Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Technical Difficulties, Revisited

Okay, so, I know that I said in my last post that we should all embrace the science and technology that enables the production and performance of popular music, that we should learn as much as we can about it. But just this past Sunday, I witnessed a different, but quite practical way to deal with technical difficulties in the live setting.

On Sunday night I was lucky enough to be at 1087's second (hopefully!?) annual Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show. This is an event in which our favorite local hometown heroines from bands like Carnal Knowledge, Homewreckers, Each Other's Mothers, Death First, The Measure (SA) and more come together in various combinations to cover songs by grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, and others. This year the show branched out to include non-riot lady punk and rock by The Muffs, The Breeders, and....Stevie Nicks?

The second performer of the evening, "Stevie" (who I believe is known to most as Saiya, bass player for Scantron?) took on both vocal and bass duties, and was backed by an older woman with an acoustic guitar and an accordion. Between the off-color between song banter, "Stevie's" tilted platinum blonde wig, and the unlikely arrangement, it was difficult to read the performance's tone. It had nowhere near the focus and serious of a 'real' set of original songs, but it wasn't entirely comical, either. As the performers went through the set, there were times when it was hard to tell if they were intentionally being funny.

The other thing about the set is that "Stevie" and the band couldn't seem to get through an entire song without some sort of equipment failure. Broken strings, dead microphones, falling microphones -- if it could go wrong, it did. Perhaps the one song that didn't face this fate was "Edge of Seventeen", which they didn't actually play; instead they performed a dramatic reading of the lyrics. (This, of course, was a moment of deliberate, pre-meditated humor.)

I'll admit to being a serious Fleetwood Mac fan, as well as a fan of Stevie Nicks' solo work. So when they started "The Chain", I was both excited and bummed. Excited to hear one of my favorite songs, but bummed because I didn't expect them to make it to the end of the song, which is of course the best part.

Before "The Chain", as the show's organizers and the band were struggling to make adjustments to the sound and the equipment to keep everything running, "Stevie" made a bold announcement: "Okay, everything is broken," she admitted, "so you have to help us by singing along! Come on!"

Believe it or not, it worked. The audience participated enthusiastically during the first half of "The Chain", myself most definitely included. When the wheels started to sort of come off during the last rousing round of "I would never break the chain!", I frowned, thinking of that great bassline, and how we were so close to it, but how "Stevie" wouldn't even get to it. The song screeched to an awkward halt, and the audience waited, unsure of how to react. It felt like an entire minute of silence elapsed, as the band tried to right itself.

And then, "Stevie's" bass boomed back to life, with that fantastic bass line that ends "The Chain", that bass line that I would argue is perhaps one of the most important in the history of rock music, one that I myself have played many times for my own personal amusement. (I know from experience: it's not the hardest line to play technically, but it is a challenge to play it with the right mix of resentment, aggression, and general dissatisfaction.)

Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain", from their 1997 video The Dance, which I totally own and have watched many times. Skip to 3:35 for The Bass Line.

When "Stevie" came back with that solo, I let out the sort of cheer that deafens the people standing next to you, and when the entire band came back on, we all joined in for the final refrains of "The cha-ai-ain will keep us together!" It was something small, an entirely ephemeral moment which somehow seemed to capture the very meaning of the the evening, the show, the entire New York City grrrl underground. The band, with the help of the audience, channelled the spirit of doing it yourself, doing it together, and doing it whether or not you have the 'right' equipment, and whether or not you know exactly what you're doing.

For those twenty minutes, Stevie and her band took a lot of risks, put themselves out there, put up with lots of problems, and asked us to help them deal with it. And we did -- we didn't judge them, we didn't laugh at them, we didn't go out for a smoke or to get a drink at the Dominican convenience store across the street. Instead we laughed with them, cheered them on, and sang when it was appropriate. We even sang when it wasn't appropriate; the audience forced the band to make an unlikely segue from "Landslide" to "Go Your Own Way" when we started singing it before "Landslide" was quite over.

And I suppose that the moral of this story is that performances will always be rife with problems. Standing up there in front of an audience will always be a risk; there will always be a chance that your equipment might malfunction, or that you'll just forget what you're doing. But "Stevie Nicks" and co. demonstrated, much to my delight, that there's no technical difficulty that can't be overcome by a willing, persevering band, and an even-more willing, present, participating audience.


KW HQ said...

I loved this entry. Thanks for shouting it out to me. I missed all you rad ladies and that inspiring atmosphere in a big way this year!


jamie said...

Any time, girl! Looking forward to regaling you with even more tales from the event next month.

And with that, I now return to frantically working on that very paper.

jamie said...
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