Trolling For Tinfoil
Friday, May 20, 2005
Bass, live music and such.

It’s a wedding weekend-

I have a gig immediately following the wedding, so I will have to cut the festivities short, scurry out the door and go entertain the drunken masses.

Okay, more like smallish drunken mob.

A small gaggle of inebriated rhythmically challenged club-goers.

I need a break from the music scene.. I hardly ever pick up my bass and play it for fun like I used to. I used to love the solidity of the instrument, the lower range vibrations resonating in my hands, against my chest. I never even used to plug it in much sitting on the sofa, mindlessly running scales- which probably explains why I wear it so high up against my chest and play so hard. Technique is an inexact science, more of an art, really. Some guys play bass with picks, but I’m a finger-style snob.

I still like playing live, once I’m there- but getting motivated for a gig is an effort. I’m a little annoyed at having to haul my gear, set it up, and lug other heavy-ass chunks of equipment necessary to make sound. After 16 years this part has gotten old.

Playing live is an assault on the senses. I have a reflexive reaction once I hit the stage and it still elicits a pavlovian response.

The whip-crack of the drumsticks giving a four-count snaps me out of my funk and I go into auto-adrenaline, hands locking into position, eying the audience to gauge the mood of the crowd, peripheral vision working to keep an eye on my bandmates looking for the subtle cues as to what’s going on. The lights create a cocoon effect, separating you from the audience in a bubble-like shield, shimmering as it picks up the smoke in the air.

This is what gives stage lights their effect on a good night- The crowd is big, smoking and gyrating to the sounds you make, and the more they smoke, the more the stage lights lend the surreal effect to the show. Reds and blues and beams of yellow crisscross the stage, the audience close up looking like ghosts in the mist, the ones further back looking like a writhing shapeless mass, occasionally lit by neon signs.

The kick drum is more palpable, punching you in the back of your calves, air moving out of the sound hole, my bass amp a semi-audible roar, lights blinking just behind the beat as the limiters kick in trying to keep the bass from feeding on the speakers in a self-destructive frenzy.

Bass amps up close sound like crap- The best part of your tone is carried away from you, developing about ten feet away and at shin level, radiating out from there to rattle the bottles on the bar in the back of the room. It’s hard not to keep dialing in more mid-range in order to cut through the din, countering the effects of hearing fatigue. Do that too much throughout the night and you lose all your presence, authority and will sound like a French horn in heat. All mids and no bass is great for solo jazz but in a full on club settings you need presence, clarity and the ability to vibrate the room.

I used to chuckle as women figured out they could actually get off, sitting on the ’18 subs- The bar would get full, they’d get tired and grab a seat on a floor cabinet loaded with two 18 inch JBL’s fed by 1000 watt carver amps. It was hard to get them to move, and we had a little bunch that would line up and sit on the speakers about two songs into the third set every where we went- I think they liked the sound man more than us at that point….

Playing live can be work if the crowd just isn’t “feeling you”. I’ve been playing long enough that I need the interaction with the crowd to get my musical rocks off, like a junkie- more or less. I used to giggle at the fact that they let me play at all in front of people, and then to get paid? Well- Shit. That was better than sex. In contrast, nothing’s worse than playing your ass off and all but hearing crickets after the big finish to a song. That will suck the life out of you, and at that point you feel like you should be getting paid.

To be continued…

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