the john lilley project at the kennett flash

i just want to say, for the record, that i’ve never yelled at a soundman in my life. never, not once.

and as of today, that statement still stands.

saturday night, though, was the closest i think i’ve ever come to snapping my streak.

this past weekend was the grand opening of lee zagorski’s new place, the kennett flash, and by all postmortem accounts, it was a pretty good weekend…jeffrey gaines opened the place on friday night with two sold out shows, and saturday night, it was john lilley’s turn.

jeffrey’s show was a solo acoustic affair, and a relatively simple task for just about any soundman…plug and play, as it were. but saturday night’s show was a full band, and would require a little more attention on their parts to make sure everything went smoothly.

well, it’s not that we were lacking for attention…but something was definitely missing. to summarize, the soundcheck went for two hours, the monitors were never quite right the entire night, and there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence inspired by some of the choices made during setup. for instance, someones’ novel idea of taking a DI to the console from the line going from my volume pedal to the amplifier. those of you not intimately familiar with the tasks managed by the various components within the signal flow of a guitarists’ onstage rig might ask why that’s such an awful idea…and if i were feeling a little more verbose, i might be inclined to tell you.

JL refers to this part of the stage as "tommys' world"...
JL refers to this part of the stage as "tommys' world"...

let’s just say that, short of putting an SM57 on a mic stand and pointing it directly at the guitar, it’s about the worst possible sound you can hope to capture from an electric instrument…especially when there are pedals between the original signal and the DI. when i stepped on the FullDrive for “second chance”, it sounded like a ribbon microphone six inches from a chainsaw.

so i did what any self-important rockstar would do…i jumped up from my chair, kicked over a table, yelled and screamed for a good five minutes, and demanded that the soundman be escorted from the building, otherwise i’d be forced to pack my gear and leave.

actually…probably not surprisingly…none of that happened. i did stop the song, though, and engaged in a rare instance of standing up for myself. without being an asshole (hopefully, anyway), i simply said that we needed to find some way to get a microphone on my amp..because the sound coming through the PA as it were was simply awful and that nothing good was going to come of continuing the way it was at that point in time.

the guys at the FOH board were accomodating, though…they got a mic and put it on a stand that was taller than my petite little princeton reverb amp, and pointed it down at the control panel.


but, hey – the show has to go on, and i’m not there to make waves, i’m there to play guitar. i could hear myself well enough, i could hear john somewhat well (albeit more through the mains than the monitors), and i could obviously hear tommy well enough to cue off him when the need arose…so i had the essentials, anyway. but the thing is, once you’ve gone through two hours of dickin’ around with moving mics, shoving two by fours under monitors, ringing out mixes just to have the feedback reappear after a few minutes’ time, there’s been a degree of mental damage…in the form of insecurity, lack of confidence, and a general reluctance to just put it all out there and trust that you’re in good hands.

the lindley quotes that i posted here in a previous entry alluded to that somewhat – in that he specifically said that if the sound wasn’t right, that he’d fall back on what was “safe” to play and go with what he knew…but that when everything was coming back to him in the proper proportion, that’s when he felt safest in trying new things, in stretching out a bit, in taking chances where he ordinarily wouldn’t. it’d be easy to get the idea that the former was the likely norm of the two given scenarios.

the area where you draw the line between the pros and the wannabes, though, is in how they react to their circumstances. i’ve always tried to be a pro about it, and at least put on a face that belies whatever troubles might be occuring behind the scenes – although sometimes i’m sure it’s more obvious to the audience than others. certainly, the howling screeches and whale song-like howls that come shooting out of the speakers at times are a pretty strong signal to the audience that somethings’ not quite right – but i’m referring more to the reactions of the musicians onstage. it can be anything from a disdainful glare to a full-on temper tantrum, but any musician who thinks that the audience is immune to such things is fooling themselves. audiences react to what they perceive to be the mood of the performer, whether they realize it or not. i’m sure that all of us can think back to a particular show we’ve seen from the crowd where we picked up on the fact that the performer was irate in some form or fashion, and can remember how that made us feel. at best, it creates a momentary sense of awkwardness…and at worst, it can drive a wedge between the performer and the audience that the show will never completely recover from.

maybe some people think that’s cool – i never did. i don’t go to shows to watch the kurt cobains of the world self-destruct before my eyes…i go because an artist has managed to move me to the point where i want to hear them create music that i’ve come to enjoy in a real-time environment. i want to hear them play the damn songs. ideally, if it’s not asking too much, i’d like to have them make some attempt to bring me into their world a little bit. there was a time when i was pretty sure i wasn’t alone in this mindset; i can’t really say these days…but i know that the last thing i want to have to see is some prima donna bitching across the stage to the monitor mixer or rolling their eyes or some other such nonsense. the time for all that garbage is during soundcheck. if you’ve got issues, work them out during soundcheck. if you want to stomp your feet and pout, do it during soundcheck. that’s your window of opportunity. once it’s closed, put on a fuckin’ happy face and get out there and play our ass off.

the band went up there on saturday night did just that. we played our asses off, and to the best of my knowledge none of us gave away where we stood on the issue…i mean, truth be told, once the show started and we warmed up, i eventually found myself acclimating to what we were hearing and settled into a groove of sorts and enjoyed the show quite a bit. my personal highlights of the night were the usual suspects, save for one – a song that we played for the first time ever at the previous rehearsal, a song called lullaby. we found some dynamic zones on that one that i don’t think we ever even tripped over as a band, and it really soared.

i feel like i spend too much time of late being a bitch about sound, about stage conditions, about whatever shortcomings might exist that affect a show…they exist, to be certain. and i feel as though, on some level, i’ve learned quite a bit about how to transend that sort of thing. the crux, though, is that no matter how professional you try to be about it, any musician will play better when conditions are optimal. i think, though, that as i find myself easing up the food chain a bit, that i’m able to carry myself a bit better and – hopefully – it’s not as obvious when i’m having a bad day. the thing that will always give me away is my actual playing. i can smile all damn day, but if i’m not hearing things right, i don’t play as well. period. i think the steel city show from a few weeks ago is a testament to that.

john was an absolute pro – he politely asked for a couple of adjustments at the beginning of the show, and never uttered another word, although all of us could run off a short list of things we’d have preferred to have had someone address. i played with a smile on my face, and everyone else kicked ass, too. the band walked out onto the stage and started playing, and then pierre robert from WMMR came out to bring john on…and the place lit up from that moment on. the crowd was completely into it, and we had a great show.

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