Lately I’ve been trying to get some gigs in the Oslo region. But that isn’t easy. You have to find venues which seem appropriate, venues which tend to host musicians that are roughly within the same genre as yourself. In my case, that would be venues which are open for shorter shows by unsigned amateur solo indie pop folk rock twee singer-songwriter music. Then you have to get in touch with whoever’s in charge of booking shows for these potentially appropriate venues, and try to sell yourself and your music. Few of them will actually get back to you.
Personally I think I’d prefer sitting at home, working on music, but seems playing live is a big part of getting your name out there and trying to build a fanbase for yourself. I’ve heard it’s even a way to potentially make some money, maybe even more than you’d make through selling your actual music.
I did manage to score a gig earlier this year though. I was supposed to perform at Galleri Pan this summer, and had an hour at my disposal. It was daunting, having to fill an entire hour on my live debut in Norway (I’ve performed live once before – in Manchester, UK, 2010), but it opened up certain possibilities. The place was small and cozy, and open to artsy stuff, so I could recite poetry and get some friends to help out on a few of the songs. But the powers that be decided to intervene, and made me sick (with a bad throat, no less), and I had to cancel.
About five to six weeks ago I stumble over an announcement for a John Vanderslice gig in Oslo at the Sub Scene venue. I’ve liked some of what I’ve heard of his music, and it’s not too expensive, so I figure I’ll probably try going. Then I notice there were no supporting acts announced yet. So I get the crazy idea that maybe I could open for him? So in a fit of arrogance and presumptuousness, I send an e-mail to the venue to inquire about the possibility, and later decide to send Vanderslice himself an e-mail to ask about it as well.
So I go through an entire week feeling periodically hopeful, anxious, nervous, and some other emotions, waiting to hear back from either of them.
On the one hand, I feel it would be oddly appropriate to serve as his opening act, considering I’ve been semi-active on the official forum for John Darnielle’s band The Mountain Goats for the last four years and have maybe a handful of folks there who’ve supported me and my music, as a lot of fans of The Mountain Goats are fans of Vanderslice too, and Vanderslice and John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats) have worked together on several occasions. So a bit of a shared fanbase there. But on the other hand, I really feel like Vanderslice is in a completely different league than myself, and that I might not be qualified to serve as the opening act of someone of his caliber and background.
A week later I finally receive an e-mail from the venue, telling me they unfortunately already have the opening acts (there are two opening acts) for the gig booked, and just haven’t gotten around to updating their website. Saddened, I drown my sorrows in kroneis and Urge.
A few days later I receive an e-mail from Vanderslice himself, telling me he (a) loved my music (I linked him to a couple of YouTube videos), and (b) that he’s gotten in touch with his agent to see if he could make this happen. Of course, I have to write him back to tell him I’ve already heard that the slot was filled, but his positive response definitely lifted my spirits. He then writes back telling me to say hi to him at the show.
Fast forward to the day before the concert, and I frantically try to find someone to go with me. I’ve never gone to a concert alone before, and I wasn’t very keen on the idea. But the guy I usually go to indie music concerts with is out of town, and the guy I usually can drag along to whatever (as long as it’s not too expensive) is also out of town. I work my way through my contact list, manage to get a few maybes, but they eventually turn to full-fledged nos as they find they’re either unable to change their shifts, or are broke.
So I go alone. With no one to chat to while waiting for the music to start, nor anyone to offer any moral support when I try to say hi to Vanderslice, or to carry my stuff.
I bring my relatively new digital video camera along, to see if I can try filming some live music. I also bring a copy each of my latest LP (All har fått nok av Eivind Kirkeby) and EP (Whatever happened to blast processing?) along for gifting purposes, and the sleeve for Pixel Revolt for signing purposes. I also decide to use my cane. I’ve got a bad knee which I’m still waiting (and hoping) for to mend, and using a cane helps stress my knee less, and reduces some of the potential pain.
When I show up at the venue, my cane results in two guys holding up the door for me and letting me enter first, which was a nice start to the evening. The people working there also seem friendly and sociable. While killing time I order a milkshake before going into the concert area to find someplace to sit down; there were some chairs along the sides. And of course I manage to spill some on my way there; walking with a cane in one hand, and a full glass of milkshake in the other, with a camera bag you need to keep track of and people in your way, that’s not an easy task. I pause to put the glass down to give it a wipe and do some damage control, and can’t help but feel some of the nearby staff maybe giving me the evil eye afterwards, but I might’ve been imagining it. I should’ve of course pointed out and apologised for the incident to one of the staffers, and if my knee was better maybe even offered to get some napkins to clean it up myself. Hopefully it won’t stain too badly on their nice, carpeted floors.
When entering, there was also a note saying that the second opening act of the evening had been cancelled, and had been replaced by another artist. Of course, they could have asked me since I’d already inquired before, and I’d definitely been able to step up even if I was only asked the day before, but I’m guessing the band that cancelled was the one that arranged for the replacement and not the actual venue.
The two opening acts were okay. Not exactly my kind of music, and the mix seemed pretty off on the first act, making it sound rather muddled and distorted (but that can easily happen when the volume is so loud). I was surprised by how young and inexperienced the musicians seemed though. Looked like they were pretty fresh out of high school – maybe even still in high school. But then, the venue seems to be catering to the younger folks, serving no alcohol and therefore having no age limit on their concerts. Not exactly the openers I’d expected to this sort of concert, though.
The main concert itself was great fun. Vanderslice was joined by Jason Slota on drums and moog. I was immediately worried that the drums would drown out the guitars and vocals, but for the most part it worked pretty well together, and there were some excellent drum heavy parts. Vanderslice was sufficiently chatty with the audience too, making the odd witty remark, which is always fun.
At the end they both Vanderslice and Slota went into the center of the audience and performed two songs acoustically, which served as a very nice ending to a good show. Vanderslice then went straight for the merchandising table, to do autographs and chat while selling wares. I don’t think I’ve gone to many concerts where any of the band members have done that. The only one that comes to mind was Darren Hanlon, who opened for The Magnetic Fields, who was manning his own merchandising table for a while. Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong shows.
I tried recording the show, but I was close to the speaker and was worried that the loud bass would make the sound distorted, or worst case scenario even damage whatever sensitive electronics were inside the camera! So I didn’t end up recording as much as I maybe would have liked, and tried going for the more quiet parts.
At the end I got ready to leave, but was waiting for things to calm down first so I could talk to Vanderslice without delaying anyone else. As I’m waiting, I’m approached by a friendly guy who’d noticed I’d been filming, and he asks if I’ll be putting it up on YouTube, which I confirm. We talk briefly about the concert, and it’s revealed that he was the one who managed to book Vanderslice for this particular venue. I then ask if he’s the guy I talked to over e-mail about possibly being one of the opening acts for the show, but apparently that’s another guy. He seems to become slightly turned off when the topic briefly changes to my own music, but I soon bid him adieu and go to talk to Vanderslice, as the crowd around the merchandising table seemed to be slimming down.
But there are still a few folks before me, and I catch some of what other people are discussing. Some seem to be talking about The Mountain Goats, asking if they’ve toured or played together live often. I think the answer was fifty. Some people ask about the CDs available. The girl from the first supporting band gives Vanderslice a copy of their own album, and he says he’d like to meet the rest of the band. I think he also offers her a free CD in return. To another girl, the conversation turns to the high prices of everything in Norway, saying that it would be too expensive to go on holiday here. Since there’s only she and me at the table, he also makes eye contact with me while talking, inviting me to join in, but I can’t think of anything substantial to add. Yes, Norway is expensive.
Then it’s fully my turn, and he apologises for having me wait. I introduce myself, and we shake hands. I give him the sleeve to Pixel Revolt to sign, then give him my CDs. He enthusiastically responds that he’ll play them in the van. The drummer walks by, and we’re briefly introduced. I then ask if he’d mind doing a brief promotional video for my me – an idea I got during the concert – and he sportingly agrees.
Then it’s time for him to clean up, and I can’t think of anything more to say, so I head homewards.
Shortly after exiting the venue, a black woman on the street asks me in English, “How are you doing?” Guessing she’s a prostitute I respond “Sorry, not interested,” and continue walking. “How come?” she asks, and I continue walking. I have another peculiar interaction as a guy on the subway, who may or may not have been homeless, asks if I’m a goth or just a fan of The Lord Of The Rings, and complaining that Clint Eastwood has been making too many dramas recently.
When I check the video I recorded, I find the audio to be surprisingly un-distorted. Not perfect, but definitely not bad, and I regret not having recorded more.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable concert, a good night overall, and a somewhat unique experience. Even if someone weren’t too keen on his music for some reason, I could imagine that this someone could still have ended up enjoying the concert. The venue felt kind of nice, informal and cozy, and seemed to work well for this sort of show. Looking forward to going to the next Vanderslice concert whenever he’s in the neighbourhood again.