Sep 26 Toronto The Horseshoe
When I was a tender green sprout of a musician, I had a brief conversation with a teacher that still occasionally bubbles to the front of my mind. “How do you play when you’re really nervous?” I asked, right after I had played my jury for him and another adjudicator. I had managed to peel myself off the piano bench and stand, but my legs were still shaky and I wondered if I was visibly wobbling.
The great Brad Turner laughed a little, and said kindly “You know, I wish that I could feel nervous again before a gig once in awhile”. I was stabbed by a flash of resentment that it was so easy for him. I was exhausted from all the practicing and preparation for this stupid exam, and no matter how much I practiced, I was still terrified every single time I had to play in front of people. Or with people, for that matter. “It’s just time”, Brad said. “It will gradually get easier the more you do it”. I’m sure he would have no recollection of this this at all, but I have pondered his words many times since then. What he told me was absolutely true. I haven’t been nervous before a show for almost two years now. Playing music has become so much fun as a result that I have forgotten I was once a tortured little soul who would gasp piteously for breath whenever I was called upon to play my instrument in front of other people.
The Horseshoe show was one that I could not have played three years ago. I would have been seized with paralyzing fear and unable to lift my eyes from the keys. It’s an amazing thing that such profound fear and doubt eventually just faded away, gradually, without fanfare. My fear was easily eroded down to a flat harmless smoothness by the sheer number of shows that I’ve played with the Fems. So here we were at one of the most famous clubs in Canada for sure, where hundreds of famous bands have played memorably amazing sold out shows. Yay team.
There was no one here yet, but it was early. We had promptly arrived for load in and there was a highly serious sound guy there who quickly and decisively organized the sets, gear, and band order. It’s a relief to work with a sound guy who takes control of stage managing the show. All I have to do is relax, let him worry about everything, and do whatever he says. I was slightly intimidated by the Horseshoe, and the sound tech’s level of professionalism. Fortunately, this band functions as a well-oiled machine. We can set up in about 8 minutes onstage. We can tear down and have all of our gear offstage in about 3 minutes.
Next time you go to a show, check your watch at the beginning of the changeover between bands. Sometimes it can be be 45 minutes, an hour, or more. Fucking around during the changeover will shorten all the bands sets, especially the last band. Sometimes there may not even be any time for the last band to play at all if enough time is wasted during the changeovers from band to band. Then there can be trouble. Plus, I think it’s really disrespectful to the audience. People came to hear live music, not wait for a bunch of half drunk guys plug stuff in while being distracted by pretty girls and the ever present thought of “I should get another beer before we go on”. I hate slow lazy bands. It’s never worth the wait. A great band will set up efficiently, in one fluid casual motion. From the downbeat, everyone is captivated and the band owns the room for as long as they play. For the audience it seems like the whole set was only a few minutes long. I’ve been to shows like this, and I hope you all have too. If you haven’t, go see NoMeansNo.
Most of the time all of our brilliant efficiency is wasted. We stand around and wait for other bands to slowly set up their gear in between getting beers. We watch in agony as bands take one piece of drum hardware at a time off the stage while stopping to congratulate each other and get another beer. Why do bands do this? Why do they shorten their own time onstage and everybody elses’s as well? Don’t they like playing music? Don’t they care about the people? I want to get up there and play loud fast songs real bad. It boggles my mind why a so-called musician/entertainer would want to avoid that.
Suddenly it was our turn to play. At the stroke of 10:20, exactly when we were supposed to start our set, we were ready to go. “Everything set?” the sound guy asked us. “Yessir”, I said. “Right on. Points for punctuation”, he replied. My ears turned pink with pleasure, as they always do when I receive a meaningful compliment. Here we were at one of the most famous clubs in Canada and we had impressed the sound guy before playing a single note. There were about 70 people waiting expectantly at our feet for us to blow their minds. Is there any limit to what we can do all by our little selves?
We had carefully designed a set of our finest offerings. We had friends in the audience. I were dying to show this enormous self-important city what we sounded like, to see heads swivel towards the stage helpless in our thrall.
Song, song, song. No talking except “Hi we’re The Feminists” and “thanks a lot” in between songs. It sounded amazing onstage. Crisp, clear, balanced, not too loud. It was so easy to sing in tune, comp for the guitar and bass solos, and hear myself over the band during my solos. I could see people continually streaming into the room where we were playing, stop, watch, and then move closer to the stage. Grief and I were drenched in sweat by the beginning of the second song. Belland was stomping from the waist it seemed, taking huge Viking strides all around the stage, his bass raised high as he marched to and fro. I felt like I was in the middle of a tropical hurricane. It was hot, humid, and there were big cymbal crashes and distorted guitar screams flying everywhere. There were hot blinding lights that flashed at random intervals. After every song, there was a half breath of silence, then applause, whistling, cheering. It’s good to hear that half breath of silence. It means people were listening intently and were taken by surprise by the song ending. Considering that these people had never heard our songs before, that’s pretty good. When was the last time you went to a show and silently listened to unfamiliar songs played by a band you’ve never heard of from beginning to end, one after another?
We played for exactly 30 minutes (because we’re punctual, remember?), and had cleared our gear from the stage 5 minutes later. Our friends gathered round to express how much they enjoyed the show. I found the sound guy and thanked him for making it so easy for us to play well. He said we were good. My ears turned pink again. We sold a whack of merch, there were actually people waiting for us at our table when we got offstage to buy cd’s. There was a gal from Nanaimo who had seen us there and was happy to see us again. Dave Ulrich, who kindly peddles our wares at his online record store, came to see us and said good encouraging stuff to me. Grief was deep in conversation with a dark haired young woman who was interviewing him, it turned out. We got an e-mail from her a couple of days later with a link to her article.
We stuck around to hear the other bands. I couldn’t help but notice (because I’m sort of a competitive jerk) that the crowd response was bigger for us than any of the other bands. We came, we saw, we kicked ass. Take that, Toronto. You’re not so intimidating after all. I like it that my band can play a fantastic show in Canada’s biggest city to a sizable, appreciative audience.
Tomorrow we play our second Toronto show, at The Boat. We are staying at Keith Hamilton’s house. Keith is an awesome promoter/musician who we stayed with last year as well. Tomorrow’s show is one of his, so there’s nothing to worry about
The Feminists: My Ears Turned Pink With Pleasure
Sep 26 Toronto The Horseshoe