Dirty Robots Play the Voltage Lounge and Penguins Pub, Philadelphia

We got a middle slot last Saturday night to play all original material for an hour over the bridge at the Voltage Lounge.  It’s in the same building as the Electric Factory, and used to be called Whiskey Dix.  I don’t remember when they changed over.

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We were on early enough not to piss me off, and late enough that there were actually people in the bar when we took stage.  The sound was awesome, and I truly enjoyed myself.  Monika and Cynthia came to the show as well, and we all had a good time.

You know, being in a band is really a bitter sweet kind of a thing.  I love playing, whether it’s cover songs or originals.  When it all comes together, it’s a great feeling to be part of a live performance.  But, like anything you love to do, to be good at it, it takes a lot of work.  A lot of hard work.

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It’s kind of funny.  People I talk to about a lot of the things I do are often impressed.  Being in a working cover band.  Working for the NFL.  Going to the Super Bowl.  Brewing beer at home and working in a homebrew store.  Working in a yoga studio.  People are always like, “wow, that’s so awesome, you must love it.”

And the truth is, I do love all those things.  But there’s a lot of hard work in all of them, and sometimes the job at hand ain’t exactly a walk in the park.  If a brief introduction at a party with a stranger turns into deeper small talk about what I do, and they start to scratch the surface of my life, I start to sound cynical pretty quickly.  Hey, that’s just who I am.

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I joke with people that I’m busy.  That I have 3 or 4 or 5 jobs.   I swear, just keeping my schedule straight counts as another one.  But, what you call a job is sometimes a lot of fun, and perhaps should just be called “something I do, and sometimes I get paid for.”

That’s what being in the band is like.  It’s nice to make some money.  And it’s great being onstage.  Being the center of attention for a few hours once in a while.  Having people look up to you, admire you, applaud you.  But guess what.  This is how my typical Wednesday night gigs go down.

4 pm:  Leave work after working a 8-10 hour day, in which I woke up between 5am and 6 am to get to.

445pm:  Arrive home, do normal house shit.  Collect mail.  Update my finances.  Let the cats out.  Normal shit.

6pm:  Begin writing the three 1 hour set lists that will be our show for the evening.  This includes my own personal set list with some of the chord structures printed out, because when your going to play 40-50 songs that night, sometimes it’s nice to remember what the first chord is.  Print all of them out for the rest of the band.

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630pm:  Pack up the studio with all the live gear.  Make sure we have everything we may need for the show, which is pretty regular.  Double check that everything is at least semi ordered for unpacking, because at the end of the last show played, no matter where, it wasn’t an orderly pack up.

Items usually needed and brought:  Two bass guitars in cases, 2 9-volt batteries, a small tool case, three sets of strings, bass amp (80 lbs), guitar amp (another 80 lbs), power for both of them, power strip, two 50 ft extension cords, 2 or 3 extra power supplies, two power strips, two mic stands with clips, two microphones, 6-8 20 ft microphone cables, music stand, set lists for 3, mixer and mixer case, speaker cable (50ft), guitar stand, some random adapters for weird situations, a direct box, ear plugs, gaffers tape and some other random crap I can’t remember.

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When I was in film school, they taught us some really important lessons that I’ve really held onto over the years.  When you’re on a shoot, and you’ve got every one on set, and everything set up, and everyone is really to go, you can’t have anything fail.  You don’t have the time or the resources or the money for a do over.  So, bring extra…of everything.  Double the amount of stuff you absolutely need, because if one thing you NEED fails you, everything else fails as well.  Good lesson for life right there.

7PM:  Finish my beer and get on the road.  The current gig on Wednesday is at Penguins Pub, which is just over an hour from my house, if there’s no traffic.  The back roads way to the gig is tore the hell up from the harsh winter, so I can’t go that way.  I have to take the NJ Turnpike to the PA turnpike, which is fine and all, but then I’m cutting into the money I make cause I’ve got to pay tolls.

815PM:  Arrive at the gig.  Find decent parking and start to unload ALL the gear.  This place is fine because they’ve got a nice parking lot and a back door to the stage.  But that’s a rarity.  Places in Philly are usually either double park, throw on your four ways, and unload all your shit onto the curb.  Hopefully the cops don’t hassle you and there’s a band mate to watch your shit while you go try to find a parking space within a few blocks of the bar.

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Then, if you’re lucky, it’s not raining (which happens a lot, or some reason), and you get back to the gear quickly.  A lot of times, you’ve got to navigate a bar room full of people drinking to get your gear to the stage.  Hopefully the stage is nice.  hopefully it’s not the corner of the bar that they’ve just moved a few tables out of for you to set up.  If that’s the case, hopefully THEY have moved the tables, otherwise, guess who gets to.  Shit, hopefully THEY have stopped serving people at those tables, or literally people could be having dinner on your stage.  All this shit has happened to me.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the bullshit you have to deal with when your not  the only band playing that night, but one of four or five.  That’s a whole other mess and perhaps another blog.

Being a musician ain’t all fun and games, kids.

850 PM:  Hopefully my drummer and singer have set up by this point, because, lucky me, at this particular gig, I’m also the sound man.  So, I get to do sound check.  Luckily, I know to to run a sound board, but that doesn’t mean the last few people who touched it actually knew what THEY were doing.  So, this usually involves a good deal of trouble shooting and cursing.  Cue the first round of beers.

910PM:  We take the stage.  Since we don’t have a sound man most places we play, and because we’re using stage volume, and our own PA system most places (which thankfully, my singer brings, but I have to set up), inevitable the bar owner tells us to turn down our volume.  A bit hard when your using live drums.  We managed to lie and placate them somehow, having to neuter rock and roll down to mere jukebox background noise.  FML.

10PM:  First break.  We try to bring in guest acts to play some variety of music between our sets because it keeps the live music feel in the room, and keeps the attention the stage.  Since this gig I’m playing sound guy, I don’t get to go directly to the bar like my singer and drummer get to do.  I’ve got to wait around for the next act to set up and do a sound check for them as well.  Fun stuff.

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10:30 PM:  Second set.  Usually my singer and I have done a shot or two during the break, which is nice because it gives just enough of the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude you really need when you realize that learning how to play bass all those years ago in high school didn’t make you famous, get you laid, or bring you any serious money.  No.  Sadly, it’s brought you to a smoke fulled bar north of Philly at 10:30 on a Wednesday night to play Oasis covers to a bar that doesn’t give a shit, an owner that hates musicians, and rednecks playing pool that only really know Elvis, Kenney Chesney and Jimmy Buffet.

11:20 PM:  End of second set.  At this point, we’ve played 30 or so songs, are pretty tired and sweat form the heat of the stage lights, and I’d just like to go home.  I realize this is very far away.  Second intermission band act goes on and I get another drink.  Sigh.

Midnight:  Start of third set.  At this point, my singer has had too much to drink, and that joint in his car during the break didn’t exactly “hone his skills.”  We stumble through the last set not really caring too much about things like correct lyrics, repetitions, and tight endings.  People are generally leaving drunk at this point of the night anyway, and the ones still there are drunk enough to care even less about how well we’re covering songs.  Shit, most people don’t remember how the 90s songs we still play went originally anyway, because, let’s face it, that shit is over twenty years old by now.

1:00AM:  We wrap up around this time, give or take 15 minutes.  Either we run out of songs, or we replay ones that people seemed to have liked from the earlier sets.  Then, we end the show.  But that’s hardly the end of the night.  All the gear on stage is ours, and we have to break it down and load it up into our respective cars.  The nice part of gigs where we are the the headliners is that we can take our time breaking down gear.  Other times, in shit bars on South Street, for instance, you have about five minutes before the next band starts bringing their gear onto stage, and ten to wind your way through the crowd out to the curb, which is where the owner, bar tenders, and sound guy wants you anyway.  When we play the whole night, we can at least grab a beer to drink while we are wrapping chords and taking amps off stage.

2:00 AM:  Sigh.  Finally done and ready to drive home.  This gig is about as far as I’ll drive these days.  About and hour and fifteen minutes.  I’ll stop on the way home at a Wawa to grab a sandwich because I haven’t eaten since the afternoon before.  Monica will be asleep by the time I get home.  I’ll make a martini to wind down, watch a little tv, open some emails and check the stats on my blog and browse the internet before I go to sleep.  Then I wake up as early as possible to get to work the next morning.

And here’s another reality of being “in the band.”  These are pictures of what backstage really looks like at a music venue.  Enjoy!

 

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There’s ugly sides to every endeavor.  But, I do enjoy playing.  I enjoy all my hobbies.  The cleanup always sucks, though.  Making a mess is the best part.  Realizing you have to put your toys away when you’re done having fun is always a drag.

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