A Great Gig: Finding the Intensity vs. Volume Balance

by Dave in ,

On Friday night I played at The Peddlar's Daughter in Nashua, NH with Knock-off, a band with which I used to play full-time, and now pick up gigs with occasionally. It's a female-fronted, 4-piece classic rock outfit, and the gigs are always a lot of fun. But, for me, Friday night's gig was more than just fun... it was quite something.

It all started at about 3pm when I went up to my studio to play for about 30 minutes. Since I so rarely get any warmup time at a gig itself, I try to at least play on my practice kit for a bit just so the downbeat isn't the first time I'm hitting drums that day. As soon as I started playing I realized that my hands and feet were being very well-behaved. Everything I asked of them, especially my left (weaker) hand, was being delivered with precision and perfect speed. I remember thinking, "if this keeps up, tonight's going to be fun!"

While setting up at the club for some reason I decided to move all my toms and snare lower, and my seat higher. I had been struggling with my gigging setup for a while, and I had a gut feeling this might help. It certainly didn't hurt. From the first note, I realized I was playing very aggressively. Not overly loud, per se, but really driving things, especially with the kick drum. I was expending a LOT of energy making every stroke count, and the thought, "you better hope you can keep this up all night" quickly went through my head. And sure enough, all that speed and dexterity in my hands and feet was still there, everything being perfectly executed. If I could think it, my limbs could play it, and that's a very rare treat!

Vocally, I couldn't get comfortable until about mid-way through the second set when the crowd requested, "Superstition." I was a bit concerned with how it might go given that I would be singing lead from behind the kit. Indeed the first verse was shaky, if only because I couldn't get the right words to come out of my mouth! But by the chorus everything was fine, and it got even better from there. After that, I was fully warmed up, and throughout the night we had some fantastic 4-part harmonies just falling together with little effort.

It's rare that I leave a gig fully pleased with my performance, and even now, 2 days later, I still find myself thinking about it. I'm surprised with how aggressively I played -- to a level I hadn't reached or even aimed in a long time -- and I hope to figure out how to capture that and stick with it. I think it really helped drive the band quite a bit, but I just need to be careful to not overdo it and either speed things up or play too loud.

I think over the years I wound up sacrificing some of that aggression and drive in favor of playing at moderate volumes to accommodate the other musicians and smaller rooms I might be in. But I realized the other night that I need to bring an additional level of intensity back into my playing to take things to the next level. I need to do that without also reintroducing too much sound level! Balance is the goal... It will be interesting to see how it all plays out!

Going forward, I think I'll use my blog to keep you all posted about upcoming gigs, and if I have anything notable to say afterwards, I'll do that, too. If I have something to say during the gigs, I'll update my Twitter stream during the setbreaks, cell service permitting.