Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday morning. Two consecutive days of posting, big fucking deal...I've decided that I should start writing, if not every day, at least every other day. This will probably result in a lot of meaningless paragraphs that I will delete later...or not. It's too early for that much forward thinking. Tomorrow evening will hopefully be another round of improv games at the Alibi. I have to remind myself not to call it "improv comedy"...because it's not for me to necessarily decide what funny is, or will be. That is rather up to the audience. I will try to BE funny, but, the more important aspect (it seems to me) is to serve the scene and the rules for each specific game or task. I did my first evening of performances a couple of weeks ago. I really didn't know how it would go and that was a very enticing aspect. I could have played it much safer and volunteered for the games that I thought would be in my wheel-hub, but, I really just wanted to dive into the whole thing face first. Some scenes were more successful than others, to say the least, but it felt good and a little risky...which I do enjoy. Similar in some respects to performing music for a crowd. I have a large repository of songs that I can pull out if I feel like going for a less challenging "crowd pleaser" set...and sometimes that's an easy shot. There are other songs that veer off in directions that may not always connect and those sets can be really fun for me...which is sort of a selfish way to play. It shouldn't be just for my amusement...but sometimes it is. Is that wrong? I find it hard to know. Or I find it hard to care. In either case, it comes down to a strange high-wire act with fluid rules. It becomes monotonous playing the same songs every time. There have been rare occasions when I have decided to write a song on the spot. Ask audience members for ideas about the content and style of the song and just fucking wing it. Again, those haven't always been successful, but, they were very enjoyable moments on stage. I think people like knowing that they are getting a unique song that has never been heard, before or since.

I got a little distracted there. Ooops.

Back to the improv thing. I'm reasonably aware of my strengths as a live performer. I think very quickly on my feet and after years of hosting Open Mic's I can usually get a "read" on a room in very little time. It's hard to explain and I certainly never analyzed how that happened. These, erm, "instincts" (for want of a better word) developed over a long period of time and they've stayed with me well after I stopped regular performances. There was a time when I played every Wednesday night for almost three years. And the first few months were rough...almost no other performers were showing up, which meant that some nights I had to play for a few hours...and then after a while a regular crowd started showing up and musicians and singers started to sign up for short sets and over time the Wednesday nights became a real draw. Some nights I barely played at all and I would spend my time on stage having dialogue with the audience. Not quite stand-up, but, something very much within the ball park thereof. I love getting a reaction from a crowd and the attendees at these nights were usually the same people that I would socialze with on other nights...so, there was a certain element of safety, which was reassuring...but, I definitely pushed the boundaries of what would be considered funny and tasteful...some nights I would speak for a couple of minutes in between songs and I would just randomly drop the word "cunt" into my sentences, just to see if people were actually listening...it wasn't hard to tell. There is still a certain strange power with that word...other times I would quietly noodle on my guitar and eavesdrop on conversations around the bar and then respond to something I heard, usually with a crass one liner. More often than not it would get a good laugh and I felt validated. Now THAT'S egotism. Of course, I hope I'm not giving the impression that I was always on top of my game...there were more than enough nights where I ended up drunk way too early and would end up stumbling and mumbling through a few songs before more or less giving up the reigns of the evening...very selfish behaviour and yet, strangely, very instructive. The highs and lows of those years gave me more confidence in my abilities and taught me a great deal about how to, erm, streamline(?) my performances. While doing so, I helped to establish a (now) longstanding institution. I'm pretty proud of that.

This whole line of thinking has caused me to reflect upon one of my favourite musical performances, the very first John Lennon Tribute show - Friday, December 8th 2000. The whole thing came together rather quickly. In the fall of that year I was working at a seafood restaurant and I found myself thinking, "Wow. It was twenty years ago that Lennon died. " It felt like a real milestone moment. Twenty years had passed from that sad, tragic day...I had to do something. Now, there was a band playing gigs around town that were well known and liked, who played a good number of Beatles covers, (well, they could hardly be originals....) and I was friendly with a couple of the guys in the band. I approached them after a show one night and asked, "What do you think about a whole night of Lennon songs? We could raise some money for a local charity and have a good time into the bargain." They agreed and the date was arranged with the bar management. We had one meeting as the gig was approaching and wrote out the set lists. We never even bothered to arrange a rehearsal...something that seems almost foolish now. The day of the show we met up to load in our gear and another musician we knew had just landed in town from Nova Scotia, a truly nice guy and a great keyboard player. He asked if he could sit in for a few songs and we agreed readily. Showed him the songs that we were going to play and there was only one that he was uncertain about. We had the bartender play it on the stereo and he pretty much cribbed the whole song from that one listen. Amazing. Now, word had spread around our social circle about this night and there was a good amount of interest. By eleven o'clock the bar was fucking packed to the rafters, with a line-up down the stairs, out the door and up the street. No mean feat for a cold December night. We had a few guest singers get up with us and the whole evening was carried along with an energy and, dare I say, "magic" that I have rarely been a part of...before or since. We played every song with love and conviction and the bar crowd were along with us for the whole incredible ride. People were literally dancing in the street outside the bar and the time passed far too quickly. The only sour note (if you will) of the night was that somebody stole one of the tip jars from the bar, with what was estimated to be about $150...man, that fucking sucked. The two bar staff ran their asses off that night and they deserved every penny they earned in tips and a great deal more...it took a few years to arrange another tribute night but, again, they have now become a well liked institution in Charlottetown and I don't feel too immodest about claiming a large part of that.

So...that's what on my mind this morning.


Well...I didn't intend to flatter myself, but, that's pretty much what happened. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing too terribly interesting, either...

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