Nothing Teaches Like Playing Live

By now, loyal readers know Robert’s mantra: “Nothing teaches like playing live.”  Somehow it gets twisted into a euphemism for “stuff happens.”  This may be the right time to confess that Robert’s mantra is not as cockamamie as it seems.  

As we packed up at Old Ironsides a couple of Saturdays ago, we were told “how tight” our playing was, that we have “come a long way,” and that we were “way better than before.”  A talented LA musician said that we were “better than expected.”  Of course, we who see the glass as half full believe these to be compliments.  Those who see the glass half empty see such statements as confirming how bad we were before.

No matter whether the glass is half full or half empty, we have learned not to say something like, “How can you say that?  I missed the [fill in the blank] in the second verse of . . . .”  Playing live has taught us to say, “Thank you.  We hope that you had fun.”  After all, stuff happens.

Of course, playing live also means that we make mistakes.  Sure, we should learn from our mistakes.  Unfortunately, type A folks and perfectionists focus on mistakes.  So do critics.  But fear of making -- or playing only to correct -- mistakes stifles creativity.  Playing live requires playing through mistakes.  We have learned that very few people really expect perfection.  Fun is more important.

Sometimes playing live means taking chances.  We have learned by taking chances.  Trying to play in the dark does not work.  Thinking that I can play lead and dance a same time is delusional.  Age and being out of shape limit how high a person can jump.  You are absolutely correct that sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone results in mistakes.  That augers for moderation.  But, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess.”

Playing live always exposes weaknesses.  A real musician once told me, “You guys would be good if your skills matched your enthusiasm.”  Crest fallen, I thought, “Isn’t making a fool of yourself to entertain others a talent?”  A good friend said, “Playing simple melodies.  Is that all that you do?”  Once again, my silent retort was, “We also have fun.”

So why are we conceding the validity of Robert’s mantra?  Contrary to what the naysayers and pessimists say, we have learned to be a band.  That is from leaving the Doghouse and playing live.  Sure, our skills may not match our enthusiasm.  We may not be as experienced or musically perfect as others.  But live musical perfection is for the symphony and critics.

Playing live has taught us that we are what we are -- nothing more.  We are not going to be perfect; we measure success on a fun quotient.  We are often loud.  We are always unsophisticated.  We have learned that we do not do subtle well.  Precise musicality is not our forte.  We may be best when we are on the brink of going out of control.  But an audience usually can count on us to be energetic.  The Lava Pups are not four people standing still on stage in search of perfection.

Yes, Robert’s mantra is not far-fetched at all.  Truly, nothing teaches like playing live!

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