I’ve told all my students for 15 years, you MUST have peripheral vision while onstage. I’m not talking visually, although ripping the lead singers shirt because you weren’t looking isn’t a good thing, I’m talking MUSICALLY. Lemme discuss eh?
So you’re on stage, your singer is singing a verse that’s….8 repetitions through a riff and all of a sudden on the 3rd time through he’s signing the 7th time through lines. Now on the next pass he’s doing the build-up for the chorus, everyone is just playing the verse and then everyone is confused as he’s belting out the chorus and now everyone clumsily shifts and finds their place in the chorus. OR……
Everyone notices, everyone communicates (more on that later)and then everyone does a football move – AUDIBLE! BLUE 18 HIKE! Everyone shifts to the chorus and we’re all moving together and the audience doesn’t notice that there was a mistake. The singer then has that moment of clarity and turns around like “fuck you saved my candy ass” That’s the peripheral vision I’m talking about.
I’ve done this second version for years, while you’re playing you’ve gotta LISTEN to the band. If the bassist is out of tune sometimes he might not hear it, maybe his monitors are low or maybe the note that you hear out of tune is when he’s singing, so you’ve gotta give him that cue. Maybe the drummer thinks the band is running this song a little fast and slows down OR the singer needs the song faster and gives the drummer a cue to speed up. Well, YOU BETTER NOTICE or the whole show is fucked, buddy! You want to make sure the band is in harmony. It’s not about that amazing drum fill (unless you’re covering Tom Sawyer) or that sweet bass/guitar interchange you guys worked on for weeks. It’s likely about how that all factors into your singer hitting that bridge or the reprise of the last chorus. When we say “it’s about the song” we mean “the stuff being sung”. Yes…..the lead singer. Sorry. It’s about him/her always. They’re the piece that the audience is locking into, but the BAND is the piece he’s locking into. Take David Lee Roth, arguably one of the best frontmen of all time, singing PANAMA-HA….That’s literally the most important part of that song. Its what we all connect to. So the band must BE THERE when that starts. Similarly, Eddie needs to be a god in that solo section, the band needs to rock the intro and the amazing quiet build up before the last chorus. That build up is ALL BAND, but then we hear PANAMA! That’s what the build was for! Without all these the song is nothing…..but its all connected. A song is a group of people not one. I can’t just be a dickhead and randomly solo during a Toxic, Dee, Jasta, Kings and Liars song. Sure as a seasoned guy there’s little gaps where I could but it also distracts from the song COMPLETELY to near disastrous results if you’re not understanding the situation.
Two short stories – out in Europe with Toxic Holocaust and we SMASH into Wild Dogs at Party San in Germany. All of a sudden the monitors take a break due to a giant gust of wind ripping the sound away (happens at outdoor shows) and I lose the song. I hear Joel singing it right and notice I’m like 3 beats off and do a big slide and BOOM land on the one and keep going. Years ago watching a local band and the guitarist had a similar loss of the song and decides (also in a verse) to improv solo his way back. Well….the band starts looking around, the singer is still going but the drummer starts getting confused and the resulting resolution sounded like a garbage truck backing up into a dumpster as the song then careened back into the regularly scheduled chorus. This…..IS HOW YOU FUCK UP A SONG. EVERYONE SAW YOU WERE CONFUSED, EVERYONE STARTED PAYING ATTENTION TO THE FUCK UP AND THEN THE TRANSITION FELT LIKE A TRIP TO THE DENTIST!
……ok sorry, just had my coffee. Let’s now try to explain what I’m talking about when I mentioned “communicating” mid-song. This is extremely important. These cues are subtle, a nod of the head, a blink, some sort of very tiny baseball call. Cues are not, I repeat are NOT the third base coach waving you home on an RBI. No! The audience must NEVER KNOW you’ve made an error. Above all else you perform like the show is going flawlessly, and you give a nod to the bassist and drummer to say “Billy missed the first half of the verse” and they give you the “I know” look and then it might just be wiiiide eyes that say “lets follow him to the chorus” and we go. In my old jazz group, our cues to trade solos were essentially a Seinfeld “Funeral hello” just a small nod/blink combo. You’d really have to pay attention to know we were flying by the seat of our pants.
To be a better showman learn from good movies and bad movies with the same mid-level CGI. When you LOVE a movie and the script is well crafted you’re invested in the story and that CGI is cool. Then you see a bad movie, the script is painful and the plot is ultra confusing. You’ll walk out going “that was the worst CGI I’ve ever seen”. It could have been from the same company, same crew and a day apart but now its bad…..because your mind had time to focus on it. How many times did you watch a movie you adored on TV and go “man that’s a rough effect” 3 years later? Its because the moment is gone that’s all. Similarly, you ONLY want the audience focusing on the song, I bet you your favorite live show later watched on YouTube could have flubs all over it BUT…..the band made sure you were focused on the moment so you didn’t notice!!
Many times at shows people have said “I’ve never heard you guys TIGHTER” and in your head, you’re dissecting the 3 big possible disasters you avoided, or the 3 disasters that happen and you worked through, and just go “oh….thanks man”. Your peripherals got you through and you not selling the near-fatalities made sure THEY loved it. Nice one, bub.