How To Play A Mutually Satisfying Show To An Audience That Is Up Past Their Bedtime
Spin Doctors played at O’Brian’s Event Centre in Saskatoon on Saturday, April 4. I got to the show in time to see the last few songs of the second opening band’s set. Hung Jury was a competent cover band having a great time doing Kim Mitchell and Loverboy songs and Where’s My Mullet? kicked off the show with a set I cannot comment on, but a quick peak at their Facebook page indicates that they are also an 80s tribute band and the few people dotting the dance floor at that point seemed appreciative.
The crowd was a strange mix of hippies, bikers, metal heads, hipsters, drunk frat guys, hoochie bar stars and middle-aged couples that looked like they don’t get out very often. I’m used to being on the high end of the age bracket at most shows I attend these days, but the majority of my fellow concert-goers here were well over 35. Which makes sense, because the Spin Doctor’s peak of popularity was with their 1991 album Pocket Full of Kryptonite. I’d be willing to bet that most of the people in the room came to hear “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and had no idea that the band has released five more albums, the most recent of which being, in this reviewer’s opinion, their best work. If The River Was Whiskey came out in 2013, or what lead singer Chris Barron referred to on stage as “about 18 months ago, if the months were metric and a little longer than normal.”
Yes, the band was indeed faced with some challenges with this particular show. Thus, I offer the following primer for other once-popular, still-touring bands that might come through our fair city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (which Barron pronounced flawlessly, incidentally):
How To Play A Mutually Satisfying Show To An Audience That Is Up Past Their Bedtime, Most Of Whom Know Only Your Two Biggest Songs And Have No Idea Your Most Recent Release Is A Blues Album In A Room Big Enough To Allow Half Of Them To Stand Stationery Off The Dance Floor In A Small Canadian City You’ve Never Been To Before In 13 Easy Steps
1) Play your second biggest song in the first quarter of your set.
Before the show started I guessed that “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” would be song number five in the set list. It was number three.
2) Intersperse your new stuff to make it more appetizing to unaccustomed ears.
There were definitely a few of us in the crowd that were already familiar with the newest, bluesy Spin Doctors album and thrilled to hear songs from it make up a good portion of the show, but most of the audience was hearing the material for the first time. The band got everyone started with a few songs they’d recognize, then played two of the best songs from If The River Was Whiskey (including the excellent title track) and continued to alternate back and forth between old favourites and recent songs.
3) Incorporate the names of the town and province you’re in into the lyrics of one of your songs.
Further demonstrate that you know where you are by dedicating a sorrowful song called “Scotch and Water Blues” to a legendary NHL player originally from Saskatchewan who died that day. RIP Elmer Lach.
4) Ask the standers in the back to join the rest of the crowd on the dance floor.
Ask them three times. Tell them it’s more fun up there and they should get their money’s worth. Don’t be offended when most of them don’t listen and go on with the show.
5) Spare no enthusiasm!
I doubt Chris Barron has ever sung any of his songs exactly the same way twice, so whole-hearted and fervent is his vocal style. He spends his abundant energy on stage constantly vogueing and doing spinning high leg kicks.
6) Acknowledge your age. Defy it.
If Barron hadn’t ever-so-subtly slipped into his stage banter that he is 47 years old (while striking a sexy runway pose) and that he has a 16-year-old daughter, you’d never guess his age (see above, re: high leg kicks), even with the white beard.
7) Demonstrate that you love being on stage and playing music together.
The rest of the band (Aaron Comess on drums, Eric Schenkman on guitar, Mark White on bass) wisely let Barron hold the spotlight most of the time, but each got their time to shine and it was clear that the four of them genuinely enjoyed being on stage together, playing music that moved them. Things haven’t always been smooth between the four original members of Spin Doctors, but they’re making it work in the interest of creating great music and entertaining their fans.
8) Encourage crowd participation.
Warm the crowd up to the concept of call and response by getting them to sing a repeated line they’re all familiar with BEFORE (and the before is crucial) upping the ante with a series of improvised, complicated vocal runs in a song most of them have never heard.
9) Play your biggest song in the last quarter of your set.
“Two Princes” was the third last song of the main set.
10) Transition from your biggest song directly into another up-tempo number that features the obligatory drum and bass solos.
Watch the room go from euphoric nostalgia-induced bouncing to completely transfixed with the skills of Corness and White.
11) Know exactly how long to step off stage before your encore.
And it’s not long. Those hardcore fans at the front are going to stay there until you come back out, but the old folks at the back have to get home to relieve their babysitters.
12) Appreciate your audience.
When your lead singer asks someone to bring him a beer and a random audience member rushes over with a local brew synonymous with Saskatchewan, indicate your approval and salute his generosity. When the same random audience member gets up on stage with a couple more Pilsners for the other guys in the band and the security guys start to circle, stop the song you’re playing entirely to tell the bouncer that he’s cool and won’t do it again, while acknowledging that security’s just doing their job and requesting that no more fans mount the stage. Spend an hour or so after the show sitting at the edge of the stage talking to and taking photos with the fans that stick around.
13) If you’re going to do your own marketing, do it well.
Tell the crowd to get on your email list so you can tell them next time you’re in town. Spell out your email address and fashion it into a freestyle rap, repeating email@example.com until you’re relatively sure even the really drunk people will be able to recall it. When a girl comes up to you after the show to tell you she’ll be writing a review of your performance for a local online music magazine, humbly request that she also review your new solo song, available on your website.