Roadie Helper

Again, with the advent of Twitter and my decreasing ability to say anything of interest, my blog posts are few. But tonight, I’m gonna try to make up for it with photos (done), a list (done) and a ketchup post (this right here). We now have a handful of shows under our belt;  the band’s record has been released to critical acclaim and high chart entry and we might actually be getting a clue how to get this 9 truck circus in and out of a building in the same 24 hour period without killing ourselves or each other.

In a lot of ways returning to this band is familiar and comfortable. You know what you’re dealing with. The twist is how little we all know from moment to moment where we are going during the show. Most bands create a setlist which lets the players know which song is next, the techs know which guitar is next and the the sound and light and video people where to be at the start of the song. Creating one with proper flow and pacing is a work of art; one that can be executed by the band and crew is a technical solution.

Maybe you are aware of the term “audible”. It’s what quarterbacks do when they see a mismatch in the defense in football and either want to take advantage of it or avoid a mess. In the music performance business, it’s when the artist decides to leave the set list and play a different song… maybe more than one. Bands like the Grateful Dead, NRBQ and Bruce Hornsby never had a set list. They just figured it out as they go along. With larger productions the idea of an audible is difficult with video elements, the stage or set pieces moving, costume changes and instrument changes. Most of the large “dance” based shows just won’t stray from the list as it can lead to serious trainwrecks.

The folks I’m working for now are all about audibles. We start with a well thought out set list with a strong 4 song start, a slot for a different song to be added each night, some regulars that happen around the same time and a 3 pack leading into the end of the main set. But our guy is really sensitive to the audience and what they need. Sometimes they need another old favorite before they get to a new song that is not as well known. Sometimes a down tempo song needs to be skipped to keep the flow going. And the scariest of all; someone in the audience with a California King bedsheet that has an obscure song that you’re not really ready for scrawled on it in blood, chocolate or Sharpie.

In the past we’ve seen it all; the first song changed as the band walks onstage; a song called that the band has not played in 25 years; opening the show with a song that the band learned 3 hours before to be performed for the first time in front of 55,000 people. It certainly creates an energy unlike the shows that have the same setlist after a year. It forces the band and the crew to create a different system in order to be ready for anything.

As this is not the first time around with this style of show, the crew has different ways of reaching the goal. KB has a pretty amazing system to be ready for his guy which involves multiple guitars pretuned for most songs, spares for spares and a tremendous amount of documentation. We really have to have all our stuff “live”(the sound on, tuned, ready to go) as we often only have seconds to get the right instrument to the players and have the proper switches flipped. One of our guys has to have at least 2 dozen guitars ready to go and only two wireless channels to work with. That requires turning off the old one and turning on the new one as you are handing them off… it’s quite a dance!

One of the nice parts of being back is working with friends. We have seen each other at our best and worst and can call upon each other when things get crazy. We have a pretty intense workday in all departments but the schedule is pretty reasonable now that we are out of the initial promo/tour start period. We’ve lost a few of our old standby people on this crew due to schedule conflicts and sadly, one being no longer with us. We’ve brought in new people who add to the mix. Others have already gone home. Just like the set list, the crew finds a flow, cuts down its load in and load out times and learns its parts.

I’m excited by being back on this crew where you have to bring your game up a notch and you still have a say in how you need to do it. There are some world class people out here and I’m honored to be among them.

I’ll leave the Bitterman stuff for later on down the road….