Tonight my band plays its first live show in a few years. We took the last few years off from playing live owing to apathy (our audience’s as well as our own), long before a bandmate’s illness sealed the deal. With our lineup reformulated, a new record to play live, and a refreshed ego (speaking for myself), I’m really looking forward to playing live again. I’m also trying to quell the slight butterflies I get by remembering my gig-day rituals. Let’s see what’s ahead, and I’m curious to learn your gig-day rituals.
For starters, I print copies of the setlist. As I type this, I’ve got the file ready to print; I just need to hit PRINT.
I like to spend time practicing my starting points for guitar solos and other key licks. This may shock some of you who’ve seen and heard my work, but I’m not a highly skilled or practiced guitarist. For the 35 years I’ve played guitar, my focus has always been on writing songs. Then I like to record them. Once they’re down on tape (or whatever), I frequently forget how I got there. I spend the rest of my playing days trying to recall how I managed to squeeze out what for a real guitarist is probably a simple lick. I know what chords I play, but I don’t have a total recall of my scales. In my mind I visualize dots on the fretboard that my fingers can follow…if only I start on the right spot. I’ve got a solo to play on a new song tonight, for instance, that I can pull off with a high degree of accuracy provided I start on the right spot. If I do that, my fingers have a good idea of where to go. If not, I’m screwed. Just last night, as we rehearsed this song, it occurred to me that I had no plan for developing this solo. As I played the track over and over, I remember simply lucking into an odd series of bent notes. Then I figured out how to repeat and sharpen that series of notes so that I could lay down a proper solo. A few months later, I still don’t know the theory behind what I did. This is not uncommon for me. Therefore, it’s important that I sit down this afternoon and “quiz” myself on starting points for key solos and licks.
I need to pack my gear: my new amp, two guitars, chords and effects boxes, and a few items for other bandmates, such as our singer’s straight stand (or did he tell me he’s already got one packed at duct taped to his preferred mic level?). Our singer (that’s Andyr to you) and I are big believers in straight stands. They’re simply cooler. Although we’re not cool, it’s important to try to set and reach standards for cool. Straight stands are much cooler than the hinged kind that only keyboardists and drummers should use.
I also need to pack a box of PRODUCT. Playing live is often the best opportunity for selling your band’s goods. My house is our label’s warehouse, so add that task to my gig-day rituals.
I try to eat foods that will not interfere with my performance that night, if you know what I mean. When we were young, we often played a club that was a couple of blocks away from a place called Taco House, a punk-rock Mexican joint that served huge portions of inauthentic Mexican food at cheap prices. Back then we adhered to Ronnie Van Zandt’s dictum that a band should take the stage on either a completely empty stomach or stuffed to the gills. Whenever we played Bacchanal, with Taco House around the block, there was no question what side of Van Zandt’s dictum we would land. We’d chow down, have an after-dinner smoke, then burp and fart our way through soundcheck. I’m too old and too straight for that now, so I will try to eat something that keeps me energized but flies under my digestive system’s radar.
Next I need to fret over one of the most important challenges that I never quite master: my Look. This gets back to the importance of being cool. When I was young I had an extensive collection of polyester shirts with bold patterns and huge collars. I regret getting too fat to fit into those fine threads and too dignified (or so I hoped to be) to wear those shirts any longer. My entire Look has suffered, as a result, for the past 20 years. Part of the reason I didn’t feel like playing the last few years was because I was dissatisfied with my Look. I owe it to my (imagined) fans to maintain a somewhat cool Look. In the last year I’ve gotten myself in decent shape. I’m back to my 1994 playing weight, which is not as trim as my 1987 weight, but hell, I was barely existing on a diet of Raman noodles, popcorn, drugs and alcohol, and the occasional Taco House feast back in ’87. I’m actually in the best shape of my adult life, so maybe I need to reset my expectations. I’ll be like The Boss, but I still need to dress a little cooler than The Boss. I’ve still got some polyester shirts. I’ve still got my custom-made Mao suit, which I once again fit in. I’ve got a suede fringed jacket (but I fear that the fringe will interfere with my playing). I’ll come up with something, probably something more conservative and Boss-like than I wish, but what really matters is that I spend an inordinate amount of time pulling out options and standing in front of a mirror. One fashion rule I want to stay true to is my belief that guys look better in black jeans or pants than blue jeans. I may wear black cords, especially since a song from our new album makes reference to my favorite type of pants.
Finally, I’m planning on driving to the show with our drummer (Sethro to you), loading in, and shooting the breeze with my bandmates (including Chickenfrank) and friends from the other band. Hopefully I’ll have a satisfying bowel movement in the hour approaching the show. That’s always good mojo, even if the club’s crapper is a dump. Then, it’s showtime. The 4 of us who’ve been through this nonsense for 30-plus years, trade our secret handshake (I will have washed my hands, if said “good mojo” took place), The Claw, then we hit the stage, where my bandmates and I run through a series of in-show rituals, to be examined at a later day.
Musicians of any stripe, what are your gig-day rituals?