Showtime! A Day in the Life of a Guitar Tech Pt. 10 - Reactor Shutdown

Even in the case of a dreadful show – and, thus, a dreadful evening – chances are it really wasn’t the local crew’s fault. The artist, too, is most likely not in his (or her) best mood, if the show was a troubled one. And I’m also cheesed off for the same reason. Sometimes you simply want to flee to the safety of the tour coach, and forget about everything. Tonight the bouncers weren’t quite up to the task, allowing some fans to jump onto the stage during the gig.

But remember, you’re a pro and you have to stay professional, even when things go wrong. Don’t vent your anger at the local staff and stagehands – you may meet again the next time you come around. Give them a nice “Thank you!”, and you will be remembered in a positive light. Even if you’re thinking “I will never come back here, ever again!”, the world is a funny place and full of surprises. When karma knocks on your door, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Don’t offer lame excuses

If things went badly pear-shaped during the show, don’t try to to talk your way out of things using lame excuses. It would be much better for the crew as a whole, to turn their attention to the next show in the calendar, and the ponder mistakes and solutions tomorrow with a rested mind. After a night slept on the tour bus, superfluous, little details will have been washed away, leaving you to get a grip on the important aspects of what went wrong.

If your client wants to hear an explanation, give him one, but also be ready to face his criticism or anger like the true pro you really are.

Giving feedback

Even if there have been other problems, apart from technical glitches, during the show, your client won’t probably be interested in talking about them right now. If you want to give any feedback to the band members, wait until everybody’s pulse has normalized. There’s a time and place for everything – either on the bus after a couple of beers, tomorrow at soundcheck, or even never.

How good was the show?

Depending on who you ask, people’s views on the quality of tonight’s gig can vary widely. Even though everything went perfectly on stage, the FOH-guy might say this was a mediocre performance. And then there is the audience, the fans, whose take on the show might be totally different to those of the band or crew.

My evening was plagued by a row of small disasters. I wouldn’t have noticed wrong lighting cues or a blown-out PA-system, because I was too concentrated on crisis management tonight. I couldn’t even tell you anything about the band’s performance, because from my angle this show was dreadful.

In reality, the equipment gremlins pushed the band into delivering a fantastic show against all odds. The mixer’s angle is that this was “one of our best shows, ever”. He didn’t think that the technical troubles had any real bearing on the show, but is very enthusiastic about the “great gig”! It is very seldom the case that everybody agrees fully, when it comes to our post-show manoeuvre critique. Tonight I sincerely hope that the crowd really had a good time.

Evacuating the backstage area

Our bus driver has awoken from his extensive nap, and has now started the bus to get the air-conditioning going. To get the band and crew onto the bus more quickly, our sly driver starts transferring all drinks from the backstage fridge to the tour bus (with the approval of our tour manager). Like little lemmings the whole entourage starts to make for the coach. The crew grab hold of their bags and take a last look to see if anything has been left behind by mistake.

The stage clothes

Keeping the group’s onstage apparel intact over the whole course of a tour is an art form in itself. After the gig the band’s clothes are drenched in sweat, and may not dry completely overnight. Usually, everybody tries to dry their clothes before stepping on the bus, which is good for the sake of the whole entourage. Leather, especially suede, starts to take on a life of its own over time. After a couple of weeks on the road, it might get hard to get your kit on at all.

Sometimes the band might surmise that the technicians will take care of getting the last pieces of the stage clothes back on the bus. But that may pose a problem, as you can never be quite sure, if the clothes lying around in the dressing room belong to your band, or to an act who have played this venue two nights ago. The crew tries to sift through the rubble and identify the right clothes to take out with them. If we’re lucky, we will be able to hang them to dry in the trailer on the way to the next venue.

Fans at the back entrance

There will be a few fans waiting outside the back door. If the band care for their fans (and their image) they should take a couple of minutes for a few photo opportunities and autographs. They may feel a little battle-weary by this point, but this really is part of being a band on tour. If you get this over with in style, you can be sure that these fans will come back to see you the next time around.

The crew help with keeping things safe for “their” band, as well as by carrying the group’s bags. Now the artists can greet their most-loyal fans.

Comfy clothes

Regardless of whether you’re talking about a rocking band or their crew, once on the coach – and out of the public eye – everyone’s going to change into their comfy “bus clothes”. Some of these clothes you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with in broad daylight, but it really is such a relief to be able to shed your work uniforms. The tour bus isn’t a place for haute couture, but rather a safe zone to feel good and relax after a day’s worth of hard work. Comfortable clothes are a part of this relaxation.

Grab a bite

If you haven’t had time for lunch, or if the catering didn’t provide enough food, you could also end your day eating, rather than drinking. A man’s got to have a real closer to round out the busy day – it could be resting in the arms of a woman, it could be a little fistfight, or grabbing something deliciously greasy at the nearest grill. Stuffing your face, clad in old sports clothes, may be just the ticket for shutting your reactor off for today.

Tour bus partying

A posse that has been efficiently deafened by the roar of a show has a tendency to turn up the volume on the coach’s stereo. And if somebody manages to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, volume levels will probably rise further. It’s easy to drown the sorrows of the day in alcohol, and some will stay on to ponder the great problems of life, while others will want to get some sleep. Tonight we only have a very short trip to our next destination. Some leave the bus and head for the next bar. It’s finally quiet on the coach, but not for long.

From one extreme to the other

I turn around in my sleep, but am suddenly, and rudely, awoken by a godless ruckus. The whole bus seems to vibrate. Somewhere in the front there’s loud singing and hand-clapping. Many others have also been ripped from their well-deserved sleep – I can see all band members, as well as part of the crew looking out from their bunks. Sounds like our night-owls have made contact with the local boozers, and brought a few of them back to the bus. The clock seems to be five in the morning. Our coach driver is most likely asleep in his hotel room, as is the tour manager. There isn’t much night left for us, before we have to get up again. What can be done?

I remember an incident from about two weeks ago: Some of us had been listening to music at night in the front of the bus. In our minds we were behaving well, but you tend to listen to music at a whole different volume level (and much more holistically), when you’re drunk. Suddenly, just as we all were harmonizing to the music, the sleeping compartment door was thrown open. Our bus driver marched up to us with a very unpleasant look on his face. He didn’t say a single word, but instead grabbed the stereo and ripped out the audio cables, sending the broken plugs flying all around. We all got his point, and a soothing quiet fell over the whole of the bus.

A few days after this incident, I went and repaired the stereo. The next week went down peacefully, and everybody behaved themselves and kept sensible volume levels. But right now, I’m in trouble, with the band pleading with me to do something. The noise from the front only seems to increase all the while. “Go to it, Kimmo!”, somebody says. I pluck up my courage and get out of bed. I drag the sliding door open and am faced with a grisly scene: A girl in Spandex gyrates her hips on the sofa, there’s a man I don’t know on the floor, people are smoking on the bus (a big no-no), and a few people are dancing in a close embrace. I do it with some trepidation, but I get the job done: I violently rip apart the stereo’s leads, almost pushing the whole set off the shelf.

“This noise stops right now! And all you bar bums – get the f*ck off our bus!”, I tell them and point at the front doors.

I return to the sleeping compartment to the sound of quiet clapping. “That was fantastic!”, somebody mumbles from one of the beds. I slide back into my bed and try to calm down again. Three hours before we all have to get up, and do it all over again. I wonder how this day on tour will turn out…

24.12.2014 Kimmo Aroluoma (Translated by: Martin Berka, Pics: Harri Huuhtanen) The author is one of Custom Sounds’ owners, and an incorrigible guitar and gear enthusiast.