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Friday October 1, 2004 - Georgia Theatre- Athens, GA
Wow! We've already managed to get on a marquee
(not written in chalk)!
Today, we had the best luck that this band has had in our short time together. Zoso, the Led Zeppelin tribute band that packs audiences in across America had their opening act cancel for their Friday night show at the Georgia Theatre in Athens. Somehow, I got an email with a chance for us to fill in. Could we do it? Are you out of your ever lovin' mind? Of course, we'll do it! This is the kind of thing we've been dreaming of. This is the kind of opportunity I always had to turn down with my other bands! This band doesn't make those past mistakes. We're on it.
Two hours or so after having been added to the bill, I arrived at the venue. I walked in and saw the giant amp stacks with Jimmy Page's Zoso symbol on it. I heard what sounded like John Bonham warming up. I was already completely scared. This only made it more intense. When the soundman came up and said, "I don't know how to tell you this..." I thought we'd been taken off the bill or something. Nope. He just said, "We're expecting a full house tonight so we won't have any room for your cases, you'll have to find somewhere to store them." After Frank and I finished laughing and informed the guy that we don't have flight or road cases and that little pile of stuff next to Zoso's gong was all that we had, he smiled and said "no problem."
After loading in, Frank and I decided to go for a quick bite to eat before soundcheck. It was on this trip that we realized how big this could wind up being. This was a Georgia Bulldogs game weekend. 90,000 people would be in town and ready to party. The other big club had a rap act. In other words, if you wanted straight out rock and roll, ours was the only game in town. The traffic was unbelievable. The pressure rose. If we screwed this up, we'd be done for. One string breaking - one massive error and fall apart - it could've been doom. For a band that had only done 4 shows previously, that's pretty scary.
Add to that the fact that Zeppelin fans are notoriously impatient. When you've paid your hard earned money to hear "Kashmir" and "Stairway To Heaven," you don't want to hear some stupid local band playing their songs and wasting your time.
When we got back, the Zoso guys were soundchecking. They ran through "The Rover" and "In The Light." Geez, how are we supposed to stand up to their song selection? Soon, they called us up for our soundcheck. When we got up there our guitar, bass and drum counterpoints were nice enough to come up and talk small talk with us. It was something they didn't have to do. Every member of Zoso took the time to be nice to us and help us get set up right. We appreciated it greatly!
We soon got everything ready and ran through "Colors In Black & White" and "She Walks." The first was because it's a good harmony check. The second because we'd never done it live and thought this might be a good first time. The sound was possibly the best I've ever heard on stage. Every note was crystal clear and sharp, the harmonies were all there and the mix was right. Too easy!
Frank, Tom and I split off to get ready. I went with Frank to his place. While he showered, I sat in his stairwell trying to psych myself up and not out. I noodled around on one of his handmade guitars trying to work out every detail and potential problem. Later, at my place, Frank did the same. He picked up my bass and played along to Duran Duran's Rio album while I got ready. When we got back to the Theatre, people were already packing in. Just before we went on, I was sitting on an amp at stage left freaking out a bit. I had to move...I went over to a few guys in the front row to talk to them and warn them about what was in store. They were cordial, nice and great to have there in the front row. Their reception was vitally important to me in keeping my head together.
Still, I could feel my pulse racing like it never has. I was scared. I was excited. I was ready.
When we walked out, the house p.a.'s prerecorded music went off. It seemed like the most quiet moment of my life. I walked out to center stage and looked out. When I did, amazingly, people started cheering. I couldn't help but smile, then even more cheering started. I yelled back for Tom to make sure the tempo was right on the opener and we were off. But we were on even more.
With the opening notes of "Colors In Black & White", we got a positive response. Tom's harmonies were great. We hit it dead on. By the end of the song, people were dancing. It's a weird little tune so I was surprised and relieved. Then it was straight into "Until The Road Ends" with the new segue that we attempted for the first time at Tasty World on Tuesday night! It worked great. I even did a little audience "rap" thing over the beat while I changed programs on the pedal board. It worked like a charm. I heard people yelling (in a good way)! I was happy. With my adrenaline flowing furiously, I couldn't help but respond to the first person to yell "Free Bird!" I called the guys bluff, told him I didn't know the lyrics but would gladly play it if he wanted to come up and sing it. I played through the intro to the first verse. When I didn't hear him singing, I made a comment about the guy that led to a nice laugh. Then we got a little more daring song wise. "Into My View" made its first appearance since June and if the audience response at the end was any indication, we should always do it. "(Save It For) Another Day" was next. I was scared of this one because it's my first big solo of the night. Again, it was perfect. I noticed Frank's confident playing on this one. It was the perfect blanket to play over.
For absurdity's sake, we did "Everyday." We'd only premiered it 3 days before but there was just some kind of cosmic victory by playing the first song I ever completed (way back in high school) at the biggest show I've ever done. Singing those lyrics and playing those chords connected me to every bit of work and toil I've put in doing this. It felt right. Again, I was shocked at how powerful the song is these days. It's got a completely new vitality to it and I'm really enjoying it (even aside from the obvious nostalgia). We side-swiped "I Won't Stand Still" in a minute and a half flat before bearing down into "Phony." That riff instantly had guys "woooing" in the crowd. The guitar part always empowers me and this is the grab-em-by-the-throat section of the show as far as pacing. During the middle 8, I noticed a couple of guys sneaking over to the side of the stage to spy on the pedal board and effects I was using. The most stressful and freeing moment of the show was now. "The freakout"...the big ad lib solo extravaganza. I rode the riff around in two circles before starting my ascent. The guitar was loud. I kicked on the delay. About 20 seconds in a roar from the crowd began. I didn't want to look up. The sound spread back to the balcony. I could hear them cheering. I kept my head plowed down so as not to get any more freaked out...but I could hear them all the way back. It was almost overwhelming. The song ends with a flourish of delay after the riff returns. Then another massive roar. The biggest of the night. Wow! We pulled it off. I can't believe it. People were yelling up to tell them the name of the band. "We are...we are, right?" We are the Critical Darlings." More applause followed by my profuse thanking of those wonderful people out there.
Next up was "Down." This is another one that we've only done once before and it was months ago. Since the intro is just me with Tom harmonizing, Frank took off his bass and went up into the dressing room. Later he told me that the drummer for Zoso said "You guys are pretty impressive. It sounds like Crosby, Stills And Nash harmonizing down there." From a dynamics point, this is the quiet part of the show. I was fully expecting heckling and derision. For the most part, I got just what was needed...silence. I could hear some casual bar conversation but we got their attention again when we kicked it in. The ending walkdown back to the slow part was the rickediest part of our performance. I don't know if anyone knew because of the nature of the part but it was a little sloppy. Didn't matter. We were still doing good. "Towel Cape Song" came next but I honestly don't remember much about it except that I was finally relaxing a bit. I was paying more attention to the beautiful view of all of those people dancing and waving their arms to remember what happened on stage.
Now it was time to really take a chance. I announced something to the effect of "since we're already in way over our heads by doing this show, we might as well sink or swim by doing something we've never done." When I hit the "She Walks" riff, I instantly noticed people bobbing along with the beat. I can't believe we played it that well for a first time. As an in joke, for the last verse I sang "She walks in the room and carouses, she creates movement in trousers." I saw a couple of people smile. I couldn't believe they were listening that closely.
I was feeling good now. It was time to rock. Even if everything fell apart, we could end and say "goodnight" with a successful show. So of course, that meant it was time to turn it up even more. "Worms On The Pavement" was smoking. If it wasn't the best technical performance, it was certainly the most energetic.
Afterwards, I thanked the crowd yet again for being so supportive. I also took the time to thank Zoso, the Georgia Theatre, Troy Aubrey and Flagpole for the nice comments in this week's issue.
For the closing benediction, we chose "Taking Its Toll" (which has really become the other centerpiece besides "Phony.") I did it even more delicately than usual during the verses so it would build up even more at the end. When we got there, I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing. As overblown and pretentious as it may sound, I felt I was in exactly the right place and the right time and that everything has led me up to this. I hit that big "Purple Rain"-like solo as hard as I could. I gave it everything. I stretched the eyebrows, did the guitar face, ran around the whole stage - anything I could do. No matter how silly it may have actually been, that wonderful crowd cheered. I haven't felt this good in years.
To cap it, we segued straight into "Give Up Town." This song's become a monster lately. And to think, I didn't even want to play it originally. All I remember about this one is that everytime I got the main guitar lick, people screamed and everytime we hit the chorus, people danced, bobbed and raised their hands. It was perfect. I was finally comfortable and didn't feel fear anymore...just thankfulness and energy. After our big rock and roll hold-out-the-note-ending, I looked out and people were applauding as far back as I could see. The whole floor back to the still open front doors and the balcony, too. I'll never forget that moment. It was the confirmation that I needed to remember that I do know how to do this. This is what I was born to do. This is what I'm best at. All I needed was the right energy up there with me to pull it off. Thanks to Tom and Frank, I've got it now.
Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.
1. Colors In Black & White****
2. Until The Road Ends****
3. Into My View****
4. (Save It For) Another Day****
6. I Won't Stand Still***
9. Towel Cape Song****
10. She Walks (N)****
11. Worms On The Pavement****
12. Taking Its Toll****
13. Give Up Town****
Before I could even get off the stage, hands were extended. I shook hands with as many people as I could. We went through nearly 100 cd's tonight. We're effectively out of demos. So if you've got a copy of the "Goodbye Tuesday" EP, hold on to it. They're gone now.
Tom came up to me pretty quickly to tell me that was ten times better than any other musical experience he's ever had. What a compliment. All I could say was, "That's just the first time. It'll get even better."
Every one that we knew - Sarah, Mary Katherine, Julia - all said they were surprised at how much different we were tonight. They commented about the power and fullness. One guy walked up and said, "You are a 3-piece right? You didn't have anyone hiding back there?" Nope. 'Twas just us.
For me, the only difference was the audience-band energy exchange. When I'm playing to people that are enjoying it, I'll keep pushing it higher and harder. That's a given.
The only complaint I had tonight (which was mostly from friends and bandmates) was about my "self-deprecating comments." One cool guy said, "Never let 'em see your fear." I was just being honest. I'll try to keep a tighter lid on it next time.
When I finally got a chance to ask Amanda where this one fell in the list of best shows I've ever performed with any band, she simply said..."This might've been the best." Now - I know I've had shows that were played better. I know I've had shows with more energy. I know that I've played shows where I've had an even better crowd response. But the truth of the matter is that I've never had a show where all of those criteria were that close to the best...so overall, I think I agree with her.
I want to personally thank Billy and the "guys in the front row" for being so gracious and nice to us. I hope you like the CD and I hope we get to see you again!
Thanks to Troy for letting me know about this opportunity!
Thanks to the Theatre and staff for going out of their way to make us feel comfortable.
Thanks to Zoso for being so supportive and helpful. We'd love to do the honors of opening for you again - anytime.
Thanks to Mary Kat, Sarah, Julia, Amanda and our usual friends and supporters who made it out last minute. Seeing you there made it so much better. I can appreciate it more knowing that I have you all to share it with.
I know that every show can't be this amazing. But the memories of this one will be enough to pull us through any rough patches to come.
Now it's onwards and upwards...
Photos by Amanda Stahl.