The Truth About Gigs

Gia Mora and I just played a couple of gigs in LA. She has a cabaret show called “Einstein’s Girl.” It combines some spectacular singing (hers), some unexpected song selections (e.g., “She Blinded Me with Science”) and Gia’s passion for astrophysics. It is an amazing piece of whatever it is…performance art, cabaret, stand-up science? But the two shows illustrated the sometimes-stark contrast between how a gig plays on Facebook and in your mind, versus how it plays out in real life.

The first gig was at The House of Blues. It is an amazing venue on Sunset Boulevard. It is the house that Dan Akroyd built out of vodka, voodoo, Persian rugs and outsider art. I loved posting our performance there on Facebook. In my mind, this couldn’t have been any cooler. But the reality of the gig was something else again. It started with a rock-and-roll sound guy who did not get what we were doing at all. There was a smallish crowd of hipsters—a bobbing swarm of hats and tattoos—who were largely uninterested in what we were doing. It hit me just fifteen minutes too late that this was not a listening room at all. This was a club with an entirely different agenda from mine. We played our set, and when it was over we felt worse about music than when we started. But—and this is a crucial “but”—it was great to say that we played the House of Blues.

Two days later we played a little club called The Gardenia. It is on Santa Monica Boulevard between La Brea and Sycamore. It has been there for thirty years. And it must look exactly the same as when it was first built: a bland “L” shaped room with seating for 80, max. There is a piano and a few mics and two ancient Ramsa PA speakers. The only thing that gave me a clue of what was to come was the lighting: a real theatrical spotlight in the back, theater lighting on the ceiling, and the LED standlights on the piano.

Our sound check was at 3 pm for a 9 pm show. The lighting tech and sound tech were the same person, Shauna. There was so much right, so soon. Shauna was a total pro. She knows her room and understands sound and lighting. The sound check involved mostly lighting cues. I loved this. The “sound” part of the sound check only took five minutes because Shauna determined that the piano was going to be loud enough without any amplification. How many sound techs will turn a mic off? Very few. She instinctively knew two things right away:  One,  that the balance would be OK and two, that the natural sound of the piano would be better than the amplified sound of the piano. Beautiful. The “lighting” part of the sound check gave Gia and me a chance to go over the beginnings and ends of all our songs while Shauna made notes about lighting changes, gel choices, blackouts, etc. I can’t stress enough how important effective lighting is in any presentation. Any theater person knows this. But so few music clubs seem to understand it.

The show later that night was terrific. Gia was totally on. I think I can say that I played really well. The club was completely full of appreciative fans who love Gia and love this style of music. It was a grand night. But when I talk about last week’s trip to LA, I will always start it with this: “I was in LA to play at The House of Blues…” It just sounds so good.