Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Worst Gig Ever, Milwaukee Style

With my home town being Milwaukee, I can safely say that the majority of my shows have been performed there. Some Milwaukee venues are fantastic, others not so much. One of the worst gigs that I can recall was at a Milwaukee Bar that has since closed.

This gig was back in the summer of 1996. As our band loaded into the venue, the bartender and sound man were setting up for the night. Just minutes after arriving the bartender shouted out "I hate this place!" That's never a good sign. We walked into the basement dressing room and found that nobody had cleaned up from the previous weekend. That's not such a big deal, unless you happen to see a rat on a table, chewing on a slice of stale pizza. When I went back up to let someone know that there was a rat eating pizza down there, the bartender said "You guys are supposed to clean up after yourselves. That's not my job!"

Telling her that a rat is living downstairs didn't phase her, but the left over mess from the past weekend really put her off. This was going to be a great night.

Free Beer, but the Water Is Gonna Cost You

The club was full by the time our band was about to go on. I headed to the bar to get two cups of water for the stage. When I ordered up two waters, the bartender said "That's two bucks." I said "I'm in the band." "It doesn't matter if you are in the band, water is $1 per cup." "Really? You are charging me for water? Didn't I see you give my bass player a free beer a while back?" "Yes, beer is free for the band, but water is not." How could that be? I have never heard of a venue charging the band for water, but not for beer. That's pretty much what I uttered to the bartender, and she said "In Summer, everyone wants water, and cups cost money, so does ice." "Can I have two free waters without ice?" "Nope. You have to pay for the cup."

I ordered two tap beers. She poured them for me. I reached over the bar and poured them into the sink. I then told her to fill the empty cups with water. "Since water is free, and you gave me the cups, you won't be charging me, right?" She stared back, yanked the cups from my hand, and poured two waters for me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Worst Gig Ever | Rock and Roll In Croatia

Second in my Worst Gig Ever series goes to a rock show in Kutina Croatia. The people of Kutina were gracious, mostly. The fans loved our band. They loved us too much, if you ask me. Why is it part of my Worst series? Let me present the evidence.

Stale Bread and Chicken Parts for the Band

We knew that we were not going to get all the items on our performance rider. We don't expect that to happen every night. Two loaves of old bread, and a case of Tuborg Gold was waiting for us in the "dressing room." Outside, they were frying chicken parts in a shallow garbage can lid over an open fire. That was our dinner.

Rats in the Club

The couches needed to be pounded out before anyone sat on them. Rats tended to move in when the club was closed. A good kicking rousted a couple of rats from the couch, but nobody was brave enough to sit on it afterwords.

Drug Sniffing Dogs Sweep Through the Club

Once the local authorities got word that an American band was playing in their town, they dispatched drug sniffing dogs to the club to make sure that we weren't bringing the worst of what America has to offer. No drugs were found. After the near strip search at the border, it was a guarantee that we had no contraband.

Violent Rock Fans

Even with two bouncers on either side of the stage, I didn't quite make it through the show unscathed. A fan spun out from the mosh pit, tripped onto the stage and took out half of my drum set. Our singer got popped in the teeth when his microphone was kicked into his mouth. He stood on the microphone stand for the rest of the night. Our bass player was smart enough to kick people out of her way. Girls can get away with that move.
Our driver/merch guy caught someone trying to steal an empty cd case. When he grabbed the guys arm, the thief spun around and head butted him in the mouth. A scuffle broke out, but it was quickly broken up.

Passports Confiscated at Bullet Riddled Hotel

No matter what anyone tells you, do not give up your passports to anyone, unless it's four a.m. and you are being bullied by a 6'4" 300 hotel operator. If that's what's keeping you from your warm bed, by all means give him what he wants.
I counted the bullet holes in the lobby ceiling. I pointed them out to our guide, and he said "someone must have gotten excited." Just then, a woman with legs hairier than mine walked over with an espresso.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Worst Gig Ever | Part One

Worst gig ever
What was your worst show? Was it the night that only two people came to see your band? Was it a night were you were sick as hell, but the show must go on? Sometimes the worst shows of your musical career make the best memories. Sometimes the show isn't the worst part, but the traveling, the accommodations, the crowd, or something completely unrelated to the show is what makes it a terrible night.
Since I have played in bands that don't always live high off the hog, I have a number of "worst gig" stories. Here is story number one of five. I would love to hear about your worst gig.

Hell Gig Somewhere in East Germany

We pulled up to what looked to be an old fashioned hotel. That was where we were going to perform, as well as stay for the evening. The exterior looked perfect, but the inside of the building was a gutted out mess.
The first sign of bad things to come was when sound man blew up the power amplifier for the p.a. system. The sound man didn't speak English. He knew how to get our attention though. He overloaded the power amp. I actually saw a puff of smoke billow up from the unit as it died. No worries, he had access to another. He rushed out of the music hall while we waited about an hour. He came back with a second amp. This one he managed to keep from blowing up.

" Here is your shower, bed, and accommodations." - Crazy German Man
We trudged up three flights of stairs to find that we were going to sleep on filthy mattresses in the attic. They were strewn about on the floor. There were no doors between what could barely be called rooms. The hotel roof was above us, with bare light bulbs hanging from electric cords. When it came time to sleep, I laid out newspaper on the bed. It was that filthy. There was no heat in the rooms, and it was late March.

The shower was on the second floor. The shower was only accessible if you asked the owner for the key. The owner was nowhere to be found by the end of the night. When he showed us the shower earlier in the afternoon, he opened the door just enough, said "douche," and then slammed it shut and locked it. We never saw the inside of the shower again.

Nazis Come to the Show

We played for Nazi youth. Really, Nazis. We had no idea that they were going to be there. We should have guessed that we would be performing for some real backwoods people. This "hotel" was in the middle of East German farm country. When they came with their girlfriends, we were warned by the opening band to avoid making eye contact with their dates. Trust me, I didn't look. The last thing I wanted was to be beaten to a pulp by real live jack-booted thugs.

We were locked into our room at the end of the night. To keep the neighboring farmers happy, the club owner agreed to lock the bands into the hotel after the show. This move kept drunken guitar players from waking up the farmers at three. In turn, the farmers woke us up with soviet style tractors at first light. I slept about two hours on that filthy mattress, only to be awakened to the sound of farm implements. This was after I was lulled to sleep by rats chewing on the walls.
Breakfast was Nutella on hard bread. The performance rider called for a serious load of food. What I found when I awoke was the bar manager putting out a jar of Nutella, and microwaving a frozen loaf of bread. You know what happens when you microwave bread. It turns into a rock. By this time, I had reached my limit. I started ranting about how we were to be fed a proper breakfast. The bar manager, who spoke nearly fluent English the night before, began to tell me that he didn't understand me. He lapsed into a non-English speaking, very confused man.

Those of us who got drunk the night before managed to sleep about four hours. The sober ones like me were dying to get the hell out of there. We didn't stay for the Nutella and bricks. On the way out, I headed for the club lavatory, only to be turned away because they had just scrubbed the floors. My bowels would have to wait until we reached a gas station, unless I wanted to hop the fence and do my business in a cow pasture.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Band Sucks and the Mix is Partly to Blame

Sound mix sucks
I was sitting with my singer at a local music venue on Saturday night. We had made loose plans to see a Smiths tribute band one month prior. The admission was $12, with 100% of the proceeds going to a fundraiser. I played the role of Morrissey three years ago at Trash Fest, so my interest was piqued as to what this band was going to do on stage, sound like, and look like. My singer was too. We were prompted to attend this event by a mutual friend who backed out without notice. This put us in a bit of a bad mood, since we both agreed to go despite the cold and snow. After a couple of drinks, we were no longer grouchy.

We managed to miss the first two opening bands, and had to sit through just one before the headline act. After politely listening to three songs from band number three, I turned to look at my singer. She knew what I was thinking, and verbalized it for me. "These guys suck." She went on to say that she used to like everything, but now that she's no longer 21, she is picky. As I'm not even close to 21, I can attest to that feeling. I'm very picky about my live music. Okay, just about everyone is picky about their musical tastes. But there is more to this post.

When to Blame the Mix Instead of the Band

It's hard to tell if you like a band when the mix is terrible. If you have never heard a band's music before, and you can't hear the vocals or the guitars or keys, how can you make a solid judgement call? This was part of the problem. It was a pro stage with a pro p.a. system, but a monkey must have been working the sound board. In defense of the sound board monkey, perhaps he had never heard the band play before, so he didn't know what to highlight. That excuse might work if it weren't for the fact that the vocals were mushy and soft. At the very least, you have to get the vocals clear in the mix. That's an easy one. The saddest part is that the band has no idea that they sound like utter crap in the venue.

My thoughts wander when a band is sucking badly on stage. I start to think about the working aspect of the performance, and I (sometimes thankfully) forget about the music coming from the speakers. I wonder if the singer knows that when he pulls his lips more than two inches from the microphone nobody can hear him. I wonder if the bass player knows that his vocal volume is turned down so low that when he speaks in between songs, nobody can understand a word that he is saying. They may have the best monitor mix in the world going on up there, but out here in the audience, it's just a pile of mush.

I can't help but see that the guitar player's amp cut out mid song. He gives a nervous look back towards his amp, and then looks over to his keyboard player who smiles. Was it a problem that they were having during sound check? Did he step on his own cord? Did he forget to put new batteries in his effects pedal, which now went dead? I can't help myself. I have played too many shows, and seen how the sausage is made. If I'm not loving the music, I'm seeing with different eyes.

When the headline act came on, my other eyes and ears took over. I loved it. I'm sure that the mix was a bit better for the headliner, but it didn't matter to me. I knew the songs, and loved singing along. In fact, I was up against the stage, so all I could hear was the monitor mix which then proved to me what I had feared. The opening act probably thought that they sounded like rock stars, judging by the clarity of the stage mix I was hearing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turner Hall is Just the Way I Like It

I had my wedding reception at Turner Hall back in 1990. I'm not talking about the ballroom, but the restaurant. We were lucky, there was nothing going on at the Bradley Center that night, so our friends and family found easy parking. We spent the better part of a year looking for the right venue to host our reception, and when we found Turner Hall we were pretty desperate. Sometimes you just luck out, and the folks that run the joint did a great job.

We took group photos on the double stairway that leads to the upper floor, not knowing that there was a huge dance hall up there. Fast forward to today, and I can't think of a better place to see a show. Sometimes a venue has a good vibe, sometimes a venue has a bad vibe. Turner Hall makes me feel at ease. It's no wonder that it was named Venue of the Year by the WAMI people.

Turner Hall Ballroom Open Once Again

The rumor is that when they reopened the ballroom, they decided that the rough look of the walls and ceiling should stay as they are. I think that it brings charm to the venue. There is netting strung along the ceiling. I would guess that it was put up to catch any large chunks of plaster that would fall? The walls have not been painted, and the floors have a dark stain and soft feel. The stage is high enough for anyone who stands to see the artist with no problems. The balcony is quite large, and gives patrons a solid view. None of that matters to me, it's all about the vibe.