Open Mic Adventures

I’ve always considered the recorded versions of my songs to be the definitive ones. It’s taken me a long time to appreciate that playing the songs with only an acoustic guitar and voice is a worthwhile endeavor. I do believe that if you can’t strip a song down to the basics, then it’s probably not very good.

I’ve got no shortage of original songs, but I can play only about 10 of them in the acoustic & voice style. There are 3 songs from my upcoming album that I’ve been working to include in my open mic set. Last Thursday, I headed with Maureen down to Lizards Liquid Lounge to try them out.

I started out with my new song, Famous Bones. Went pretty well, but I’m still trying to come up with a good strumming rhythm. The recording of the song features a piano and has no guitar at all. There are also some vocal parts that work on the recording but don’t translate very well live and I have to rework. All in all, this song with its catchy chorus went over pretty well.

I purposely alternated between new songs I was shaky on, and older songs I’ve been playing for years by muscle memory alone. For my second tune I went with Dark Kind of Guy.

My voice was strong on this, because again, I’ve sung it a million times at open mic and on stage with Boolean Knife. I need to get my new songs up to the comfort level of the old ones. Just takes practice, getting up there, and not worrying about messing up.

My third song was pretty messed up. Shangri-La has almost no guitar on the recording, so I still have to zero in on a good way to play it with just an acoustic. There is also a falsetto part in the chorus which takes a lot of energy to sell. Sounds great on the record, but if I can’t bring the goods going forward I may drop it down an octave. I feel that’s a little lame though. Time will tell what the open-mic arrangement will be. At one point, I totally lost my place in the song and stopped playing all together for 2-3 seconds. This was the first trainwreck I’ve had in years. To be fair, there were only about 10 people in the bar and as far as I can tell, nobody was really listening anyhow. I feel like I bombed, but I also feel that’s something that had to happen to me at one point.

I tend to be a perfectionist, which is all well and good in the studio because I can go back and fix whatever I want. Recording isn’t exactly a real-time exercise. I think I’m too used to that kind of perfection, so when I screw up in front of people it really stings. But, whatevs. Couldn’t have picked a less engaged crowd.

After Shangri-La, I finished up with the Boolean Knife song, Antarctica, which I can play and sing very confidently.

I changed up the ending of the song a bit on the fly (which is something I can apparently do if I’m ultra-comfortable with a song).

So, yeah. There were miles of distance between the quality of my regular songs and my brand new songs. I just have to keep at it. From where I sit today, I don’t feel like going to open mic this week, but I know I should. I will tweet if I do go, so if you feel like seeing this experiment in action you can come out. Lizards is located at Irving Park and Albany in Chicago.

Thanks go out to Chris Chickenwing Quigley for hosting the event, and to Johnny C. for serving up the various IPAs that helped me relax a little bit before (and after!) getting up there.


read Smashing Pumpkins at United Center
read The Golden Art of Rafael Araujo