It wasn't the bar we thought it was, not in the section of the city where we thought it was. But upstairs was a band that Big knew, so it in the end, it was at least the bar in the city where the band was.
Narrow room, the bar hugging one of the sides and the awkward bench, covered in ripped vinyl running along the other side. And then the loads of band stickers and a sound guy working the board that was sitting atop of milk crates. At the door was this little dude talking loot and asking who you were there to see. Then when the band played, the sound was terrible- filled with loud banging drums and occasional low, somewhat rumbling bass notes. You could hear the singers voice, but couldn't make out a word he was saying, and both guitarists looked and acted the part, but you really couldn't actually hear anything that they were playing.
A few weeks ago, back up in snowy Portland, I saw a cover band playing at one of the local Irish joints, one I had played at a couple years ago. The place was very crowded, hot & steamy, people bundled up in new sweaters, with winter beards and LL Bean beanies. Up on the small stage, cramped up in the corner, the band was almost side by side, but ripping out rock song after rock song. And those bundled up little holiday drunkards were loving it, bending at the knees, swaying at the shoulders, bobbing at the heads. The band was having a hell of a good time. They took a set break and while no one really noticed, people's heads turned when one of the guitarist started up a lil' Crazy Train a couple minutes and a quick beer later.
Having been in both situations and having been doing a lot of thinking about back playin' in a band as of late, it was glaringly obvious that I miss the crowded bar, rocking cover tunes and don't miss the swampy shit holes frequented by lowly original bands at all. I don't miss that shit at all. They always had the worst load-ins, straight shots of multiple flights of stairs and for no pay, no free beers, and no quality sound system you were given forty minutes to play. Forty minutes to try to crank out as many tunes as possible, coupled with forced catchy stage banter and attempts to get the crowd involved. But the crowd is just there, really in the same way the crowd is just there at the crowded Irish joint. No one is really listening, no one is treating you any different than an I Pod or some dj bouncin' round behind a fold-out table, spinnin' records.
You're just there. They're just there. We're all just kickin' around, some sweatin' and bustin' while the others are drinkin' and conversin'.
So now, if I had to chose, I'd play the crowded Irish joint.
I'd play the crowd-pleasing numbers and head-stomping classic rock ragers. The clever remakes, the old school hip hop jam, and the Otis Redding and/or Sublime tunes.
Oddly enough, it's the exact opposite way I thought back when playing in the band- but shit, that's just growing up I suppose. I don't want to go back to the bars, to the dives with the skeezers lurking about and the people who put their beers down on the mailing list and yell for covers when dude, you only have forty minutes to play some tunes and Goddamnit man, you're gonna play your own. The beers aren't free and saddling up to the bar afterward, you scan the crowd, hoping someone is going to just know that that was you up there playing. If you even make it back to the bar. Cause you just got done a-rockin' and now you're scrambling around like a jackass, trying to grab all your gear before the other band takes the stage.
I don't miss threading through a scattered bar crowd with cymbals & snare drums.
That's all I'm saying.
There is nothing symbolic about any of this. There is only another indication that maybe, just maybe, I'm getting older. Not wiser, smarter, or more cleverer. Just a little older and looking at things a little differently.
Just like mail, college football, and pulled pork sandwiches.