Your band has been playing shows for awhile, and seems to be getting popular. Perhaps you’re still just rising stars on the hometown circuit, or you’ve hit the road a few times and tried your luck at touring.
Eventually, the day comes when you get a dream gig opening up for a big national act – a band with a certain amount of fame and success that you’ve always looked up to, or at least respected.
Does this gig mean Death Hippie has finally made it, and superstardom is around the corner? Can you and your bass player finally quit your jobs cleaning up “accidents” at the porno theater you both work at? Will you at least make industry connections and become friends with your rock and roll heroes after your band opens for them?
Like most things involving the music biz, you’ll probably learn some lessons along the way. I certainly did.
1. Just Because You Got The Gig Doesn’t Mean Your Band Has Made It.
Think about it, how many times have you gone to see a semi-famous band, only to sit through one or two local bands that were opening for them? It’s a pretty common set up, some local promoter needed to pad out the show’s lineup, and they called up Death Hippie and XCiter to open the show. Sometimes you get lucky and discover a great band you hadn’t known about, other times? You just want them to finish up so you can see the band you paid to see.
That decision might have been made for any number of reasons – local popularity, or they play a style of music similar to the headlining act, or maybe they were just the first band to answer the phone. Who knows? Sometimes, if the headlining act is famous, a local radio station might hold a contest to decide which local band gets to play with them.
My point is, there are lots of reasons you might get offered the gig that don’t necessarily mean your band is rocketing to the top. Yes, it’s probably a good thing to get to support larger acts, but think of how many long-forgotten bands you’ve sat through while waiting to see the headlining band. It puts things in perspective when you realize that you never heard anything from those opening bands ever again. Either they didn’t rise to fame, or Krokus has a policy of murdering everyone that ever opened a show for them. They DID have an album called “Head Hunter,” it’s not that unlikely.
A high-profile spot opening for a national act can create momentum for a less famous act, but it might also end up just being another show for them. Next week Death Hippie might go right back to opening for that scary hobo that juggles dogs down at the local community center.
2. You May Never Really Meet The Band You’re Opening For.
This was one of the weirder things I learned, although it makes perfect sense. Your band might never interact with the famous band you’re opening for. You might never meet the people in that band. I know a guy whose group toured with several others opening for a relatively famous heavy metal singer. My pal was a huge fan, on top of the world at getting the gig, and figured that he would become best buds with his hero. He was only in the same room with the guy a handful of times, and very briefly. After a month long tour, he finally managed to get a photo of the two of them together, and that was the extent of their new “friendship.”
Everyone is different, but many rock stars tend to be insulated from a lot of the things that make their concerts possible, and that includes the opening bands. A lot of times the guys in a famous band are either sitting somewhere in a private area backstage, or they don’t even show up at the venue until right before they go on. Afterwards, they’re immediately whisked away to wherever the oiled midgets and swimming pools full of cocaine are located.
They’re not generally going to be interested in having a few after show beers with the local bands that opened their concert, especially bands they’ve probably never heard of before.
Years ago, my friend Doug’s band opened up for KISS at a beach concert. The closest he got to any members of KISS was in a huge tent set aside for the bands, and the sex-obsessed senior citizen clowns in KISS were in a separate area that was roped off. My friend got just close enough to hear Paul Stanley make a derisive remark about him (that he looked like Nikki Sixx, but without the money). Burned by Paul Stanley! Oh the humanity!
So yeah, even bands that play multiple shows on the same tour with a famous act might never really spend much time with them. They might be traveling independently of one another, staying at different hotels, and only be in the same general place when they’re at the venue for the show.
3. Famous Musicians Are Often Nothing Like Your Image of Them.
Rock music of all types is dependent on a certain amount of illusion. As hard as it may be to believe the guys in Slayer probably aren’t really Satanists, David Bowie probably isn’t really a space alien, the women in Poison don’t wear Revlon on their days off, and GWAR aren’t actually monsters with giant cocks. Beyond the images they’ve carefully crafted (and ALL famous musicians have some kind of image they’ve carefully created) the reality of what they’re actually like is often completely different.
If you do manage to spend any time with the rock stars your band opens up for, particularly if they’ve been around for a few years, you may discover that despite the image of non-stop partying, a lot of those people are surprisingly sedate and boring off stage.
I once had a singer for a famous industrial band ask me a question since I was local and knew my way around town. What was the question? Where could he score heroin? Did I know which of the local groupies to avoid?
No, he asked me if I knew a good vegetarian restaurant near the club we were playing at.
Sigh. Illusions crushed.
4. My Idea of What a Rock Star Is has Changed.
After opening for a lot of bands that I had grown up listening to and idolizing, most of my preconceptions about stardom slowly faded away like Ozzy’s memory and speech skills.
Many of the bands I opened for played large clubs by that point in their careers. They’d been around for awhile and were still hitting the road, but they weren’t playing stadiums anymore, if they ever had. Nothing wrong with that, but it was interesting to learn that many of them had some form of day job or another income stream apart from their music.
I had a lot of situations where I’d meet some guy I’d thought of as a rock star in my youth, and find out he was a nice person that worked at a record store when he wasn’t touring. I began to think of rock musicians differently. There are the people and bands with what I call “Perma-Fame” – they’ve been been around long enough and gotten famous enough that just about anyone would recognize them or know them by name. People like Mick Jagger or Keith Richards would fit that category, guys like Taime Downe would probably not. Basically if my parents have never heard of a person, then they don’t have Perma-Fame.
However, that doesn’t mean that the people lacking Perma-Fame aren’t famous on some level, or that their music sucks. In a lot of cases, I would take the music of those less-known rockers over more famous ones any day. Aerosmith may be enormously popular, but that doesn’t change the fact that Steven Tyler is a prune faced goblin that needs a constant supply of baby blood to survive. Worse still, when was the last decent Aerosmith album released? Thirty five years ago? More? Never?
Would the world have been any worse off if The Rolling Stones had called it quits after “Tattoo You”? Would we have lost out on anything good? Doubtful, but they’re still putting out albums decades later, releasing records that millions buy but no one actually seems to listen to. Here’s a test: try to name a good Rolling Stones song from the last twenty five years.
Can’t do it? Neither can Keith Richards.
So my hats off to the musicians that are still playing shows and making good music despite the fact that their level of fame may have peaked or diminished, or they’re only considered rock stars by a small segment of the population.
In the end, anyone that manages to make an even meager living for themselves playing music without self destructing or becoming a bad joke is worthy of my respect.
Now get in the van! Those Death Hippie shows aren’t going to play themselves, and we’re opening for Blackie Lawless tonight. He fucks like a beast, apparently…