First Law of Indie Rock:
As the quantity of audience members decreases, the quality of music increases. The best music happens when there is no paying audience at all and the bands play for only each other.
The moment I remember feeling the most despair was when the irritating, incompetent promoter looked up at me while setting up my vocal mic.”Just bear with me, I don’t know much about doing sound”, he said, with what I’m sure he thought was a confident smile. It was 15 minutes before the show was supposed to start, we were first, and for some inexcusable reason, there was no sound tech. This lovely fellow also kicked the bands out, locked the doors, and taken off right after load in so we all had to wait outside in the cold for three hours, until he returned. 15 minutes before showtime. With no sound set up yet. Not that there was anyone clamoring to get into the club to see this show. Probably because everyone in Peterborough was downstairs clamoring to get into the sold out NoMeansNo show that was happening at the same time as our obviously doomed show. We were playing in a split level venue, one room above the other connected by three flights of winding staircases. It sure was fun to climb up and down 89 times and lift a bunch of heavy awkward objects around all those corners. And due to a genius bit of booking, courtesy of the promoter – I’m sorry, the promoter/booking agent/sound tech – there were a bunch of relatively unknown indie bands playing a show at exactly the same time that NoMeansNo would be playing a majestic, thundering, sold out show right underneath our feet. On a Sunday night. It was already shaping up to be a humiliating evening. No sound guy and the promoter trying to figure it out as he went along was icing on the cake of my despair. O, Cake Of My Despair. Why must you always taste so bitter?
Suddenly, there appeared a calm steady individual who fired up the PA and placed the mics. His name was Jason, and he was just a guy in one of the bands. But he cared enough about these bands who he had just met at this lame ass show to help everyone sound as good as possible. He ended up doing sound for all the bands, saying nice sincere things to everyone about their music, and generally gave the show some sense of much needed order.
Not one member of the general public accidentally stumbled (up three flights of winding stairs) in during our set. In fact, there was no paying audience until about halfway through the last band, when two people came in. At least we were done early. However, because there were only bands there, etiquette dictated that we were obliged to watch the rest of the show. When it’s only bands playing for each other, everyone has to stick around and watch everybody else. If you leave when there are is no paying audience, you have grievously insulted the honor of the band onstage. After all, they stuck around for your set.
However, due to the First Law Of Indie Rock it was a very good show, musically speaking. A private concert with an attentive respectful audience.Sometimes it’s nice to listen to good music without a bunch of people trying to yell over it while they get drunk. The First Law Of Indie Rock makes me a little crazy sometimes. It does seem a colossal shame that the best music happens in empty clubs. On the other hand, sometimes I feel downright honored that I have a chance to absorb some great music as it disappears, flies upwards and outwards, never to be experienced again. Sharing that with only a few other musicians often creates a bond that makes you feel like good friends after spending only a few hours together.
After us Wax On Radio played. They were a big heavy three-piece. Great players, tight band. Then North Atlantic played. Jason’s band. Good heavens. Mild mannered, bespectacled sound guy Jason had removed his spectacles, undone his ponytail, and was generating an ever cresting wave of sonic power, guitar in hand. Very, very heavy prog rock. What a beautiful sentence that is. Emotional writing, with thick crunching layers of double kick and keening cymbals. A wall of guitar noise a mile deep, and ridiculously intricate polyrhythm figures between bass, guitar and drums. But so much melody and so many catchy instrumental hooks that the ear wasn’t overwhelmed by all the distortion. And these guys could really play. I forgot that I was tired and sick and generally disgusted and disappointed.
In a sudden warm rush, I finally remembered what I love about music, thank god. I love being swept away by a current of song and sound, the delicious pleasure that starts in my ears and gradually overtakes me, feeling the connection between the players onstage and watching them make something unique and authentic. Live music is where it’s at for me. If it’s a really good show, I can get a little overwrought by the fleeting impermenance of every single moment. It’s humbling to stand in the middle of a great pool of art as it gushes forth from the stage, swirls around my feet and rises higher and higher, bursting out the windows and doors to disappear forever. See, overwrought.
After North Atlantic, You Say Party We Say Die took the stage. They are from Vancouver too, and it’s always nice to see people from home when you’re on the road. YSP’s star has been rising steadily. We’ve played with them a couple of times in Vancouver, but not for the last year or so as they have been constantly touring. And holy crap, they sounded good. I guess playing a million shows all over the world will do that for ya.
Mike, Ferdy, and I had a great time listening to YSP. We danced like fools, we laughed in delight, we cheered and clapped and whooped with unbridled, very uncool enthusiasm. They were completely entertaining, and they made us feel happy. I thanked them profusely after the show for giving me such a good time, like the uncool enthusiastic dancing dork that I am. After all, they and North Atlantic had reminded me that music can be thrilling and fantastic and not always stupid all of the time. For that I am grateful.
The whole time we could hear NoMeansNo through the floorboards. In fact, I could feel the kick drum and bass patterns press through the floor, pass through the soles of my feet and climb steadily upwards, exiting out the top of my head. They’re that loud and forceful. Sigh. After YSP there was still time to catch a little NMN. They had put us on the guestlist, so Ferdy and Mike and I walked in like rock stars (who had just played a dead show). They also introduced us to the promoter of their show, to give us a better shot of a more decent Peterborough show next time around. Anything will be better than the Seen Productions show we had the misfortune to be involved with.
The real action went down after the bands were done playing. The promoter broke YSP’s written contract and completely stiffed them, and they were seriously pissed. There was some pushing and shoving and yelling. We had loaded out and left the club, but the guys decided to turn the van around and go back to see if they would have a chance to watch an ass kicking. Great. Let’s not miss this priceless opportunity to watch some real life violence. Hopefully there will be pain and humiliation and blood because that’s so entertaining. I’ll never understand testosterone.
Alas. The bloodlust had to go unsatisfied because someone had called the cops and there they were, watching and waiting to see if there was anyone stupid enough to start a fight right in front of them.YSP had sort of calmed down. They’ll have a chance to get their money back through the musician’s union. But it would probably be a bit nerve-wracking for them to get to their next show, which was in NYC, with none of the money they were supposed to get in Peterborough. It’s a good thing there was no fight. It would have been one tiny, weasly rat-faced liar who was shorter than me against about 12 outraged man sized musicians. After a few more rounds of half-hearted insults with the gathering crowd, the crowd dispersed reluctantly.