AndyO Blog

Friday, May 01, 2009

When equipment fails the drummer

As Chris Mess blasted through the four-song opener at the High Dive, I thought things were going pretty well. My playing felt good. The large crowd was responding positively. Time, which usually runs by quickly on stage, seemed to slow down.

highdive042909 When we reached the part of the set when we play a cover -- Bowie's Suffragette City on this night -- Chris invited his girlfriend Mary on stage to sing ("Hey, Man!").

The crowd responded enthusiastically.

Then we moved to the quiet part of the set, starting with a song called Oleada by Julieta Venegas (lyrics in Spanish). When I stepped on my right bass drum pedal, it went down  to the floor and didn't bounce back. I tried a few more times. No dice. So I played the entire song using my left bass drum pedal (it's a double-bass pedal).

Once the song was over, I told Chris I needed to fix my pedal. He tried to entertain the crowd. After a few seconds I realized I couldn't fix the pedal. The chain that connected to the foot plate was broken.

Normally, this would be a drummer's worst nightmare. But I came prepared.

I ran offstage and grabbed my single chain-drive Camco pedal from my gear bag. As I tried to attach the pedal to the bass drum, I realized it was missing the wing nut that would make this possible. I slid the pedal under the bass drum, hoping it would stay there. Then, when I tried to play the pedal, there was hardly any response.

Now this was becoming a drummer's worst nightmare.

We started playing Bossa Nova, and the first few measures were punctuated with mistakes caused by me trying to adjust to the poor feel of the replacement pedal. (It was at this point I realized I would have been better off leaving the double pedal on and trying to play with my left foot.)

I struggled through the song and realized that there was no way I could play No Joke, an up-tempo punk song, with this pedal. When I got Chris's attention to tell him this, he said we couldn't play it anyway due to time constraints. So we launch into our final song -- a Cheap Trick cover, Southern Girls.

We finished our set. I was angry.

I guess I thought I was prepared, and I was angry that it hadn't been good enough. I mean, at every gig I bring two snare drums, two bass drum pedals, extra drum heads in the car -- even a small drill with a drum key bit to help me fix a broken head more quickly.

But now, as they say, it became very clear:  When it comes down to it, you really only need a few drums and hardware to play a show:

  • One drum throne
  • One bass drum (with pedal)
  • One snare
  • One ride or ride/crash cymbal
  • One optional crash cymbal

Everything else is non-essential. It's nice to be able to play drum fills on two or three tom-toms, and use an open or closed hi-hat or different crash cymbals to color the song. But it's not essential.

As an example of this principle, William Cremin, the drummer in the headlining band, Tim & the Time Machines, had only a hi-hat, snare drum, bass drum, and floor tom. I was impressed with the sounds he got out of his kit -- though it's worth noting that this band had six members (as opposed to Chris Mess's three), including acoustic guitar, bass, glockenspiel, keyboard, and cello (yes, cello at a rock show).

This meditation on being prepared doesn't mean I'll bring fewer drums or cymbals to gigs; it just means I'm going to be better prepared and not worry about the non-essential drums breaking anymore.

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Show details:

High Dive, Wed., April 29
9 p.m. Chris Mess http://www.myspace.com/chrismessrocks
10 p.m. Mighty Shiny http://www.myspace.com/mightyshiny
11 p.m. Doctor Doctor http://www.myspace.com/doctordoctorlovesface
12 a.m. Tim & the Time Machines http://www.myspace.com/theuniverse

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