I recently volunteered to work a show at Club Zuzu. This was a result of one of my 2016 goals, which is to get involved in the local music community, so I signed up as a volunteer with Boston Hassle. They put on this show in conjunction with another group called Rad Castle. I didn’t know any of the bands on the bill but I figured this was the fun of just getting out there to explore. I showed up with an open mind and my old digital SLR (I was on photo duty) and waited for the night to unfold.
I can honestly say that this was unlike any show I’ve ever attended before, even in my boldest of college days. Three bands played: Cove Sauce, Joe Passed, and The Taxidermists. Cove Sauce and The Taxidermists consisted of two people each: a guitarist and a drummer. The second band had five people in it I think, so they were odd guy out, but the genre/style of music was similar to the other two, which I guess I would classify as noise rock if I had to (in general I suck at classifying music though). It reminded me of old-school garage punk, especially the first and last bands, Cove Sauce and Taxidermists. I mean, Club Zuzu is small, you guys. The room was filled with noise rock. I think that’s the genre you’d classify this as; I’m honestly not sure.
So, imagine: small room, but easily about twenty to thirty people there. For comparison, my last show had about seven people in attendance. Loud, distorted, angry guitar strumming, banging the drums like there were ants crawling on it and drumsticks were the only thing that could kill them, and vocals that were essentially yelling, the words completely indiscernible. It was raw and energetic and loud and crowd loved it!
The energy in the room was like whoa. Have you ever been to a show (or performed at one) where some people were hanging out at the bar talking, and the floor in front of the stage was empty? Here there was a nice solid wall of bodies close to the stage, and the audience was bobbing and banging their heads and dancing and just feeling it. And what’s really interesting is that it wasn’t like the bands were doing anything crazy energetic. They weren’t jumping around or dancing or coaxing the crowd. Hell, they barely addressed the audience at all. In fact I can’t for the life of me put my finger on what it was about them that compelled that kind of attention and energy other than the music itself, which was definitely high-intensity music.
I was watching a YouTube video recently for some tips on stage presence, on how not to just stand there like a dummy with a guitar. The video included suggestions like: move your guitar around so you’re not holding it stationary all the time; make eye contact with the audience, and different places in the audience; move away from the mic sometimes, like when you’re soloing; and move the guitar from in front of your body when you’re singing and not playing. Good stuff, I found it very useful, but do you see the body positioning of the two guitarists in the pictures above? That’s pretty much how they stayed the entire set. Other than stepping back from the mic when they weren’t actually “singing”, they didn’t move, and they never made eye contact with the audience. I don’t think they ever even looked at the audience, and it didn’t seem to affect the connection between performer and audience at all.
I have found myself thinking back on that show over a week later, wondering what lessons I can take from that night to make my own live shows better, to give them that kind of energy. I think some part of it may be the genre of music, right? It’s hard to sit idly by while hard, thrashy music is playing. To be honest I wasn’t into the music but I still found myself moving with it. It’s like trying not to bop when a bass and drum kick in with the most basic of R&B grooves—something in your body just responds. There has to be more though—Tori Amos doesn’t exactly make you wanna get up and dance (most of the time) but she’s captivating live— and I think it’s passion and feeling. Those guys didn’t look at the audience, but there was feeling in their playing and performance.
Someone said of my last gig that it was one of the best shows so far, because all three of us seemed really into it. I actually thought it was a kind’ve crappy performance because we messed up a few times (like, playing the wrong parts in places kind’ve messed up). What a difference in perception. For me because it wasn’t technically good it was not a good show. For the audience, they weren’t concerned or bothered about the mishaps—they were interested in the feeling and the vibe. I remember feeling a little emotional during that show because it was unexpectedly the last show with Aram, so we said fuck it and threw everything we had into it. I know Aram was playing like the devil (he broke a drum stick). We were playing with feeling and despite our execution problems people were drawn in by the emotion.
When I heard that I was kind’ve like, “Huh, well, that’s interesting.” and filed it away for later thought. Seeing it in action with this Boston Hassle show, seeing how into it the band was (and how that affected the audience) has brought it back to forefront. I’m wondering how I can channel that same energy all the time. It’s not like I don’t feel my songs, but maybe I’m concentrating too hard on not messing up. It’s the same thing I experience when recording vocals, where I’m concentrating so hard on trying to be on-key that I’m not emoting well. I’m concentrating on execution and not allowing myself to relax and enjoy it—and to be honest, there’s a fair bit of nervousness/stage fright in there as well.
I’m going to record my next live performance and make myself watch it (which, ugh, I hate watching myself) and see if I can take my live show to the next level. Here’s to growth!
If you’re a musician who performs out, how do you connect with your audience?