Last night we were the closing act (I’d say “headliner”, but that would be hubris, as you shall see) at the New Brookland Tavern in Real City. Playing a Sunday night is a challenge — and playing on Mother’s Day boosts the degree of difficulty significantly. Nonetheless, the folks at NBT brought in a five-band bill, and we were on it, so here we go.
First up were Colorworld, a five-piece indie rock outfit that made the most of their 30-minute set with tunes featuring numerous unison runs and stop/start phrasing. I got to speak to their bassist later in the evening — they’re a new group, but I think they have a lot of potential.
They were followed by The Prevalent, a trio featuring two of my former Mondoville students, and they fired through a set of ska-inflected punk that yielded bobbing heads and smiles from the crowd. They’re a lot of fun and very high-energy — I hope to work with them again soon.
I in the Sky batted third, playing indie rock with spiritual/philosophical elements and extended instrumental passages. While in many cases that description might set off warning buzzers, it was a cool set, and the guys in the group made sure that the chops on display didn’t get in the way of making interesting music. An interesting side note is that the quartet is apparently returning from a multi-year fallow period, but everyone seemed to click nicely during their set.
Our friends in The Albatross took the penultimate spot, and they’ve refined their blues-rock power trio vibe to a high sheen. This is classic rock from a slightly alternate universe — Spock doesn’t have a goatee there, but he may have a mustache. The guys understand the value of a tight electric blues combo, and there’s a great deal to be said for three guys who play well and clearly like each other putting on a show. Their cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” was also a nice touch. Great set, fellas — see you soon!
Finally it was our turn, and we got 14 of our 16 planned songs into our 45-minute set. Because of my position on the stage and the lighting, I couldn’t tell who was in the audience, but the response sounded good, so I think we were pretty solid.
We got our gear off the stage and into the cars, and since I’m on summer break, I stuck around to settle up with the management. I knew the crowd had been sparse, and when you’re playing for a share of the door, you’re taking your chances, and sometimes you wind up (to borrow a poker term) drawing dead. That’s what happened here.
Before the show, I had joked with the guys in The Albatross whether the crowd would be outnumbered by the guys in the bands. It turns out to have been a push. Paid attendance was 20, which exactly equaled the number of band members on the evening. After the sound guy got his cut (which was well deserved — we had a really good mix, including my monitor mix, which hardly ever happens) and the taxes were withheld, the five bands were entitled to split 12 bucks. However, under the circumstances, we all just walked away, so for the first time in what passes for my musical career, I didn’t get paid for an ostensibly paying show. (I want to make clear this was not a screwjob on the venue’s part — it was just low turnout on Mother’s Day.) I also pinched the heck out of my left index finger while breaking down one of my cymbal stands — I don’t think I’ll lose the nail, but it does still hurt this morning.
But I still think it was a worthwhile show. Songwriter P.T. Walkley has a lyric about playing “to seven empty stools in a shitty little bar.” The NBT doesn’t meet that description, but the show was still a test. I’ve seen bands at sparsely attended shows just mail it in and give a half-assed performance. Honestly, it’s draining when you’re trying to project energy and excitement and there’s no one to reflect it back. But we played with intensity and focus, and I think we gave a set that would have been worthy of a much larger crowd. We passed a gut check, and that makes me happy.
So later today I’ll unload the van at our campus rehearsal space, and we’ll start thinking about our next show, on 4 June at our Art Bar “home turf.” But last night I heard some good music and I helped make some good music, so that’s a win.