Is it Live?

Almost as if some professional type designed the poster!

The mighty East Texas Garage Band had their first show since the holidays and the start of the new year… which means I finally had my first show since the holidays and the start of the new year. It was a gig that sort of just fell in our laps – my brother’s band, Rock Theory, got double-booked with an offer they just couldn’t refuse, asked us if we’d cover one of the bars. Good news: paying gig; bad news: a third our usual rate (half our “friends-and-family discount” rate). Since we didn’t have anything better lined up that Saturday, and Rock Theory is full of our musical buddies and blood relatives, we took the job.

I’m glad we did – my band needed it.

Our last gig of last year was in November and almost nobody showed – close friends and family made the trek, but buddies, work mates, friends of friends, and acquaintances all suddenly had something better to do that night. Which sucked, because musically we were awesome – tight, clean, yet still loose and enjoying ourselves, maybe our best performance of the year. Doubly sucked because we’d packed the place the two shows before November, and the venue was counting on us to bring in the alcohol sales. Now, in our defense, the last several weeks before our gig the venue had suffered lack-luster attendance, due in most part to their completely shutting down the front section of the place, and forcing everyone to go around to a side door with no sign or indication that they were open and this was the new way in; we were also playing the joint a mere month after our October gig, and if there’s one thing Paul is adamant about, it’s we don’t play the same venue without at least six weeks between gigs (my band leader knows times are tight, he doesn’t want our fans to have to paper the same place too often – especially if that place likes to tack on a cover charge at the last minute). Came as no surprise when that particular venue sent out a press release they’d canceled all of their band contracts and were becoming a private facility available for rentals – damn shame, too, ’cause this place had a great dance space and a banging live stage area.

Since we didn’t have any holiday shows scheduled and November’s last show tanked, Pauly decided we needed to take December off. We all did the office and family thing, watched some Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, and waiting until January. I don’t know what the other guys did, but I spent a month getting eight hours of sleep on the weekends, and seeing folks I literally hadn’t seen in months – not a bad way to spend Christmas and Hanukkah.

I was itching to sing by the time our first rehearsal of the new year came around, could barely contain my enthusiasm for finally getting back in the saddle. That first get-together was way loose, more jam session than full-fledged rehearsal. And that was all right – my guys are full-fledged musicians, and sometimes they just need to make music for music’s sake. Best part was, the session resulted in a new song, one of my favorites, being added to the set list.

The next rehearsal was really loose again, looser than I expected and way looser than I was comfortable with. The crew worked on the new tunes, tinkered around with even newer tunes, and then we got the hell out of that cold-ass rehearsal studio. Our last rehearsal before the Chasers gig would be the one where we buckled down, going through the three sets making sure everything was audience ready.

Didn’t work out that way – evidently, not playing the main body of our set list resulted in my guitar players forgetting their melodies, my bass player forgetting his harmonies, my soloists forgetting their solos. Running through our first forty-five minute set took ninety minutes, with some songs never getting completely sorted out. Pauly dropped some songs from the practice, dropped a song completely off the set list, and after nearly four frustrating hours we called it a night. And I’m suddenly envisioning our show the next week to be a glorified rehearsal, which more often than not results in a many a musical train wreck. I spent Monday through Friday more than a little worried and depressed.

Not everyone can pull off a leather vest with an eggplant shirt.

Saturday came, we got set up, we did our sound check, and we waited for night to fall. A little after nine pm on the old neon bar clock, we started into our first song of the first set, our new piece, and as far as I was concerned our hardest tune to do, a classic bit of Seventies rock we’d only gotten completely through maybe once out of every four tries. And we nailed it – from there, we just kept building on the successes that kept coming. The first set was great, the second set was even better, and the third set just got CRAZY – a friend of the bar, an old Santa Claus-looking dude, brought his tenor sax up the stage and jammed with us, totally owning it. AMAZING performer, totally just feeling the music and sliding his in.

We’d planned on a final set of about five songs since it was getting about that time; Pauly brought word that one of our new pieces, a Molly Hatchett tune everyone seems to love, but no cover bands seem to do, went over like gang-busters, we’d been requested to do it again. Damn tune is six minutes long, so our five song set was now four. We rocked that bitch even better than the first time, slid into our Lynyrd Skynyrd standard, tore up our Led Zeppelin closer, and called it a night.

Or a least we tried to – the audience and the bar owner wouldn’t let us go, calling for just one more song. Patrick, our singing drummer, started into the bass vocals for Van Halen’s Happy Trails, the rest of us joined in, I took the vocal solo at the bridge, and we received another ovation. Before we could shut off the PA, one of the patrons grabbed Paul’s mic and broke into Play That Funky Music – Pauly and Gary piled on behind him with the guitar riffs, Patrick and Dave laid down the rhythm, I joined in with the chorus, our new-found sax-playing buddy came back on stage, and we rocked that bad boy for another ten minutes. THEN it was a night.

The Chasers Lounge dance floor with poleJust a completely off the chain night. The bar owner is in love with us – loved our sound, loved our variety, and loved our energy – immediately booked us for another gig with a raise, and started courting us for a big birthday throw-down in July.

I have learned my lesson: some musicians are awesome solo acts, but just can’t get into the groove of a band; and some sound great with a band, but only in a studio environment – my guys are neither. We thrive on a live stage, we need that audience participation. Doesn’t matter how bad the rehearsals go, doesn’t matter how loose the songs sound in the weekends leading up to a gig, as soon as it’s Go Time a switch goes off in everybody else’s soul – everything tightens up while simultaneously sounding less forced, and songs that were utter crap just seven days earlier suddenly blossom into something awesome. We call ourselves a garage band, but what we truly are is a LIVE BAND, and a damn good one.

A good first show.

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