The first time I attended a legitimately D.I.Y. house show it happened to be a grindcore show that took place in Flagstaff, AZ at an underage-drinking-friendly venue called Stab Mountain. Despite the harsh sound of the main band, Iron Lung, that night, I was immediately endeared to them via their stage banter.
Between every short, heinous explosion of sound were some of the cleverest in-between-song quips my teenage ears had heard. They made fun of emo kids with Spock haircuts; they teased kids about their t-shirts in the front row, had short conversations with the crowd, all before jumping back into pure thrash mayhem. I banged my head. I busted a gut. These guys, in effect, were breaking a barrier that most aren’t aware exists; the fourth wall that separates ‘performer’ from ‘audience member.’ The 30 or so kids in that sweaty basement were being acknowledged as more than just a drop in a donation bucket.
There is a flip side to that coin. In the same town I once saw a hippie jam band in a public square. A few small children played around on the stairs in front of them as their parents frowned against the sun. During a pause, the ponytailed frontman took the opportunity to tell a joke about the current administration, utilizing the double entendre ‘Bush/bush.’ The presence of the kids, the racy joke, the political nature of said racy joke, it was too much for me and so I escaped to a nearby Cold Stone Creamery.
My point is that the things you say on stage, into a microphone, can gain lifelong followers or alienate an entire demographic. Nobody is asking you to be Jim Carrey, but a little character never hurt anyone. Here’s one possible template of what to say and when to say it:
Say the name of your act. No need for individual member introductions. Chances are no one cares, and if they do they can ask you your name after the show when you’re all hanging out in the same bar or backyard. If you’re going for dramatic effect, or you intend to maintain a genre-appropriate attitude throughout the set, now’s your chance to set the pace. Over feedback holler something to the tune of ‘Get up! Get up let me see ya!’ or to quote hardcore band Hatebreed; ‘When I wake up…the real nightmare begins!’ It’s important to make sure the rest of the band is prepared; nothing more embarrassing than baring your soul only to have to follow it up by turning around to hum the opening riff to a stoned guitarist.
You should only be shouting ‘thanks!’ real quick into the mic at this point, preferably over feedback and immediately followed by stick clicks.
Now that you’ve reached the first planned timeout, you can begin to engage the crowd and possibly stretch those comedy muscles. With one hand on the tuning pegs, one eye on the tuning pedal at your feet, tell the crowd a joke. If you’re out of town, maybe comment on the local culture. ‘So we were rolling into town earlier today…and we noticed you guys have a lot of Sonics. Is that like the thing out here? You guys eat a lot of Sonic?’ You’ve now shown you care about them as people and as a region.
Know Your Audience:
If the crowd is wearing a lot of patches and spikes, pepper your set with generalities regarding police force and maybe highlight the different ways the human race has displayed a lack of compassion. If the crowd is more athletic-shorts-and-visor types, suggest ‘opening the pit up’ a little bit. You need to read the crowd; perhaps they want to lift their drug paraphernalia to the sky in salute, maybe they want to destroy all posers. When you’ve gauged the crowd you can decide where to go with the banter. Don’t be shy (unless that’s the mystique you are working to create, in that case eff ‘em and play with your back turned).
The Big Sell:
Shill your wares in the breather before the big final number. Make a joke about how the money will go towards beer. Be aloof to prove that it’s still all about the music, but verbalize your appreciation of their attendance. Then say ‘alright, last song is called…’ and shout the title, again preferably over some form of white noise. If you push your stuff after the last song, the climax will lose its power. Let that last note hang in the air and wave to the bar as you hide behind the bass cabinet like it’s a green room.
Like a good movie, a performer can make their audience laugh, cry, fume, and/or puke. Let your conscious mind be your guide. Take a wrecking ball to the fourth wall and don’t be afraid to break the rules of audience engagement.
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[Audience image from Shutterstock.]