I got to the House of Blues at about 1:45. Tony was already there scoping the situation and the other guys were on their way. Our call time was 2:00.
We were the first band at the Local Brews, Local Grooves beer festival put on by the What Ales Ya Podcast. We met Brian Quain, one of the hosts of the podcast and the emcee, last October while playing the Quantum Leap 5th Year Anniversary party. We played a Pearl Jam song at the show and then bonded with Brian over 90’s music. We were on an episode of What Ales Ya a few weeks later.
Local Brews, Local Grooves is a beer tasting event where nineteen Florida breweries set up around the House of Blues and provide samples. When I got there and found my way in the vendors were setting up on both floors. I met David, the stage manager, who showed me around. The sound guys were setting up mics and laying cables when I stepped on the stage.
Standing on the stage surveying the room wasn’t as strange or surreal as I thought it might be. I wasn’t nervous, which I was a little suprised at. Then again, I didn’t get edgy at the Dr. Philips Center show until right before we went on so who knew.
I found Tony, who showed me the green room. There was a stairway behind the stage that lead to the second floor. The green room was a series of interconnected suites with a couches, sinks, bathrooms, and some fairly odd art. On the wall opposite the windows overlooking Lake Buena Vista was a painting of a guy with dredlocks grinning and holding a toothbrush; next to the window was a four feet tall 3D wooden Kool Cigarette box. My first thought was about how many musicians had hung out up here. Hell, Buddy Guy had played here three weeks earlier. I’d seen Nickel Creek, Keb’ Mo, Queensryche, Steve Vai, and many others here.
(It occurred to me that Motley Crue had played at HoB Orlando before and I had a fleeting thought that I hoped no one brought a blacklight.)
There were windows overlooking the stage as well and I watched the sound engineers and brewers get ready for a few minutes.
Justin, Dan, and Sean arrived with their gear and the guitar stands so we started setting up. Not surpisingly, House of Blues is not screwing around in the professionalism department. We had a dedicated monitor engineer, Dominic, on the side of the stage who helped us get a great mix on stage. The stage is big, so our frontline monitors were far enough apart that I basically only got only what I wanted in my speaker without much bleedover from Tony and Dan’s. I pretty much just had the mandolin and the lead vocals in my mix. (I was set up in front of Tony’s amp and Justin was on his kit so hearing them wasn’t an issue)
We ran through a few songs to get the monitor mix and so the sound engineer (I didn’t catch his name) could get the outfront sound right. Still no nerves from me.
We were finishing up when Brian came on stage to say hi. He was excited. The doors were opening in about an hour. Brian’s a cool guy who knows a lot about music and a lot about beer. Was good to see him.
In a strange coincidence we discovered that the light technician, Dorian, has a father who worked in a Bradenton theater with Justin’s mother. Dorian smiled and said, “Well crap, I guess I’m going to actually have to do a good job during your set.”
Back in the green room, we shot the breeze and waitied. I went down to the backstage area shortly after the doors opened and there were already a lot of people inside. HoB had given us 3000 tickets to give out, which we did. (At the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Melbourne when we were handing them out, we ended up inadvertantly giving some to one of the sales managers of House of Blues, which went over well)
At 4:25 we were at the side of the stage. We walked on as Brian did our introduction and Christine yelled “Bass solo” when she saw us. There were some Beemo T-shirts in the crowd and I saw several friends I didn’t know were coming.
On the last word of Brian's intro Justin started the drum intro to “Nova.” Announcing our presence with authority. JB doesn't super like starting with this one as it's pretty fast and can be hard to set the right tempo since he starts it by himself, but I like the dramatic effect of leading off a set with it. Also, better to play it at the beginning than at the end when we're tired.
The sound was great on stage which usually makes me feel more confident, except for the rare times when I psych myself out *because* I can hear myself with no issues. It's sort of like hearing your voice on a recording; it's sounds weird and it can make you a little timid on a day of less than ideal focus. I usually err on the side of caution when I can't hear but occasionally I think I play a little more freely because I'm not fixating on the notes I made a buzzing noise on or muted early or all the rest of the crap most of the audience doesn't really notice.
It wasn't an issue that day though. I was feeling pretty good, if a little numb. I was really, really tired after a poor night's sleep but fortunately there were no nerves to speak of. It sounds odd but while I really think I was in the zone, I was feeling sort of workmanlike about the whole thing. Which means I wasn't pushing the tempo on any of my feature parts and I was very precise on the notes themselves; I wasn't being particularly explosive or experimental with my fills but I didn't make any mistakes either.
I don't know if it was a misperception but I felt like we were playing the songs a hair slower than we sometimes do live, which is probably a good thing. I get the feeling Justin was really being cognizant of not going too fast. He and I keep tabs with each other during shows and if it seems our tempo is wrong we usually, via head motions or maybe mouthed words, get adjusted. We didn't really have to do that this time.
We had decided before the show that everyone would look to me for the cues to start songs since I knew where all of everyone’s instrument, re-tuning, and capo changes were. I tried to keep us moving along with the smallest break between songs that we could manage without forcing someone to miss part of a song to tune etc. I made the setlist to minimize the delay, i.e. putting the two Dobro Drop-D songs next to each other, putting Dan's Capo 2 songs together etc
In our last practice we timed the setlist and it was 42 minutes and a few seconds so I theoretically knew how much slop we had. (Theoretically: more on that later)
Definitely the best performance of "Take On Me" that I can remember. We were crisp, tempo steady, and Dan nailed the high notes which was even more impressive than usual since he had said his throat was bugging him earlier.
By the time we were five songs in we had passed what I call the Artificial Audience Contract threshold; we played well and with enough energy that we had built up a store of goodwill with both the people specifically there to see us and the random people who were there for the beer. (Probably unnecessary clarification: The Contract is artificial, not the Audience) So we had made a good first impression at least, which tends to put me more at ease and lets me not worry too much about a mistake here or there. (As it stood there really weren't any yet that I could hear)
A lot of people had made their way to the floor and a lot of people were taking video, including a lot that I had never seen before which was nice. We had grabbed the crowd's attention and Dorian was taking good care of us with the lights which definitely added to the experience. (Someone after the show asked if we had worked something out with the light guy because he had synced so well with our sound. Nope, he was just really good)
I was pretty far from the other guys on stage most of the time but I didn't feel out of sync because of it. (I say most of the time because Tony was doing his thing and was doing some orbiting of the stage. At his perigee he was only a few feet away but when he was at his apogee I was all by myself on stage right.)
Really the only performance issue we had all night was a little bit of indecision during the break in "Crusader." On the album and on most performances Dan does an almost spoken word recapitulation of the verses and crescendoes out as we transition into the final chorus. Other times he'll talk to the crowd, do band introductions or whatever as Sean and I are passing the main riff back and forth. We sort of did neither of them this time. Dan said a few things and I think was about to do the spoken word part after and then changed his mind.
It was probably the right call. There isn't really enough going on in that bridge to justify crowd banter and then the full spoken part but Crusader is such a new song that we haven't really practiced any escape hatch plans during that part. Dan did the smart thing and rather than risk all of us getting confused (Would we do the entire spoken word part? Would we just do the normal 6 times through the chord cycle and then move on? Something else? Half of us doing one thing and half the other thing?) he just turned around and along with Sean and Justin figured out when to come out of it.
Our endgame of the setlist when we crescendo, energy-wise, to the finale went well except for one thing. The original plan was to play Back Again immediately after 500 Miles. I checked the clock and convinced myself that we had time to play My Name is Beemo and then Back Again.
We did not. We finished My Name is Beemo, again a pretty good rendition of it, and got the signal that the set was up. I should have trusted the clock when we recorded in practice. We did make it through everything pretty quickly but I reached when I shouldn't have and we ended up with the first show in like 5 years that we didn't end with Back Again. My Name is Beemo is still a good closer and if we had never written Back Again we probably would end with Beemo more often, but I felt stupid. It's sort of our signature closer, the one song you can be sure we're going to play in any given set. Oh well. Can't fix it now.
As usual we got off the stage very quickly and gathered up our "deads" (apparently what they call empty instrument cases). Justin and Tony rushed out to the merch booth. We're trying to be intentional about getting to a place where people know they can come talk to us a bit after.
I lagged a little. An introvert by nature, I have to take a minute after I get of stage to gather the energy to be human in front the people who came to see us. I made my way out and chatted with some friend / fans ("frans"?). I was glad so many people we knew came since I know Disney Springs can be a haul for people.
The guys sampled some of the beers and bites. I abstained, being pretty headachy and worn out by this point. Eliza and I had friends in town from Vancouver so we had to take off around 7pm though Tony, Dan, and Sean stayed longer.
(I guess Tony ended up on stage with Brian later that night to help him do beer trivia. Brian would ask a question and then Tony would coax the audience into getting the answer before he (Brian) finished chugging a beer. ... So I guess the audience could have messed with Brian by falling silent on every question and getting him nice and boozed up, but I digress)
Before I took off I looked at a schedule someone left on one of the bannisters. George Clinton was playing on May 4th. I'm going to tell myself from now on that I, in a very very very loosely technical sense, opened for George Clinton and the P-Funk at House of Blues.
Take On Me
Hey Ya Wanna
Fold Out Couch
Potatoes and Leeks
The Long Sleep
I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
My Name is Beemo