Sunday, March 27, 2011

It All Went So Wrong

I'm not sure how to tell this story.

IMHO, the key to understanding a train wreck is to understand the power of *inertia*, and how, like an avalanche, once set in motion, there's nothing you can do but hold on for dear life.

"If somethin's gonna go wrong, it's gonna go wrong out there." - Captain Ron

I'm playing keyboards for an Artist (who Shall Not Be Mentioned) who's (ostensibly) got some touring experience and (allegedly) audience demand stateside on a very particular festival circuit. We have roughly 3-5 weeks of rehearsals prior to this particular show.

Let me momentarily digress to remind readers the Cardinal Rules of Festival Shows:
1 - To keep the show on -schedule, your first song *is* your soundcheck, and...
2 - they're *always* behind schedule.

There's an abundant 'green room' area behind the stage, but the trick is, performers only get access for the hour prior and following their set. The festival organizers have provided (nice) trailers for use as changing/rest areas, and a well-stocked food & beverage table (performers eat for free! nice, eh?). All in all, this is a well-run festival.

One last detail I think worthy of mention - the FOH mixer is someone who's name has recently appeared in MIX magazine because they'd recently been doing Sting's FOH on his Soul Cages tour. I'd met her prior to the show - great person.

So that's the general list of cars in this train: nice festival, good perks, top-notch tech crew, a bit of a crunch on the clock. Enter The Artist.

The Artist has decided that a mere hour to prepare for the set is not enough. Further, The Artist has deemed it unnecessary for The Band to have access to a changing trailer, too. For us, the public bathrooms in another zip code will suffice. Nor will the band require access to the food service area. Milling about in the early-summer sun (in full black attire, no less) is all the luxury we need.

We seek out The Manager who, upon hearing our dire pleas, retrieves passes for both the retreat area and food. And a changing trailer. The Band is happy. While we are eating, I notice The Artist approach the stage manager and audio engineer, then hand him what appears to be a multi-page list of demands.

The Train grinds to life.

What The Artist doesn't know is the audio guy and I are acquaintances. No sooner does The Artist turn away, the audio guy makes a beeline for me. "What is this??" he asks with a tone of disbelief. It's a prep list, all the way down to the number and placement of spare picks, water bottles, wet and dry towels, etc. The Artist appears to be preparing a base camp on stage. Brief discussion ensues. We only get three songs anyway. The food is good, temperature pleasant, the material within our grasp. The Band is happy.

We seek out The Artist to brief on the changes. The Artist, however, is preparing a SEVEN song set, complete with an ENCORE, and has been angered that we've had the audacity to tell The Artist how to perform said show. We are asked to leave The Artist until just prior to showtime.

The Train is gaining momentum.

Setup. We haul ourselves and instruments to the main stage. During this transition, it is important to note there is another group performing in front of the main stage, and they have audio coming out of the FOH. While they literally are not on stage, they certainly HAVE the stage.

While The Band has been able to setup in near silence, The Artist has deemed it neccessary to tune their guitar at TOP VOLUME while the group before us is finishing their own performance. The monitor engineer RUNS onstage to silence the offending amplifier, only to be met with The Artist's utter contempt and disregard.

The Train is nearing a bend...

The dance troupe in front of us has finished their show, and making their exit. The Artist has already stepped to the mic, and is repeating the opening line with all the volume The Artist can muster, but the FOH and monitor engineer have muted her completely. War has broken out among commonly peaceful tribes.

The mic comes to life mid-line, as does the guitar. The audience offers a response that could be kindly described as "tepid." The Band is prepared for the first song. The Artist turns to me, the "music director" and says: "Let's do a warm up jam.... in G." The Artist addresses The Band: "Warm up jam, in G! One, two......."

Bear in mind, up to this point, this band has never "jammed." We've rehearsed a specific set, at The Artist's insistence. But a sudden 'jam in G?' Not something we'd prepped for...but here goes...

So come ONE, I play a G chord. The Artist, having a slightly different relationship with music theory, plays a Gm7. So the very first sound that escapes the speakers is a piano playing a G MAJ and a guitar strumming a Gm7. Puke.

The Band ambles aimlessly for just over a minute. Sheer torture. Nothing sounds rehearsed because NOTHING WE'VE PLAYED YET WAS!

The audience sits through an unplanned ending. The Artist is making gesticulations and calling commands to the band we've not yet witnessed. We are as lost as lost gets. We launch into the 1st official song of the set. It comes across as not bad. During the next song, The Artist, now frustrated that The Band cannot decipher their new utterances, has cut off all contact with us onstage. With the sheer exception of a looping motion with one hand (telling us to keep something going), we get no direction. The second song, timed at 4-ish minutes during rehearsal, takes a full two minutes of repeating the intro before The Artist sings the opening lines. More looping in the 3rd verse. The Artist is buying time.

The song finishes. The Stage Manager gives us the universal "your set is over" sign. The Band begins to set down instruments. The Artist, defiantly oblivious, shouts into the microphone "Ready for some more [Artist name]??"

Audience is tepid.

Before we know it, The Artist turns to us, having started the next song solo, and via emphasized head-nodding, tells us we should start playing. I look at the Stage Manager (who's been very nice to The Band) and shrug my shoulders. There's nothing we can do. We play. Regretfully.

The song ends, but not really. The Artist, determined to get their allotted time in the sun, medleys into yet another song. The Stage Manager is making the cutoff gesture.

The Wheels Come off the Track

The stage audio dies while The Artist flails valiantly into the silence. Doesn't even get a final "thank you" on the mic. The host runs on stage, quickly ushering The Artist offstage. I am not so lucky.

The host is a regionally known celebrity drag queen. Before I can leave the stage, the host accosts me and says "Oh no, honey, you can't leave the stage just yet!" For the next two torturous minutes, I'm subjected to a comedic interview routine in which the host and audience agree the best part of the previous performance was watching me play.

The Artist hears all of this over the PA.

We've not spoken since.

TL;DR: Lots of prep work for a concert, the actual show is a disaster who's highlight is how well my shirt fit.