BY TIM HARDING
I couldn’t decide between that line to start this off or simply “just do your gig.” But I went with that line that I heard more times than I like to think about when advancing gigs for a recent tour.
I recently took an ‘80s metal band that I worked with back then on a kind of reunion club tour. When I got the call it was “We’re putting the band back together.” It was really more like retuning to the trenches. An awful reality.
We did 25 shows in 31 days with little or no budget the band’s side. Being packed into van with the gear AND the band is always a fun time. Actually let’s make it better yet… traveling in an RV.
Imagine this, rolling down the highway in the RV when all of a sudden all hell breaks loose and the roofing rips off the top! We were in some pretty windy conditions outside of Tulsa and a gust got under the roofing and ripped it right off! We were like a rolling sardine can. Fortunately, the weather was in our favor and it was just wind and not rain. Some gaff tape and elbow grease and we were off to finish up the run.
To call the tour a mixed bag goes no where near far enough. In four weeks, we went from this…
… to this…
…back to this…
…and then some more of this…
The advance.. Or what there was of it. Most of the promoters haven’t taken the time to respond to my initial advance requests. Simple stuff that we needed in order to start planning the trip—routing, lodging etc.
We went into many venues totally blind. There is the time in Tennessee where the contact just could not tell me what exactly was in the club in terms of staging or PA. But he told me “don’t worry.” Well those words MAKE ME WORRY! After many attempts to advance this date and get real info, I just gave up. They were not going to give me what I needed and we were not going to quit (insert a healthy “we’ll show THEM” attitude here).
Upon arrival, we found a tiny little sound system stacked on the ground in the middle of a restaurant. First things first. “You guys need to re-stack that PA on the stage at the very least,” I said. They thought I was just being a dick. But I knew if they left it on the ground, I was gonna smoke that baby.
They re-stacked the PA and I spent some time polishing “it” and had it sounding pretty good for what it was. At the end of the night the PA owner told me he had never heard his PA sound that good EVER. I told him to keep the PA on the stage and he’ll have better results. I have no idea, nor do I care if he does this or if it is back on the floor.
AND then there was the club in an unnamed city in the NE. (Names omitted to protect the guilty…) It was a little scarce, but I pulled some things back and had a great sound check. I setup with the house guy and told him which channels I was NOT going to share and off to the RV I went. I came back for set change and got everything ready to go, line checked all the changes and rolled the INTRO! Two songs in the set, the PA amps start to go thermal and are shutting down!! High end here.. And then some mids, and then some subs – all random.
I get through the set and the club owner storms in and accuses me of blowing up his PA. I tell him I would have loved too, but the amps went into protection too soon… And I added that perhaps reading the rider and knowing what was coming into his club should have been his concern BEFORE we showed up to ruin his night. I told him, to let it cool down and it would work great – AND IT DID.
It wasn’t all bad. Most clubs have adequate systems for what they are, in mostly working order. But then there is the club that ignores every advance request until you walk through the door and you quickly realize the day is going to be a little harder than it needs to be…
LIKE showing up to a gig that is in a garage in the middle of a business park. (By day a hardwood floor installer. By night a “rock club”) with a “bunch” of powered speakers “hung” up.
OR my favorite was the tiny gig in Indiana. We walked in and there were two tiny sound systems being combined to accommodate the metal band I was with. While the house dudes were working on this process, there were loud pops and bangs. Ultimately THEY blew half the sound system before I got to touch it! When it came time to do my thing I asked where the mixer was and they pointed to this stand that looked like a lifeguard stand at the beach ….
Another joy is walking into a room of glass and hard surfaces and barely enough PA to even make a difference. And then realizing you had invited all your peers and some trade editors to come and check out the show (and ultimately, ME). The PA barely able to fill the room with volume, loose low end that one can do nothing with…. And frankly, I am not sure ALL of the PA components were actually working!
So how does one handle a tour like this?
• I try to travel appropriately—meaning light when I have to. I carry mics, cables, things that might save the day and make things a bit easier.
• Try not to assault the system tech. It is very likely that this person has been thrown into the same scenario and has no more control ove the situation than I do.
• Try to know the band’s contracts in regards to production. Sometimes the booking agent screws you before you even leave your house.
• Try to keep your temper in check. Don’t be a rock star.
• But also don’t let yourself or the band get screwed. Know when to call BS!
What is the most important thing to do? DO YOUR GIG! Gather the skills that got you to where you are today and USE them. That’s what the band is paying you for. I personally hate the crappy gigs, but love being the “better person” and showing up the house guys and giving the fans what they can to see …errrr… HEAR!