Saturday 28th July – Festival
Pub rock cover bands are probably the hardest format to play to get encouragement for the developing artist. As you are in the company of every bedroom guitarist in the audience who has listened to the songs you play, every audience contains critics who are convinced their mate can play/sing better than you. As such, there’s not a highly supportive atmosphere to craft your skills. For the past 20 years I’ve been playing in these kind of bands and so my history is mainly years of indifferent feedback from disinterested audiences, where you’re judged purely on your ability to copy someone else’s style rather than showcase your own self. My acoustic duo, Dangerfield! is a slightly friendlier format because when we play at weddings etc., the audience is there for another reason (i.e. the celebration of the bride and groom), and so you just have to play well – your job isn’t to get them to enjoy themselves; they’re already doing it. Less effort, better return.
Even PlanB, being a primarily original band with a unique sound, has typically played to small crowds. We receive better response in general as we have been touring countries in a completely different part of the world. So although our uniqueness worked in our favour to some degree, it was still really hard work and we typically play for a small number of people. And as we were on whistle-stop tours without follow-up, we can’t really develop strong fan relationships by having recurring gigs.
Then came the Festival, where I became a RockStar.
The group of us met downstairs in the Hostel at 7am and proceeded out the front where our band bus was waiting; a nice, modern 17 seater with a friendly driver who bizarrely pulled over about 15 minutes into the trip, vomited on the side of the road, got back in and continued on. Very reminiscent of a series of ads we had in Australia about drug driving. After a while we approach different sections of the Great Wall until we drive through a couple of tunnels and arrive on the other side (question – this all seems rather easy, why did the Mongols bother trying to climb over? Why not just get in a series of minibuses and drive under? Strange race, those Mongols). After climbing some more mountains for another half hour or so, the bus pulls over and we meet up with… wait for it… a Police escort!
Sirens wailing and lights flashing, we cut a swathe through the highway traffic. Around 2 hours later we arrive at the festival site; the driver speaks to the guards and we drive around to an oversized Yurt.
As we get off the bus, we are greeted by the first in the day’s worth of LYOL’s (Lovely Young Oriental Ladeez) who is obviously used to working with Very Important Rockstar Types like us. She hands us neck tags to tell those less enlightened souls how important we are and leads us to the Uber-Yurt. A new brigade of LYOL’s greets us at the door and lead us to two large round tables for lunch. Yet another troops of LYOL’s then proceed to bring us bowl after bowl of exotic food for our gastronomic pleasure.After eating what we dared.of the Inner Mongolian feast, we return to the bus to be driven to the inner sanctum behind the stage where we have or own tent set up with the obligatory band of LYOL’s out front.
The next 4 hours are spent waiting, walking around, waiting, warming up, waiting, checking out the other bands performing, waiting, revising the set list and, for a change of pace, some more waiting. Finally the call comes to make our way to the stage. Originally we were booked to do a sound check half an hour before, but the earlier bands went over time and so we’re just given the opportunity for a quick 5 minute check. We decided to do a song (Sandpaper Sally) that wasn’t included on the set list for sound check, as we would be continuing on with the gig straight away. If there were issues, we could stop half way through the song and fix them, and if not we could just continue and effectively add a song to the set.
Things sounded good and we gathered a small appreciative crowd as we played the song. By the time we had finished the song, the crowd had grown and we were rewarded with cheers and applause. For a soundcheck!
So we started the set proper, the crowd continued to build and my previous 20 years of over-thinking and self consciousness disappeared in half a song. The crowd loved us – I think partly because we were different and refreshing. The InMusic Festival promotes itself as family friendly, so our style appeals to a broader demographic than the Screamo, Hip-Hop and Yurt-pop (I don’t know if that’s actually a genre for modern Mongolian folk music, but it should be!). As an extension of this, they also loved me and what I was doing up there – everyone was my friend. It was as if the separation allowed me to drop my own emotional defenses and release the inner entertainer. As the songs progressed, the Tom Jackson performance videos I’d absorbed over the past few years kicked in unconsciously for the first time and I really hit my stride. Ideas from the videos occurred to me as I performed and they just felt right instead of being a pre-planned act. I had inadvertently been practising for this one event for the previous two tours.
Part way through one of the early songs I turned around and saw my back on the big screen (does my bum look big in this? Well, actually, yes – it’s about 25 feet across, lard-arse!). Instead of being confronting, this somehow reinforced the feeling that I was supposed to be there.
I. Am. Rock. Star.
There were some real moments of connection with the crowd as the set progressed. My jumping around, gestures and movement around the stage actually had an effect. I could eyeball people, point and wave at them and they knew I meant them individually. Everyone was happy and loving the vibe .
Five songs into the set (6 if you count the sound check) we changed gear and played one of the slowies – “Call Me” . I moved to the front of the stage and sat down with my legs hanging over the edge, assumed the angsty love look and they lapped it up. It sounds corny by it worked.
The feedback for each song got better and better. Our last song, a cover of Dexy’s “Plan B”, has a lot of crowd interaction and was the perfect climax. We finished, they shouted for more, I threw out a couple of T-shirts and we left the stage to calls for an encore. I only hope the organisers and some promoters were there to see it. The only thing I think we could have done better is be prepared for it by having the entire stack of merch (CDs and T-Shirts) on hand so we could run out the front, sign and sell. Ah well; opportunity lost, lesson learned.
Financially the gig was reasonable but nothing extraordinary. For the development of the band and me personally, it was invaluable. The best to hope for now is some movers and shakers saw it and want us back next year. I know I’m keen 🙂