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From Hero to Zero in Two Crappy Days – That’s Liv(f)e for You!

February 17, 2016

Live Music

Live Music

PARIS – Something I did not mention in yesterday’s blog post – out of modesty – about some great new open mics in and around Paris was that I received lots of insanely warm compliments for my performances in two of those open mics. In fact, I did feel really good behind the mic, sensed a really warm and direct connection with the audience, and the sound systems in both places allowed me to be extra comfortable with my guitar and vocals; I was floating in that outer space place we aim for while playing live music. But live performance is a beast that cannot be tamed. And I was reminded of that again last night at two open mics in a row: Feeling like crap, like the worst musician of the night, not hearing my voice, not hearing my guitar, not connecting with the audience, being “outside” myself, outside the music.

In the intervening two days – Sunday and Monday – between those stage experiences, I had a minor ear infection that was treated by a specialist on Monday, but while the pain was gone last night, the ear remained slightly plugged. Playing music with a plugged ear is probably ambitious. But it was far from the only problem. In the first venue I played at, my first visit to Le Clin’s 20, I discovered that although it is kind of like an open mic, it is much more like a live karaoke, with a pianist who will play along so you can sing, on a stage where there is no real set up for musicians who need a good guitar and vocal amp and monitor. The evening was wonderful, with a warm atmosphere, great hosting, full of nice people – and some musicians with guitars, saxes, etc. – but unfortunately for me, with just one real ear and no monitor, I could hear neither my guitar nor my voice.
Nicolas Chona at the Feline

To make matters worse, I felt pressure that I should try to sing a “crowd pleaser,” since the evening is made mostly of cover songs. It is usually a bad idea to try to please a crowd. You have to start by pleasing yourself. I found myself yelling into the mic, forcing my guitar playing, forcing my voice, forcing my effort to connect with an audience that seemed almost as connected to talking to each other as they were to listening to the performers (not a problem in itself, but fatal for me last night), and I left the stage feeling as bad within as I had on stage. Worse, there was a guy in the audience who has seen me perform at two other locations, and when I said I did crappy, he actually confirmed this to his friends, assuring them that there was no comparison to what he had seen me do before!!!!
Bunch of musicians at Le Clin’s 20

So it was that I left this really neat venue, that has open mics and live karaokes several times a week, and I walked on down to La Féline for the open mic there. For the first time in my attendance there, the place was just popping at the seams with performers and audience members. I have a small suspicion – maybe even a big one – that one of the reasons the crowd was so big was because the Café Oz open mic that usually runs on Tuesday night in Pigalle was cancelled due to a soccer match, and therefore, the habitués of Oz went to the Féline.
First at La Feline

Whatever may be the reason, the resulting anonymity that I had half hoped for in order to gather together my feelings of control over my stage presence and singing was far from present. Worse, much worse was to come. It turned out that I would be the last musician of the night, but that going on stage JUST before me was fabulous young blues guitar player and singer named Nicolas Chona who blew everyone away with just the right kind of hard-driving, hard pumping, slide guitar playing and singing for the moment.
Another Nicolas Chona at La Feline

In fact, dare I say it again, that the vocal mic at the Féline also sounded like it had cotton wrapped around it, and the guitar amp wasn’t sounding that much better. Especially from the stage. So the result was that I had to get up on stage with half an ear, not a great mic and having just followed one of the best musicians of the night – whose hard-driving slide sound felt right at home with that particular sound system.
First at Le Clin’s 20

I decided I would nevertheless forge onward, choosing, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty, to start with, as my statement for the evening. I then did my “Borderline,” and I decided to hell with the bad mic sound and the increasingly restless audience, talking to themselves, and having been let down by me after the great Chona, and I just decided to sing a nice quiet, finger picking song – the way I do it – and please myself with that, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” by Bob Dylan. Unfortunately, pleasing myself did not do the trick to please the spectators here either, as I felt like crap through all three songs, failed to hear much of myself – or even the crowd – and left the stage to a huge reception of people clearing the path for me back to the bar without a single compliment or nod or smile….

Well, I do have a category on this blog called “rant,” and this is clearly one of them. On the other hand, what it REALLY is, is just another confirmation that when “live” really works, you can be really happy for it, and you can say that it’s thanks to a certain magic in the air. And when “live” does not really work, so fucking what! Move on to the next live! The delight will return when it wants to…. That’s the beauty of live.

In fact, this whole thing reminds me that I read in The New York Times the other day that even one of the performers in the Grammy Awards ceremony, Adele herself, suffered a setback during her live performance thanks to a malfunctioning piano string, from which she never recovered! She’ll be back doing live, I’m sure….

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