We’ve made two live appearances so far, both of them short-set “jam nights” at a bar with a generous stage for live bands, the Pioneer. Our plan was to use these first jam nights as a step towards defining who we are as a band, so choosing the songs for the two nights took some thought. Here’s a story about the songs we chose, the logic behind the choices and how they were received.
Knowing where we were playing, we thought about “risk” – did we care whether we’d alienate the audience with our material? We decided to go with a mix of heavy rock styles, not compromising who we are but still letting the audience warm up to what we do.
For our first show we opened with Stone Temple Pilots’ floor-pounding rocker, “Sex Type Thing” just to show that we aren’t messing around. Then we went straight into “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains; it’s dark and grinding but familiar as an alternative hard rock hit. We followed that with Red Hot Chili Peppers’, “Suck My Kiss” – one of the Peppers’ most hard-hitting songs, a heavy funk-rocker that we max out instrumentally to really drive the point home.
Although the crowd was there to hear other blues and classic rock acts they were receptive to those songs, so we were encouraged that it was all working… so far.
But the real test was the fourth and final song which is definitely “out there” by cover band standards: Tool’s, “Sober”. It’s haunting, it’s punctuated, it’s unusual, and is driven by an unconventional musical element: an over-driven bass played like a rhythm guitar. It’s our standard-bearer. We played our hearts out, because we love the song so much. But, how was it received?
When you play in a club there’s a reality you have to face – no matter what, people are always talking. The audience’s attention is divided between the band and their friends. And when you record a show then play it back later (as we did) you’ll hear that the background chatter is always there. Always.
Well, almost always.
When we listened to the recording of us playing “Sober” we heard that when we hit the quiet interlude before the final chorus – where Isabelle hauntingly sings, “I am just a worthless liar, I am just an imbecile” – you didn’t hear that ever-present chatter. The audience is quiet, the chatter has stopped and people are totally into the moment. Maybe most of the audience didn’t know the song – a kind of alt-prog/metal anthem – but they were totally caught up in the drama of the song.
From there the song then explodes into an intense close with Isabelle holding a long, sustained note that grabs you and makes you pay attention until the final four hits that end it – like heavy steel doors slamming shut.
Well, the audience liked THAT.
Our second night at the Pioneer was shorter, only three songs – starting with “My Medicine” by The Pretty Reckless. We had just learned it and had decided it would be good for us to do something we had just picked up. We kinda played it safe by following with “Man in the Box” again, but it was a natural segue. Truth be told, we were initially set back by an on-stage sound problem but our sound was finally dialed in halfway through “Man In The Box”. Fortunately by the time the song ended we had it together and it was well-received.
But once again we decided to go for a risky closer: System of a Down’s, “Toxicity”.
The thing about System of a Down is they’re just plain weird. Delightfully weird, punctuated, shifting from idea to idea, going from soft to aggressive in a split beat. But for the average listener, still weird. So of course, we love them.
Musically, “Toxicity” is somewhat demanding: the drums are challenging, the vocal range is very wide, and the guitar and bass must be perfectly, tightly synced. It’s not an easy song to pull off. But this a song – like Sober – that we have full confidence in and we really identify with.
We played the song lustily with Kamal crushing it on the drums – and we brought it to a loud and climactic ending with Isabelle belting out the closing lines, “When I became the sun, I shone life into the man’s HEARTS!”. She shouted out the last word as we all clamped down on the final note leaving a moment’s silence for the audience to react. And I mean silence. Kind of a worrisome silence.
And a split second later, we got a reward from the audience – including some appreciative cheers.
Later on, some people came over to let us know how much they enjoyed the set – and Toxicity in particular – actually saying that their mind was blown by seeing material like that played on that particular stage.
It’s made us think: are we really taking risks with songs like “Sober” and “Toxicity”? Do we as musicians underrate the audience? Can we go darker and heavier and bring the audience with us?
In fact, our singer is so convinced that we can that she wants our next live show to include our most challenging (and controversial) Tool song: “Stinkfist”. If you don’t know why it’s controversial, look it up.
What do you think?
So that’s it, two shows. We’ve done Two Live, Crew.