Dresden Dolls crowd shot by: kirstiecat.com
“If you give it good concentration, good energy, good heart and good performance, the song will play you.” –Levon Helm
I love this quote almost as much as I love Levon himself. It makes me think about that completely unmatched energy I always feel the moment I inch my drum throne toward my bass drum just seconds before count-off in front of a big crowd. That incredible feeling I get at our shows when I realize how much fun it’s going to be to play our songs for this crowd, no matter how many hundreds of times we’ve played them before. The power of performance can be completely unreal, and Levon is right on: when the circumstances are right and you give it your all, a song can have this magical way of carrying you through it. It’s like you don’t even realize the chemistry of what’s being created through a combination of musicianship and sheer energy.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. I may be a big romantic, a sucker for the power of a monitor, a pair of sticks, and an audience, but I’m certainly not saying that it’s advisable to sit back and try to let the adrenaline of a show do the work for you. It’s a fine balance but NOT an exact science: equal-ish parts work, focus, and holy-crap-this-is-fun.
I guess I’m thinking of all this right now because of the ubiquity of Big Flashy Shows on around New Year’s Eve. And while I don’t always buy into the hullabaloo surrounding such shows (you know – a whole lotta special effects can never really mask a crummy show), there is something pretty fantastical about an excuse to make a rock show even more a transcendent experience than it already is. I don’t usually go to shows on New Year’s Eve, but a couple years ago I made an exception and went to see The Dresden Dolls, a personal favorite, at the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center. And I gotta tell you, it was pretty amazing: All of these beside-themselves-excited fans all crammed up against the stage, all cozy in the heat of the venue and the anticipation of the opening chords of the first song. And then the drums! The opening crack of the snare, that thundering roll leading up to the first notes, the ghosts of ghosts reminding you just how dynamic and thrill-inducing our unwieldy instrument can be! Total rhythmic intoxication, right there.
Photo of Levon by: Frank Beacham – www.beachamjournal.com/
Why am I talking about all this in a drum magazine? I guess because the drums aren’t the sort of instrument you can play in a vacuum. So I live to draw inspiration and gusto both from seeing other musicians perform and from performing myself. Practicing is essential and ongoing learning about the drums is totally my M.O, but making sure to both see shows and play shows of my own has been completely invaluable not only to my development as a drummer, but to my development into someone who’s madly in love with the drums.
And it’s an important distinction – being a player and being a ravenously passionate player. C’mon, think about it. Hearken back to the butterflies in your stomach when your favorite drummer was filling into her first phrase at that New Year’s Eve gig five years ago. Think hard about that nervous-but-can’t-wait feeling you get before a show, if you can relate to that sorta thing. It’s like the wildest, rockiest, weirdest, fastest and most fabulous relationship I’ve ever had – to a collection of cylinders and metal discs, at least. And while I don’t depend on the miracle of a good performance to make me a good drummer, a good, solid life-long instrument crush never hurt anyone, either.
So – anyone see any heart-breakingly good shows lately?
Temim Fruchter is a Brooklyn-based drummer who taught herself to play at the ripe old age of 26. She played her first show only a few weeks after she picked up her first drum stick. Now the drummer for The Shondes, she spends much of her time working on deepening her skills, building her chops, learning about driving the rhythm in a rock band, and writing and reading about different ways to bang on things. Temim has spent a lot of time thinking about what it takes to be a confident and kick-ass gigging drummer when you didn’t quite expect that that’s what you were gonna be. And she plans to write about some of that here.