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I’m walking up the back stairs of our new 2nd floor apartment, and there’s a painful pinching in the tendon of my right ankle. I start to lean on my left leg more to shift the weight from my right leg to my left. The groceries I’m carrying swing heavily towards my left. I feel like a broken marionette. My strings cut in half on my right side, while they are pulled tight on my left. I’ve had this pain in my right ankle since August. The last few weeks of that month we were still gigging with 2 shows in a week in mid-August. We were rehearsing, too, and I was playing for several hours at a stretch in rehearsal and at gigs. I told no one — not even you, dear reader–about my bum ankle. I just kept playing. The right ankle for those of you unfamiliar is attached to the right foot which plays the bass drum. And in bass player-free duo, the bass drum is all the bass you hear. So, that right foot gets a hell of a workout.
For a drummer, a bass player can mean all the difference in the world. It means I can play fewer beats which means less repetitive moment in my right ankle. The bass player plays all those notes in the bottom range which can help to anchor the chord changes and the melody. You need a bass player. Okay, you don’t need a bass player — obviously, because we’re a guitar-drums duo — but it can really help if you have one. Without one, I play more beats on the bass drum to compensate.
Here’s the difference. With a bass player, I play like this. Boom-chick-boom-chick. Bass drum on ONE and THREE.
Without a bass player, I play like this: BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Bass drum on ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR.
Or, like this:
I start playing the bass drum on the eighth notes and the quarter notes. That’s a lot of notes. And that’s a lot of notes on a bum ankle.
So, after a summer of recording, out-of-town shows, and gigs, the ankle, my leg, and my body were wrecked. Done for.
Happily, this coincided with the beginning of the fall term and I went back to teaching. Since then I had 2 gigs with just the snare, and one rehearsal with the bass drum. And here’s the thing: I haven’t really missed playing the drums. Surprise. I worked really hard — okay, kind of hard — to learn to play the drums in three years and I did a lot of shows and I really learned a lot about myself and other people. And here’s what I learned most: I don’t live to play the drums. I like to play the drums. But I don’t live to play them. This is no secret. I have been writing since the beginning that I would rather sit on my couch with a box of donuts than play a gig. But I didn’t realize until the injury that I didn’t need to play the drums.
This is different from Brian. He lives to play the guitar. If he didn’t play the guitar, he would die. We have proof of this from a recent stay in a hospital (more on that some other day). I, on the other hand, like to play the drums, but I also like to do other things, too. So, drumming must compete for my attention. And there aren’t enough hours in the day for it all. What does this mean then for Chick Drummer? I don’t know.
Brian, at my request, started playing with other musicians and booking gigs with different rhythm sections behind him. This has been a relief to me. Not just because of the injury, but it freed up time for me to do other things beside rehearse. I’m not sure, in the end, how drumming will fit into my life. I’m glad I learned to do it. It taught me a lot.
I learned about clubs, bookings, fans (and what it’s like not have any), promotion, CD production, on-stage banter, and happiness. I learned a lot. I keep learning. I also learned that some days we have to choose and we can’t always choose to be all things to all people. That said – and here’s the twist – I play a gig at the end of January. And I’ve got to practice.
We find inspiration wherever we can get it. And sometimes when we’re not even looking, really great inspiration comes into your boring job, sits right down, inspires you, goes to lunch with you, inspires you some more, goes home, and then friends you on Facebook. This is what happened to me this week — another busy week — when I wasn’t looking for inspiration. Inspiration walked in called herself “Laurie Lindeen” (http://laurielindeen.com/) and proceeded to remind me why playing music is still worth doing even when I haven’t touched a drumstick in four weeks.
One of the bonuses of being a teacher is that we have a venue for sharing and exposing other artists’ work to the college and to students. It was Brian’s idea (not mine) to invite Laurie to speak at the school; he had been an admirer of Laurie’s band Zuzu’s Petals in the 1990s. She had recently published a memoir about her experiences titled Petal Pusher and Brian had loved it. I had no idea who she was. But, dutifully, I supported Brian and assigned an excerpt of her memoir about playing in a rock band to my students. This was facilitated by Brian who handed me a copy of a chapter and an assignment and said, “Here, have your students read this.”
And I did. The chapter I read could have been a posting on chickdrummer. In it Lindeen writes about the aftereffects of gigging, the adrenaline that races through your veins the next morning, the hangover that comes not just from alcohol, but from the experience.
“It’s difficult returning to your normal life the morning after a gig. I’m not exactly a dewy-eyed newlywed with an afterglow. More like a haggard mental patient following shock treatment: After all that adrenaline leaves your body, you are left with a ferocous hangover. The counterchemical is as down as the adrenaline is up. Antiadrenaline is the darkest shade of navy blue; it brings a sort of postcoital depression.”
I read that in my office preparing for class, but I felt like the proselyte of a new religion who had just heard holy words from an oracle. You said it, girl. I had always wondered what that was. That funk, that weirdness I felt the morning after gigs. The first two years of gigging I rode the adrenaline high for two days after the show, but as I get older I want off the ride the faster. Roller coasters are great, but who wants to live on one? So, I had to develop a new after-show routine. We leave the club as soon as we can, no hanging out to talk with other musicians, we come home, unload the gear with the precision of a S.W.A.T team, and I shower, I eat something light and healthy — grains, vegetables, tofu, fruit — I do yoga to stretch the worn-out muscles, and I try to be in bed before 2 am (reasonably early for musicians), and the next morning I try to get up at the same time I always do instead of sleeping late. I learned to do this out of my own sense of self-preservation. I’m 40 years-old, not twenty, and the physical strain of shows takes a toll on me that it doesn’t on some young thing.
And that was what was so inspiring about Laurie. She writes about and talks about what gigging and being a “rock star” (in quotes because the term is relative) really means. It means you can still suck at your instruments and still record and gig, it means you don’t have to be a virtuoso, it means you can do it just for fun, and here’s the inspirational part: it means you can be woman. And she also speaks from the perspective of a woman who has matured and reflected on what the years in a rock band in her twenties means for her now and how it influences her writing. “I write listening to the backbeat; I hear how the vocal sits on top,” she said. That too, I think, is also the benefit of music outside of music. It changes our understanding of other arts.
There aren’t a lot of books by female musicians that tell you what’s like for us. There’s umpteen million books about male musicians, their gear, their groupies, their drug problems, but there aren’t many written by women. The other inspiration in Laurie’s public appearance is that I could see how she inspired the young women in the audience. I could see it in their eyes and the way they looked at her with one question beaming from their faces: How did you do it? In the end, it doesn’t matter that you or I may have not heard of Laurie Lindeen or Zuzu’s Petals. What matters for some of the women (young or old) in the audience is that there was another one out there who tried to live life on her own terms.
We welcomed two new additions to the Short Punks family (and no, not kids — you wish): a harmonica player and a Gretsch.
The harmonica player is named Bob Kessler, formerly of Bakelite 78 and a member of the Buddhist temple I attend in Chicago. Our first “gig” with Bob was at the temple’s Holiday Auction when Bob sat in on a song. It was an impromptu idea on our part, and we had 15 minutes with Bob before the show to give him the chords and run through the song at a short sound check. Even in those few minutes, Brian and I knew Bob was a winner. Bob studied clarinet at the Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago and that training really shows. He can make complementary melodies to supplement Brian’s singing and falls into a groove like a duck sliding into a lake.
Our next gig was at Phyllis’ Musical Inn in January and in an amplified setting Bob sounded even better with us. What I noticed is that I didn’t have to work as hard to keep the music going, and for the first time, I could lay back a little and enjoy the music. In a duo, both people are working really hard the whole time to keep a momentum going, but with an addition of a third person both Brian and I can function as a kind of rhythm section for Bob’s harmonica which gives us moments of rest in what can be an exhausting forty minutes or so.
Our next show is on January 24 at the The Bottom Lounge in Chicago, and Brian and I are excited to continue to explore how our sound changes with a harmonica player.
Not long after that show, Brian and I were commuting home after a day at school and in break between snow storms. We had a long day, and both of us felt mopey and tired. In moments like these, I like to make suggestions to Brian which will cheer him up. And one thing that always make Brian happy is a new guitar. I suggested we stop at Midwest Buy and Sell, Brian’s favorite guitar store and “check out what they have.” We went in thinking that Brian would pick up a Gibson SG (“the guitar with the horns” I usually say), but there’s the idea of the guitar and then there’s the actually playing of one. The SG is a great guitar, but every time Brian picked one up and I listened to it neither us felt that spark, that click in our heads when we think “Oh yeah, that’ll sound great on stage.” After forty minutes I was ready to go. I was cold, hungry and I had to pee. While I waited for Brian to try guitars Iwandered around the store. On the top of row near the ceiling, I caught a flash of orange. I noticed the color more than the guitar. I noticed how it felt warm and cheerful. How it reminded me of candy corn and pumpkins, and how it made me think of Halloween and Fall and warmer seasons. I saw it and thought all this in a second, then I went back to feeling bored and tired and wandered on. Just as I was about to tell Brian I would meet him at the deli across the street, he walked up to me with an orange Gretsch in his hand — the one I had noticed a ten minutes before.
“What do you think of this?” He asked.
“I didn’t think you liked hollow-bodies.”
“I like the color.”
“Well, try it.”
Brian plugged it into an amp, and played one chord. In our heads, a switch seemed to flick on. Click. Oh yeah.
It was love at first strum.
So the Gretsch came home with us and now we’re listening to CD after CD of rockabilly, Elvis, and Eddie Cochrane. Who knows what will happen next?
One of my all time favorite gigs was the Temple gig when we followed a puppet show. And I’m thrilled that we will be playing there again on Saturday, December 13. SPIL is in the short Peace Concert included in the Temple’s Annual HolidayAuction evening.
The doors open at 4:30 PM and I think we’ll be playing around 5 PM. Tickets are $10.00, which includes the auction, vegetarian food, and the concert.
If you’re in town, the auction will be a great place for bargains on art, services, and event tickets.
For more on the evening, go to the temple website: http://zenbuddhisttemplechicago.org/auction/index.html
If you’re on the mailing list for the band, then you have already received this notice about our show on Friday. If you’re not on the mailing list, then what are you waiting for? Email me at email@example.com and I’ll add you.
So, we’re playing at Hotti Biscotti (see www.shortpunksinlove.com for more info) on Friday, April 11, which means that at end of a week full of teaching and grading exams, I get to be a rock star. The bonus side of having a “hobby” like ours. (I put “hobby” in quotes because Brian hates it when someone calls it our “hobby” as if it were to equate performing music with other hobbies like hummel collecting and bargain shopping. For Brian it’s not a hobby, but a reason to live. And he means it like that: a reason to live. But that’s another story, one I’m saving for a memoir.) Where was I? Oh yes, the up-side of playing out is that when you’re a teacher you spend your days in front of young people being looked at with the same amount of interest one gives a CTA conductor or a McDonald’s employee. You’re there, and yet not there. So, going somewhere to be on stage and have someone (anyone) give you slightly more attention can be a huge boost to one’s sense of existing in the world. Hey, I must exist: you can see me. For those of us who experience existential crises on even-numbered days, this can save quite a bit on therapy.
Meanwhile, the next show will be a challenge for me: for the first time, I’m going to sing. Really sing, not just sing the occasional line. It’s part of an agreement we made after the last show when Brian wouldn’t use his Les Paul Gibson (a great guitar) during the show.
“Why didn’t you use the Les Paul.”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t get it. It’s a 1200 dollar guitar and you never want to play it on stage.”
“Look, it’s a lot of guitar, I’m not sure if I’m ready. Tris and Andy [former bandmates] used to say the same thing about my first Les Paul.”
“Okay, how about this? I’ll make a deal with you. If you play the Les Paul. I’ll sing.”
Brian’s eyes perked open. Sounded like a fair deal to him. We agreed. And I started singing at the next show and at rehearsal yesterday we worked on vocal parts for me. It’s a whole new world, playing drums and singing at the same time. The greatest challenge is not dropping beats while I sing. I have a whole new respect for Levon Helm, Karen Carpenter, and Phil Collins. It’s not as easy as it looks.
So, if you happen to be around and want to see me tackle this next challenge, then stop by Hotti Biscotti on Friday. We’ll save you a seat at the bar!
We’re doing a last minute fill-in at Hotti Biscotti tomorrow night (Thurs, March 20) at 9:00 PM.
It will be a quiet, acoustic kind of show. Brian will be playing his new Seagull acoustic guitar which he got for “free” because he traded a bunch of pedals for. And I’ll be playing just snare. No kit. This is the kind of show we used to do two years ago when I first started playing.
I used to frequent a coffee shop called Red Eyes Coffee on Lincoln and Balmoral and one day I noticed they had a small stage in the corner. I asked if they do shows and instead of asking me if I have a demo or a press kit, the owner asked: “When do you want to play?”
“Uh…how about this weekend?”
And that was one of our first gigs. At that little coffee shop I played just snare on Tuesday nights while Brian played guitar. I barely knew what I was doing, but I was up there doing it.
Tomorrow night should be one of those quiet, early nights. When you’ll be home by 11 PM and your ears won’t be ringing. If you feel like a mellow evening, stop by and say ‘hello’!
Life has been intruding in my budding career as a rock star. Immediately after the show I thought I would upload the pics, write pithy comments, and then post it for our adoring fans. A week later I still haven’t charged the batteries in the digital camera and I’ve forgotten all my witty comments. Another lifetime has passed since that show and I’m trying to remember what happened last week.
Memory is a frail thing. What did I wear? Jeans and some sweater, I think. What did we play? The usual set. Brian has written two new songs, folk-like tunes that I’m still learning so I probably played hand-snare. Oh right, hand-snare. I asked the Sound Guy if he was miking the snare because I would be playing hand snare. He said, “I never heard that before. Did you come up with that?”
I said in a voice that I hope wasn’t condescending (but probably sounded like it), “Uh no, John Bonham did … and Max Roach.”
That’s when I realized there was an age gap. This kid didn’t know who I was talking about. I tried not to think about it.
We played second, because one of the bands had people coming later. We were happy to go on second. I should explain now some booking etiquette. Short Punks booked the show and we were the most “well-known” band (ha!) so we were technically the “headliners” (chortle), therefore we should perform last. You know, save the best for last. But here’s the problem with going on late for people like me: if I go on too late, I get tired. And there’s that age thing rearing its head again. Brian and I like playing first or second because we’re brighter, cheerier, and, in general, a lot happier. Then we can enjoy the other performers without worrying about our set.
And the other performers were:
and us … oh yeah, and I forgot, I wore a red sweater.
We were pretty happy at this show (and with a few exceptions, we’re happy at most of the shows), but we were especially pleased at the maturity of these bands. Let me put it this way, Brian was the youngest one in the bunch instead of the oldest. And I was — hurray! — one of the other youngest ones. We appreciated that everyone was on-time and eager to play. There were no complaints about the “draw” (band lingo for “audience”), the lack of drink tickets, or the absence of a cover taker (i.e. guy who takes your cash at the door). Everyone was just happy to be out on Sunday night playing for someone. And the turn out was good — thanks to Jungle of Cities and their supporters.
So, that was the show. I may not sound as eager about the shows, but, in many ways, because we have done so many, my feeling about shows has changed. They used to terrify me — feel me with alternating waves of dread and anticipation. But, after two years, they have begun to feel like teaching. I walk on stage now with the casualness that I walk into a classroom several times a week. This ease, this lack of effort or anxiety, could seem like apathy, but, I think, it’s more comfort and confidence. And that, after two years, makes me extremely happy.
Before I go, here’s one more pic. Later that week, Ben fell asleep on Brian (as he does every night and at every nap) and it was too good not to post.
We’re playing this SUNDAY (3/2/08) at Red Line Tap in Rogers Park.
We’re joined by Bill Liggett and Jungle of Cities
They’re both great musicians so come on out and enjoy an evening of music. And we know it’s Sunday night, so we’ll try to wrap it up earlier so you can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work!
See you at the show!
Show starts at 9:00 PM.
Red Line Tap
Gigs look a lot more glamorous than they really are, and, more importantly, they last for about as third as long as an average rehearsal. For Friday’s show we rehearsed four and a half hours. The actual set lasted thirty minutes, but the whole time we were out amounted to seven hours from the moment we stepped out of our house to the moment we loaded the gear back in. Time is everything and yet, nothing. One of the greatest obstacles I hear from people who are older (I’ll say, over 30) who want to learn to play an instrument is that they have ‘no time.’ I often agree. It takes time. And yet, once a gig is over, I don’t often regret the time I spent preparing for the show or the show itself. It’s worth the time I spend on it. In general, learning the drums has taught me to spend the time doing things I love or want to learn. I used to spend a lot of time doing things I ‘had’ to do, but as I grew older, I learned to say ‘no’ to those things (you now, parties for co-workers or clients, obligatory visits to people I did not know well, shopping trips that I did not want to take, etc). Gigs have even offered”reasons” for not attending these social gatherings. “I have a gig” has saved me from more endlessly dull evenings than I can remember. But more importantly, the time I have spent on learning to play the drums, the hours in with the practice pad, repays me well in thirty minutes, a fraction of the time I spent getting to that stage.
Rehearsal at Superior Street
Friday’s show was not a bad show — it was a great one. The opening acts, Bill Liggett and Sam Saunders, did great sets that primed the audience for us. They were so good, that at one moment, when Bill was seeing a song he wrote for his son called “Number One,” I forgot I was playing later. Now, that’s a real gift in a night — to be able to enjoy the other musicians enough that I forget my own concerns about playing.
The other feature of the show was that we drew an audience. People who have heard the CD and know us came out to hear us play live. If you’re not a musician grasping the import of this may be difficult. This is what it means for us: for the first time in a lot of months, we played to people who liked us. We were not playing to people who had never heard of us before and didn’t care we weren’t playing. The ‘reality’ of gigging for your average musician is that most gigs are in small bars and clubs with little or no audiences. We’ve played just for a bartender more than once, so the gratification that comes with an audience is not missed by us. This doesn’t mean that we don’t think the empty room still isn’t in our future. It probably is, but at least, for one night, the first night in a long time, there was enthusiasm in the audience. We are grateful to everyone who came out. It gives us a hope. So, thanks.
We have a gig on Friday, a rehearsal on Thursday, and this means one thing: I better practice. When we took our short hiatus, Brian kept playing, “woodshedding” in the music room, trying new chords, writing new songs. Meanwhile, I pushed the practice pad into the corner and started leaving mail on it. And without even noticing, a month, even two months went by and I hadn’t picked up a drum stick. Hadn’t even really listened to drummers on CD. I just went and did other things.
I am not one of those musicians — one of those bio-pic musicians who “save” their lives with music. I am not one of those musicians who, as Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin (and yes, I saw that movie, and liked it) does, says that “one day I’ll be a star” (or something like that). I am not John Coltrane who practiced every moment he was awake. At night he would practice with his saxophone when others were asleep, his fingers working his horn while he had the reed out. I am not Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton or Nick Drake or even Brian Cremins. I am a regular person with an average amount of discipline who would rather write this blog, clean the bathroom, do a load of laundry, or shop on-line than practice. I’m THAT kind of musician. I’m the kind who daydreams of being magically a great musician without actually practicing. I’m the kind of musician who practices my tv screen pitter patter with Craig Ferguson while I brush my teeth.
“I’m so glad you liked the CD, Craig. Well, you know, we recorded it in the south of France, and that made such a difference to get away from L.A.”
And he would wink in that cute, Scottish, way and say “Oh yes! El Ay!!”
I am the kind of musician who still has to count my way through a song because I lose my time if I don’t.
I am the kind of musician who forgets whole songs that I have already recorded. I am the kind of musician who occasionally forgets how to assemble her own instrument. Does the drum head go this way or that way? I am the kind of musician who hasn’t taken a lesson in over year. I am the kind of musician who wonders how far I can get as a musician being this kind of musician.
We have a gig on Friday. I have to remember how to assemble my own drum kit. I have to practice and work the muscles in my hands and arms so that I can play a whole set without getting fatigued. I have to listen to our own CDs to remember the songs. I have to remember to breathe when I play or I get dizzy. I have to remember that if I want to be the kind of musician who saves his or her life with music, I have to forget that I’m the other kind of musician who would rather be at home with a box a donuts than on-stage with ten people staring at me blankly while I’m trying to remember all the things I’m trying to forget.
We have a gig on Friday. Did I mention that? We have a gig on Friday.