Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"He's not Gene Simmons, he's a very naughty boy..."

Back when I was someone, I used to regularly take to the boards sporting a rather fetching pair of Blues Brother-esque faux ray-bans. Intended to imply a mysterious, elegant and mildly threatening aura, the real reason, purely and simply, was that I was absolutely terrified for most of the time I was on stage. The protection afforded me of not having to open my eyes for a large proportion of the set meant that I could enjoy making the noise for which I mostly responsible for authoring without any of that tedious mucking about to see if anyone was actually enjoying it or not, which most of the time was a serious blessing. I am reminded of these more innocent times as The Drummer suggests that we don shades for a couple of numbers at The Pickerel. It’s partially the response of one lively audience member that reminds me that as well as my burgeoning confidence as the early days wore on meaning I was able to throw off the shackles of self-imposed myopia I also had another reason, and one which becomes clearer with the passage of time. I don’t suit shades, and I look (to coin a recently expressed phrase) “like a dick”. Which is a shame, because audience watching can be a most enjoyable way to spend an evening, not least if you have the protection from identification as a pseudo-stalker afforded by your sunnies and can remember to move your fingers at the appropriate junctures so that it looks like you’re concentrating. If you’re much less a flamboyant showman than a dutiful sidekick you can pretty much spend your entire career this way - it helps whiles away the hours between solos, for a start. Drummers, from their seated position at the back, frequently have the best vantage points in terms of frock-spotting* and over the years one can come to recognize an unexpected and insistent double bass drum flams not only as an ad-hoc contribution to rock’s rich history of syncopated rhythms, but as an indicator that a girl in great strappy sandals has just walked across the front of the stage. On the downside of course they do generally have to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at the singer’s backside, and in the world of the Rock Dad which we surely inhabit, that’s not always exactly a cakewalk in the park**.
The keen audience-spotter should never underestimate the level of irritation that may be afforded to the (frequently burly) partners of such spottees however, and so it is important not to stare overtly if you can help it unless you have either a car running outside throughout the show just in case, or have studied advanced microphone-stand combat techniques to at least Second Dan level. Also, it’s best to not bother at all if your spouse, fiancĂ©e, lover or same-sex hetero life-partner has come along to lend you moral support. Not even the most supportive wife will believe you were really going to comment to her in the break about the slutty girl in the red dress and how she was surely going to catch her death in weather like this when they’ve been watching your eyes follow her around the room for the entire first set. You only need to learn that once, I can tell you. It’s also probably worth mentioning at this point that the vision thing works both ways, and so (for instance) The Bass Player can see full well what you’ve been trying to get up to with his partner and (to paraphrase the immortal words of now ex-Eagle Don Felder) there’s just three more songs till he kicks your ass, buddy. It’s always worth checking to see who’s with the band and who’s not, that’s all I’m saying.
Not that this necessarily precludes the fundamental basis of all stage/audience interaction – after all, the vanity factor which first drove the musician to stand on a stage and proclaim to the world “look at me, look at me, I’m fabulous!”*** but is now so deeply buried beneath a grubby patina of sticky carpeted pub gigs and overflowing ashtrays in the artist’s mind can easily be re-enflamed by the merest hint that a girl in the audience actually finds him physically attractive! Here, as in all things, caution must be exercised. The onstage / offstage interaction scenario is complex and arcane in its execution. As long as everyone remembers that it’s make-believe then it’s all great fun. Talent is a harsh mistress, but still probably a better one than that lass in the halter top who’s been eyeing you up during your solo in Hotel California will be. Unless, of course, you want to meet her boyfriend/husband and/or Mum later on – any combination of which can be terribly distracting. Mind you, if that’s your bag, as it were….
Anyway, all of this came to mind as I watched the tall, leggy redhead in the strappy top and the cowboy hat dance in her heels at the front of the gig last week. That and because someone shouted at me “take your sunglasses off indoors – you look like a dick…..”




*this should not be confused at all with “logo spotting” which is an experience wherein an audience, or proportion thereof, will crane their necks at a forty five degree angle in order to be able to tell what make of guitar you’re playing, what effects you’re putting it through and, in some advanced cases, what’s next on the set list. This frequently requires spinal double-jointery and should be attempted only by extremely seasoned gig goers. And those who don’t like surprises. Remember to warm up thoroughly first.

** It’s what we in the biz know as MacArthur’s law of returns.

*** And this we refer to as the Rufus factor.