Monday, February 5, 2007

GREAT Gigs. JUST kidding...

1st thing: The story I narrated is now available for FREE at Pseudopod. It's #23: Civilized Monsters. Go listen! Be sure to eat beef jerky while listening... now to today's post-


So I had two gigs this weekend. A HORRIBLE one, and a mediocre one.

The HORRIBLE gig was in Atlantic City at the Bally’s Blue Martini Bar & Holy Shit I Just Wagered the Kid's College Fund on a Pair of Nines So Pour Me Another ‘Cause if I Sober Up This Will REALLY Hurt Lounge.

It’s an ok “semi mod” bar on the floor of the casino at Bally’s.

One thing first: The majority of “floors” (the floor is where you have the general games like blackjack, craps, roulette, and the soul-sucking slots) in any given casino in Atlantic City is usually a DEPRESSING SHIT HOLE. Seriously. These floors are PACKED with casual gamblers, and are an ocean of noise (slots “paying” off) smoke (the last public indoor area in NJ one is allowed to smoke) and desperation, that is just dizzying. They’re set up like a labyrinth, so that you’d have to be sleeping with Guillermo Del Torro to know how the fuck to get in and out of the place. PLUS the carpeting and d├ęcor are what I call “Early Yetch.”

[“Hmmm… I think that the orange hexagons really bring out the blue of the paisley. Fuckin’ CLASSY! Now shut up and go get me a scotch…”]

So- you know how growing up you picture James Bond playing Baccarat whenever you think of gambling? Well- the closest you get to THAT on the floor of an Atlantic City casino is some guy wearing a Pussy Galore tee-shirt. Feh. Anyway-

The HORRIBLE aspect of this Blue Martini Bar gig is the stage setup and the requirements for playing. The band is set up on a stage DIRECTLY BEHIND the bar, so that we’re “playing” into the backs of the bartenders. The reason I say “playing” is because there is absolutely NO AMPLIFIED NOISE coming off of the stage. I’ll repeat that. There is essentially NO NOISE coming off of the stage. No amplifiers. No monitors. No speakers. And most painful for me: NO DRUMS.

Here's a fictional, way-too-happy "band" "playing" at the actual Blue Martini Bar.
Notice that there are only THREE of them, and no rhythm section.
This is the kind of band the bar was designed for. Shitty and one third blond.

"No drums?"

Yes. NO DRUMS.

What the drummer is required to play is a set of Virtual Drums that is owned by the house.

Now- don’t get me wrong, I have used V-Drums in the past, and they can be quite and incredible instrument, IF you’ve programmed them right and IF they’re mixed right and IF you’re using a top or even CLOSE to top of the line instrument. The house kit of V-Drums was a “road model” version that is about eight years old. In terms of V-Drum technology, that is somewhat equivalent to using an Eight Track. To try and download songs off iTunes. On the moon.

These are V-Drums. The V stands for Very hard to play at the Blue Martini Bar.

So how does this work? Well- the bass and guitar are plugged DIRECTLY into the board (no amps remember), and the drums (which are literally pieces of plastic) are plugged into the board, and the horns play into mics and the singers sing into mics- so all you HEAR on stage are the horns and the clickety-click of me hitting plastic. Every musician gets a set of headphones, and has a personal monitor-device-thingy connected to said headphones that he or she can use to adjust the levels of every other musician on stage. This COULD BE really cool, and for vocals it’s actually quite nice- HOWEVER, once you have NINE people trying to get a groove and a vibe happening, (who aren’t used to doing it this way) it can be quite a challenge.

Now ON TOP of all this- the way that the audience HEARS the whole show is through a series of speakers set up in the ceiling, over the dance floor and bar. These speakers are approximately 30 yards away from the band AND there’s essentially NO BASS response AND they’re driving everything through a compressor and gate which has the WONDERFUL effect of DELAYING the sound by about 500 milliseconds. How long is that? Well- in terms of playing music, if you’re hearing what you’re playing HALF A SECOND after you play it, that is the equivalent of asking Wendy Carlos to pee while standing, after 1970. (You’re too late, it’s possible- but really hard, and regardless what you do it’s gonna be real messy.) You HAVE to use the headphones, but that system has its limitations, because on TOP of performing, you’re adjusting the levels of EIGHT other people (as well as your own) in real time. Nice.

THE MOST frustrating thing however, is you HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE BAND SOUNDS LIKE. Even with the most distant of stage set ups, you can usually get a vibe on what’s being sent out to the room, or hall, or park or WHATEVER. Here- You CAN’T listen to the room because it’s half a second AFTER what you’re playing AND it’s relatively far away.

“Well-“

you say

“…that’s what the SOUNDMAN is for correct? He’s MIXING while you’re playing so that each song can be a perfectly balanced representation of PFA’s repertoire which includes some of the very best funk, soul and R&B the 20th century had to offer. Right?... Right?”

[sound of crickets chirping]

Yes, one would think so. But the soundman stays for the first song, makes sure there are no open fires or gushing head wounds on stage… AND THEN LEAVES. He’s probably pulling a double shift and is required to go simultaneously run the stage monitors for Cirque De Soleil’s latest tribute to Crotch Tights and Dudes Painted Like Parakeets. (I think that show is called Baulls!)

[WARNING:PEEVE TANGENT WARNING:PEEVE TANGENT]

Speaking of soundmen,- this particular soundman did something that REALLY BUGS THE SHIT OUT OF ME. While we were setting up, Andy P. (our guitarist) noticed that there was no “pod” or device that he plugs his guitar into. This pod provides some effects (since he’s not using his amp, remember) that make his guitar sound more like he’s used to hearing it. The sound guy was nowhere around, and Andy was getting a little nervous. The gig is hard ENOUGH without ALSO having to deal with no guitar effects. Anyway- the guy finally shows up (about 20 minutes before our hit) and Andy asks “do you have the pod? It’s usually here before I set up…” and this guy looks at Andy and says “No I forgot it…” A look of mild panic/disappointment sort of comes over Andy’s face, and then the guy says “JUST kidding. I have it.”

WHY IS IT- That people that have NO SENSE OF HUMOR, and couldn’t construct a wry comment, observation, silly statement, or even a SHITTY PUN think that LYING about something with a straight face is EQUIVALENT to being FUNNY? This isn’t particular to soundmen in any way- but this guy did it and it just really tweaked me. I know a number of people whose only ability to add a “joke” to a conversation is to SAY THE OPPOSITE OF something true. “JUST kidding…” they say. One bandmember used to do this ALL THE TIME. We would be in the middle of some delicately timed, yet panicked event, where I'm running around trying to calm down the bride's mother while the caterer is yelling at me to speed things up and I turn to [name deleted] and say "are ya ready to play the first song?" and he'd say "I left the sheet music at home... [pause] JUST kidding" and I'd want to plunge a fucking drumstick through his hypothalamus. It got to be SO bad that I finally called him out and BEGGED him to stop doing it. He very nicely has stopped.

Anyway- The soundguy says: “JUST kidding…” and I really wanted to say "Hey, guess what? You’re NOT kidding, Oscar Milde. Kidding would be: 'the casino has devised a new system. We shove the pod up my sphinctus, and you have to plug your guitar into my nose.' THAT would be kidding. All you did was LIE." It's like the totality of some people's humor skill is not laughing at their own supposed “jokes.” Garbage. The next time someone "jokes” like that- please call them out on it. JUST kidding…]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The only appealing aspect of the gig was that I had no gear to set up, and our playing time (four, forty minute sets) went by relatively quickly. I got back home at 4:45 am. I did manage to hear some great Ron & Fez on the ride home though- so the night wasn’t a total loss.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Saturday’s gig, and how I did while auctioning off THOUSANDS of dollars worth of shit to rich symphony attendees.

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