We’ve been playing regularly at Poopy’s for about five years, 3-4 times per summer. Last night was at least our 15th show there, possibly closer to our 20th.
It was our best gig there by far. Not just because naimhe and monkeyfrog and johnnnytooobaddd came out, though that was certainly a huge part of the fun. Normally when you drive 2.5 hours from your home base to play a biker bar on the banks of a muddy creek in the middle of nowhere, you don’t expect to have friendly faces in the crowd. A huge bonus to have them, for sure, and it was great to hang out a little bit between sets.
We play a lot of biker bars; it’s kind of what The Recliners do, even though none of us are bikers. For whatever reason, they like us. But here’s the thing about bikers: most are way, way too cool to do anything demonstrative in public. Or maybe it’s not about the cool; maybe their leathers are just so tight that they can’t move their asses, or breathe. So while we know they love us because they say so, and these venues keep bringing us back, we don’t expect a lot of feedback from the crowds at these gigs. Very little applause, zero dancing. You get the occasional fist pump when you start a song they like, or, rarely, you’ll see a foot tapping or head bobbing. Not much more.
There was something different yesterday, though. Maybe it was because we played late, and a lot of the actual bikers had ventured back onto the roads towards their points of origin. The crowd that remained last night, especially for the third set which started at 9:45, seemed more like non-biker locals, based on their age, clothing, and drunkenness. (Bikers rarely get wasted when they have to ride.) We had a big group out there, dancing, singing along, buying us shots, making ridiculous requests, and just generally having visible, over-the-top fun.
Of course that translates right back into the performance. No lie—on a number of occasions out there, we’ve delivered a competent but by-the-numbers show. We love to play and to hang out with each other for the day, but sometimes it feels like an open rehearsal, and I’m sure that’s obvious from watching us. We do our best, but it’s just hard to really lean into it and push when no one out front gives a shit. Last night we had no such lack of energy. I think, in fact, that energy managed to bust us out from what should have been an inch-thick coating of rust. Due to our busy lives, we haven’t played together in six or seven weeks, and I don’t think any of us really practiced individually very much during that time. We soared right over those potholes. I certainly surprised myself, and as a bonus, the mysterious problems I have been having with getting proper tone were much, much fewer last night. Wasn’t perfect, yet (will it ever be?), but acceptable.
It wasn’t without a little weirdness. The mayfly eruption that was big enough to make weather radar reports last week? Yeah. We were just a few hours south of that, and those stupid motherfuckers were everywhere. LED-based stage lighting is a wonder of modern technology in every sense, most notably the fact that they generate no heat. But they do apparently generate a lot of UV wavelengths that bugs can’t get enough of. With old school incandescent lamps, the heat would ultimately keep them away or fry them. (And fry the band, too. God, I don’t miss those.) Last night, hundreds of mayflies swarmed the stage and every white surface on it, including my amp and tool bag pictured on the right, above. And many flew right into the PAR cans and rested right on the surface of the LEDs, blissed out, closer to a pure source of that magical UV light than could ever be possible during the first umpteen million years of their time here.
After the bugs came the bats. That was cool and freaky and unnerving. Eat ‘em up, guys, just don’t attack the ones in our hair, please and thanks.
I got home last night at 2:45am after a harrowing drive through very thick fog. I was exhausted, but still had a little too much residual energy to get right to sleep. Still feeling that hangover now, a little. It’ll feel good to sleep it all off with a three-hour nap this afternoon.
The 40-Year Quest
Sometime next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first time I picked up a guitar, and I still haven’t found my tone.
I had an interesting interaction with a mama robin yesterday.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time when she built her nest behind that lighting control box, up inside the shed that houses the stage at Poopy’s. Shelter from weather and predators, a convenient bucket shape to build it in, possibly warm from the electrical current. A fine choice.
That little spot just above center stage between the green and yellow lamps was a quiet, isolated place in the early spring when she got to building. But now it’s one of the loudest, busiest places in the county. And she has three (maybe four? hard to see) little hatchlings in there that need nearly constant feeding. Yesterday, there was a loud guy in a pink shirt singing into that mic about 4 feet below her home, and she wasn’t sure what to do about it.
At several points, she would perch on that fence right over where it says “Manny’s”, with a big, juicy bug in her beak, and look me right in the eye. She tilted her head to the side just a little. Now, granted, I’m a guy who can anthropomorphize guitars, but I swear she was assessing me, trying to determine if I was a threat. I tried to assure her I’m not, but I couldn’t really move away from that spot, what with the inverse square laws which govern the decay of acoustical pressure as a function of distance.
A few times, she attempted a daring entrance from the front, but we spooked her (I swear, we were trying to accommodate) and she abandoned the mission each time. She eventually figured out she could get in from the side over there by the keyboards, and kind of hop along a support truss to get back to the kids.
Every time she brought a new bug in, she’d sit there as she is in the picture on top, head back, beak open. She may have been singing, though there’s no way to be sure because, you know, rock band. Again, I’m probably attributing qualities that aren’t there, but that posture seems proud to me. These are my babies. Those loud ground animals aren’t going to stop me. I will feed them and keep them safe.
Rock on, mama robin.
Most of the bullying I endured was in middle school. I went to a private high school about five miles away from where I lived, mostly because it was a much better school than the public school I lived near, but at least partly because I could get away from my tormentors since none of those dumbass hillbillies would be going where I was.
some video from Saturday
I know the odds of people
- clicking on links
- to see short videos
- on Facebook
- because I don’t think I can embed them here
- not that it would improve the odds much
are exactly 0.00000, but if you’re curious what I look like when I am bringing the rawk, you can look here then here. Brief NSFW at the start of the second one, but it has more me, not coincidentally.
The gig was incredible, electric, cathartic, and utterly satisfying. I’d do a recap but it’d be hard to put it into words since it affected me in a much more primitive part of my brain. We’ll probably do another one in a year or so; hopefully you can make it.
(videos courtesy Mark Lush)
- Friday: turns out 48º and sideways rain aren’t the best conditions to get a big crowd to an outdoor gig.
- You could argue, though, that’s to be expected when I play a gig at a Catholic church. Two years in a row. No lightning this time, at least. Or locusts.
- That was some of the best onstage sound I’ve ever experienced.
- Electricians: hire good ones.
- Saturday: big kudos to Mister Mo’s and their hiring practices and uniform choices. I’m willing to overlook that little apostrophe problem.
- Concession to age: no more gigs on successive days, at least if there are vocals on day 2. By the start of the second set, I sounded like the bastard love child of Bonnie Tyler and Froggy.
- The Recliners recently invested in a PA for gigs at small places like that, which was good. I think next we need lights, though, because in that kind of place, the only stage light is the reflected glow of the TVs.
- South side sport’s [sic] bars are truly the worst places on Earth to experience Noter [sic] Dame football. Gah.
- I need one of you to unload the car, now, please, kthx.
- 4 hours of sleep oughta be plenty, right?
I busted an A during the fourth song. I had to finish that one with five strings, detuned and awkward. I was like Jack White without the violent misogyny.
It went downhill from there. My tone sucked, my forearms felt leaden, I was in poor voice, I sweat through my shirt. I had a headache and it hasn’t gone away.
It’s like this: my particular style of playing has been described as athletic, gymnastic, muscular. As such, I have to stay in shape. I can’t play a couple of days a year then walk out there and try to be what I used to be. No one wants to see once great jocks, now fat and old, playing celebrity softball games.
From here, right now, I need to recommit, reinvent, or hang it up, because fuck that.
A pretty incredible thing happened at last night’s Bradburys gig.
Long-time readers may recall the story from last summer when, at the Taste of Wisconsin, a guy came up to me after we played Off Broadway’s “Stay In Time” and told me he was the original guitarist and that we did a good job with it. He also said, “your singer sounds just like Cliff!”
So there we were last night about halfway through our set when an older dude with wild hair came down to the front of the stage and got my attention. “Hey, I’m Cliff Johnson. Can I come up and sing with you guys?”
It really was him. Apparently Dan, our fearless leader, knew this was a possibility but he kept it from the rest of us. Cliff came up and we launched into “Stay In Time” after he asked us if we were sure we knew the eighth-note riff before the chorus. (Please.) And as soon as he leaned into that first line, “Every day when you turn away from your world, boy,” all the hairs on my neck stood up and I broke into the biggest smile. This was the voice that was playing through my radio all summer in 1980. Those junior high years were the most critical of my formative era as a musician. I doubt most people reading this will remember that song; it peaked at #51 on the Billboard charts nationally, but it was a much bigger hit here since they were local heroes. It’s hard for me to overstate how incredible it was to share a stage, even a mic, with a guy who I’ve been singing along with for 30+ years. (I really hope he didn’t catch whatever this disease is in my lungs. Sorry, Cliff.)
After that, we did The Beatles’ “Bad Boy” (now Junior, behave yourself) which Cliff totally owned. Then he took his leave to big smiles and big applause all around. Our next song was “No Matter What” by Badfinger, and he couldn’t help himself and came back up and sang background vocals while Jake, our bass player, handled lead. Super fun.
Anyway, that’s truly a first. I’ve opened for some semi-legendary people, but this was the first time I ever actually got to play with one, live. I love that after over 30 years as a performer, I still get the occasional first-time experience. It was a thrill I’ll never forget.
(You can hear “Stay In Time” at the link to the old post above. Photos by Dan’s daughter Mari.)
- I love Wisconsin, and I say that without smirking or irony, though I have to make two big exceptions for their taste in football and governors. Big props to the guy wearing an Urlacher jersey in the beer tent way behind enemy lines…that’s cojones grande.
- After doing this a long time, it’s the little things that make me happy. To wit: downstage AC power for pedalboards.
- Though, when you run your power for the entire venue over a single, not-too-thick extension cord from 200’ away, there’s enough voltage sag that your fancy new digital effects pedal keeps rebooting throughout the set, which makes for a cool light show, but not so much for the nifty tones.
- LED stage lighting FTW. Going home unroasted and not soaked in sweat is a thing.
- Though, going home soaked from the downpour that started just before loading out is a different thing.
- They had a cool, surprisingly high-tech setup: at the FOH position, there was just a man and a woman with two laptops, one for sound, one for lights, controlling all of it remotely via ethernet. That’s awfully big time stuff for a church parking lot gig. Impressive.
- Nothing pleases me more than the Glare of the Insecure Guitarist in the Audience. I see you, dude. <waves> <shreds>
- Rookie mistake: leaving my phone on a mains speaker which angrily vibrated it right off of there and onto the wet pavement about 5’ below. Still assessing damage; not looking good. Ka-ching.
- Worse than rookie mistake: remembering I’d left my prescription sunglasses there after driving halfway home in a thunderstorm, then having to turn around and go get them, thus extending my time in the car in soaking wet clothes to nearly 3 hours.
Some more serious news: something’s wrong with my right arm…my forearm muscles are really tight and my fingers and hand are twitching. If it keeps up I’ll call the doctor tomorrow, but does anyone have any suggestions on anything I can do or take in the meantime?