t end up being an issue. I was standing behind the speakers, and I couldn’t hear much more than rumbly static the whole time. In front of the speakers, it was pretty decent sounding. So I had to stand in front of the speakers here and there to figure out if I was following along with the song.
I can’t remember if I technically finished playing “Eff It.” It was so frustrating to not hear myself play and sing that I wanted to smash my guitar on the sidewalk, which would have been pretty cool, but I didn’t want to make a bigger scene than I already was.
Next up was “Punk Rebel Renegade.” Other than a flubbed lyric here and there, I feel like I finished this song without a hitch. Well, unless you count my insistence on not singing the “my libido has become zero” parts (because that’s embarrassing) or the chorus (because I was too uptight to yell like that). Other than that, at least from where I was standing, it sounded awesome. This is another song I dream of playing in front of a crowd. There’s that middle part, where you as an audience member should clap to the beat. I didn’t see anyone following suit, but whatever.
Then I played “Countdown to a Breakdown.” This is probably when my Zune started petering out. Switching from my Wayne Static flying V, I used my frost gold John 5 Telecaster for this one. I love playing the guitar parts on “Countdown” a lot, and if I could have actually heard myself, I would had a ball performing it because the vocal parts are spaced out far enough that I could have enjoyed just playing guitar for stretches of time. But…Zune 120s sitting in the hot sun are not good for what I was expecting from it that day, so it began to poop out before the song was over.
At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel. Considering the trouble I was having, equipment-wise and mentally, I was still having fun, and I wanted to have more. I was prepared to do some cover songs from a range of bands from Kenny Rogers to Marilyn Manson, but I didn’t have much faith in my Zune at that point. So I decided I’d attempt one more song, “Everyone I Know Is an Alcoholic.” I briefly considered playing guitar along with it (fun fact: a rock/guitar version does exist!), but I wanted to go out with a bang, so I deposited my guitar nearby, cued up the backing track, and sang it as well as I could. But I’m pretty sure it got cut short because of audio problems too. Yeah. And that was that.
What did I learn from this experience? For starters, I know for sure that I enjoy playing live, even to a small crowd of people who are only half paying attention at best. I also learned that if I ever do something similar, I need to take the time to enlist someone to help me soundcheck. Going along with that, I definitely need some kind of monitoring system. I was close to buying a stage monitor a week in advance of this performance, but I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. And I need a better solution to backing tracks than an aging mp3 player sitting in the hot sun.
To a lesser extent, better cable management and/or getting some wireless solutions would help. The area where I had to stand was littered with cables, so it was difficult to navigate that narrow disaster area. That said, there was talk of getting a flatbed trailer to play on, which would have been nice. Had I known I’d be playing on a sidewalk, I probably would have figured out a better layout for all my stuff.
Playing in an actual venue of some sort is something I want to do, and I feel like I’m mostly, if not completely, prepared to ro that. The biggest thing I’d be concerned with is simply not being visually entertaining enough. Since I’d be playing guitar and singing most of it, I have to be in front of the microphone 95% of the time. And there’s no other people on stage to look at, so…yeah. Having a live drummer might be cool, but I sure don’t know anyone that would do that. Maybe someday.
Anyway, I apologize for this going up so late. I thought I’d be able to acquire some audio at least to accompany this writeup, but…no. There is a chance I’ll come up with something almost as good though…