Last night marked our debut in the Upstate of South Carolina, as the Berries did our first show at the Soundbox Tavern in Simpsonville (a suburb of Greenville.) We met at 6:30 to get the gear — especially my drums — loaded and ready to head up that way. It’s about 52 miles from the studio parking lot to the venue, and the Mad Dog (filling the coveted roadie’s position) rode shotgun as we listened to the Woggles and cruised up a couple of Interstates to Simpsonville.
The venue itself occupies a prefab steel building in what looks like it may have been an attempted megachurch or mini-industrial park, but the inside is very comfortable, with lots of tables, chairs, pool and air hockey tables, and one of the larger stages we’ve had a chance to play, with room for all of us to get set up without being cheek-by-jowl. Since we were opening, we went ahead and had our stuff on stage while the Mad Dog ordered some fried mozzarella sticks from the club’s menu, which also included other staples of bar food like hot wings, pizza, and such. Showing remarkable wisdom, the Mad Dog staked out a large sectional sofa (upholstered in black naugahyde and overstuffed, kind of like Jim Morrison in early 1970), which would prove our base of operations for the evening.
Some friends of the Berries swung in the hour or so before we went onstage, and it’s always good to see them. Even more delightful (for me, anyway) was that Mrs. M and the Spawn decided to make the trek up for the gig. It was the Spawn’s first visit to a bar, and although the venue’s policy is 21+, the fact that both her parents were present kept her from being persona non grata. So we drank a couple of cokes and chatted a bit before a quick soundcheck and our set. In the meantime, a pizza arrived and it looked quite good, but I decided to wait until our set was done to tuck in.
There were certain technical challenges last night. The previous evening, the PA board had blown up, resulting in a cancellation of that night’s show. Fortunately, a partial restoration was achieved, so the show could go on, but we were limited to five channels. Given that four of us do vocals, we wound up running three vocal mikes, the keyboards, and the bass drum through the system and relying on stage volume for the rest. There were corresponding challenges with the stage mix, but we soldiered on, and under the circumstances, it went pretty well.
We did a 15-song set in 45 minutes, and debuted the cover of the Stones’ “The Last Time” that we had planned. The audience wasn’t overly large — but for an out-of-town band opening on the first night of a holiday weekend, it was pretty good and the response seemed enthusiastic. No one threw billiard balls at us, and we heard applause after each tune, so I’ll take that as a win. Again, I think we brought good energy to the stage and tried to maintain the sense of fun that I think of as part of our signature.
After wrapping up with our cover of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”, we cleared the stage, did a little gladhanding, and got the cars loaded up. I made it back to the couch and sent the Spawn to the bar to bring me a soda while I had a go at the pizza, which had cooled, but even cold pizza has its charms, and I enjoyed it — probably more than I ought, but such is road life.
Next up were the headliners, local indie-rock trio Town Crier, who brought a very tight set of original material that seemed quite radio friendly, mixing elements of 90s alt-rock and classic rock aesthetics. For a taste of what they were doing, you might want to check out their new release, which you’ll find here. They had a small guitar problem at the set’s.beginning, but made it through with great aplomb, and delivered a very professional sounding set. I hope we can work with them again before long. As an aside, Town Crier sports yet another academic behind the skins, with a tub-smacker (Ryan Harper) who daylights as a math professor at a local community college. We talked a little bit after they cleared the stage, and then I conducted the spouse and Spawn back to their car for the trip home, returning to catch the final band on the night.
That would be Spartanburg-based trio The Venture Squad, who brought a set of dreamy jam rock with psychedelic and jazzy elements. The interplay between the guys in the rhythm section was a highlight for me, but I think my favorite moment was an atmospheric guitar solo incorporating one of my favorite odd devices, the E-bow. As I told the guitarist after their set, that was the first time I had seen one used on stage in decades — probably since I was about his age. They’re apparently a pretty new outfit, but I think there’s definitely a niche these guys can fill. Both bands were very professional, with well constructed sets of original material, and it was a pleasure to share a stage with them.
I was the last Berry standing at that point, the other guys having made their way homeward. I picked up our pay, and the Mad Dog and I had an easy trip home, where he stayed the night. We woke up this morning, just in time for Mrs. M to pick up some pulled pork barbecue we had ordered a couple of weeks ago, and which will likely see us through much of the long weekend. After a little longer, the Mad Dog left to get back to his beloved Mad Doc, and we’ll be going to visit them in just a few days.
So we played a good set with other good musicians in a comfortable, friendly venue — and we’ll be back there in about six weeks. Maybe next time, though, I’ll try to time the pizza’s arrival with the conclusion of our set.