The Do's and Don'ts of Playing Live
Hello again, all you guitar freaks out there. This is Jake Dreyer with my second column for GuitarWorld.com.
First thing's first, I just wanted to apologize for my tardiness with this latest post. The last few months have been pretty busy.
Around the time of the last entry, I had just joined the heavy metal band White Wizzard (Earache Records), and shortly thereafter we left for a month-long tour with Firewind in the U.S., followed by a two-month European run as direct support for Iced Earth.
Upon returning to the States, I shot over to New York to teacher-assist one of the best players/instructors and an all-around awesome guy, the one and only Chris Broderick, at his Winter Guitar Retreat with Alex Skolnick. That whole experience was really cool in itself. To see players of all different ages and backgrounds performing Megadeth and Testament tunes onstage with Chris and Alex was amazing. I do not think I spent any holidays with my actual blood family, but it was all good because it was all in the name of heavy metal -- or something like that.
At any rate, let’s get to something worth talking about.
The last article I did was on the do’s and don’ts of recording, so, since touring is so fresh in my mind at this moment, this article will be the about the do's and don’ts of playing live. This is a very huge topic, and I will touch upon only certain aspects.
Just for the record, I am still learning about all of this as well. I do not think anyone has mastered the art of live performance due to the simple fact that no one can predict what will happen during a gig: gear failure, sudden short-term song-memory loss, weather, drummer randomly explodes on stage, etc. It’s going to happen to everyone. (Well, on second thought, maybe the last one is only Spinal Tap, but hey, you never know.) Basically the goal of this article is to recognize what could potentially happen in a live circumstance.
Let’s start with gear. Gear is like that friend that smokes way too much pot. Sometimes it can be a great time around them. Other times you make plans to meet some place to hang and they never show up. In my opinion gear is the number one cause of headaches at a gig, especially being in a touring band when time is definitely of the essence and unfortunately not on your side.
Basically you have 10-15 minutes to load off the other bands gear and get yours on, hooked up and line-checked. Believe me, 15 minutes will never fly by so fast in your life. In most circumstances, the touring package will backline each band’s gear.
For those out there who don’t know what back lining is, that’s where the gear for the band coming up is already set up behind the band that is playing. But, still even in those packages, certain things happen that might cause you to show up to the venue too late to backline (van troubles, border crossings that take WAY too long ... the list goes on.)
The point is there is no time for any sort of gear troubles. Knowing this, I keep my gear setup extremely simple: Head (Bogner Ecstasy), cab (Bogner Ubercab), tuner, chorus pedal, and guitar (Jackson CS KV7.) (If the stage is big enough that I can act out my inner Dokken stage moves, I will throw a wireless in the chain as well.) Even with that setup being so easy, I still have problems here and there. That’s why I always bring along another backup head and a few extra cables.
In my opinion, the most important backup to have out is a second guitar. My “B” guitar (Jackson KV2), as I call it saved me twice in a span of two days on the recent European tour. In Bristol, England my D string broke during the verse of one of the songs in the middle of our set. Luckily I had my backup on a stand off on the side of the stage, switched it, and continued on with the show. The next night in Paris, France I restrung my main guitar in the green room prior to going on stage and made sure it was all tuned and the strings were stretched. During our line check 5 minutes before the house lights went down and our intro tape rolled, I am doing my usual guitar wankery, come to bend a note on the high E string up a whole step, Bam! High E string breaks. Brand new too! It happens. Grabbed the other axe and carried on.
Since I do not have a guitar tech yet, I always try and change my strings at least once a week being out on the road. Before I launch into this next little paragraph, I don’t want to come across as if I am whining about playing guitar onstage every night. I had some of the best times of my life on the road. With that said, though, touring is not easy and it is definitely not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination.
Your sleep schedule is completely out of whack. Food is kind of a toss-up. Some catering rules! Other nights, it’s just completely awful. But what you can pretty much count on most of the time is it will not be anything healthy. Your set time onstage and playing to the fans is what makes all of those hard times worth it. So making sure that you are prepared for anything is essential.
Another thing for me that makes the live show more relaxing and enjoyable is knowing that I am warmed up enough. I always try and do a minimum of an hour before hitting the stage. Usually, I like to break it up into standard warm up routine of finger stretches, scales and arpeggios. The iPhone has a killer metronome app, so I will run the usual Paul Gilbert exercises with a click for an alternate picking warm up. During this time I will also practice sections of the solos that are tough and any other parts of the set that I might be blurry on. Finally the last thing I do before going on stage is practice bending and vibrato.
The final thing I will say on playing live is that being relaxed on stage is key to a good night. I know for me if I mess up something in a solo or whatever, I get so bummed at myself for messing it up that my concentration just goes out the window and in turn, I end up screwing up more stuff eventually ruining the show for myself.
My best advice is to just realize what happened and that it is in the past and deal with it after the gig. Above anything else, have fun with it. That is why we all started playing music in the first place. Right? Thanks again for taking the time to read this article. I hope you were able to get a little information out of it. Feel free to check out some videos from the recent White Wizzard tours at my website. Also, if you guys or gals have any questions, hate mail or want to tell me a story about gig nightmares or whatever it might be, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take it easy, till next time.