Gigging at the Edge of Reason is a series I started here on the Seymour Duncan Blog to share stories of gigs that have gone terribly awry for one reason or another. Performing live is an art all to itself. My hope is that by sharing these stories from time to time, we can all laugh together a little and find ways to appreciate the unique experience of live performance even when it doesn’t go as planned.
Glengarry Glenn Danzig
A number of years ago, a band I was in at the time took part in an annual Halloween show here in Indianapolis. It’s a great event held at an historic bar just north of downtown Indy where, every year, bands from the original music scene transform into one-off tribute bands of sorts, acting out their own Halloween “costumes” by dressing up as and playing a set’s worth of songs by one of their favorite bands. It’s always draws a great crowd with fun and merriment had by all.
My band, having been something of a punk rock/metal hybrid given to fits of grand delusion, decided to try our hand at being The Misfits for a night.
The Misfits rock. Their songs are direct, uncomplicated, in-your-face chunks of fetish gore and macabre crooning. It seemed like the perfect plan for a great set on a great night at a great bar; learn 20-or-so two-minute songs using the same four chords, dress up like a some kind of mutant ghoul, and play it all really fast and sloppy (which, given the short amount of time I’d given myself to learn the material, was probably the only way it was gonna be played anyway). I didn’t even have to learn too many guitar leads or anything – their songs barely have any! I’m skating right by the fact that my physique will never be mistaken for Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein’s, and I need you to be okay with that. Okay? Okay.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Anyone reading this could probably do it!
Well, unless your band breaks up two weeks before the show. That makes it a bit more difficult. And that is essentially what happened with us. Our singer and my co-guitarist both quit the band for totally separate, completely unrelated reasons on the same day.
Down from a five-piece to a three-piece in under four hours, the band, as it stood, was pretty much dunzo. It was a real bummer at the time. I was very devoted to that band, which was pretty good, and we were only just starting to get within reach of our potential musically before it was all dashed to pieces in the same afternoon. Yet, these things happen. All things must come to their inevitable end, but the show, it must go on, no? Yes! it must!
“Two guitarists is probably one too many for this gig!,” I thought. “You only really need about two thirds of a guitar player to do a set of horror punk tunes anway,” I figured. Since I’m about half the size of Doyle, I decided I was only about one sixth shy of doing a perfect job! MUSICIAN LOGIC!
All we needed was our Glenn. What, you didn’t think we intended to play any post-Danzig material, did you? Pshaw! We reached out through our network of scene friends and acquaintances and found a guy who knew a guy who kind of knew a guy who’d sung for a million regional punk rock outfits over the years and would probably be into doing the show. After contacting said regional punk rock guy and working it out, he agreed to do it as long as one of us could come pick him up from a friend’s house so he could practice with us.
He was kind of between cars at the time.
And, like, places to live at the time.
But it was fine! It was punk rock! And he was the man of the hour – the savior of the show. During band practice, it became evident that he really was, too. He knew all the lyrics and parts. He could do a passable Danzig croon. He didn’t look the part any more than the rest of us, but we’d already thrown that much to the wind and hunkered down for the long haul. This was happening.
The night of the show, all the pieces were in place. We’d managed to slap ourselves around enough and used enough greasepaint to approximate the look (to anyone who’d guzzled enough PBRs to drown a donkey), we felt confident we knew the songs (well enough), and everybody had the logistics figured out. We would go load up our gear at the practice space and meet Mr. Regional Punk Rock Singer (who had secured his own transportation) at the venue across town. We knew our time slot. We were friends with the other bands on the bill. We were friends with the owners and operators of the venue. We were going to pull this off.
We got to the venue, unpacked our gear, and waited for our singer to arrive.
And waited some more.
Finally after what felt like enough-already-with-the-waiting-and-texting-this-is-ridiculous-who-do-you-think-you-are-get-your-ass-over-here, we called the number for the house where The Renowned Singer Of Regional Punk Rock was shacking up and got a hold of a guy… who knew a guy, who kind of knew another guy, who could possibly get us touch with the person who was supposed to have been at the venue over an hour prior.
I don’t think we were ever going to follow up on that lead. I’d say we were about to just pack the gear back up and start drinking heavily when our bass player’s phone rang.
“Hello? Yeah, where the @#$! are you? Do you know what day it is? Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well, that’s… weird. Okay. Bye.”
And then my bass player turned to me and said “He isn’t coming. He’s [I don't remember why he said he couldn't come] been abducted by time-traveling KGB agents. But he said it’s okay, he knows a guy who agreed to fill in for him. He should be here any minute.”
“?????,” I hear you saying?
Yep. He blew off the show and sent a scab whom we’d never met before to sing on stage with us in his place. Shortly thereafter, a fellow approached us and introduced himself. He looked like someone who had been asked to dress up as Glenn Danzig after having seen a Misfits poster one time in a music store like ten years before. But it might have been a Samhain poster.
“Hey, I’m [I don't actually remember his name] Virgil. Mr. Illustrious and Enigmatic Regional Punk Rock Songsmythe sent me.”
Okay, Virgil. Saddle up. We’re on.
Once our set started, I could sense that things were going to go… badly. Virgil had not arrived prepared. Virgil did not know the songs. Halfway through “Skulls,” I began to wonder if Virgil actually knew who the Misfits were. Halfway through “Halloween,” I was seriously questioning whether poor Virgil knew where he was.
About that time, it seemed that the crowd, which had gradually become liquored up, rowdy, and gathered very densely and close to the stage, decided that they did not like where Virgil was. I remember a rush of leather jackets, and then poor Virgil, who probably only thought he was helping out a friend in a bind, was removed bodily from the stage – the microphone torn from his hand – and disappeared.
I have never seen him again after that moment.
After that, it was… kind of a free-for-all. We didn’t know what else to do, so we just kept playing. Six songs. Eleven songs. Sixteen songs. The whole time, the microphone was passed around – or rather, fought over viciously by drunken bastards – and different songs were sung… more or less… by whoever had the tightest grip on it at the moment. We played every Misfits song we knew and probably a few of them twice, because it didn’t seem like a good idea to stop. I clearly recall mentally admonishing myself for my previous hubris regarding the simplicity of those songs. Nothing is harder to play than a Misfits song when you have a few hundred pounds of leather and liberty spikes standing directly in front of you, staring at your amp and daring an inaccurate note to emerge. I don’t even remember how well I played, but I didn’t get my ass kicked, so it must have been alright.
It was a great show.
After it was all over, the bar closing down, and the last few stragglers filtering out into the night, I remember feeling a sense relief. Maybe my old band had ended, but after what we’d just been through, I knew the other two guys were with me through thick and thin. We would have to put together a new musical project, but the core of it was strong, and for the first time I’d felt optimistic about it rather than daunted and discouraged.
Fun fact #1: those two guys and I still play together in my current band Devils of Belgrade – which I will not shamelessly plug right now – as long as you click that link and buy both our albums immediately with your mom’s credit card.
Fun fact #2: Mr. Peerless and Legendary Regional Punk Rock Frontman did eventually show up to the show… and let us know that he’d be performing with a different band. As a guitar player. Oh, and by the way, could he borrow my speaker cabinet? He didn’t have one. He’d get it back to me that week, he promised. I told him Virgil had it, and if he could track him down and ask, I didn’t care. [Virgil did not have it. It was already packed up in the van.]
Not all gigs go according to plan. Sometimes, you have to just take what the situation gives you and roll with the punches. I suppose we were lucky we didn’t face massive equipment failure in addition to everything else that went wrong for this show, but even if we had, I think we’d have found a way to get it done.
Have you ever had a gig go completely sideways and still found a way to get through it? Let us know!