Today I had a rehearsal with metheus Bound (for late comers, that's my personal project wherein I write/sing/play guitar), which is always a soothing experience. It's the one environment where I never really feel out of place. I know what I want, I usually know how to articulate it and making the music take shape is one of my great loves. Today we spent about thirty minutes just picking apart one verse, trying to figure out how to make the voice sit in the mix of what was happening. Sometimes in these situations you instantly know what needs to happen - a guitar dropping out, a bass line simplifying, a snare hit changed to a cross-stick - but in this case, as in many, the problem I was hearing was elusive. We were sharing the experience, as in, others agreed there was something not sitting right, but the problem I heard persisted even when the others felt we had reached resolution.
Even though these moments represent little bubbles of tension in the rehearsal, these are the moments I rehearse for. The moment where you can reach into that musical intuition and dredge up the elegant solution to a problem only you hear. It's incredibly satisfying when you finally find that one part that needed to alter, the change that leaps you toward an almost perfect accord. Today it was a matter of linking the drum part more finitely to the vocal rhythms and when you find solutions like this, you feel the whole band breathe that collective sigh of relief that tells you you've hit the root of the problem. That's the meat and potatoes to me.
I also got to hear moments today that also bring a lot of excitement to the rehearsal process. Moments where you feel the band start to actually sound and play like a band. One of the reasons I'm not a fan of 'pickup' gigs (gigs where there is no regular band and you rarely get a chance to rehearse) is that whole uncertainty of the chemistry between you and the other players. Even amongst the most skilled, rehearsal is required to learn the personality of the people you're sharing the stage with. You may successfully pull off the show and the audience may seem none the wiser (although I think musicians in this scene underestimate their audiences in this respect) but you will almost always lack that focussed energy that can only come from knowing your fellow musicians and having absolute faith in where they'll be when beat one rears it's head.
Our rehearsal previous to this one included a guitarist who had never played with us and new songs that we had never played as a group. This left us sounding dry and a little disjointed, even when we played the songs correctly. This week, as I said, I got to witness that dramatic change that happens when that trust starts to build. I got to hear the songs played as though the drummer had written them. I got to hear the guitarist relax into his role and actually play on his strengths. My bass player of course, Ben, sounds like he always sounds; like he's been playing with me for almost a decade and he knows what I'm going to do and what I want to hear. Heh, well, he sounded like a sleep-deprived version of that. Poor guy.
I guess I wanted to get into this because sometimes people treat music like an unknowable frontier and yet seem to have a yearning to understand what it is musicians get to experience as part of their craft. This is a glimpse at that. It's about being connected. It's also about knowing the material so well that everything you do comes with fluidity and ease, and yet even that simply facilitates your overarching goal: to connect.
The reason I think 'pickup' players underestimate their audiences in this is because they think if they manage to play the song 'correctly' that the audience will be satisfied. In 'Top 40' and weddings bands this has a very predictable outcome. When the audience doesn't dance they blame it on the audience, "oh man, what's with these guys, we're playing all the danciest songs we know!". I've heard this phrase a lot before. What they miss, and what the audience doesn't, is that musicians who aren't connected, who are just playing their parts, will never produce that tightness of groove or that focus of intent that literally picks people up out of their seats and makes them move. Sometimes people will dance just for a song they know, but if you want to see if you really have that infectious feel, play a song that NO one knows and see if they dance. If you can do that then you've reached that point. You've reached the place where your communion with the other musicians is so profound that people not on stage can't help but submit to their toes a-tappin and their rumps a-jumpin. It didn't take me long on the dance circuit to tell the difference, so it's odd to hear so many bands still making excuses.
Don't get me wrong, there will be times where you lay down the grooviest shit this side of James Brown's coffin and the audience is still glued to their seats. The point is, if you find that happens a lot, it might be time to start shouldering a bit of the responsibility and thinking about how you approach your sets. On that note (segue!), metheus Bound has two killing sets in the works for a March 24th show at Clinton's Tavern. If you're in the Toronto area you should probably be there. This will be their first and last show for quite a while due to my cruise ship departure. Get 'em while they're hot! Day 57, in the bag.