Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Tour

Last night I went to a show. It was pretty small, the venue was incredibly sketchy, and the crowd was certainly different. But that's not the point. The point is I drove up to Spartanburg on a Monday night in January by myself to go to an abandoned warehouse to see letlive. play on their second day of their headlining tour.Whose crowd ranged from awkward high school sophomores with their parents to angry white men who start a mosh pit in a chill environment because they want to feel tough about swinging their arms near peoples' faces that are just having a good time to indie kids coming out of the woodwork and losing their mind over an incredibly mediocre band with bad acoustics to a few random hardcore fans who stuck around for the headliner - a crowd so large, the lead vocalist was able to (and did) personally shake the hand of everyone who came out and stayed til the end of the set.

letlive. is a high energy post-hardcore/punk band from Los Angeles that has been around since ~2004 but just recently have found great success with only one original member, the vocalist Jason Aalon Butler, and a new record label. A concert promoter decided that immediately following their stint on the UnderOath farewell tour, they would lead a headliner through the US and a fantastic place for them to cut their teeth early on would be at Ground Zero, the abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere, Spartanburg, SC. Kudos to him for pushing that through. Every band who came up stated that this was their first time in Spartanburg. Jason Aalon even said he didn't expect anybody to actually show up, and was pleased with the turnout.

It was such a strange show dynamic through the night, that it got me thinking of the whole concept of going on a tour. As bands with small followings in scenes that are not popular in the mainstream, it must take a whole lot of faith and commitment to drop everything - a full time job, going to school, family & friends - to pursue your dream of playing music.  In an age when people hardly pay for their music, you're putting a whole lot of financial risk on selling a few tickets to tiny shows like this, trying to push your merch and phsyical CDs at the table off to the side, all while undertaking the costs of piling up all your equipment into a white van and driving off to the next stop.

And once you get there, you see a crowd of less than 100 people all hesitant to stand too close to the stage.  You ask who's ready to see "X band, the headliner" and get a solid response, but it's not for you. Nobody knows who you are, nobody knows your songs. But you have an image to you - in the clothes you wear, in the way you present yourself, in the music you play, your stage presence. The crowd moves closer. Everyone starts to bob their heads. Maybe you have a catchy chorus that the crowd begins to sing back to you. You earn respect, one note at a time, and the crowd sees you off with a well-earned cheer at the end. A few impressed listeners come up to your table afterwards to talk to you, check out your shirts, maybe even buy a CD or a sticker or a patch to sew on to their thrift store jacket, covered with logos of all the other bands they've gone to see live over the years. It's got to make it worth it, I think. To step in to a place you've never been, in a venue that looks like shit, and earn your way playing the music you've poured your whole soul and life into it. To pack it all up until 1 in the morning and pile into the van to drive how ever many miles to the next show and do it all again. Because who knows. Maybe this next city you've never even heard of is the one where the 16 year old girl with purple hair is waiting at the front, ready to scream all your words right back at you, and steal your set list off the stage when you're done.

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