Fictitious nightclub owner Bob Porter, a character in David Menconi's novel Off The Record, explains the business of running a bar with live music.Bands looking for gigs send me tapes or CDs, and I try to listen to as much of them as I can stand. A lot of them are so painfully bad, I don’t make it too far through. If a band is really terrible, it’s always nice if they’ve sent a CD rather than a tape easier to skip through and listen to a little of each song. I’ve been doing this a long time, and can usually tell how a band will do with one listen to their tape (“I can name that band’s draw in two notes”). Hell, by now, I can just look at their picture and almost always figure out everything I need to know. Such as:If a band is posed on the porch or front steps of a large house; if anybody in the picture is wearing a shirt with a collar, a baseball cap or any item of clothing with a sports logo; and if they look well-fed-- if they look like the people I hated in college, in other words--this is a band that will draw what I call the “date-rape demographic.” Bands like this tend to play sensitive-white-boy (read: limp-wristed) guitar pop that draws ditzy sorority girls, meaning their frat-boy predators are sure to follow. This is a crowd that drinks A LOT, and I can always count on at least a couple of fights in the parking lot. Bands like this pay the rent, but a lot of them are more trouble than they’re worth.
If a band is shown posed in some sort of outdoor “natural” setting; if anyone is barefoot; if at least one member has shoulder-length and/or facial hair, a ponytail and/or a beret; and if there is a tie-dyed garment involved chances are good this photo will literally reek of patchouli. Hippie noodlehead rock. The Grateful Dead has been gone a long time, but there’s still gold in aimless noodling. Gold for the band, maybe, but not the bar because noodlehead crowds tend to prefer pot to beer. I’ll clear less on a noodlehead band than a date-rape one, even though the noodleheads usually draw bigger crowds.
The audience is largely college-age, but with some older hippie types still hanging on. Noodlehead bands generally keep their fans after they graduate, more so than the date-rape ones. Date-rape bands are kinda like “LUG,” Lesbian Until Graduation, a college thing most people outgrow. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.)
If a band is shown in a dark room, and/or out-of-focus; if anyone is wearing glasses; if at least one member has a receding hairline and is making no attempt to cover it up; if someone is wearing either an impossibly square or ridiculously hip T-shirt (“Sesame Street” on the one hand, or some band so obscure I haven’t even heard of them on the other); if someone is covering their mouth with their hand, or has their head bent at a weird angle; if the bass player is a girl--hey, kids, it’s the new alternative!
There are lots of egghead-type bands around here, this being a college town and all. They come and go, and all of them sound pretty much the same to me. True, I’m a jaded old fart and all that. But most of them just don’t have the chops to get away with the weird junk they try to pull off--jerky time signatures, non-existent tunings, repetitive drones--and it all sounds like badly played King Crimson covers. Bands like this tend to have small but devoted followings, 40 or so people who will show up and hang on every detuned note and off-key yelp. They’ll drink water and soda pop, meaning I usually lose money. But that’s okay, because these bands and their crowds are almost never a bit of trouble. If I had date-rape or even noodlehead bands in here every night, I’d go nuts. Egghead bands give me some downtime, and the occasional one that actually goes somewhere will pull an audience every bit as loyal as the noodlehead crowd. Of course, they still won’t drink…
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson