Nov 24, 2014

Memories From A Show... The Self Known

"Don't you have anything for us?"

Sitting around Dante's living room, lit by the glow of the t.v. on mute, while Abe paced back and forth on a call with a local promoter, we waited for an answer. I was nervous, watching the ceiling fan circle, wanting good news.

"Ok," he said.

Another pause.


Shows were tough for us from the start. We were too soft for most of the metal and punk clubs, too young and clean looking, too nice for modern rock. 'But what do you do other than be yourself?'

"No, we don't scream..." Abe sounded a little defeated. This wasn't the first time we had to describe our sound by all the things we weren't, "well, we move around, but... no, not thrashing..." it didn't sound like it was going well.

Then another, "Ok," and I had to get out of the room.
Kitchen, drink, pace the floor, check the fridge again, nothing, pace... Finally I decided to wait at the table. Dante always kept this place so darkly lit, it was hard not to be a little restless, 'This was probably going to end with us playing in front of a row of Mohawks and leather jackets, giving disappointing looks as we tried to harmonize on a cover of a Beach Boy tune out of a busted speaker.'

I wasn't expecting for us to find a spot easily, but I was hoping there was a someplace in town for us. '
How did other bands do it? Where do you go? It can't all be built on people you know? Asking them to our shows one at a time?'

We had heard good things about Austin, but it would still be a few years before we would get there. We weren't even that serious about playing, just wanted to have a night with people like us.

'They had to be out there, San Antonio was a big city.'
"Get back in here," Jaime called from the living room.

I walked back as Abe was furiously writing on a notepad. "We got it, I think it might be a good one this time."  


They looked like dad's more than musicians. Mid-thirties, clothes understated, hair and beards disheveled, they mostly kept to themselves, even on-stage, either because they were weary from the 15+ hours of flights or just by nature.

They weren't the cliché, sex-chasing, ego-blimp style people that usually fill out portrayals of rock acts, They were the blood and flesh style of real working musicians. Not the old guys around town who've been playing the same five clubs for years. Not teenagers who borrowed a family van to sell their burned demos to neighboring cities. These were real world traveling artists... everything I wanted our band to be, and at the time, they were the closest I had ever been to it.

augie march band image from rene villanueva the word is a bell blog
Collectively known as Augie March, named after the acclaimed novel by Saul Bellow, they mix melodic and lyrical inventiveness with cross-genre fundamentals that would be comparable to Radiohead if you replace the heavy electronics with a roots music fetish. They recently released a new album Havens Dumb that I can't wait to check out. Hope you keep an open ear for it too.

We were poorly rehearsed and loud, something we picked up trying not to get killed by other punk and metal bands we had to play with, but filled with the blind determination of a young band. We didn't know how bad we were at the time, we we're just happy to be on the show, playing with like minded people.
We loaded our gear off the stage, down into the back alley behind the tour buses, and back into our cars, trying our best to stay out of the way of the professionals as they loaded their gear on to the stage.

Plugging in guitars, turning on amps, they gave us a quick thumbs up and great job, all the pleasantries. Then in a moment of great honesty, their keyboardist pulled me aside with some advice. 
Though at the time I didn't fully understand how good. I was sweating, out of breath, trying to hear through a ringing in my ears. So I'll tell you now what he told me:
"Lock yourselves in the studio, and write, write, write...
find your voice. It takes time but you got to do it."

He'd left me stunned, nothing to say but a quick "Thanks," as they cleared out of the room. I grabbed a beer out of a backstage ice chest and found a dark corner on the staircase where I could hide my under-agedness and watch the show.

The audience was mostly just arriving, having missed our set, they were drifting around the room, some getting drinks, some talking, a few were looking at the stage. The house lights faded away, and the drummer smiled and turned to his band. 
With a deep breath Augie March seemed to turn off the world. The club, the audience, all the shit life gives you before you get on stage, it all vanished. Even when they had trouble with the vocals not being heard, even though the audience tilted between interested, confused, amazed, and bewildered, the music came through.

I was moved.

A wonderful understated performance. None of the musicians tried to steal the show. They put the songs first. The music first. The message. They weren't performing, they were translating. Some musicians are entertainers, actors, or fashion guides, but these guys were interpreters. And I felt it. The show was about giving something, not expressible by words alone.

If you ask me about that night, I don't remember any wild antics, or people in the audience. I don't remember clothes or haircuts, or what I ate... But I remember the songs. I remember the way I felt, straining to hear lyrics. I remember watching the fluidity of the drummers snare work. I remember the fullness of the bass as it resonated through the room. I remember the organ swirl. I remember the depth.

Over the next few weeks, I thought about that show a lot. During rehearsals. During long, quiet drives out to my job as a writing instructor. During classes. It hung in my head. I listened to the album repeatedly. I talked about it with the band, what it meant to see that. The mood infected me. It became a part of the way I listened to music, the way I played, the way I wanted to be as a musician.

My brothers and I are on the first steps of a new phase of our career. And my mind went back to that moment this week. That seventeen-year-old me, who had his life unexpectedly changed by a band. The seeds were planted, and there was no looking back... This week we are rehearsing a new set, and I'm thinking about what I want to share. To that kid, side-stage. Listening for the first time.


On thousand tongue branches
a great expression of the self known saying, 
"be more concerned with the strength of your roots
then the style of your leaves."

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