by Dr. Froth (visit his personal blog here)
For twenty-six long years I have played music. In this time period, particularly over the last several years, I have noticed an interesting trend in the live performances of original acts playing the local club scene. It is this evolution that I have given the name “Neckliner” to. I have done this because I am a super genius.
In theory, when putting together a show you would stack it thusly:
1.) Totally unknown kids or friends you owe a favor to going on at 8:30. This way, you can still have them on your show without really having an effect on said show since no one will be there except for the poor bastards that the band brings along to watch, the bar staff, the other bands loading in, and street vagrants that have yet to be kicked out. This also provides cannon fodder for the soundman to experiment on. If they kick ass, or bring a shit load of people then next time you move them up a slot. Everybody wins.
2.) The real opener. Usually someone beginning to climb up the food chain, and one that has done well in the first slot a few times for you.
3.) A seasoned class act for direct support of YOU, the headliner. This band should be a similar style to yours but should not be able to mop the floor with you (unless you are just a glutton for punishment). It is always preferable to use one of your peers for this, that way the crowd that enjoys gothic-polka (or whatever the hell you play) gets to enjoy a double header. Again everybody wins.
4.) YOU. The headliner. The crowd is now pumped having seen at least 2 really good acts prior to yours. You take the stage around midnight and prepare to deliver the goods for 75 to 90 minutes of metal goodness. Everybody wins.
Except it does not really work that way anymore, does it? If you set up the above four-step process for your show next week this is what would happen.
1.) The kids bring 30 people to watch their “first” show. Only about four guests have to pay the cover, since the door guy does not even get over there and set up until the set is almost over. You are amazed to see grandparents and other folks that have probably never been inside a bar in their entire lives present to see little Billiam sing about humping the nipples right off a polar bear in the name of Satan. They must be proud. Anyway, all of them, including the little bastards that you did the favor for by letting them on to your show, bail the fuck out right after their set. Their presence, outside of some odd and contemplative people watching, has served no purpose other than to burn time. Hell, you could have accomplished this at IHOP and at least got a damn pancake out of the deal. But hey, all is not lost because the night has just started and we are now on to…
2.) This spot does exactly what it is intended to do (it is the only one that does). This band hits the stage about 9:45 and plays till 10:30. The bar is starting to fill up nicely about half way through this bands set (which is why if this band is you, you save all your best stuff for the last 20 minutes).
3.) The direct support goes on at 11:00 and the place is packed. Everybody is having a great time, drinking, and jamming out to the band. You are very excited as you go back stage to get ready for your headlining slot. You are confident that this will be a killer night.
4.) It is time for you to begin your badass headliner performance. Depending on who you are, this could go a couple of different ways. If you are a national act, or a huge local favorite with a massive draw that only plays a couple of times a year (or less) you will probably have that great crowd you were anticipating. If you are not, you will walk out on stage and think to yourself “What the fuck? Is there a fire?” This is because 40% or more of the crowd will have vanished into the night between the direct support and you. The interesting thing about this is that the same thing would have happened if you and the previous band would have traded places. It has nothing to do with the bands generally, but with the clock itself.
Why is this so? I have no answers, but I do have a theory.
It seems to be the same people that come out to these shows here in Houston. The same people that always came out to these shows. These people are not really being replaced by younger folks. In fact, the majority of young folks I see at local shows are playing in the band or have a friend in the band that is playing. There does not seem to be a bunch of young adults just going out to clubs to see random live music and discover new acts to enjoy.
So the people that do come out to see live music, well… they are getting older. They are no longer 25 years old, and most of them do not party every night. They have families, jobs, and responsibilities. They are just too tired to stay out until 2 am without a really damn good reason. You r band is probably not a good reason to stay out that late, especially if they can catch you again in a couple of months, hopefully at a more forgiving time slot.
What happens when these people get really old and can no longer come out to shows, or worse, pass away? Does the scene die with them? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If the band plays a gig and no one comes to hear it, is there a point?
For now, there are still the brave souls keeping things alive here, and I am thankful for them. The model of shows is different now, particularly to those that have been in the field long enough to know better.
When you make a local show in Houston right now, here is the model for success from my observations on the current workings of the scene.
1.) The real opener goes on at 9:00 sharp.
2.) The direct support goes on at 10:15
3.) The headliner (you) goes on at 11:15.
4.) The unknown kids or the favor band closes the night.
There will most likely be more people to hear the end of the real opener’s set than there will be at the end of the night for the closer.
If you are the headliner going on at 11:15, play most of your best stuff at the beginning of your show, because you will lose people as the clock goes on.
In closing, I hope that this helps some of you plan your shows for a greater degree of exposure for yourself. For the bands out there, I would suggest that we all take turns rotating around the number 1 and 3 slots for each other so that everyone gets a turn in the spotlight. Place all the newcomers in the closing slots until they prove themselves, and then start them in the rotation. It seems fair to me.
If you have your own theories why this is the way that it is, I would love to hear them. Perhaps together we can discover what is really going on and perhaps do something about it.
May all your shows this, and next year, be moist.