>The Anatomy of a Rock Show

>LAZERWOLFS have a big show this Friday that we have been planning, literally, for months. It’s cool, because Sid’s band HELLIANA is opening the show, and it will be their first “real” show in a club on a big stage. We are also playing with a band called THETAN REVIVAL, whom I have never seen, but am eager to because from what I have heard they are great. We love playing with really good bands, because it helps us raise our game, and it’s better for the audience. Here is the poster for the show:

This is our Judas Priest Tribute show. HERE is the PDF of the goofy BS I put together as a press release, for those who are either morbidly curious or just really committed to wasting some more time. If you are wondering if we are dressing up, the answer is NO. If you want to ask “Why not?” then read the PDF.

This whole process has reminded me why I got out of setting up shows in the first place. I used to promote quite a few in town; the whole reason I got into it is because I wanted to bring FU MANCHU to Missoula, and once I pulled that off (on super bowl Sunday of 2002, I believe) I kind of lost interest. I’ve done a couple since then, but for the most part I’ve left it alone. Not because there aren’t bands I’d like to see, or play with, it is just for one simple reason: it is a royal pain in the friggin’ ass.

This isn’t even that big of a show, it is just something we wanted to do while making something of an event out of it. Bigger shows involving touring bands are even more of a pain; you have to deal with booking agents, tour managers, hospitality, etc. and it sucks. For this show, all of that was unnecessary, but it is still a hassle, and illustrates why Hunter S. Thompson was dead on when he said, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Missoula is a tough place to get gigs these days, especially for a band like us. We usually only play locally if someone asks us to, because it is a lot of work otherwise. It’s not like the glory days at Jay’s when I could meet with Robin and ask her for some dates; she’d open her book and I’d pick what we wanted and that was that. It doesn’t go down like that anymore. And lest you think I’m overly bitching here, I’m really not. Some of this will probably sound like whining, but make no mistake: I recognize no one is forcing us to do this. We do it because we like to play, period. What else are we going to do?

The Venue

We are playing The Other Side. As venues go, for big, club level shows this is the best one in town. The stage is big, the PA is loud, and the sound people are consistently capable. If you are lucky enough to get a lot of bodies in there — it probably holds upwards of 400 or so — and it is awesome. The Melvins crushed the place, and it was well-attended.

That rarely happens.

The usual show-goers don’t come out much to The Other Side. It isn’t downtown, and it has something of a bad reputation with a lot of the locals, for whatever reason. The metal community in town does their shows there, and turnout has always been hit and miss. High on Fire played the room and I don’t think there were hardly more than 100 people in attendance, which is ridiculous.

Logic would dictate we would try and do this show downtown at The Badlander or The Palace. I don’t have anything against the folks down there, they have always been good to us, but we chose not to. For one thing, securing a date is next to impossible. Between touring bands and the 2 or 3 locals that get asked on to pretty much every one of those shows, it just wasn’t going to work for us. The stage in The Badlander is small too; we are pretty cramped with just 3 of us on stage. With Hank joining us on guitar for this one, we knew there was no way we would fit and still be able to rock out. Finally, and most importantly, you never know what you are going to get sound-wise. Depending on who is working it may sound great, or it may sound like utter shit. Since this is a show complete with material we’ve never played before that we can’t just sleepwalk through if necessary, being able to hear what we are doing is essential. The Other Side has always been consistently good for us, so we went that direction.

Of course now there is a competing show at The Badlander Friday that will probably pull most of the rock crowd there anyway; an all-girl AC/DC cover band called Helle’s Belles. I was asked, “Didn’t you know they were playing when you booked the show?!” and my answer was a) we booked our date months ago, and b) if we scheduled our shows around what was going on elsewhere in town any given night we would never play in Missoula. It’s a busy week. I think the Wilma has 3 nights in a row with big shows, there’s the Badlander, and there is a local indy show that night at the ZACC. Those are a lot of options to drain a relatively small pool of music enthusiasts.

If you think bands show up to play in a room and get a pre-arranged payment, in many cases you’re wrong, especially for local bands playing original music (touring bands, especially those with name recognition, can get guarantees; we had a couple of those on our tour last summer that really helped out). Missoula has pretty much become a pay-to-play city, just like everywhere else. Even The Badlander has a deposit you have to put down that may cost you a couple hundred bucks. We’ve never had to do that for our shows there — mainly because we’ve been added to existing shows already covering the costs. If we play the Crystal, it is $200 to use the room (other bands who play there who need to rent PA and lights and stuff will be in even deeper). Cherie, who books The Other Side (and has always been awesome to us), gave me a deal on using the space but we are still on the hook for $250 to have a sound guy there (which is also at a discount).

Promotion

This is where things get real expensive, or they can. I wanted a cool poster, so I had Josh Quick design us one. I wanted them silkscreened, and we are going to sell signed and numbered versions of them at the show for $5 — they look awesome. Josh gave us a screaming deal on them in that he didn’t charge for the art, and only charged us materials for printing; we got a stack of them for just over $100, which is a pittance. Seriously. I felt guilty and offered him more money, but he wouldn’t take it. For flyering, we printed some PDFs of the image in order to hang up around town; we saved some dough here by printing them ourselves rather than dropping $2/ea at Kinko’s. Why do this when we have a stack of cool ones that Josh made, all of which we will never sell? Because they tend to disappear when you hang the damn things up! I was just over at Rockin’ Rudy’s to pick Sid up after school, and the 10 or so that were down there are all freakin’ gone. If a poster is cool — especially ones by a local artist like Josh — people swipe them to collect them. That’s great, but it sucks for us because it kind of defeats the whole promotional aspect of putting the goddamn things up in the first place.

Which brings us to radio. Normally we don’t mess with it; we aren’t really on the radar with the folks at KBGA, and The Blaze probably isn’t the crowd that would dig us, I don’t know. I know Cherie from The Other Side has a relationship with them, so I’m hoping for the best there. We considered doing something with the classic rock station in town, since those are the folks who will dig this project (in a town this size, I bet there are easily 1000+ people who would love what we do, but they never even think about coming out to shows; they’d rather go to the Elbow Room once a month and listen to “You Shook Me All Night Long” get covered for the nth time). When I contacted the guys who told us to let them know whenever we do shows, they said they couldn’t really say much unless we paid for it, on account of them running paid ads for the Helle’s Belles show the same night. Minimum, we are looking at around $300 to run any ads at all. Considering we are already into this for over $350, that’s a tough sell. I considered it, did the math ($350 already requires at least 70 people at the show to break even, which is already a pipedream) and decided to say screw it. I don’t think the radio ads they ran for that Guns & Roses tribute band we opened for paid off for them, given the crowd that night, and I really don’t see any way we would be able to get anywhere close to the 100+ people we would need to cover our expenses. So screw it.

As a result, the bulk of our promotion will be to hit our MySpace people in Missoula and hope some of our friends come out. I don’t see me going all around town again replacing flyers either. Maybe I’m lazy not to, but screw it. It’s a pain.

Following

Which comes down to the real crux of the issue, our following. Bands live and die by the people — usually made up in large part by their friends — who regularly come out to their shows. Our friends aren’t really show goers. Most are older, don’t want to stay out late (hell, I don’t want to stay out late!), or would rather stay home and watch something from NetFlix. Can’t really blame them. Still makes it tough, though. If you don’t have a following, are playing a bar that doesn’t have a built-in crowd, or playing someplace that people don’t just randomly show up at (which always seemed to happen at Jay’s back in the day), it’s a struggle.

So playing music, especially at our level, ain’t for the faint-hearted. I wouldn’t even want to consider the hourly return based on the time spent learning these songs, rehearsing them as a band, doing all the legwork setting up the show, etc. We’ll go on stage in this huge room that, even with 100 people, would still seem empty; given we will probably have about 20 or 30 will make it even more cavernous-seeming.

We’ll do it anyway, though, because there is nothing better than delivering the rock. I get the opportunity to play some music that I have spent my entire life loving, wondering what it would be like to play it live, with friends who are awesome musicians. When I close my eyes and feel the stage vibrating with our massiveness, I can at least pretend it’s an arena circa about 1981. And I will be goddamn appreciative of those folks who braved a late night and swollen ear drums to watch it!

6 thoughts on “>The Anatomy of a Rock Show”

  1. >Just because I seriously resent being categorized as an “older” friend who prefers sitting on my ass at home to a ROCK SHOW, I’m definitely going to be there! 😉

  2. >I did categorize that as “most” of our friends, didn’t I; if not, I meant to, because I certainly don’t mean to cause any resentment. You, in the spring of your youth, are clearly not of that “old” demographic, Rebecca. Parents aside (and my cradle-robbing wife, of course), I’ll probably be the oldest person there.

  3. >Hey I hope the show rocked. This is a totally accurate portrayal of what one has to go through to book live music. Even in Portland where there are more places to play, it’s tough to get a good gig, and then to get bodies in the door (live ones).

  4. >Only 100 people showed up for High on Fire?!I saw them here at the 3 Kings (Which essentially means nothing to you) which is about Badlander sized…and the place was packed to the gills!Also, although I was never in a band during my days in Missoula, I remember people just approaching Robin or Josh for slots to play. It was fairly democratic – or at least first come, first served.Ah…the salad days…

  5. >I know of 3 Kings, we actually tried to get a show there on tour but were utterly ignored. It’s kind of a hole-in-the-wall dive, isn’t it?High on Fire in Missoula was great.

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