In many ways it’s relaxing to be a sideman: there are a million and one things the main performer is responsible for on the night of the show, and you’re off the hook for all of them. You head to the club, hang with your bandmates before you go on, get set up and choose your sounds, play, pack up, and go home. All that said, you’re probably in the band because you like the people you’re playing with and the music you’re playing — so if the show doesn’t go as well as you hoped it might, you’re probably going to leave feeling like you let your friends down. When it’s own your show, you’ve got nobody to disappoint but yourself.
After supporting George and Mike at the last few shows I’ve played, I’m a little relieved to be taking the helm this Saturday. I want Jay, Justin, and Brett to have a good time and a rewarding experience in my group, but if I mess up the night with my suspect box or my unsmooth stage moves, I’m pretty sure we’ll all still be pals. I’m not going to be half as guilty as I would be had I fallen off the stage in the middle of Mike’s show. This’ll be especially true on Saturday, because Jay and Justin will be doing another set with the Negatones — their band — right after mine. Also, since we’re all singing to benefit Parker Kindred, and Parker has a lot of supporters, there’s a cast of thousands on the bill, and we’ll be done by 7:30 at the latest. Everything feels loose and low-stakes, which is probably the way it ought to be until I’m confident that I’ve regained my skills.
I’m getting there. We had a very memorable practice this week; the sort of practice I always wanted to have with my college band but never seemed to be able to manage. Political discussion kept breaking out between the songs — and since I’ve put stuff like “The Man From Nantucket” and “Conspiracy Theory” on the setlist, we kept slipping seamlessly (I felt, anyway) between power chords and paranoia. It seemed awfully new wave-y to me, and I hope we can channel some of our collective dismay when we play these songs on Saturday. In the practice space, we sounded fast, spastic, and appropriately brutal. Somewhere in Indiana Ted Cruz and John Kasich were getting ready to pull the ripcord and leap from the burning airplane that is Campaign ’16. As power was consolidating around some unappetizing figures, we were charging through “Battleships.” Desperate times call for a desperate sound. Saturday isn’t going to be pretty, but I think it’s gonna be satisfying anyway; cathartic, even.
We’ll be doing three songs from Let The Night Fall, three from Shootout At The Sugar Factory, two new ones, and one very old one that we’re determined to rough up. This is essentially the same set we played at the Bernie Sanders benefit at the Citizen in January — but there’ll be a difference. Back then, I reinflated the helium balloons from the Shootout because they were the closest things at hand: they were made for the stage, and for a punk band, and meant to be played in primeval fashion, and Jay and Justin already knew them. We didn’t have time to practice, so we took the path of least resistance –which, for me, always runs straight to the sugar factory. This time around, I had an opportunity to teach the band some of this new material I’ve been working on, and for the most part I chose not to. The three songs from Shootout At The Sugar Factory were written during the difficult time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. The three we’ll be doing from Let The Night Fall were composed during the mid-’00s cleanup. They all seem to fit my paranoid mood at the moment. We’re gonna go amplified, electro-aggravating, polemical, frazzled, and synth-destabilized. Come on and freak out with us. You’ll be with friends.