The word show gets used at least a hundred times throughout my day. Planning shows, booking shows, marketing shows. But when it comes down to playing a show, what is it I’m actually doing? A show or performance implies that I’m putting on something, that I’m presenting a version or rendition of reality. Actually when I’m on stage, it’s the complete opposite: I’m taking off any façade and being as honest as possible. In fact, I think I’m more myself on stage than I am on the street.
And to that effect, I’ve decided I don’t play shows. I play anti-shows.
I can remember years of feeling nervous about what to say in between songs. Should I prepare bits? Get a shtick? Adopt a stage persona? And what about when I’m playing music? Close my eyes? Stomp my feet? All that pre-planning leads to a confusing and awkward live performance. It's too much to keep track of, and calamities occur: a person ends up trying punk-rock head banging, Elvis hip-swivels, and purring like Earth Kitt all at once.
The longer I stay in the music industry, the more I’ve learned that the audience doesn’t want to see performers doing anything but being themselves. They want to relate to you doing your natural thing, whatever that is. Which is a huge relief, because it’s hard enough trying to figure out who I am without having to figure out who everybody else wants me to be.
Musician/entertainers get so swept up in the concept of entertaining that we can start thinking of performances as an audience of real folks watching a stage of surreal ones. But it seems to me that my best nights of performing have come from approaching the room like we’re all there having a night of being ourselves, and the musicians play some good music too. These days, I'm taking any energy I would have spent coming up with something to say or do before a performance, and using it instead to get down to what I really am, what really moves me, and how to best share it.
I’ve had a great round of anti-shows this week. Playing SPACE with Jonathan Edwards was so fun, plus the turnout was phenomenal. And Saturday night at The Brink in Madison was a full house, packed with some of the warmest, genuine folks I’ve met. One audience member came up to me afterwards and said the performance broke through every trivial thing they thought was important and brought them to their most primitive state of being. I rest my case. -Em P.S. Thanks to the mystery lady in the front row for snapping this photo.