Coca-Cola, Rocks And Bees: My Worst Gig

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As the frontman of The Verve Pipe, I’ve had my share of bad gigs.  It was all part of paying your dues in the 90’s. Back then there was this prevailing sense that things were happening in our genre, and that any day we were going to be signed by a major label.  That potential deal was the golden carrot that dangled just out of reach.  It was the reason that you played the shitty bars that had stages that felt weak under your feet; stages that inhibited your glorious rock moves, for fear you might fall through and discover god knows what beneath.  It was the reason that you put up with crooked promoters and asshole sound men.  You knew that it wasn’t going to last for long.  You were going to be noticed by the majors. Your songs were so much better than anyone else’s.

Your fans knew that your were going places.  They crammed themselves up to the front of the stage, accidentally spilling fifty cent drafts into your monitor, or worse yet, bumping your mic stand hard enough to send it into your face, bloodying your lip, or chipping a tooth. You got so drunk every night that your last set was a mess of bad chords and garbled lyrics.

I loved every minute of it.

The worse gigs came after you were signed.  The label showcases and corporate gigs.  And radio festivals.

It seemed every radio station had a festival in the late 90’s.  Edgefests and Xfests, were everywhere.  It was an opportunity for radio stations to flex their corporate muscle while bands massaged the station’s egos.  After all, your band would not exist had it not been for radio.  They made you.  DJ’s were rockstars in their own mind. Program Directors and Music Directors were the men behind the curtains, forcing bands to play their festivals for free, or have their single dropped from the play list.  Playing radio festivals was something that every new band that was signed to a major label did.  And because every band was forced to play them, the line-up was schizophrenic; new punk bands like Goldfinger and harder rock bands like Fugazi and Filter were put on bills with bands like the Gin Blossoms and, well, The Verve Pipe.

The worst radio fest.. actually, the worst gig I have ever played was the radio fest in Dayton OH.  Going into it, it seemed like just another festival with a typical eclectic line-up.  We would go on, play our thirty minutes (unpaid) and get the hell out of there.  Piece of cake.  I was even anxious to get in front of that crowd.  After all, Dayton was the home of one of my favorite bands, Guided By Voices.  Not to mention Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders.  But what went down that day was the biggest Fuckfest of them all.

It was a hot summer day, nearing 90 degrees.  The festival was held in a dirt parking lot outside of town.  The geniuses behind the festival took the corporate sponsorship money from Coca-Cola, who at that time was promoting the “Big 20” ounce plastic bottle.  I’m not sure if they were giving the bottles away or not.  For what it’s worth, I speculate that they didn’t have water available for purchase, only Coke.  Again, I’m speculating.  But I do know this:  Just about every person in that fucking festival, about 5,000 to 8,000 people were given a big 20 ounce projectile.

Fans of Prong had no desire to sit through a set by No Doubt.  Fans of Everclear didn’t want to see Seven Mary Three.  I watched our friends get pelted with half emptied bottles of Coke thrown from hundreds of feet away.  The music “fans” who drank all of their soda realized that hurling empty plastic bottles at the stage was futile; the bottle would only fly about 10 feet.  A handful of brilliant Dayton-ites had the bright idea of filling the bottles with gravel.  When 7M3’s bass player took a bottle of gravel to the nuts, he had the good sense to leave the stage, followed by his band.  Not one of the assholes from the station tried to put a stop to it.

Our turn.  I hadn’t even taken that glass bottle to the face yet (that happened a year later, in Toronto), so I really felt like it might be possible to win this crowd over.

We jumped up on that massive stage and were immediately pelted with bottles and rocks, lighters, and coins.  Coins were the worst, actually, because you couldn’t see them coming.  I was able to dodge the projectiles pretty well, bobbing and weaving around my microphone, trying in vain (for some reason) to put on a musical show.  But the show wasn’t about the music. The show was the spectacle of musicians on stage scrambling for safety. You weren’t a rockstar: You were a target. When you looked down at your instrument, you were a target, when you went out to the front of the stage to touch hands with a few of your fans that were there, you were a target.  Turn your back to turn up the volume on your amp?  A target.  Run across the stage to rock out with a bandmate?  You were a moving target.

A couple songs into our set, I realized that there was something else on that stage.  Something alive and angry.  I’d like to say that it was our own primeval desire to rock, rising like a great black demon phoenix, vengeful and raucous.  But it wasn’t.  It was a swarm of bees.

As I said before, it was hot.  And now the stage, set out in a parking lot next to a sea of wildflowers, was covered in soda, sticky and sweet.  It was the a bad gig perfect storm.

I was swatting down bottles that said 20 ounces, but instead weighed 5 to 10 pounds.  I was slapping at the bees around my ankles.  And I was flipping off the radio guy on the side of the stage, the one who was enjoying this slapstick routine.

That was the beginning of the end for The Verve Pipe and radio station festivals.  Our A&R rep, on the phone from New York said, “you should’ve walked off that stage at the first sign of trouble”, but we knew he was full of shit, or really had no clue what was going on out there.  I protested every festival, and still played them.  When I absolutely refused to do another, the stations dropped our songs from their playlist.

Yes, there have been shit gigs throughout my career.  Shitty shows in clubs where the doorman pockets some of your cash.  Gigs where the sound is so bad, that the feedback takes over an entire song, and becomes the new melody.

Getting famous, and being given the opportunity to perform on a big stage with pristine sound, made me realize that kissing the ass of radio was not worth it. That the real fun for a band is in the early days.  The essence of live rock and roll is there in those old clubs.  The ones that had a different band every night.  The club shows where the only fear you had was what you might find beneath that weakened stage, were you to fall through it.

Brian is a bitter man who is deathly afraid of bees.  Check out his latest album, one that the critics call ‘wonderfully bitter, like the sting from a bee full of vodka’,  by Clicking Here

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10 thoughts on “Coca-Cola, Rocks And Bees: My Worst Gig

  1. I remember those early shows at Rick’s American Cafe in Kalamazoo. The line would be out the door waiting to get in and the energy was raw and alive. I can’t imagine playing in front of a crowd like the one in Dayton, but I have no doubt it happened often. As much as I loved seeing a cool line-up at Pine Knob and loved its outdoor summertime vibe…it can’t compare to those small shows in crazy clubs with way too hormonally charged college students. Thanks for making the 90’s so memorable!

  2. Funny, funny shit once again. I was laughing so hard (sorry it’s at your expense) at your plight. You’re no doubt a more complete musician/vocalist for the experience, though.

    Think of the fun when your new book tour starts…….

  3. Or after driving from Waterford (Pontiac) to Albion 8 times in 2 weeks (to an unbelievably favorable response to your advertising) and a really cool college show to end up playing to 8 people because it’s Rush Week (2 of which ironically going to school there …From Waterford)
    I in complete discuss played the show of my life to these 8 people and the bar staff. Sold 10 shirts,10 Cd’s and a hat. They did invite us back realizing the “mishap” booking. they know that we had busted our asses and meant every bit of it. After having 4 Degrees sign their T-Shirt they mounted it on the wall proudly. There a lot better gigs that i don’t remember as well know now because they came easy, but at least the people there respected that what we did we meant. I would be interested in a good story Brian, Who can you pay some props to better of respect they show musicians. The small planet?? they always were cool to us?

  4. I love your music and I’m. Loving your blogs.I grew up in the milwaukee wi area and had the pleasure of seeing the violent femmes and the bodeans in the clubs and when I moved to orlando seven mary three,matchbox 20,my friend steve were playing the clubs and those were the best shows by far.always wished I could have seen you play in a club.

  5. Love the honesty. Brian. It is a shame that idiots (apparently dehydrated due to the possible lack of water and very accessible sodas) will ruin it for the fans who are respectful of your craft and artistry. But then again, we are the ones who are willing to pay to go to the clubs and bars, just to watch your talent and gifts shine. I have seen many bands and artists over the years and each one is special and brings something to the industry. Even if I am not excited about the cover band, I listen with respect because they have fans there who are really excited to hear them live. But then again, I don’t drink Coke and I certainly don’t throw it at people 😉

  6. Didn’t know you were a fan of the Deals. I do believe it’s all starting to make sense. Nah!

    Oh, yes. Radio hell. Yeah, the radio festival days are over. They wouldn’t even pay for a can of Raid, huh? Glad your gigs dragged you to New England clubs and small theatres. Your Hampton Beach Casino show with K’s Choice was a trip.

    Looking forward to the show. Love the imagery in this line:

    “Our turn. I hadn’t even taken that glass bottle to the face yet (that happened a year later, in Toronto), so I really felt like it might be possible to win this crowd over.”

  7. Unfortunately that behavior of throwing things at bands during sets caught on and pervaded numerous “festival” concerts during the 90s. I went to one that the former K-rock/92.3 in NYC had in Queens one year.

    My only memories from that show are Luscious Jackson walking off the stage because so much stuff was being thrown at them they had to stop their set, and Gavin Rossdale getting hit in the face with a loaded water-bottle.

    If i had known bands were not being paid for these appearances, I probably would never have gone. Hearing this story makes me even happier I gave up FM radio for Satellite.

  8. Unfortunately that behavior of throwing things at bands during sets caught on and pervaded numerous “festival” concerts during the 90s. I went to one that the former K-rock/92.3 in NYC threw in Queens one year.

    My only memories from that show are Luscious Jackson walking off the stage because so much stuff was being thrown at them they had to stop their set, and Gavin Rossdale getting hit in the face with a loaded water-bottle.

    If i had known bands were not being paid for these appearances, I probably never would have attended any of these shows. I knew FM radio was full of scumbags, but never realized it was that bad. Makes me ever happier I gave it up a few years ago for Sirius.

  9. Entirely true story, captured all of the elements of being a “rock star”. Great because all the posing whiner prick bands get their due, sux because it also happens to real artists. Thats why you dont see me out as in the early days, I will wait for the DVD and watch it in surround sound on the plasma with my babies. Have fun, enjoy youth while it lasts…

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