Anatomy of a band gig
For a full year now, I’ve been semi-secretly playing in a band here in Los Angeles. I’ll semi-use the term “semi-secretly” because it’s really been an exercise in Approaching Things Differently, and as such, I’ve kept the whole enterprise pretty low-key for myself. Only my wife and a few friends have heard about the shows from me, even though the rest of the band can typically draw 40-50 people on a rainy night without even trying. On Sunday night, we played a gig at the Viper Room in Hollywood, and it was pretty amazing. Our name? The Strike.
the marquee outside the Viper Room, 1/27/08
The Viper Room has always been legendary, even before River Phoenix died outside. It didn’t just house every band you’ve ever known, it was other projects like the Pussycat Dolls, co-founded by my stepsister Cyia when they were still a burlesque dancing troupe, who cut their teeth on the tiny stage. Of course, when you say you’re playing at the Viper Room, everyone says, “Wow! Don’t, um, die outside.”
The four of us have been playing together for a full year now: Lauren on vocals/piano, Jim on guitar, Andrew on drums, with me on bass. Lauren is a hot young TV agent, Jim’s a razor-sharp exec at Paramount, and Andrew owns his own cell phone company. I’ve been in several bands where the personalities should have meshed and didn’t; this band, however, is a case study in how to effortlessly get along. Even when the writer’s strike put Jim and me on opposite sides of the divide (with Lauren in the middle), we mostly just made jokes about it. In a business this insane, we’ve mostly used the band to forget about worldly issues for three hours at a time.
Jim at rehearsal, Sept ’07
Our practice space is on the west side, and usually populated by Los Angeles’ eclectic mix of pissed-off hipsters. We’ve been next door to bands SO FUCKING LOUD that the ceiling tiles were falling on us. We’ve also been next to quintets full of ex-sorority girls singing three-chord pop songs and blisteringly good hip-hop artists.
As for us, Tessa describes our vibe as Aimee Mann meets the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Actually, that’s what she was saying last year, but I think we’ve actually gotten slightly more classic-pop-song-structure and straight-up punk(ish) since then, so it’s anyone’s guess. What I can say is this: we’re all good at our instruments. I was a B-minus bassist last year and blossomed into a B-plus bassist. Lauren is classically trained on both piano and cello(!), Jim is a total natural on the axe, and our drummer Andrew fucking kicks ass. Also, every time we play out, Econoline-Van-fulls of Andrew’s hot friends from Maryland pile out and create an awesome ruckus.
Lauren at our gig at The Derby, May 2007
Lauren wrote a ballad a few months back, and I decided to play violin, which meant getting my intonation back – which is not easy, when you’ve been barely playing for the last decade. First, though, I needed a pickup better than the clamp-on foam-mike I was using before, which sounded like I was playing inside a cardboard box at the bottom of a filled swimming pool.
Thank god L.R. Baggs makes a new pickup that is an actual replacement bridge – you remove your original bridge, whittle the Baggs bridge to size (not easy), re-string, and you’re off. It sounds utterly natural, easily the best violin pickup I’ve ever used, and I’ve used plenty.
placing the bridge over the sound post
Anyway, the Viper Room runs at a tight clip, and our band was allotted the usual 35 minutes exactly. They plugged us in, opened the curtain, and immediately, the smoke machines poured forth, clouding us in the effervescent haze of ROCK. Sunday’s show was long on energy, strong on attitude, and junky on accuracy, but we didn’t care. I got to introduce my violin to the Viper Room, which was a little piece of my childhood made good. What once got me beat up now allowed me to play on Sunset Boulevard. Take THAT, Kent Butler, you goddamn bully in 3rd grade!
I was going to put a clip of the show on here, but when we talked to the sound guy, he’d forgotten to turn on the RECORD button. We were bummed, to be sure, but as I said, it’s all part of Approaching Things Differently. I have tried to give up both ego and control, the two things that made my life suck so badly in my twenties. Years ago I would have ruined things with my silly opinions, and now I just play the bass. Years ago I would have freaked out hearing the news of our botched recording, but now I understand the gig as an evening that gets better every minute that passes.
our encore number: “Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford, esq.