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Dark stage and an unexperienced fretless player

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by dr_gonzo, Dec 17, 2018.

  1. dr_gonzo


    Apr 27, 2017
    Hi everyone,

    I just wanted to share an experience that I had over the weekend.

    I've been playing bass for a while, but only in the last year I got really serious about learning, practicing and being a good player. It's been awesome, because I've trascended from playing covers in my living room to actually having a band and composing the basslines in our original songs.

    Our format is usually semi accoustic. Cajon and other percussive items (no drums), guitar and a bass. Our band leader said that she loved the sound of the fretless and that it'd be perfect for our sound. I agreed, and loved the idea of the challenge that playing fretless meant. So I've been at it for the last three months. I've practiced really hard to play on tune consistently and also to do a better job interpreting and letting the instrument "sing".

    The gig
    So last saturday we had what was our biggest gig so far. Around 15 "upcoming" bands, a fairly large stage and lots of people in a hill outside town. We were meant to play 4th. We arrive early hoping we could do a soundcheck and to chill and check out the other bands. When we arrive, the staff says that they're almost 2 hrs behind schedule because the generator isn't working (we're literally playing in the mountains). So, we wait. Then, the guy in charge comes to us and says that we need to play first because the bands that were supposed to play before us hadn't arrived yet and we needed to get started. We refused but he just wouldn't take a no. We HAD to open. So we did. When on stage, I couldn't hear the percussions at all. This had never happened to me because we usually play much smaller gigs, and it really threw me off. We started playing our set after dark and the stage was very dimmly lit, and I couldn't see my fretboard at all. I panicked a little bit inside and did my best to let the musuclar memory flow and to follow my ear, but messed up a bunch of times. The generator failed twice during our set, and everything shut down for ~5 minutes each time. We were out of focus, nervous and just not feeling it at all.

    The aftermath
    We obviously felt like crap about the whole ordeal. It's so frustrating to rehearse a show, to work on your tunes and have everything go wrong when you have to show your creation. We gained an enormous ammount of experience during this gig, alas, the hard way. We definetely need more practice and to work more on our transitions and endings, but also... if we're playing 4th, we will play 4th. If you don't want us to play, we'll leave. We were the guinnea pigs for the festival's organisation and to suck it up so the other bands could sound better. I absolutely HAVE to practice without looking at my fretboard so I can trust my hands & ears better.

    I guess I just need to vent. What are your experiences regarding stuff like this? I would also love some advice on how to get better at playing fretless blindly. Thank you so much for your attention.


    Mar 7, 2017
    Ontario, Canada
    Our last gig had a similarly bad experience, although mostly the band's fault. How I deal with it is by getting pissed off about it every time I think about it for weeks after.

    I know that’s neither constructive nor useful to you. But I can empathize with you.

    Sorry to hear about it.

    The best I can tell you is that this specific situation will probably never happen to you again. So it’s over and done with.
  3. mpm32


    Jan 23, 2009
    Practice in the dark, literally. Or with your eyes closed. When I played my unlined fretless as my main bass, it really helped. Also helped train my ears too.
    IamGroot, Mr_Moo, JMacBass65 and 14 others like this.
  4. dr_gonzo


    Apr 27, 2017
    Yeah, this will be on my permanent practice schedule for 2019. I never knew how dependant I was on looking at the fretboard because I never had to play in the dark with the fretless. Turns out the dots really help on the fretted. I can only take this as a growing experience, but man was I frustrated.
  5. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    1) Hand percussion is never loud enough to be heard on a big stage, so maybe have the percussionist use a mic and bring a small amp with a line out for the PA.

    2) You can get position markers for the side of your neck to help you visualize where you are. I believe, but am not certain, they make dots that glow in the dark. Might be worth checking out. I put a couple of dots on one of my basses because even after all these years I rely on the octave markers and I'm happier when they are there.

    3) Arguing with the show organizers when they ask you to play is a good way to never get asked back. It's their show. You're the hired talent. If they want you to go on first, that's the thing to do. I'm sorry it worked out that way on this show but we've all been there.
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Sorry, but the real lesson is that any multi-band event is a crap shoot and you need to be ready for anything. Refusing to play because you don't get your own way is a good way to not get asked back for these events.

    I've played in tons of these events over the years and they never, ever go off as planned. I do know that the planners appreciate the bands that make things easier, not harder.
    Mr_Moo, JMacBass65, pcake and 20 others like this.
  7. dr_gonzo


    Apr 27, 2017
    Thank you so much for the imput. I guess I was just frustrated. I agree with you... and really, that's the reason why we accepted playing in the first place, obviously. So much to learn!
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    I'm new to gigging as well (just played my 5th) and am discovering that it can be a an endless minefield of unknowns - the infamous Murphy must not be a gigging musician because he does like to keep us on our toes.

    All you can do is prepare your best and try to be nimble because things will almost never go entirely as planned. As your experience grows, you'll be more prepared for stuff, because you will have done it before.
    Mr_Moo and squidtastic like this.
  9. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Good luck, we've all been there. I actually prefer to go on first. It usually the only time we start anywhere close to the time we were told.
  10. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    good luck with your fretless work! :thumbsup:
  11. Medicine Man

    Medicine Man

    Apr 10, 2015
    Several years ago a dark stage and fretless bass inspired me to both buy a lighting rig, and have a quarterly "blindfold" practice.
    LowActionHero likes this.
  12. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    Yep, it gets frustrating sometimes. I just had an experience at a benefit that was less than perfect, myself. I think we all know your pain :)
    retslock likes this.
  13. REV


    Jun 18, 2006
    When playing any fretless instrument, open strings are your friend (provided they are in tune). Hitting an open "A" will help me find where the "A" is on my "E" string etc. After that it's all hand positions. As others have said, practicing in the dark or with your eyes closed is also helpful.
    Mr_Moo, LowActionHero and hintz like this.
  14. dr_gonzo


    Apr 27, 2017
    Thanks, that's really helpful! I wonder what my girlfriend will think when she comes home and sees me practicing in the corner of a dark room.
    EVerderame likes this.
  15. nilorius


    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    When playing fretless you will always have a situation on stahe where your eyes are off the frets, like watching notes. That is why you have to train your ears much, to stay right. Good luck.
    Artman and Dark Red Moon like this.
  16. If you are ever in that position again, you should do exactly what you did. Suck it up and play as good as you can with a smile on your face. Then get pissed about it when the show is over. If you continue playing live, you will probably find yourself in similar or worse situations again.
    I recently watched a rig rundown with Juan Aldrete, who is currently playing with Marilyn Manson. He uses a Warwick that has glow in the dark fret markers built into it for use on a smoky stage. He also said he has used tape on the side of his neck in the past so he can feel where he is at on stages with poor visibility. I have also seen guitarist and bassist use glow in the dark stickers to help with this problem. Good Luck in the future and as I said before you and your band mates did the right thing.
    zZippy and LBS-bass like this.
  17. ThinCrappyTone

    ThinCrappyTone Mostly harmless Supporting Member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Massachusetts, USA
    I like having one of these
  18. ThinCrappyTone

    ThinCrappyTone Mostly harmless Supporting Member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Massachusetts, USA
    A3D7395E-936C-4AA6-9E43-7E1F47E2D6A6. also... luminlay side dots
    SmokinJoe992, Artman, zZippy and 10 others like this.
  19. Leonid Nidis

    Leonid Nidis

    Jan 1, 2018
    poopie happens,keep on and moove on.I have seen and done worse...much worse :)
    About not hearing percussion I had that once and I just played looking on the drummers hands,turned out realy good.
    Mr_Moo, Old Blastard, Artman and 2 others like this.
  20. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I totally agree. However, if the promoter is asking you to do something that is going to have potentially worse effects than incurring the promoters censure, then you should consider 2nd and 3rd order effects of your decisions. For example, if the promote is asking you to perform in hazardous conditions or in a setting that will do severe damage to your reputation, then you should probably stand your ground.

    This sounds like a totally jacked situation where the OP's group was presented in a manner that probably damaged their reputation. I would say there is a good chance that the band that was supposed to open recognized how bad the situation was, and left rather than participating. Probably a good decision, but it should be considered carefully, especially if the promoter is legit and has contacts and power.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2018
    Mr_Moo, Artman and FugaziBomb like this.

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