Sunday, July 19, 2009

The painful phenomenon of the vacant venue


Eric Hall - one of my favorite musicians anywhere - sent the following message out to friends this week:

Dottie and I just did a killer set at The Schlafly Tap Room to an audience of three friends, two employees, the other two bands' members, and one guy who came in off the street half-way through to try to loudly sell those people pornos from a plastic bag.
To share his performance with a larger audience than that, he included a link to a recording of it, which I have posted below, with his blessing. I'd also like to take this opportunity, as a former gigging musician, to riff on the painful phenomenon of the vacant venue.

I have two vivid memories of the phenomenon before I began to suffer from it myself.

One was a performance by The Violent Femmes in St. Louis. The concert was very poorly attended, and the band didn't take it very well. Frontman Gordon Gano spent most of his time between songs complaining about the situation, and I recall getting irritated that he was abusing the few people who did show up for the behavior of the very large number of people who didn't!

Then in college I roadied for one of my favorite local bands, Judge Nothing, who were pioneers in St. Louis indie rock. They really started the Cicero's Basement Bar scene, where Uncle Tupelo germinated, and were booking their own tours in their own van before any of us. They did better out of town than they ever did in St. Louis - a familiar pattern - but on this particular night, nothing much was doing.

I remember drummer and de facto band manager Andy Dykeman looking around the empty bar and saying to me, "Welcome to gigdom!"

Indeed, indeed, indeed, welcome to gigdom. Here is how Eric Hall describes the ordeal:

Not to get all "sour grapes", but it's awkward to play the final set of a struggling bill.
Those are the awkward times, the dark nights of the soul, when you ask yourself why you are lugging your equipment around the world and pouring out your heart and soul for nobody. I toughed my way through nights like that in more towns than I would like to recall.

I was the frontman (in the bands Enormous Richard, Eleanor Roosevelt and Three Fried Men), and on slow nights the other guys in the band would all but beg me to keep up my energy level, don't get down, because the front man drags everybody else in the room down with him. And no matter how few people are in the room, you want them to go home talking it up so, the next time you come to town, they come back and bring friends.

Everyone ends up with a bag of tricks to get through nights like that. I would either play to the other band members, just try to enjoy making music with them, or I would unspool the mic cord and walk out into the sparse crowd and sit on laps and pull other goofy stunts.

One last memory. In Boston we befriended a local band called The Velcro Peasants - still friends with those guys, twenty years later! - who got us into local joints that paid better than the "exposure" gigs that Uncle Tupelo had turned us onto.

One was a club called Zoots, located in the theater disctrict, which also was The Combat Zone, the whore stroll. On a slow night, the crowd consisted of a few exhausted sex workers taking a break, snagging a drink and smoke between tricks.

This was a slow night. I was amusing myself by wandering around the bar and sitting on laps and singing directly into the faces of the few people in the bar, all of them whores. One working girl got up and danced with me. We were playing "Espoontoon," a song with lyrics by Meriwether Lewis. I remember this hooker locking arms with me and flipping me over her back and suspending me in air.

Yeah, there I was, up in the air on the back of a whore in Boston, in an empty bar, singing lyrics from The Journals of Lewis & Clark, wondering what I was doing with my life.

Free music

.e(r!c hall) live at Schlafly Tap Room July 16, 2009

Ericn otes: "Uneasy yet undeterred, we knocked out a pretty stellar little hunk of improv using guitar, stylophone, drum-machine, effects, and toys (Dottie); and QChord, MPC, loopers, and effects (Eric)."

Eric plays tonight (Sunday, July 19th) at The Lemp Neighborhood Art Center (3301 Lemp Ave, at Utah) with Megafaun ("transcendental bluegrass/psych/folk/avant gem") and others. $5 all ages.

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Photo from somebodys Flickr.

1 comment:

Torchandtonic said...

Very sad. I had to work last Thursday night, but I guess it would have only made the attendees about 6. I am not sure what the solution is; I fear the poor economic times have folks in a depressed mood and mostly homebound.