Thirteen Rules For Playing a Rock & Roll Show (Part Two)
I’m coming back from a long time away, and it is to give to you the second half of myThirteen Rules For Playing A Rock & Roll Show. Advice that too many people need, and that I’m more than happy to give. Missed the first seven rules of the list? Read them here. Let’s get this ball rolling again with…
8. “HEADLINING” AND “PLAYING LAST” ARE TWO VASTLY DIFFERENT THINGS
and if you mix them up, you’re probably a douche-bag
Headlining implies something very, very specific. It implies that your band is the evening’s main attraction. It means that most of the people who bought tickets did so to see your band. The opening bands are just a warm-up for you. This is your night, and if there is a marquee outside of the club, your band’s name is on the top line in the biggest letters — hence the term “headlining.” Playing last is not headlining. Playing last is playing last. There are a handful of bands playing tonight, and you’re just one of them. The band before you might have a better draw. The first band may in fact be the very best band of the night. Don’t tell people you’re headlining. You aren’t. You’re playing last.
9. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A TRADITIONAL ROCK & ROLL SETUP
Don’t get funky and put the drums at the side of the stage, or have the bass player stand behind the drums, or make the two guitar players face each other, or set the singer up on the floor, or worst of all, put the drums IN THE FRONT. Getting quirky with your stage plot only tells me one thing: you’re trying to cover up the fact that you aren’t a very good band. It’s smoke and mirrors. What’d Christopher Walken say in that one movie? “You know why the Yankees always win? Because other teams can’t stop staring at the pinstripes.” There’s no need for it, and it only serves to make you look ridiculous. You want to mess with people’s minds? You have a few guitars. You have drums. You have some keyboards and a singer. Use them to your advantage.
10. DON’T GIVE THE NEXT SONG AWAY
by playing the signature riff before the song starts
In fact, let’s make it even simpler. Don’t noodle in between songs. Save that shit for practice. It makes your whole set sound loose and amateur. But most importantly, it shows your hand. Part of the fun about seeing a band you’re a fan of is not knowing what song is coming next. And when the band hits and everything drops right into one of your favorite songs, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Conversely, it is the sonic equivalent of a wet fart when, just as soon as the band finishes up one song, the guitar player goes ahead and hits two or three more notes, just enough to give it away, just enough for you NOT to have that feeling when the song does hit.
11. DON’T HOLD COURT FROM THE EDGE OF THE STAGE
Unless you’re the aforementioned last band playing, there are other bands waiting to get up there and play. They’ve been stewing in their rock & roll juices since soundcheck and all their friends, fans, and families are there in the club waiting for their pals to get up and rock the fuck out of the place. But they can’t. They can’t because you’re up there talking at length to every jooch who comes up to the stage to congratulate you on a good show. Talking about what kind of pedal setup you use. Talking about what kind of amps you guys are pushing through. Chances are the cats who rushed to the stage to talk will hang around the extra five minutes for you to get your shit offstage. Make them wait. Look at it this way: at least then you can give your fanboys or fangirls your undivided attention. So finish your set, pack up your shit, and get the fuck off the stage.
12. DON’T BITCH ABOUT SHARING GEAR
Sharing gear helps everyone. It makes the sound guy’s life about a million times easier. It cuts setup and breakdown between bands in half. It saves gas. It saves energy. There really are no downsides. Except for the one asshole who claims he can’t play unless he’s going through his vintage Vox or his Marshall or he’s only playing his Grestch drum set.* Dude, give it a fucking rest. I understand you want to sound good. We all want to sound good. But if sharing gear is even an option, chances are you’re not playing in the kind of club that rewards tonality. Chances are you’re playing in a local bar or club with bad to mediocre sound at best. This ain’t Radio City. Whether you’re playing my Fender Twin or your Orange AC30 isn’t going to make much of a difference. So suck it up, share some fucking gear like everybody else, and instead of worrying about what the amp is going to sound like, worry about what your guitar-playing is going to sound like. Because as we all know, a great musician can make the worst gear sound good.
13. THANK THE SOUND GUY
It’s that simple.
(Rule 14: it’s a set. Not a kit. A kit is a toy.)