Touring (Big Issue – 2012)
Whenever you see a biopic or documentary about a band, they make it look like one long rollercoaster of gigs and parties. Having been there I can say that life is the documentary footage that gets edited out. When it comes to touring, the rocking out bit accounts for 10% of your time, the other 90% is spent faffing, snoozing, grizzling and playing angry birds (not the iphone app, trying to impress girls). Filling tour downtime is a skill every musician must possess. It’s not all coke and hookers, it’s not even coopers green and groupies, it’s more like warm fruit juice and watching a woman get into her car at the servo. Imagine hanging out with the same five friends for 12 hours a day, five days a week in a small room with three CD’s, two magazines and a packet of sour worms.
Mission one is getting to your destination. Gone are the days of a hand-drawn map on the back of a Centrelink letter. Google Maps has revolutionised navigation, but isn’t immune to failing. During 2010’s national tour it suggested we take a shortcut through the Tasmanian midlands. We nodded off in the back of the van, safe on the main highway, and woke up an hour later on top of a mountain surrounded by fog with the petrol light on. Robot neglected to mention the shortcut included 65km of unsealed road.
Everyone loves the band at an airport. You get to hog the queue, take fifteen minutes to check-in and give the double-denimed impression you might actually be famous. If you see a band at the airport, go up and say ‘I love your stuff.’ It will do wonders for their esteem. Alternatively, you could whisper “I thought your last album was a bit overdone,” and watch them wilt like leather flowers.
Once you’ve put your back out loading into the venue it’s soundcheck time. This involves listening to the drummer hit his snare a hundred times while the soundguy looks at your with ashtray eyes. After a tinnitus inducing, confidence shattering jam, you retire to the band room, usually a condemned cellar with zombie bar parts and a biker grade couch. The band sit around planning a dinner heist on the back of a coaster. There Will Be Thai.
Pre-show rituals are different for every performer. I like to relax with a spot of yoga. The sullen standing pose Downward Dag is best, given the one square metre of space available. Real privacy is non-existent on tour, and small bites of alone time are cherished. The toilet is a good place to collect yourself and unwind with some quiet graffiti. I’m a discerning connoisseur of venue bathrooms, comforted by the lemony tang and dim lighting. It’s the small touches you appreciate, such as toilet paper or a door.
By this time the rider will be available. For most bands, the rider request is no more exotic than ‘anything.’ If your career is going well, you will be brought a tub of expensive non-twist European beers and no opener. These will be consumed by the support band while you’re on stage. Some like to loosen up with a few drinks before a show. I prefer to subside on a cocktail of water and nervous energy. This helps me maintain a cat-like state of awareness and cat-like state of curling up in some jumpers.
Performing is a huge hit of adrenalin, which needs time to subside. It’s important to find a space to carefully reclose the floodgates of your soul. I prefer a quick cigarette in a urine tinged stairwell. If the gig went well, it’s a good form to hang by the merch desk and bask in compliments. If the gig went poorly, then it’s like the hiccups. There is no known cure for disappointment, but you can try drinking while upside down or getting someone to scare you with the attendance figures.
Touring is like taking a working holiday with your sharehouse. It is the single greatest test for the band relationship. Those in possession of patience, a sense of humour and a working credit card will be able to ride the epic highs and soul-crushing lows. From blowing away tens of adoring fans to begging the venue manager not to charge you for toilet paper, it’s one of the most exciting experiences life has to offer. I couldn’t recommend it. Enough.