On a few occasions I have been fortunate enough to play a show to no one. Well, not no one, but the soundie and the bar staff are there to get paid, they’re not there to see you.
I say ‘fortunate’ because I think this is something that every gigging musician should experience at some point in their career (if you can call it that). In my experience it is far easier to walk onstage with 300 people in the audience than with 3, but it’s these unattended, seemingly soul destroying small shows that make the bigger ones so great – and sometimes so easy.
Last night my band Thirteen Seventy played at Rics with Galapogos. The audience consisted of my girlfriend, the other band, and the bar staff. I’m not going to go into the reasons why it was poorly attended, save to say there were a lot of other great gigs on at the same time. It’s Brisbane, it happens.
What shows like this give us the opportunity to do is to thrash out newer material, and to work on our stagecraft. That great guitar part that just seemed to come out in a pumping, packed room one night? It was first discovered in front of a few uninterested bodies in a mostly empty room. These shows force us to find something new, something extra to make people sit up and take notice. These are things to take away and re-use. These shows allow you to take risks, and have a bit of fun. That new song that completely fell apart in the middle? You can laugh it off and pick it up again.
Probably my most soul-crushing moment on stage was also at Rics a few years ago. I was asked to play a last-minute solo set on a Sunday afternoon (back in the old Cheeseboard days) as someone had pulled out two days beforehand. After a quick Facebook status update announcing my spot, I turned up with my acoustic guitar and proceeded to play an hour long set to the soundie and the bar guy.
It was the most terrifying show of my life.
Knowing that the only people in the room are completely fixed on you because there’s NOTHING else happening is very disarming. From memory I played terribly, but I also used the opportunity to test out a lot of new songs I’d been working on before I took them back to my band at the time, The Soundcasters. The songs were better for the run-through, and I was better for facing my nerves and getting on with it. I’ve never been as terrified of playing to so few people again.
After I finished, when I was offered payment for playing, I said not to worry about it, as I hadn’t brought anyone along. The barman said, no, you showed up and played, you get paid – it was a last-minute thing and it’s not your fault people are too lazy to come out.
I reluctantly took the cash. He had a good point, but it took me a while to realise I was beating myself up over something I had no control over. So I say play that show to no one. Do something fucking amazing, because the three people that are there might become your new biggest fans, and at the very least you’ll gain their respect.
By Clint Morrow