I played a solo gig in Huntington Beach at Peets Coffee last night. It has been over a year since I performed with just myself and a lone acoustic guitar. I used to perform this way *ALL* the time but due to the fact that I have a band and not a terrible amount of free time these days because of my day job, my solo gigs have become uncommon, infrequent and rarefied.
The first word that comes to my mind to describe my performance is “embarrassing”. I felt terrible about it. It was one of my personal worst experiences on stage. I became uncharacteristically aware of every flaw in my ability as a singer and guitar player. It did not help that the vibe in Huntington Beach was somewhat fascist. For example as soon as I arrived in the parking lot of the venue with my photographer/roadie the mall security descended upon us at the sight of my assistant filling up a free moment juggling a set of leather tasseled suede wrapped juggling sticks. Security told my friend that he could not juggle on the sidewalk, a comment to which my friend was sharp enough to respond, “I certainly can juggle here. I am perfectly capable of doing so…what you mean to say is that I “may” not juggle or that the fascist corporation for which you are a tool does not allow me to juggle here” I was fairly certain that the mall cop had never been spoken to that way and had no idea how to respond…in any case we were moving on and setting about unloading my music equipment. About an hour later after my sound equipment was set up I was warming up outside with my guitar when another mall cop informed me that I was not allowed to play music without a permit to do so. I told him that I was booked to play at Peets (which I was standing in front of) and that I was just warming up and running a few scales on my guitar. He backed off, but it left me with a very oppressed feeling about the whole gig and I felt saddened for a community that did not embrace free thinking, creativity and originality in any fashion.
Encumbered by these feelings, I started the set with “Wasteland” a song about feeling lost. The audience of coffee drinkers sat around lifeless (for the most part) and did their best to ignore the fact that I was performing. I felt like my artistic life force was being sucked away from me and I could not win the room over no matter what I did. As a result, I become insecure and self conscious about my performing. I hated the way I was playing guitar and I was unsatisfied with the tone, range and overall poor quality of my singing. A big part of this is my own fault as I have been working a demanding day job that leaves me with very little free time, and these days I spend a good amount of my free time online. I have not been practicing enough or keeping up with my musical chops and if you do not use them, you lose them. It did not help matters that I had picked a set with a lot of unfamiliar songs that I have not played in years.
The result was a set that I felt bored with and I was extremely out of the moment while playing. The half-hearted (or zero) applause was deafening and in the middle of the set I was harboring feelings of giving up music all together. Have I really worked this hard at my craft and toured the world with a band and recorded 5 CD’s of original material and devoted most of my life to the demigods of music to end up playing poorly in a cafe in HB in front of a thankless audience who would rather be chatting amongst each other than listening to me perform?
I wanted to die.
Just as I finished treading water and ended the set, the management at the cafe asked for one more song. To my surprise they were sincere in the request. I turned my guitar up (which sounded better…I should have had it louder the entire time) and ripped into a 2 song encore. That was the best moment of the show for me along with a heartfelt rendition of Harvest Moon by Niel Young and my set closer, “See In You” a rarely played cut off of ‘The Bigger Picture’.
After I was finished, one of the baristas bought a CD off me. I was shocked. People do not even buy CD’s when I play energetic and rocking sets with the full band. Despite feeling like I played a terrible show, someone was buying my music. It was the silver lining to the entire experience.
Exhausted (and in the middle of tear down and load out) I attempted to comfort my girlfriend who was suffering with swollen lymphs in her throat due to some sort of possible tonsillitis and feeling terrible herself. She works at a college radio station and goes to see a lot of live music so I felt terribly embarrassed about the quality of what I had just done musically and wanted to run and hide under a rock. She was a total sweetheart and gave me a big hug. I truly love her and her support after a terrible, un-hug-worthy gig like this one, meant the world to me.
Amazingly, they want me to come back and perform again. I doubt I will do it solo acoustic. If I do play at Peets in HB again I will bring my band. Just a simple 3 piece. I am also determined to spend more time playing guitar and less time online. I have a music studio that I pay rent on and I really need to spend more time there. I want to play another solo show and redeem myself…until I do, I am going to feel haunted by the bad aftertaste that is currently lingering in my mouth from playing this show.