Our Last Gig: The Empty Room
One more time, we dye out the gray and trim the nose hairs, and steel ourselves for another goddamn year in the trenches.
A good 18 pounds overweight from the Holiday parties and Turducken leftovers, we slowly get back into fighting shape for 2011 with a quick jaunt North to start things off.
It’s a new destination this time, Central CA, with a Friday stop in Santa Maria, a quick jaunt up to Atascadero Sat and home in time for the Superbowl Sunday.
Or should we say, home for half time, just in time to see the fuckin’ Black Eyed Peas do their aerobics routine and poor ol Slash destroy every last molecue of rocker credliblity he had left!
The weekend starts off in the usual way: late start on Friday, squeezing through the horrendous traffic of Friday-Lite L.A., then finally breaching the burnt hills of Calabasas to get that glorious view of the Pacific heading North.
I mean, c’mon! It’s called BBQ Land, people!
A quick and fun bar set with the good folks at O’Sullivans, and then we bunker in owner Josh’s back office for shots of whiskey and reminiscences of Clash concerts past.
Josh, gracious bastard that he is, allows us to leave with the bottle in hand.
Late night, and luckily there is a Jack in the Box open just across from the Santa Maria Inn, and a leisurely taco and cocktail session in Alf’s room brings the night to a close.
The BBQ, the fast food shit tacos, the Irish Whiskey and cheap beer: I have a strange dream that night.
Oh, you know the one, the one where a giant Pirate Hat chases you around a cheap soundstage as Charles Nelson Reily cackles his maniacal and somehow pedophilic laugh.
I wake up to find Kimm has left the TV on all night on the local PBS, which starts its Saturdays with a Sid and Marty Krofft Productions marathon.
I chew a cold leftover taco while reflecting on the wild improbability of a world ruled by hats or a giant lizard that talks with the white trash drawl of Andy Griffith.
Clearly, these people were on drugs. Good Ones.
We load in and continue grazing up the coast, as if we were cannibalistic bovines.
First stop at Jocko’s Steaks in Nipomo on the advice of the locals.
Anthony’s Steak sandwich is the star of this table, and at 12 bucks we proceed to order 8 more to go. Something to gnaw on in the car, keep the kids quiet, don’t ya know!
We make the mandatory stop at the Madonna Inn, solely for the privilege of pissing on a wall length waterfall.
We emerge from the bathroom to find Ant has ordered champagne cocktails for us, and we drink the fruity drinks in the gaudy frills of the main dining room.
Though we don’t quite start prancing about or sucking each other’s cocks, this place has definitely put us in touch with our feminine side.
It is time to get out of here.
Morro Bay, that charming rascal of the central coast, calls to us with its beautiful vistas and dive bars. We discover a giant land mass right off the beach, which Alf promptly names Morro Rock–clever boy!
We while away the afternoon at the Buoy Tavern, watching as the locals wager themselves into a frenzy for tomorrow’s game.
The gig is at The Armory in Atascadero, an actual block of concrete on the National Guard Base.
We pull up with that old anticipation of a road gig, wondering what kind of crowd will be here, how long we’ll be signing autographs afterwards, those darn kids!
We first suspect something is off when we pull into the driveway and there’s, oh, 9 cars parked there.
Heh–right, this is an all ages gig, after all.
Lots of kids get dropped off by Mom, right?
But then we pull open the heavy gymnasium doors and take a look inside:
I am not exaggerating when I say there are 20 people in a room that would comfortably hold 1200.
We wordlessly go back out to the car and crack a beer, pass around the bottle of Jame-0 that we have thankfully threw in a guitar case.
How can this be? I mean, we’re goddamn Icons, are we not?
We ponder the possible reasons for the small turnout:
The economy, man, that’s gotta be it!
Lucero is playing across the way in SLO, and that’s where the cool kids went to play.
It is Superbowl weekend after all, alright? Am I right?
And then, inevitably, we raise the question that’s been on all our minds from the start.
Can these kids up here have possibly heard how much we actually suck????
Nah, gotta shake off those thoughts, the show will go on!
So I’ll tell you about playing to empty rooms kids, and ya better listen up to Uncle Mike, because I am considered somewhat the expert in this field!
Oh, we’ve been all over the place and played to the dreaded empty room ya see—a rainy Monday in Gary Indiana, where the crowd was so small we passed round a half pint of Jack–and it made 4 complete rounds of the room before it was empty!
Or that cinderblock beer bar in Lincoln Nebraska, where only the bartender and a lone blind bouncer suffered through our full concert set.
All bands have a story about playing to the empty room, though it’s usually kept quiet, don’t ya know.
But here’s the thing about playing to a sparse crowd–it’s often a great gig, and that’s not bullshit.
For one thing, though both you and the crowd seem to be embarrassed about being there, you have to soldier on.
They can’t very well leave til you played, and we can’t sneak out the back and head for Denny’s—- we’re all trapped!!
And so they come up to you several times in the evening to apologize for their lame scene. You shrug to the promoter at the door, who has started drinking heavily and calling his Dad for a quick loan to cover the guarantee.
On this night, you make friends.
And so we strap on the guitars and go out there, and when they cut off the intro music the room is suddenly, shockingly quiet.
Somewhere out there in the darkness, someone lets out a timid Whoo!, and the ice is broken: we laugh together.
There is no more separation of band and crowd in empty room, it’s just a bunch of people standing together to hear music, even the ones that are supposed to be playing it.
Between songs, I convince the handful of people to gather together for a picture, plead with them to make it look like they are packed together and having a good time!
We somehow play better, as everyone is focused, and the tiny crowd, well, god bless em, they start an honest to God circle pit:
3 guys and one brave girl, dancing in a tight circle in front of us, in the middle of an empty gym in the middle of this State.
By the end of the set we are laughing and joking back and forth, we’ve already memorized everyone’s names.
We end the set and there is no stage or backstage, we simply put down the guitars and start shaking hands.
We sell every last one of the shirts we brought along, cheap! and head back to the motel with smiles on our faces.
Another one for the books.