So I played a show last night at Kreuzberg Cafe here in San Luis Obispo. It was the first time I had played out in awhile. In fact, I think the last show I played was in January of this year, when my wife and I did our electric punk rock duo thing as an opener for Diego’s Umbrella at SLO Brew. I got this latest hankering to do a show after I spent a summer vacation playing a lot of guitar. So when I got back from my trip I stopped in Kreuzberg to set up a show. 9 to 11 last night. No pay and I had to haul in all my gear: two herniatingly heavy speakers, a monitor speaker, speaker stands, a PA, cords, harmonicas, capo, mic stand, and of course a guitar. I even brought a few colored light bulbs to provide a bit of mood. I take all that crap and put it in my car and drive down there and circle the block 5 times to grab a spot in front of the venue and I lug it all into the venue and set it all up and when the show is over I put it all back in the car and then drive it back home and offload it yet again. That is just the physical labor side of things. Then there is the anxiety.
I am not a natural performer. I have never craved the limelight. In fact, in most cases I run as far from it as is humanly possible. But passions are strange in the way that they get us to do things that we would not otherwise do. I think I write really good songs and I think I have gotten fairly competent at playing them live. So I therefore feel a need to perform occasionally, to share my art with the callously indifferent world at large. Yet my natural inclination to avoid the spotlight always creates anxiety issues. It is a real catch-22 for me: I have to play out on occasion to satisfy the craving to do so, yet performing goes against my nature.
Enter beer. Let me just preface this by saying that I have tried to play dry shows in the past to rather disastrous consequences. The worst instance was probably when I played an opening slot for my friend Jody Mulgrew at the Steynberg Gallery. I had just written a new song called Vietnam that had a fingerpicking part and as I played it my brain decided to focus on my frayed nerves just long enough for me to lose my focus and my muscles suddenly cramped and I botched the song in a really terrible, uncomfortable way as 75 sets of eyes stared at me unmercifully. It was my worst musical moment.
Now that my kids are older (Charlie just turned 4 and Diego is 5), my goal is to play out more so that I can get into some sort of a performing groove. I think I will always have a bit of anxiety no matter how much I play out and I see that as kind of a a good thing. It keeps me on my toes (my tippy, tippy, tippy toes). But I want to play more than just 3 or 4 times a year. I want to play out enough that it becomes a bit more workmanlike. As it stands, each show is a cathartic experience, but not necessarily in a good way. All day yesterday I suffered from anxiety. That, mixed with my anxiety-deadening elixir of copious amounts of IPA and a very late bedtime/very early rise (damn kids) led to what can generously be described as a bad hangover. And I wake up feeling like shit and think “What the fuck do I do this for?”. After all, I don’t get paid a dime. And the cafe is loud and people barely pay attention. And the day before the show I am choked with anxiety. The day after the show I am destroyed by the catharsis, the booze, the sleep deprivation. So, why why why?
Well, I have to say that I enjoy some aspects of it. I do enjoy the nerdfest of setting up my equipment and getting the sound just right. I enjoy when that one person (there is never more that one and sometimes there is none) comes up to me and says that they really really enjoyed my show. I enjoy creating a setlist. I enjoy how the date of a show looming over my head forces me to practice songs that I have half forgotten and inspires me to write new songs. I enjoy how playing shows gets me to buy fun new gadgets. This time around it was an L. R. Baggs 5 band EQ digital interface with tuner, which put me back a cool $300. I enjoy the feeling that somehow, someway, despite all the messiness, this is helping me become a better musician and performer. And I enjoy seeing friends come out of the woodwork to catch the show. This time around, my good friend Tom Pott, who I had not seen in a long, long, time, came up from Santa Barbara to see me play. And my wife came, as did my stepbrother Jed and his friend Shorty, and The Feltmans, and the Williams, and The Jouets.
And now I sit here 24 hours later exhausted, brutalized, exposed. But I will do it again. After all, this is my retirement plan. And as underperforming as this investment may be, it’s way more stable than the stock market.