October 13, 2011

Week 49 - Your Stage Self

Hi, I’m a Rock Star.
Who The Hell Are You?

Do you have a pitch? Do you know how you’re going to present yourself? Do you know how you’re going to act on stage? There is a persona. There is an “other person” you can sink your soul into when you hit that stage and those can lights shine down on you. You just need to find it.

The best performers I have seen live are the ones who flip a switch when they get on stage. They aren’t the same person I was chatting with 10 minutes before the show. And you know what? A crowd digs that. They feed off of it. They fall for that persona.

Kimberly Freeman, who performs as “One-Eyed Doll” is a prime example. She is the nicest person you could ever meet, gentle, happy, and lovable. Then she hits stage and she transforms into an anime-esque guitar slinger who acts as the leader of a legion of metal-punk-black lipped-rejected kids. If you’ve never seen her show, treat yourself. You’ll love it or hate it. 

Here’s a glimpse:

Of course, sometimes it’s the opposite. Edwin McCain is one of the funniest musicians I’ve ever talked to. When he launches into a song, though, you’re taken to another place. He presents a place of love, a place of loss, a place where he poetically and beautifully weaves in and out of personal stories. 

Then there are the ones who create a spectacle every time they hit the stage: GWAR, KISS, Black Veil Brides (who bear a striking resemblance to Mötley Crüe a la “Looks That Kill”), Alice Cooper, or Rammstein.

And the ones who play up their looks to gain attention: Backstreet Boys, Ashlee Simpson, Shakira, Ke$ha, Usher, or Bon Jovi.

Who are you? Think about it. Be yourself is a good thing. But you need to find the “yourself” that you can amp up a few notches in order to get that crowd going. You need to be the best yourself on your best day every time you hit that stage.

Believe me, I know how hard it is to get up on stage. I’ve done it a few times. Of course, for me I have a much more forgiving crowd. I sing in my church praise band. I know... it’s not the same… but when I first got on stage, it was really, really hard. I’ve been at it for over a year and I’m just now getting comfortable enough to move around and have fun. But… I don’t consider myself an indie musician. I sing in church. I’m not making any money, trying to cut an album, trying to get media to notice me, or trying to make this a career. You are.

Think about it. Would you rather go see your friend that you just had lunch with walk up on stage and perform the same way he acted while eating that burger and fries… or do you want him to rock out and get into his set? I know when I see a band perform; I’m as interested in the music as I am in the actual performance.

I’ve seen a lot of bands. More than most people. I remember a few. Very few.

The Top 10 live shows I’ve attended:
Image from Ask.com
- U2 – Pop Mart Tour (San Antonio, TX) 1997
Bono and Co. won me over with an AMAZING performance. I tried to hate the show because I really, really didn’t like their new music, but it was amazing.

- Grupo Fantasma – Triple Crown (San Marcos, TX) 2004
Picture an 11 piece (at least) band fit into the front of a single-wide trailer. That was pretty much what they looked like on stage (and pouring over into the front half) of the Triple Crown. They impressed the hell out of me and the 40-50 people who fit into the club. Now, they are Grammy Award Winners.

- One-Eyed Doll – Texas Rockfest (Austin, TX) 2008
I’d seen One-Eyed Doll on the smaller stages and she impressed, but this was a big crowd and she commanded it. It was amazing to watch. I posted a video from that performance where I mentioned her above.

- Darrell Scott – Cactus Café (Austin, TX) 2006 
He is one of the most amazing singer-songwriters ever and watching him perform is like seeing a glimpse of genius.

- Hank Williams III – Stubbs (Austin, TX) 2006 
I’d just finished interviewing him and he strolled onto the small stage at Stubbs and tore up 3 sets worth of material – A country set, hellblly set, and punk set. Amazing.

Edwin McCain w/ my wife, Jodie and I
- Edwin McCain – One World Theatre (Austin, TX) 2009 
It was like sitting in the living room and listening to a friend, except the friend would break into amazing and beautiful songs.

- Terri Hendrix – Cheatham Street Warehouse (San Marcos, TX) 2000 
A Terri Hendrix Show will change your attitude. You can walk in pissed off and walk out loving the world. She is a poet, a beautiful person, and a dedicated and amazing musician.

- Loblolly – Gordo’s (San Marcos, TX) 1998 
These guys were Redneck Punk at it’s finest. Songs like “Going To Jail (To Visit Dad),” “Love Is A Horse,” and “White Trash America” and a band that included a washboard player, a drummer named Mojo, and a lead vocalist that would spend the last song stripped down to his underwear and wearing a Tweetybird head. They were my favorite college band.

- Monte Montgomery – Gruene Hall (Gruene, TX) 1997 
Technically this was my wife and I’s first date, but it was masqueraded as work. We got in free w/media passes and I took photos and got mesmerized by the amazing guitar work and lyrics of this man. This is one of the reasons his “Girl Like You” is my wife and I’s wedding song.

Full Service @ Backwoods Bash
- Full Service – Backwoods Bash Music Festival @ ThunderMoon Ranch (Mannford, OK) 2008 
They drove up from Austin, Texas on my word that they’d have a great time and played the first ever Backwoods Bash… and it was epic. You had to be there. This video I got doesn’t really do it justice. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would probably list out another 10 easily, but these shows, to me, were them performing as their best selves on their best day. Impressed the heck out of me.

I don’t care how personable and easy going a person looks up there on stage, they’ve worked at that banter, they’ve rehearsed the stories, they know what they are doing up there. There is no room for “um” moments and there’s no use in getting up on a stage and trying to entertain if you look, dress, and sound like you’d rather be at home playing Madden 2012.

Of course, I’ve stated this before on this blog. I’m writing this assuming you are a good band who plays music people will WANT to hear and you’re trying to make music your full-time occupation. This column is just to try and give you some advice to get to that next level.

So, figure out who you are… and who you will be on stage. It matters.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/


Bejewell said...

The best live shows I've seen have pretty much ALL been opening acts and total surprises.

Went to see Death Cab, with Franz Ferdinand opening -- Franz Ferdinand BLEW OUR SHIT AWAY with an incredibly fun, high-energy set, and when Death Cab came out with their down-tempo, subdued tone it was just totally anti-climactic.

We also went to the Parrish to catch a show from Ian Moore, but Nick Armstrong and the Thieves opened up and rocked the house to its bones -- again, the headliner couldn't live up to the opening act. I'll never forget that show -- those limeys were spectacular.

Perhaps it's the element of surprise that gets me, or the fun of discovering something new? Or maybe it's the high energy vibe that I love. Both shows were
super simple, no fancy backdrops or fireworks, just loud and proud rocking out.

They were all about the music and I guess I just like it that way.

Great post!

Unknown said...

My top 10? Jeez, I'd have to think about that for a bit. Here's what comes to mind off the top of my head:

(in order of how I remember them but not necessarily the top show first although all the concerts listed below were great):

Lenny Kravitz at the Wiltern Theater in LA - The sold-out show was at the height of his popularity, Tickets were selling for over $100 in front of the theater. I recently saw his drummer then, Cindy Blackman who is now married to Carlos Santana and performed with his band during his recent ACL Live 2-night stand.

Phish at The Melkweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Phish's first official European Summer tour in 1996. The Dam was insane. Phishman sang Purple Rain. People got really, really high.

Phoenix at LZR, Austin, Texas. The band from Paris played La Zona Rosa in December of 2010 and played an incredible set to a sold-out crowd after touring non-stop for over a year. I ended up on-stage during the encore with a ton of others. It's a miracle the stage did not collapse.

LCD Soundsystem at Stubb's BBQ - Austin. This was the last show for LCD in Austin, ever. It's also one of the few times in last couple years I did not muck around with press requests. I bought a ticket shortly after they went on sale. Insanely good show.

The Other Ones - Irvine Meadows, Irvine, CA This was the first Southern California show for The Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia passed. While I saw the Dead a few times prior to that, this show was so emotional for the surviving band members it was easily the best show I had seen from them.

The Soldier Thread - The Parish, Austin. TST is my favorite Austin indy band. This show marked their coming of age if you will. After following their progress from new band to polished act, it was a joy to watch Patricia Lynn and the band kill it on stage in front of a sold-out crowd at my favorite 6th Street venue.