***Most of this post is just me bitching about a weird experience playing a gig, but you should at least read the part next to the asterisks below.
Last Saturday night I drove out to Arlington to play a show with my band, Argonaut. We were scheduled to play at a former Spanish-style Methodist church since converted into a vegetarian restaurant called the Mirkwood and Shire Cafe. (In the same building there is also a Mordor tattoo/piercing shop and a Rivendell Hair Salon.) Being somewhat naturally skeptical of rock shows that take place in Tolkien-themed vegetarian cafes nestled in backwater towns, I did a little searching before I packed up my gear. I found the web page for the venue on Facebook and noticed that they had several other rock/metal/punk type shows booked. Seemed legit.
Fast forward through a few hours of driving…and we arrive at the Mirkwood. The bar staff was friendly and showed us where to load in. We ordered some drinks. Lots of drinks. Layered shots and cocktails with glowing green layers like the nuclear waste in the Simpsons. Cool. We decided to order some food as well. Matt and I ordered pizza, and Emily ordered a BLT. I noticed that “meat” was in quotes on the menu, so I avoided anything meat related. The pizzas were good, but the B in the BLT was the strangest fake bacon I’ve ever seen. It looked like a flat Play-doh wafer of extruded white and red stripes, somewhat reminiscent of what you’d expect in a Fisher Price kitchen version of bacon. It didn’t taste much better. I tried a bite and had to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince myself that it was even baconesque. I’ve had decent vegan bacon replacements but this wasn’t even close. It was more like an aversion therapy device used to replace bacon craving with bacon revulsion. As we finished up our meals, the opening act took the stage.
***This goofy looking kid walks out on stage with a tight batman shirt and a pork pie hat, carrying an acoustic guitar. I had heard that the opener was going to be a guy doing Michael Jackson tribute stuff. Some of the guys were sceptical, but I put my money on it being incredible. Call it a hunch. I was right. This kid played through a set of MJ’s hits with an unbelievable amount of soul. Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, Dirty Diana, Smooth Criminal, and even Human Nature. He killed! He did the Vincent Price rap in Thriller and even sang Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Beat It. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. Cell phones came out. People were recording video left and right. All the guys in my band were looking at each other and saying “How are we supposed to follow this guy?” After playing through all the MJ stuff, he grabbed an electric guitar covered in eyeballs and an iPod and said he was going to do a couple originals. I thought to myself, “ok, this might be where the suck happens”. I WAS SO WRONG! He played a couple porno-funk/soul tunes that would have had panties hitting the floor at 35mph (if the women in the bar had been wearing any). You can hear them here: https://soundcloud.com/bossfight528 I have to say the live versions had more energy than the recorded versions. I sincerely hope that this kid gets snatched up by a label, or invited to be on Americal Idol, or something because he’s star material. I would love to hear his music recorded with Minus the Bear as the backing band. He goes by the name Boss Fight.
The rest of the evening was a catastrophe as far as Argonaut was concerned. After Boss Fight finished, we went up and turned on our equipment, which we’d preloaded to the back of the stage. As soon as I hit my first chord to test whether all my gear was wired up, the sound guy starts freaking out “Whoa! Hey! Your stage volume needs to come down A LOT!” My volume was on 2 (out of 10). At an average argonaut show, I’m between 4 and 6. I turned down to about 1.5. Now mind you this is a big room, with huge PA speakers on either side of the stage and a real sound board. It’s set up for loud rock. Matt fires up his first bass note and the guy has another fit about our stage volume. Matt grumbles. Dave plays a Van Halen riff to test his gear. Another fit from sound guy about our stage volume. We all look at each other with disappointment, but decide to just go with it and start playing. We launch into our first song. I can barely hear myself over the natural volume of the drums. After the song, the sound guy is bitching at us through the PA again, but there’s nowhere left for us to go. The amps stop working somewhere between 1 and 0. We play the second song, and when it’s over he says “You guys are gonna hate me, but you have to turn your volume down a LOT.” Matt said “Thanks, we were Argonaut.” And that was that. We packed up and loaded out.
Apparently, some patron of the bar who was having dinner and drinks at a table near the stage complained that we were too loud. Granted, we are a loud band. But in every club that you play, there’s usually the before-the-bands crowd and then the expecting-a-rock-show crowd. Usually the former filter out as the latter start to flow in. I have NEVER had a sound guy force us off stage because someone from the dinner-and-drinks crowd was trying to have a conversation at a table right in front of the stage. I don’t have a problem turning down, to a point, but at some point artistic integrity gets involved. There’s more to being a good band than just being a loud band, but loudness is a big part of the music style we play. You need to feel that thump in your chest and feel the wall of guitars wrapping around you…or else you’re not hearing Argonaut. And we can’t really turn down the drums.
Another strange side note. We had one person with us. They made her pay the cover, even after she said she was with the band. She came in with us and sat at the table with us all night, but when we went on stage to play, the door guy came over and said “Are you here for the music?” She said, “Yeah, I’m here with the band.” He replied “But you’re not in the band.” and charged her the cover price. They never asked us if we had a guest list, but still, anyone with half a brain would let 1 person slide. There shouldn’t have been any confusion. She was there all night, and there were only a couple dozen people in the place, tops. After she paid the cover, he gave her a tyvek bracelet, you know, because the six paying people in the room are a lot to keep track of. Maybe none of this makes sense to people who aren’t involved with small venue live music, but to anyone who is, this is pretty freaking bizarre. Most door guys make mental note of who comes in with the bands, or they stamp your wrist. Bracelets are for huge events or events where there are mixed crowds with minors.
I don’t know what the deal with the Mirkwood and Shire is. Van from Valis apologized for the problems with the sound guy and said that he’s seen much louder shows there. They didn’t seem to give Valis any grief during their set. Maybe they just didn’t like the cut of our jib, so to speak. It has great potential. Nice big room, awesome layout and you can get pierced and tattooed upstairs! But if they’re serious about rock shows, they should fire the sound guy. He can take his sweater down to the local tea shoppe and record the open mic nights. Anyway, we apologized to Van, who had arranged the show, and left in search of real bacon.