Saturday, April 02, 2005

lackluster band history

The last band I was in was about 10 years ago. It was an all original band, we were ok. I'd have to say Utenzil sounds best of all the musical projectsbands I've been in. These bands had some talented people, none of them was any more than something fun to do, and in a more critical hindsight a waste of potentially productive hours.

One thing is that every band I've ever been in was a source of excitement and great anticipation of marvelous things despite the apparent reality that large portions of the audience in the places that accomodate bands don't want to hear you play. That doesn't mean the audiences don't want to hear music, it means they don't care whether or not it is played by a live band. But we always got excited to play, and put all kinds of energy into it.

In high school, I was in a band where we drove way out to the shore to play, to set up in a small bar. I don't think this would be legal any more, but we did this at the urging of a friend of the drummer's father who for some reason wanted to try to promote us and felt there was a brief window of opportunity in this particular place. There may well have been, I don't know.

So there was this whole, like, political thing where we had to go play in this place, and of course the excitement and anticipation was there but it was also something we were somewhat obligated to do to keep the drummer's father in good standing with this friend of his.

This particular bar at the shore was supposedly owned by an influential, uh, owner of bars and things at the shore, who would be able to make manifest some subset of the Greatly Anticipated Marvelous Things, according to the half heard explanation from drummer's father's friend (DFF). It seemed that the drummer's father's friend had also some need to preserve standing in that once we said we were going to play that we needed to be there. So a cascading interactive series of obligations was in place, and we loaded up our gear, some of which was pretty nice but what we used for the PA was really total crap compared to what's available nowadays. We set it up in the corner of this bar where there was barely enough space to set up the drums. We had a drummer, bassist, guitarist and singer (me) at that point-- at a later time we added keyboards. I cannot remember the name of the band at that time, I wish I could.

It seemed like the people running the bar did not expect us. The DFF apparently invoked the name of the Influential Owner of Bars and Things, so that we might continue to set up and begin playing.

Now, it was the case that the Influential One was on site, the DFF was on track in that regard-- apparently he had enough of a connection with the guy to invoke his name while he was in the vicinity for verification, and so we had secured this cramped area to play in.

The bar was adjacent to an outdoor semi pro basketball court, where a team was playing, which team was also one of the things owned by Owner of Bars and Things, who was there to see his team play. This particular aspect should have raised warning flags-- that someone who was interested in a basketball game should somehow also be interested in hearing a rock band play at the same time would require something of a pop culture Renaissance man with far greater tolerance than other adults.

And of course such a division of attention could not be had. The DFF entered into negotiations with the people running the bar, wherein we were given the conditions under which we could actually play real notes. This was new to us-- we had driven miles and were jammed into a corner, from our point of view we had already endured significant hardships, and now we would be told when we could stop and start playing, essentially turned off and on like a radio.

In hindsight, this makes perfect sense. We would play at breaks in the game, adding some excitement to the overall atmosphere, it really wasn't too bad an idea. It would've been nice if someone could've told us that was what was going to happen, but it seems like this was completely impromptu.

It strikes me that the DFF may have completely made all of this up, that for some reason he needed to exert some influence and felt this would be the way to do it, to get a band to come to this place which really wasn't thrilled to see us and populated by people who were not in our, uh, target demographic, but because we were there and playing for free, they figured "why not?" and then several reason for "why not" had to be grappled with and reconciled.

The long and short is that you can't take a high school rock band that likes to jam and expect them to turn themselves off and on like a radio. What was needed was a series of songs that was timed to breaks in the game, which meant that the songs would have to be played for fixed lengths of time and arranged in an order accordingly. Needless to say, this particular brand of organization was not in our operating procedure, and although it could have been put together given some foreknowledge, we did not have such a thing. The DFF had actual domain knowledge in this regard, and we worked with him to hastily craft this "set list" of which he spoke.

We actually had pretty good logistics, we could load up, deploy and break down pretty well, and we knew our material. This was something of a challenge, and we ended up meeting it although at the cost of some lost enthusiasm.

And we played, it took a while for the sound to gel in the uncomfortable setting. Most of the people sitting at the bar near the band moved away because it was too loud, and we were asked to turn down-- this we were used to, but even so this night was turning into a virtual parfait of indignities.

What did happen was kind of expected and unexpected: the Influential Owner of Bars and Things appeared in the bar, during the half time break. He seemed a very normal person. The DFF approached him to "pitch us". Some conversation we were not privy to resulted in the DFF telling us to stop playing, we were told that we "didn't sound bad or anything" but that we wouldn't be able to play anymore.

Not understanding why someone would care more about basketball than music, I seem to recall attempting to appeal this decision to the DFF, who I recall as being somewhat perturbed and sad at this point, being caught between a rock and a whining teenager. I believe he attempted to service this appeal, it was denied, and the basis for this was revealed:when we played, the electronic scoreboard would malfunction.

If this was true, it seemed clear that we'd have to stop playing, if not true, it was a masterfully constructed excuse to get us to go away, because there was no way we could verify this (one of us may even have proposed a test, where most of us would play and one would go outside and look at the scoreboard; untenable for a number of reasons).

As all this transpired, there didn't seem to be any friction or sharp words, but mostly everyone in our contingent was sad. The DFF was really trying to do us a favor, I think, although we didn't really see it that way. He did seem to know some things about managing a band and he seemed excited about being able to be involved. He had intended to introduce a rock band, what he had delivered was a bizarre way to disrupt a basketball game. Seeing things now, clearly the bar owner could have had us thrown out in any number of ways, the DFF was maybe on a bit of an ego trip: it was never really clear that we were even supposed to be there, but we had gotten our foot in the door.

We disengaged from the situation and withdrew, wondering why it was that we drove all that way to play for less than half an hour in an attempt to impress some guy who was really just trying to watch his basketball team play. Eventually, the consensus was reached on the ride back that it was the fault of the crappy scoreboard.


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