I’m old. I admit it. I don’t even bother to act young any more, even if people don’t think I act my age. Still, even though I’m a decade or more away from “real” retirement, I’m getting ready to retire from live performances.
Now, this is nothing like the Beatles quitting touring in 1966 – mainly, since I don’t perform at live shows – I can’t play an instrument and I can’t sing, although I suppose with backing bands and Auto-Tune, I could still make a record – it’s worked for any number of Idol winners.
However, I do try to attend shows – support local music! – and support the venues that host live music.
Here’s the problem – first of all, I’m old (as mentioned before) and as far as I can tell, a bar owner will want a band to play until closing time, which around here is 2am. Actually, they want them to finish just before 2am, so people will clear out before actual closing time, so there’s time to clear the bar and mop the puke. (Next time you’re in a bar, check the clock. Either there isn’t one in obvious view, or it’s set at least ten minutes fast.) So, if you finish at one-thirty in the morning, last set starts at 12:30am, given an hour-long set. There was a break before that, which probably started at midnight. Second set started an hour earlier, or 11pm. Break before that started at 10:30pm. First set started an hour earlier, or 9:30pm, which is why the announcements say the band starts at 9pm, because people are always late and the band generally forgets to tune up.
All that math is approximate, but anyone who has followed a local band for any amount of time knows all set times are approximate.
So, first problem – the music won’t start before 9pm at the earliest. For the younger crowd, that’s early. For old farts, that’s getting to the point where you’ve realized you’re not going to leave the house that night after all.
Second problem – the band ends at 1:30am or later. If they’re playing on the weekend, that’s one thing, but I know people who play this schedule on “school nights”, which is fine if you can sleep until noon, but I usually have meetings in the mornings (yes, I would like to sleep through them, but it’s frowned upon at the office.)
Third problem – a lot of the places that host bands I like are not particularly large, so they fill up quickly. If you get there early enough for a good seat, you have an hour or so with very little to do but drink, or enjoy delicious bar food – which is why you drink. When you’re at my age and alcohol experience level, this is not much of an issue. For some of the younger crowd, this means they will be plastered by the time the music starts. (For any of my younger readers, there is a concept called “pacing” – it saves money and it could save your liver.)
So, late start, drunk crowd, small venue. Does this sound like a recipe for enjoying a band?
The final straw for me was the other night at Pearl, which is traditionally very good for live music. Jason Elmore was home from a Canadian tour, so it was his “welcome home” party. Towards the end of the first set, a rather large woman just across the room from me started howling after every guitar solo. Now, I love Jason, but some solos are more howl-worthy than others, and two bars of music does not a solo make. By the time the second set started, she was howling at random at a pitch that put most dogs in the area and some of the glasses on the bar at considerable risk. Plus, everyone was wrapping up their conversations from while the band was on break, so it was pretty noisy.
That’s when I hit me – “I can’t hear the fucking band.” This is not a string quartet, this is a blues-rock band with three electric guitars, an electric bass and a drummer. They’re in a pretty small room with speakers all over. Yet, they were being drowned out by a whole bunch of people theoretically there to enjoy the band and a rather large howler monkey with a short skirt.
After that night, I think I’m done. It’s not the band, it’s not (necessarily) the bar, it’s the audience.
I suppose the real issue is that many bars publicize they have live music, because some marketing person decided it was a good idea. However, if the majority of the crowd is just there to drink or hook up, the band is basically background noise, even on a good night. So, if you’re going to the bar to actually hear the band, you are not only in the minority, you may be the only sober ones left by the time the band takes the stage. Also, the idiots drowning out the band are running up bar tabs, so it’s not likely they’re going to get evicted for being drunk and obnoxious.
One simple solution is to only follow corporate-sponsored bands with recording contracts that play stadiums or the larger venues, because there the focus is the music and not getting drunk, but the vast majority of bands in the universe are undiscovered and much more deserving than the crap LA, NYC and Nashville are forcing on us. Also, I’ve had people talking over the band at paid concerts, so it’s still an issue. People are idiots, drunk people especially.
The other solution is to follow very unpopular bands, but they don’t play very often, and there would still be alcohol in the bar, so they would just have hostile drunks yelling at them.
So, I’m looking for a realistic solution. In the meantime, I think I’m going into retirement from live shows.