Sunday, June 7, 2009

Debut at the Hard Rock Cafe

Yesterday, after many weeks of rehearsal, my younger son had his first professional gig with his new band.

My son and the three other players had auditioned and been hired by a local singer/songwriter. The singer had already cut a CD album with Los Angeles session players (slated for a September 2009 release) and needed a touring band for concert shows. The touring band's job was to faithfully reproduce the sounds on the CD.

When I met the singer's manager after the show, she told me that the criteria for selecting band members had been musical ability and character. She wanted players who could hit the right notes and not be a headache on the road. No jerks, dopers, or flaky free spirits need apply. Essentially, the singer wanted reliable session players that could travel -- musical consultants more or less. My son was the only novice hired. The other players were older and had experience as working musicians.

This debut gig followed a series of grueling rehearsals scattered over the past few months. My son (bass guitar) and the other players (keyboards, lead guitar, and drums) had to memorize the arrangements off the CD album. Nothing was written out. The arrangements were challenging, incorporating lots of syncopation and rhythmic shifts. Individual songs drew upon rock, jazz, blues, or reggae styles. (Right before the show, the keyboard player assured me that they had gotten past their recent "train wreck" rehearsals and were feeling fairly confident.)

I got to watch the show from the second-story seating reserved for friends and family of the band. This favored treatment by the Hard Rock Cafe, plus their complimentary chocolate milkshake, delighted me.

Time for the show! The players bounded onto the little stage at the back of the restaurant. Each player was dressed in black pants and a black tee shirt. With a bit of white makeup they could have looked like a troupe of mimes. Then the singer made his appearance. He looked dapper in a sport jacket and fedora.

The band immediately launched into an uptempo pop song. The singer's tenor voice was strong and clear; his gestures commanded attention. He was definitely a pro.

I instantly noticed the clarity of the music. The arrangement gave each instrument its place in the sonic spectrum; I had no trouble following what each player was doing. The piano and the lead guitar didn't step on each other or blur the lyrics. My son's bass guitar notes came through clean and musical, not the dull fub-fub-fub booming you often hear from rock bass guitarists. I was impressed by how perfectly in tune he played. You couldn't tell that he was playing a fretless bass, a temperamental instrument that requires precise fingering; otherwise, it can make a sloppy growling sound. The technique that my son acquired from years of practicing fingerboard position shifts on the violin apparently carried over to his bass playing.

The players communicated well. The way that they interacted reminded me of how members of a chamber ensemble watch each other as they play classical music. I saw my son flash a smile now and then as he smartly cued the keyboard player or the drummer.

I had two favorite songs in the hour-long concert. One was a rhythm and blues number, like something the Four Tops might have done forty years ago. My son got to kick it off with a repeated bass figure: dada-dum-da dada-dum-da. It was a hoot seeing a skinny white kid laying down a Motown groove with such assurance. My second favorite was the closing song. My son got to play the violin for the first eight bars to approximate the string quartet introduction to the CD version of the song. He double-stopped the first and second violin parts of the string quartet and the crowd loved it.

A fine show and a promising beginning!