The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Why I Let Music Destroy My Life: The Set-up

This is the first in a series of posts illustrating the complicated relationship music has had on my life. I say it's been ruined for dramatic effect, it has also saved it too.

The scenario has unfolded itself hundreds of times, in dozens of clubs and concert halls all across this great country of ours: A band that I have never heard before sets up to play. Those 15 or so minutes provide many clues for the 30 minutes to hour and a half that follows.

I'm going to use the standard guitar-bass-drums combo set up for illustrative purposes since that comprises the lion's share of the bands that I've seen. Keyboard and horn player will forgive me hopefully for their absence.

Drums are essential, but also provides the fewest clues. Drums are usually just drums: one bass drum, snare, a couple tom-toms a smattering of cymbals. Electronic drums and double bass drum sets have both, for the most part at shows that I go to, gone the way of Kagagoogoo; a curious relic of a time gone by. Two drum sets used to always get me excited, until I realized most bands don't know what to do with them. But a percussion set up, congas, blocks, miscellaneous wood and metal things to rhythmically slap, hit or shake, send a shiver up my spine.

The bass is another almost essential instrument in most bands, people have attempted to have two bass players in bands, but you don't see it very much. It tend to not add much musically except to cause the concert goer to say, "Look they've got two bass players!" (I wrote a post about my relationship with the instrument here). Bass players can give at least some clue of how much I'll like the band: The more strings it has and the higher it sits on the bass player's body, the less likely I'll like them. Which doesn't mean I won't give them a chance. This is probably the least reliable formula I have.

The guitar set up tends to give the most clues. One of the surest formulas for band suckage are the magical combo of PRS guitars and Soldano amps; no offense to those manufacturers, it's not that they don't make good stuff.

They are crazy expensive with flawless finishes they are the mark of a "serious" musician, but not an "interesting"one. They certainly don't want to "rock out" and risk scuffing it. The more worn an instrument is the harder it's been played, but then again they might have bought it from a hard gigging dude. The more effects petals they have the more they'll probably sound like Radiohead. There is a specific threat if they use a wah-wah petal, a lot of guitarist think if they have it, they have to use it all the time. But the wah is like musical ketchup, a little bit is fine, too much will make you sick. If they play through Marshall amps they will certainly be loud, but they won't necessarily be good.

In fact nothing truly guarantees quality or lack thereof. The set-up will be over soon enough and you'll finally have your answer.

There are times when a band will rock your world, good songs and good performance come together to fulfill all the promise that music made to you when you were a kid and make you truly happy that you went through the trouble of showing up. The lousy parking, warm beer and surly doorman all fade from the memory of the event, there will only be, "I went to this awesome show the other night!" Thank fate or what ever force was responsible.

But most of the time (90 percent at least, I'm being generous) expectation turns into disappointment, compounded by the fact that you have to wade through about 40 more minutes of musical mediocrity for the whole process to start all over again.

Many times I've been accused of being a "musical snob" to which I say, "When you let something destroy your life, you're allowed to be picky about it."

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