Muncie Madness and a Normal Day

The See on tour Day 6, on the road to Muncie, Indiana:

A couple nights ago we played at the Irish pub Murphy’s in Memphis on our drummer Tyler Nance’s birthday. Fortunately Memphis is Tyler’s hometown and he had about a dozen people come see us play. Unfortunately there were only about five other people in the audience. This is to be somewhat expected on a Tuesday night (and a Tuesday night in which we were competing with Bob Dylan’s AmericanaramA), yet it is hard not to wish for a larger crowd. A full room of engaged listeners is extremely energizing for a band, and by contrast an empty room can be utterly draining. On nights when attendance is not as high as we would like, our task is to avoid discouragement, and just focus on the precise execution of our songs. There is a strong temptation to not play with much effort or care when the audience is small, but to give in to this temptation is to give up a wonderful opportunity to improve the performance and, more gravely, it is to disregard the potentially life-affirming experience that can happen any time you pick up an instrument and perform music with others. I am happy that we did play well in memphis and generally do a good job of playing with high energy and focus regardless of our audience size.

Tyler told me he thought that it was the best show we had played yet. While I was generally satisfied with how we played, I felt like we rushed the tempo on a few songs and could have played with more dynamic flexibility— I definitely did not think it was our best show. Joe too expressed some minor frustrations with the show, and eventually we all began to talk about what went right and wrong and what each of our favorite shows had been so far. Jason thought that the night before in Nashville had been our best show; I thought the night before that in Chattanooga was the best; Joe hadn’t yet been completely satisfied with any show. It was strange to me that we all had such different opinions. Yet I realize now that we are all at least somewhat guilty of believing our own personal best show to be the band’s best show. It is a difficult but necessary step to take in performing music to focus less on your individual sound, and more on the collective sound. The worn out sports adage “there is no I in team” holds true for musicians as well: there is no I in band. As we get more and more comfortable and accurate with our individual performance, I will certainly be expecting us to improve the collective quality of our sound. This means adjusting our volume in real time (not with pedals or knobs, but through the tried and true technique of playing with varying strength/pressure) in accordance with what is the most prominent voice in the band at any moment— when Joe is singing, the rest of the band plays under his volume; when anyone has an instrumental solo, the band plays under that person; otherwise, our sound is balanced so that the audience can clearly hear everyone. There is no great effort needed to accomplish this— often the simple, but intentional act of listening more to each other than oneself will produce this wonderful musical effect naturally.

Last night we played in Louisville at a delightful little bar called the 3rd Street Dive. Though it was partially an open mic night, we and two other acts were considered the featured artists. The first two featured acts were an acoustic singer songwriter named Samantha Harlowe (who sung heartbreakingly vulnerable songs in a beautiful, powerful voice) and a great boy-girl folk-pop duo from Dallas called Zach and Corina. We were a little self-conscious about stepping on-stage and kicking up the volume after such a nice light-rocking, but we played through a short set and ended up being very well-received by both the audience, owner, and employees. A delightful couple named Darren and Valerie were kind enough to let us stay at their home.

Ok, so it has been about 24 hours since I wrote all that. Instead of trying to go back and pick-up where I left off, I’m just going to start with fresh thoughts from a new perspective. This may not make for the best narrative, but I had a long, weird, fun fourth of July celebration in Muncie Indiana and my mind is in a totally new place so…

The See on tour Day 7, in a laundromat in Normal, IL:

Did I just say I have fresh thoughts? Fresh is not the right adjective for my thoughts right now. Suffice it to say (I’m not going to go into incriminating detail here) that last night in Muncie was the first time on tour that I indulged in the proverbial “rock and roll lifestyle” and I’m now feeling the aftereffects. Obviously this “rock and roll lifestyle” is not a sustainable one, but last night was America’s birthday, and I am in a rock and roll band, and sometimes rock and roll works better with whiskey! I think it was a good moment for the band to cut loose and just rock out. Thus far we’ve been very deliberate and business-like (read: sober) in our performances and analysis of our performances. This has been extremely helpful in improving the technical execution of our songs, and should remain our standard modus operandi going forward, but last night was the right time to get a little wild. As far as I can tell, Muncie is a lawless land run by friendly, fun-loving, dirty hipsters— I didn’t see any police while I was there, but I did see plenty of thrift store-outfitted twenty-somethings drinking 24 oz. Miller High Life’s, playing tone deaf indie-punk rock, shooting off fireworks in the street, and smoking all manner of plant-life in the open air. Ergo, when in Muncie, do as the Munsters do. We did end up playing a great high-energy set and were very well received at the large quirky club Be Here Now. Unless you are my parents (who are probably reading this actually—hey M & D), please ask me in person about the riotous wilderness that is Muncie.

The See on tour Day 8, on the road to Chicago:

Last night we played in aptly named Normal, Illinois. With it’s clean, tree-lined streets, beautiful parks, and quaint restaurants, Normal offered a pleasant refuge from the Muncie madness. We took a much needed trip to the laundromat and then (because we were saturated with a good two-day bar-room funk, without a shower in sight) we went to a local water park, swam, rode some water-slides, soaked in the sun and showered/shaved in the locker room (all for only six bucks y’all). Feeling like a whole new band, we went to the venue, Firehouse Pizza & Pub, and unloaded our gear. The good folks at Firehouse then fed us all the free pizza we could eat, we listened to the two opening acts (an acoustic singer/songwriter with saxophone accompaniment, and Kyle from Normal band These Old Ghosts), chatted with some locals, played a stellar set, and came away with our biggest payday yet. We stayed at the home of two hilarious Normal residents and Nintendo enthusiasts named Jake and Alex. Jake, if you are reading this, I demand a rematch in Super Smash Bros. Normal was definitely the most materially nourishing stop on our journey thus far: we slept, we ate, we showered, and we were paid. Yet aside from simply receiving much needed sustenance, we were also introduced to a thriving community enthusiastic about art and live music. Normal, Illinois has been the most pleasant surprise of the tour thus far, and I can’t wait to come back.

Onward to Chicago!

Note: I had hoped originally that I would be able to post a blog everyday about the previous day’s show. But life is moving fast on tour, wi fi connections are few and far between, and hours when I could write easily get eaten up by naps, games of catch, picnics, pool-trips, warmups, and general socializing. I’m not complaining about this at all—I’m having a blast— but I do apologize to anyone who happens to be following this blog for the infrequent updates (I’m going to try to do better).

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