It had to happen eventually. We Hawks have had a great streak of live shows since we first ventured onstage at Anastasia’s Asylum and the Silverlake Lounge in ’01. Our fans are the best, and we usually win over a few strangers by the end of a night.
Last night we bombed. Ka boom. We played to a roomful of an alien tribe and the results weren’t pretty.It had seemed like a good idea to accept a gig offer from the Roxy to open for Eric Church, a new Capitol recording artist. There’s a picture of him drinking whiskey on the cover of his record so you know he’s the real deal. We figured we’d blow the Capitol executives away with our sensitive version of alt country and get signed to a fat record deal.
Actually, the Roxy offered us $250 without having to play the “sell tickets or die” game, so against our better judgement about gigs on the Strip, we bit. $250 guarantee? OK. The Roxy is a cold and dark room until the humans show up. We arrived on time for sound check, kind of an early blunder, and sat around in the cavernous chill. Eric Church’s gear was set up onstage. Pretty impressive: one electric guitarist’s pedal board had two tuners, and a compressor and graphic EQ, and their own computer mixing board sits right onstage.
The young Roxy house sound guys were the first humans to join us. They quietly freaked at our request to mike all our instruments instead of using pickups and amps, but manfully took on this novel task. It’s not that easy to put microphones in front of guitars and get a good sound. So next time you see Gillian Welch, or Del McCoury’s band gathered around a single condensor mic, bow down to their sound person. Our Roxy crew got what they considered a passable sound and threw in the towel. We feigned our appreciation and waited for the masses to arrive.
Things looked up as the bar opened and the bartender agreed to give us Woodford Reserve bourbon for the musician drink tickets. Extraordinary! The Eric Church fans filtered in. Uh oh. More white straw cowboy hats per capita than we ever remember seeing, Jack Daniels bandanas, whoops and hollers from the young, well fed crowd. These folks came to party and outlaw things up. Seven bucks for Roxy adjacent parking and they were ready to blow off some steam.Retreating to the upstairs dressing rooms, we revised our set list, removing some of the more sensitive/spiritual type tunes. To no avail.
At 8:32 the curtains raised, and hugging the stage were the Eric Church acolytes, at our feet in aforesaid urban cowboy gear, willing to endure the opening act’s extreme proximity to keep that proximity for their beloved headliner. Have you ever been on a hike far from the trailhead and sliced your foot open, bad, and wondered if this would be the time things actually didn’t turn out well? That’s the kind of adrenaline high the Hawks achieved as their first acoustic number, with their quiet guitars, subtle lyrics, and strange and foreign intimate acoustic sound hit the chattering young outlaw new country fans. Halfway through the second song, the well fed lasses in the dread white hats dealt with their boredom by talking to us as we played. Paul M was the object of some heavy flirting by a particularly well fed Jack Daniels lass.
A large and dangerously drunk lad in a black leather cowboy hat began screaming, “You suck!! You’re fired!!” before security deprived him of his first amendment rights and hauled him away. The lightheared indifference continued. We desperately switched to our cache of drinking songs. Mild interest, but the crowd’s attention wandered. Okay, how about some marijuana songs? Hmm, they don’t seem to smoke marijuana. Meth, perhaps. “Who are you!” “David Allen Coe!” “Play Family Tradition!”We played our hearts out, which was probably the right thing to do, but who knows, maybe we should have expressed our inner thoughts and started a melee. At least then we would’ve ended up in the paper. We rushed offstage as our required 50 minutes expired, to a smattering of applause that halted in mid-smatter.
Our four loyal fans (other Hawks fans were wise enough to avoid the bummer and hassle of the Strip) in the audience told us that the sound mix was a few decibels shy of anemic–but this was about tribes. Music culture is completely balkanized today. There was a consciousness gap going on here that just couldn’t be bridged at that time, under those circumstances. It was surreal, like giving a speech to a roomful of people who hate you in a language no one can understand. Or maybe we just sucked. And Eric Church rocks. Twin metal guitars, heavily drawled vocals, tattoos. He rocks. Rock on.
In the cold light of today, the surreal Sunset Strip saga continues. Here’s an email from the Roxy promotor: Hey Paul,
How are you? Can you please call me so we can discuss the show last night. I was bummed to hear you guys only brought four people. I know we all put in a lot of work to promote for you and I just need some answers. I also am going to ask
for some of the money back. If I had thought you would bring four people I never ever would have given you the show, let alone agreed to give you 250.00. I think it would be only fair if we got back some of the money. Please get back to me so we can talk. Thank you.
Scott* Normal Accident Theory (NAT) is the label for a school of thought that considers accidents in complex systems to be inevitable. A “normal accident” is defined as “an event that is unintended, unfortunate, damages people or objects, affects the functioning of the system of interest, and is non-trivial.”