It was back in Boston.
I had walked into a small club called TT the bear’s (which I had played on many occasions before) to see my friend’s band play, and one of the opening bands was an early incarnation of The Willard Grant Conspiracy.
When I see bands on SNL and there are 10 people on stage individually playing nothing and it cumulatively sounds like 3 competent musicians are playing it drives me nuts. In this case, there were six or eight people on stage (all playing acoustic instruments …some acoustic guitars, a violin, mandolin, bass, and Robert Fisher’s vocals) and it sounded enormous. They devoured the air in the room and for 40 minutes or so – we were collectively sucked into a black hole and left staring in mute wonder at this immense vortex we were in and then we were spit back out into the reality of a small club with sticky floors.
There wasn’t a II V I or an altered chord in sight. The time signatures were common. Nothing faster than an 1/8th note was played. It was a number of musicians playing the same rhythms (and playing off of that rhythm) to create a specific immersive sound. Everything was in service to the vocal and the song.
It gets easy to get caught up in what this person is doing or what that person is doing online, but it’s the moments that move you that stay with you forever. I can tell you to go check out their Flying Low cd, but the communal moment I had with Willard Grant and a few other people in that small room is what stays with me as I listen to “House Is Not a Home” as I type this. My experience in listening to those songs will always be tied to that moment.
Here’s the biggest secret I can tell you about musical performance.
The single biggest factor pulling off any performance for a live audience is conviction.
If you have it, you can sit on an avoid note and everyone will nod their heads, if you don’t have it you can hit every note with MIDI-like precision and elicit yawns in response.
All the shedding you do is really to get the material under your fingers so you can play it with conviction when you perform. Some people tap into that with a minimal amount of musical skill and training. Some people train their whole lives and never find it. When you speak with authority, people listen to what you have to say (you do have the musical vocabulary and skill to help sustain what’s happening yes? – I’d argue that people who perform with real conviction find natural rhythm, dynamics and other elements intuitively in many cases – the so called “musical” considerations fall into line with the force of the message being delivered.) Now that audience might ignore it if it doesn’t continue to move or reach them, but it at least gets their ear.
It get’s easy to get caught up in the technique or the application of what we do and loose the forest looking for the tree.
Guitarists serve the guitar but musicians serve the song. Sometimes that’s Willard Grant, sometimes that’s seeing a video of Yngwie killing it with Alcatrazz on a live show in Japan. Sometimes that’s the song you’re playing and sometimes it’s the song of your heart, but whichever one you’re playing – play it like you’re opening that vortex and bring people in.
I hope this helps in some way and as always, thanks for reading!
PS – if you’re happen to be in Gloversville,NY on Saturday come check out my clinic at the Gloversville library at noon. (tinyurl.com/gloversvilleguitar)
I’ll have my guitar…and some books…and notes. Beaucoup notes at that!