:: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 ::
mercury lounge w hamell on trial, solo
was i going backwards, or returning to my roots with this one? i struggled with the thought backstage. it felt familiar, reminiscent, and sometimes that can be unsettling.
hamell? what does he care? he's got a Marshall head and a Peavey PA cabinet. he's got an old gibson acoustic that ROARS. he's got more things to say than song structures to squeeze it all into. he's got a shiny head that's beaded with sweat before he hits the stage. he traveled 7,700 miles in 11 days for 13 gigs in one stretch. and he's very cool.
"what the hell do i open with?"
his friend, also clean shaven, recommended a few titles.
"yeah," hamell considered. "i ... i... i can DO those, i suppose. i just... wonder. you know, it's about the first song. once i know what the first song is, the rest of the set just snaps into place." he fell silent, and continued violently stretching the strings out on his beat-up Gibson until the top string snapped. "God damn, I hate that. Better now than later, I suppose. have you read dante?"
"yeah. i'm reading this book about dante. fucking great. so what do i open with?"
i didn't know his stuff well enough to call out titles. "how about that one that everyone loves? why don't you open with that?"
he smiled. "hey, that's an idea. you better put that one in your set, too."
"yeah, i plan to."
"what do you do about that one that you love, but everyone else is confused by?"
"oh, i have one of those." he paused. "tough call. i say play it. but play it with an open ear and mind. sometimes they'll tell you what you can't see, the fucked up part that you been hanging on to from the early incarnation of the song. take it up, take it down. i'm not saying the bastards are RIGHT, mind you. i'm just saying that they may have a valid point that you can learn from."
"what about that really fun one that everyone needs to hear, but you don't like to play anymore because it's from an earlier incarnation of your life?"
"mmm." he stopped tuning, and ran his hand along the top of his head. "my 'walk this way', you mean."
"tough call. actually, no, it's not. fuck the audience. i mean, not FUCK THE AUDIENCE, but don't expect them to know what they want. they're going shopping. they might pick up a hat, or a chair or a lamp that they didn't even know they wanted. you gotta make room in the set. room for the new. people are reluctant. we can't be."
i smiled. "ok, then, what about that new new one that you just wrote this morning, that's still wet and screaming? do you kick it out of the nest and play it, or hold off?"
"hm. what is this, fucking twenty questions? but they're good ones... don't play it. not here, not in primetime. get it together where you want it, then kick it out of the nest. but i know guys who'd disagree with me. like they need to know what's working by throwing prototypes out the window. i don't like it. we're...entertainers, after all. they paid money. i say don't play it. but you... you go right ahead." he smiled, devilishly.
"nah, i'm not planning on it, either. how do you structure your set list."
"it's shaped like a 'W'. every time. all the time. hit em hard, first. first impressions, right? right. then you bring it down, give them the softies, for the ladies, and all. kick a couple killers in there for energy, then back down, then... and this is what i do... open it up for requests, and leave 'em screaming. works for me, man. i've seen people do other shit, like being all weird at the top, and then building steadily over the course of the set, and leaving everyone totally hyped. i can't do that... i don't... don't have the balls, or something. i need 'em from note one. gotta be nailing it from the top. but i respect the other way of doing it."
the soundwoman, jessica, knocked on the backstage door. "mike, five minutes."
"cool. just out of curiosity, would you play..."
"what the fuck, are you the CIA tonight? i'm giving you all this advice, you're not helping me pick my first song at all." we laughed.
"well, i'm not TAKING any of the advice."
"that's wise, because i've given you all of my worst ideas."
"don't mention it."
"i'm sure you'll find the right one."
"you, too. have a great one."
i got on stage smiling, and smiled through the show. thanks, hamell.
:: mike 1:11 PM [+] ::