If you want to tour the world in a low level underground band like myself (and I’m sure many of you), you really have to learn to deal with a lot of shit and work the best with whatever is handed to you.
This reality actually hit me pretty late, as the first 7 years of my band we spent touring in Canada and the US, and we rarely had to compromise our set-up outside of the odd festival that we played. The first time we really had to deal with using an unfamiliar backline was when we went to Europe in 2009. Obviously we could not afford to fly over all our gear (we could barely afford to fly ourselves over), so we were at the mercy of the gear we would be given. Luckily there was a backline for the whole tour and all the gear was pretty decent, except for this really shitty Sound City cab (or Sound Shitty as we called it), and I still question it’s authenticity. The input jack was dangling from a couple of wires held together with tape and we had to “fix” it several times on tour. Besides that we were pretty set with gear. We had a 5150, 5150 II, an Orange bass head with an Ampeg 8×10 and a nice drum kit. We even got PA speakers so that we could run our samples like how we normally do at home. Even with these decent conditions we still struggled a bit and did not feel all that comfortable playing.
The next time we ran into this situation, and this is the brutal one, Scion had flown us out to play 3 shows with a couple of stoner rock type bands and we were given a back line that we were totally not comfortable with and it really showed in our performance. I left that experience feeling somewhat defeated, but also enlightened as to what my reality of touring and playing shows was becoming.
At this point we were starting to tour Europe regularly and did all our following tours with a punk label from Italy. They had a backline we could use, but again it wasn’t what we were used to using back home. We had a couple of Marshalls (900 & 2100 I believe) with 4×12 cabs, and a Behringer Ultrabass head with a 4×12. The drum kit was beat-up to say the least. It’s then we realized how spoiled we had been on our first European tour and those Scion dates.
Slowly starting to catch on, we would spend the last few practices before leaving for Europe with our gear set-up differently at our jam space and tried our best to recreate an uncomfortable situation for ourselves, just to be mentally prepared for what was ahead. It sort of paid off, and I felt like every time we went back to Europe we were getting more comfortable playing with whatever was handed to us.
It has been a couple of years now since I learned to embrace the disorder and uncomfortable situations, and in doing so I think it helped our performances even when we had all our gear in ideal situations. I realized that if I wanted to travel the world and play my music; I would have to learn to work with whatever was thrown at me. It didn’t matter if it was a $3000 amp or a $30 combo. I had to make it work, sound good and still destroy on stage.
Recently we were truly put to the test on our tour of Mexico, and that’s actually the reason I thought of writing this. We had a different backline at every show and often it was just a Line 6 combo amp or worse. There were times that there was no drum stool, so the drummer just grabbed a patio chair. The stage sound was either bad or horrible. Definitely it was tough playing some of these shows in Mexico, but for my band to do a Mexican tour this is how it was going to happen, and I much rather be in Mexico grinding than sitting at home dreaming about it.
So if I had any advice to share from my experiences, it’s to learn to play through different amps, different drum sets and even different guitars/basses. Try putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, think about what happens live that makes you fuck up and find ways to work around it or at least recover quickly. You definitely need to learn how to play your instruments, but just as importantly, you need to know how your gear works, how other gear works, how things work on different stages and how to react when things start to go wrong. The people that are watching you don’t care what gear you have at home and how it sounds; they don’t give a shit what it sounds like on stage for you. They’re here now and you have to do everything in your power to put on the best possible show. If you’re up there making excuses or complaining, you just look like a pathetic loser instead of a machine that’s ripping through tunes no matter what’s thrown it’s way.
Ironically, the only real way to learn is through experience, but if you’re not ready to play no matter what’s thrown in front of you, then you’re not ready to hit the road.