Do you ever have trouble motivating yourself for a gig? You get there and the crowd isn’t quite as big as you’d hoped or you’re tired or not really in the mood? How do you deal with that?
It seems funny that musicians spend so much time practicing and preparing for live performance, but then in the stress and uncertainty of the event itself all that enthusiasm can evaporate because we’re not ‘feeling’ it for whatever reason.
I’m going to share a story I remind myself of any time I feel my energy dropping before a show.
I was playing a gig in Nottingham with Pretentious, Moi?. We were headlining at a small venue. There were about 150 people there and the night was going well. The people at the front were dancing and singing along. There was a good vibe.
However, about 4 rows back I noticed a couple of guys standing completely still and expressionless. They were tall and thin with black biker jackets and light, gelled, punk hairstyles. They were staring intently at us, blank and motionless. I couldn’t tell if they were bored, appalled, angry or what.
I quickly decided I was better off focusing my energy and attention on the people at the front who were having a good time. I put the two unusual guys out of my mind and got on with the gig. It went great but afterwards the rest of the band also mentioned noticing the two stony faced onlookers.
I didn’t think much more of it and went to look after the merch table. The rest of the band went outside for a smoke.
When they got back they told me they had met the two intense audience members. It turned out they were from Lithuania and they’d come over specifically to see us. They’d heard our music on the internet but it was impossible to get hold of the album out there. So they’d saved up their cash and flown over to Nottingham for one night just to see us play in a little venue on the bank of the Trent.
Needless to say the guys in the band were stunned. We knew we had a bit of a following in West Europe and Greece, but these guys had come from a tiny North European country with a total population half that of London. They were only going to be in the UK for 24 hours. All this just to see us. We gave them a bunch of CDs to take back with them. They were really happy with the whole experience.
What I took from this was that at any gig you play, for all you know, there might be a couple of people there who’ve gone to great lengths to see you. In the digital age we can distribute our material across the entire world within instants. We have no idea who it has reached and who it has influenced.
Whenever we perform there might be people who have crossed half a continent or more just to see us. People who have gone to extraordinary lengths in terms of time, money or effort just to get one chance to see us do what we do. Don’t they deserve the best show you can put on? Even if you’re tired? Even if the crowd isn’t as big as you expected? Even if you’re not feeling it?
Our job, as performers, is to entertain, entrance, delight and move people. If I’m ever at a gig and I’m not feeling ‘up for it’, for whatever reason, I remind myself of the Lithuanians and what a shame it would have been if they’d gone to all that effort and ended up at a poor gig. If we’re serious about what we do we have to make sure that never happens to anyone.
Just in case you’re tempted to discount this is an isolated incident, it happened to me again this year. At a slightly bigger gig in London on a Sunday night, this time with Red Sun Revival. We were approached afterwards by a lady who had come over from Spain specifically to see us play. This stuff happens. So make sure you keep in mind that there may be people in your audience who have gone to great lengths to see you.
I never did find out why the Lithuanians had stood so statue-like during our show. But then, it’s always nice to have a little bit of mystery left behind.