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Seeking good music and entertainment in town, I've noticed something: the music we've got. The entertainment? Not as much.
I've heard singers that rival anything touring the country. Guitar players who are technically perfect. Proficient songwriters abound. But so what?
I've heard people say, "You've got to see this band. They write great songs. And they are such nice guys." Uggh. If I want to watch nice guys, I'll.... I'll..... wait. Um, I have no desire to watch nice guys. That is not going to get me out of the house on a Friday night. Give me something unique. Or if there is no cover charge, I'll order my beer and watch some baseball on the TV over the bar while the band fades into the background.
When I've gone to shows to see the guys that "you've got to see", my friends who brought me often don't even watch the band. We chat. They check their cell phones and watches. Between songs, they'll even forget to at least give a courtesy clap for the band.
If you are in a band and want to look like you just walked out of your living room, act like you don't want to invade the personal space of your bandmates, and keep it clean enough for Grandma, then fine. Do what you want to do with your band. It is your band, not mine. I just can't see spending $10 in cover charge for that. I see that act with my cousins at family reunions.
Take a chance, people. You are on a stage. It is yours. Use your imagination and create what you want up there. You're an actor. An animal in a cage. People are going to come and look at you. Do something to make them stay longer. They already wish they could be you up there. You have no idea how they wish they had the talent, guts, and luck to be on that stage. So try not to appear like you wish you could be with them at the bar.
In some ways, what I'm looking for is a bit of insanity. I love it when a band takes a concept, a small idea, and makes a big thing out of it. If you believe you are rock stars in a stadium, and do it well enough, I may start to believe it myself while sitting at the Windjammer. The more creative you get in your show, and keep it tied to the kind of music and songs you are writing, the more I will root for you. If you can write the incredible songs you believe you are writing, I bet you can do better than "Hey, how is everybody doing tonight?" when trying to connect with your audience.
One extreme is Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival, a duo from a time long ago and far away. I think of them now because their drummer, known on stage as Brother Ed, just died from lung cancer. Well, really Ed Willie Jr. died of lung cancer. His alter ego, Brother Ed, is a character that lives on in interviews, recordings, and videos of their shows. Brother Ed played a sort of drum kit—made of cardboard, boxes, and a wire cage for a high hat. He also "sang" through a megaphone squawk box taped together and affixed in front of his mouth at all times by wires. Brother Ed and Brother Ant (vocals/guitar) dressed like hillbilly truckers and played a loud, uncontrollable, mix of country, punk, and rockabilly. On stage, in song, and in interviews, they called out the devil, they attacked heathens and bad musicians, and praised the glories of sex. With songs like "I Won't Bang On A Sunday", and "Give Me Back My Bible," they kept the schtick going any chance they could. They were funny, loud, and mostly they were memorable. I went away from every one of their shows remembering the band. I suggest you take some time and check them out on YouTube.
This was a very specific act and they would not likely have gained any national success. But they entertained. They got me out. I had a good time, and it seemed like they had an even better time every night.
On the less extreme side, there are dozens of ways you can take the stage and act like you belong there. In Charleston, Shaniqua Brown was fun to watch.
(Photo credit: Elizabeth Fay & Sean Money)
Perhaps everyone in that band dressed and acted at home the way they do onstage. I don't care. I liked what they did when they played the Pour House. They were a very good example of stage presence. But I have yet to see a local example of a band that is way out there. Mostly, people seem to play it safe. Why? Safe is boring. You'll likely make just as much money in music being weird as you would playing it safe. Being weird is a whole lot more fun.
Perhaps "weird" is the wrong word. To me, everyone is a little "weird". Most people spend all their time trying to cover up the weirdness. Great artists seem to expose their "weirdness" on stage, amplify it, creatively present it, and when done right, entertain people in a way nobody else can.
I've been hit on by Bob Mould, shared a cab with Dave Pirner, an elevator with Art Alexis, spent time with the young Afghan Whigs, and been backstage with Black Crowes, Big Head Todd, Violent Femmes, and a whole lot of others. In my experience, great entertainers have something they show only on stage. They have their "normal" lives where they seem a whole lot like you and me. When it comes time to do a show, they put on different clothes, take on a different attitude, and let a certain part of themselves come out just for that time on stage. By exposing that part of themselves, they connect with people.
I just don't see enough of that yet in Charleston. Help me look. Maybe I've looked in the wrong bars. Who in Charleston is really worth "seeing?" Who are the bands that I need to see live to fully appreciate? Who are the ones that are taking risks, that might even offend someone? Who is going to make me laugh, make me cheer, or make me feel something different than what I was feeling before I saw them? Who is going to get my ass off the couch on a Friday night?
I've just recently heard of a couple of acts that I'm excited to see live. But there have to be a lot more out there I'm missing. I'd love to know which local acts you absolutely have to see every time they play in town. Then, I look forward to running into you at an upcoming show.
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