TIPS AND THOUGHTS REGARDING STAGE SHOWS FOR LOCAL AND TOURING BANDS
BY Quinton J Sheer, Esq.
A confetti cannon to the face can sure ruin a good night of local music. Live shows are a chance for a band to give their fans an experience. It should be more than a chance to hear the band’s CD played live. But developing and pulling off a great stage show takes time, practice, and thought.
A stage show can be as simple as being consciously spaced out to fill any sized stage or include choreographed waives goodbye and t-shirt cannons filled with jell-o. Emerging acts often face the tough task of playing on the floor of a neighborhood bar one night and trying not to get swallowed up on a 50’x30’ stage at the House of Blues the next. A band could, and should, put as much thought into their stage show as they do mixing their songs. Nothing kills months of laboring over the music faster than a poorly executed performance. Ever see a band who thinks they’re in Las Vegas putting on the rock equivalent of Zoomanity but they’re really just four overweight shirtless dudes? Avert your eyes! Face the bar and order some rum!
GIVE THEM A REASON
Central Florida calypso, punk, reggae group, Johnny Cakes and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso (JC) knows how to balance the idea of a stage show with the reality of performance constraints. They have 10 band members but that can vary by show. Their goal is to bring the party to any sized venue. But it takes some thought to pull it off. Ostrich (vocals and steel pan) said, “We can play with members [off-stage] on the floor. But it’s more important to make sure the P.A. system can handle that many [members].”
A Johnny Cakes show can get quite elaborate under the right conditions. They’ve been known to have jelly fish dancers, cartoon pre shows, and other elements. They want people to think their show is worth leaving a warm and comfy couch for. No one wants to hear a CD they already have, played by drunk musicians. And very few will come out just to support. Tough times. We would all like someone to support us. It’s not a reason to spend money on a local music show. Give the people a reason.
Before a band breaks out the welders and starts to create their own A-Team style grand finale or rents out the Haus of Gaga, there are a few details to consider. How long is the set time? When is load in? Is there a backline? How much time between bands? “If there are a lot of bands, we scale it back. We don’t want to interfere with another band’s time slot.” If a band has extra materials onstage Ostrich suggests they ask friends to help them with the load in/unload process, and practice ahead of time so everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. “Our goal is to give people something interesting without causing problems for others.”
A band that’s been together for a while will naturally incorporate more and more elements into their show, whether that’s dance moves, projectors, audience participation segments, a blood volcano, or a chain saw (keep reading). What works on one stage is not guaranteed to look good on another. Just simple even spacing may look professional at a coffee shop stage but it can look bare bones and downright sad at the Hard Rock. What killed with an audience of 800 can look a hot jumbled mess at the 250 occupancy local dive bar. “We can be too big for some venues but it can also be exciting to watch us try to pull it off.” Bands should consider the performance space ahead of time, if need be, practice in a similar sized space, and visit the venue before hand to be sure of the parking, door sizes, and to confirm any technical needs.
BIG STAGE – BIG PROBLEMS?
A big stage can make it harder for 4-5 band members to make exciting. “A good light system can make a real big difference, especially for instrumental bands.” But lighting systems can be expensive and a band must always check to see if it’s compatible with the venue’s system.
At the local/touring level, a stage show can and should change with each new venue. While that may seem daunting, it’s a good thing. Really! It’s a reason for people to come out and pay to see you again and again. Fans might have seen a show 2 weeks ago but they will pay again if they know all 10 members will be playing on the drum riser…
GET IN THE GAME
“People can expect a wild, high energy show. There is not a typical Night for Johnny Cakes and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso.” Being conscious of having a stage show can start with what each member of the band intends to wear. Do you have a color scheme? Is it ok for a member to wear whatever they wore to their day job? When it comes to dress, the style of dress must fit the style of music and the personality of the band. T-shirts may look out of place in a jazz trio and a suit may look odd on a metal front-man. Johnny Cakes does not dictate what each member wears but they do often have themed shows. At a benefit to raise money to help a local animal shelter, the band dressed in animal costumes. “Once, the entire band dressed as batman, except for the bass player. He was Robin.”
Benefits, charity shows, and holiday shows are great excuses to try out new elements of a stage show. If it works, great! Then incorporate it into other shows. If it fails, never speak of it again…unless interviewed by Quinton J Sheer, Esq.
IT WON’T WORK ALL THE TIME
Not every ‘Best Idea Ever’ will seem so once the rum has worn off. “We have a song [Super Black Death Cloud] about zombies. Our sax player took an actual chain saw and fired it up. The chain was removed but no one, not even the band, knew he was going to do it. I could see fear in some people’s eyes. A few ran out the back door.”
Clear any out of the box ideas with the rest of the band and especially the venue. Having to retool the show to accommodate the venue’s rules is better than being blacklisted from that venue and others. Elaborate stage shows can be very entertaining but are not always necessary. Just be conscious of putting on a good show for the people who come and the venues who allow it all to happen. Be exciting and easy to work with and there will be more shows and more chances to try something new. That way, the grand finale doesn’t end with giving the 50 people in the audience paper cuts in their eyes from an overzealous confetti cannon.