Before I go into my normal long-winded description of the show I performed in this past Tuesday (1.18.11), I’d like to preface with a rather appropriate link I lifted off a friend’s facebook. The article paints a rather realistic and bleak picture of the lifestyle of an artist – and a signed, touring, accomplished artist at that. The appropriateness of the article for this post arises, of course, from the number sitting quietly at the bottom next to “Earnings.”
I arrived at the Lab at 9:15, a bit late in my head as the gig was set to start at 9:30. I needn’t have worried. Trivia Night raged in full swing right to our written door time. Teams of five to ten crammed around tables leaving no aisle space beneath the still dim lighting while the organizers roamed around stage reading questions, playing music from the PA to give clues (clever, no?), etc. They even gave a shout out about our gig before the final question. Successfully, too, as some tens of people stuck about while James set up.
Their good will turned out to be a moot point. The very moment Trivia Night ended James assembled his things around the stage, not bothering to break down the table or wait for the organizers to quit it, either. He blared his backing tracks and sang loudly and uncharismatically (ignoring the audience that tried to smile) into his two microphones. I think I can best describe his style as an assault. He glared people down, offered not a single smile, ignored the haphazardness of the stage and acted rather artiste about it all. A women in her seventies who’d hoped to stick around made a visible effort in her shout to “Turn it down, please!” but when he turned his back to her to walk to the mixer he turned the volume up, ignoring her and the rest of the vibe. By the end of his first song there were five of us left: the two bartenders, the doorman, myself and James.
Apparently oblivious as to the cause of this mass exodus, James left the stage a few times with his backing tracks still playing to accost the various people on the patio – accosting rather than welcoming, guilting rather than smiling. Naturally he met no success but rather caused people to flee even that area.
I felt helpless. I couldn’t think of anything to do but watch them leave in ones and two and finally whole groups. Some of them didn’t even go far, just to the patio outside to sit and smoke. I had hope for these. I thought, OK, James finishes his set and I can bring them back. A group of four wandered in and payed the doorman at one point. Three of James’ friends came in. But his set continued on and on and on until at 10.30 the four left and I, desperate, wanting to cry from the futility chased after them anyways and pleaded, looking a pathetic wreck. They pitied me gently.
Finally, my turn came, and only on my suggestion. I began an appropriately sad set for an audience of six, starting with Mad World and winding my way through my trio of songs from two summers ago, also known as the saga of a not relationship. I’d played enough times in that space filled that each empty seat made it feel alien and cavernous. The upshot of it all manifested in a distinct lack of nerves. Hard to be nervous in a nearly empty room.
My distinctly chiller act cast a very different feel upon the space. The very attractive bartender Caitlin cast encouraging smiles at me throughout and Amanda, who’d been so kind chatting to me during the lead up, stayed generously rapt. When I got to my story about Karluv Most it was almost – not quite – almost like singing in the common room of the 4th floor girls, tiny bits of small talk and conversation and all. One girl who’d wandered in at the end of James’ set even chatted a moment with me about the conversion of the Danish Crown to clear up the cost of a beer there before a very well received Mario Kart Love Song. So, quite warm. Michael Dorsey, who’d played the night at the Warehouse after Michael Claytor stopped in just as I amended my set list to include From Dawn to Busk with a very kind friend. She smiled at me winningly with brilliant white teeth that glowed Cheshire like beneath the black lights throughout the three songs they stayed for, clapping enthusiastically and leaving me all awash with gratitude. I nodded at them a few times as they waved from beyond the windows. Hobo Joe even stopped in for a number of songs, interrupting me with a friendly goodbye before he left.
When I finished my set James joined me on stage for a moment to sing Where is My Mind while I played the guitar part. He sang excellently. He then captained the stage for yet another forty five minute set of the same fare. Let me describe his music a touch. I find it hard to call his songs “originals” as they borrow heavily, sample or outright steal from a number of well known tunes. Well know I say, since I haven’t the broadest of musical encyclopedia-ness yet I recognized the main backing tracks three out of every four tunes. Where is My Mind actually served as one of these – our conversation about this sparking our joint cover. Another example: the chords from Brain Stew or Should I Stay or Should I Go. This set he spent even more time with his fearsome backside to us, even more time brushing his hair while he sang – this time we dug it as good fun.
With his set ending just past midnight I chatted with the tiny audience before out on the patio as they left, then asked James about cutting the box. We’d earned a total of $20, so I expected ten of that to come my way. Remember that article? If you didn’t read it, one factor of the impossibility of being an artist is the many places your money is divided. Originally I was set to man the door for the James’ act and he for mine, but he asked his friend Mike to man the door, so that gave Mike a share. An even share – I won’t go more into my thoughts on that as there’s more. James allotted himself two shares – one as performer and one as “promoter” – which he could only claim as having booked the gig, but certainly not for securing any sort of an audience. Then he reserved another share for his pal Joe, as a performer. Joe arrived five minutes prior. I felt quite upset at this, to me, ridiculous turn of events.
With much cajoling from Amanda I stuck out Joe’s set and thereby the two of us comprised the audience, as James took the stage again with Joe banging on a bucket, breaking a mic stand, brushing his hair, playing his synth, the works. For his part Joe strummed an electric guitar comfortably – if barely audibly as James balanced – to accompany consistently semi-tone flat vocals. They finished with a reprise of James’ first song of the night, Abraham, not even trying to disguise the “inspiration” this time, with Joe singing Take On Me over it.
I suppose one lesson from the night lay in a reprimand against the seeking of money – something I often chastise others for. My greatest earnings came in a coupon book Mike the doorman bequeathed me as a welcome to Gainesville and a riotous poster for the gig given me by the owner, Bill, which had hung in the unisex bathroom for about a week. I’ll let it speak for itself but be warned: it’s not at all censored.
Earnings: $4.00, poster, coupons, 45 minutes
Audience: ~12 people (peak)
Song of the Day: Purple Dress – Terrence Ho