Today I intend to tackle the very touchy subject of making mistakes in concert. There are many different types of mistake one can make, from a small slip to a catastrophic failure that stops the song. It’s my opinion that if you wanted perfection you’d have stayed at home and listened to a DVD.
Recently I re-read Nick Mason’s book, Inside Out, and as well as being a very enjoyable story to read some of the funnier sections describe when things went wrong, like inflatables taking off and ending up where they shouldn’t. It really made me realise how much goes wrong for everyone whatever the level they are working at.
In any live situation mistakes can and will happen. Rarely a night goes past without some sort of small slip up, and luckily most go unnoticed. The real problem is when a mistake or fault goes on for longer than one night: then it needs to be addressed by practice or solved with a soldering iron (or a kick).
Here are some of the personal mistakes/technical faults I've cringed at during the last 3 and a bit years.
1) Wish You Were Here
Imagine this, the lights are down, the intro sample is playing, you get to that moment where the light will suddenly illuminate you and only you, then you go to play the first note on what should be a 12 string guitar sound and it ends up coming out like a……. banjo.
The Line 6 Variax guitar had a habit of just changing sound randomly and without the ability to strum a few chords before the song came in, I found it hard to know if it was going to be right. This was rectified by allowing me to monitor the guitar in my ears without it being audible to the rest of the band or audience: this gave me about 15 seconds to sort any issues out. On occasion it still happened and I knew everyone in the band was looking (and probably laughing) at me. I think it was down to a dodgy power supply and the newer model seems not to have the same problems.
The nights that it just didn’t make any sound at all were in my opinion slightly less embarrassing, I got a cheer from the crowd and picked up my electric and soldiered on. People seem to enjoy it when it goes wrong.
2) Run Like Hell Intro
A few days after buying my USA 50s reissue Telecaster I wanted to give it a go live. The perfect opportunity seemed to be Run Like Hell, as it’s a Telecaster song. I got out on stage, picked up the guitar, went to plug the lead in and in the dark somehow managed to wrap the lead around my foot. As I tried to get it free I almost fell over and dropped the guitar onto my volume pedal which turned my rig up to its full loudness. I then tried to turn the volume back down again but ended up just stamping on the guitar a few times. The lead had broken inside the jack socket so I had to change guitar and lead in the dark while the crowd were cheering and mostly unaware of the nightmare I was dealing with. This kind of situation has now been solved by giving us the smallest amount of light between songs, and all on stage are a lot happier.
3) Rig Cutting Out
This has happened a few times. It happened a lot during my Shine On solos, but only if we played Shine On after Sorrow. It was caused by a software bug that has yet to be rectified. If we play Sorrow now I tend to reboot various bits of my rig while Steve is doing the outro. I’ve changed the rack units, updated firmware and moved patches to different banks and the problem still exists. The old trick of turning it off and back on again seems to be the most reliable solution.
There are also a few one offs, like in Liverpool this year when I went for the solo in Keep Talking and there was no sound at all. I went to another sound and it worked but by that time the solo was mostly over. It all came down to a power supply that had worked its way out of a pedal between the first half of the gig and the second half.
4) Strings Slipping
On occasion a string can be at fault, especially with those 2 tone Gilmour bends. On one occasion, while doing the main solo to Another Brick in the Wall Part II my top E started slipping flat. I tried to tune it up in the small gaps between phrases but it had gone too far out. I worked out that it was almost exactly a semitone flat and proceeded to try and play everything on the top E string a semitone up, and apart from the odd moment here or there I think I got away with it. Needless to say I swapped to my other Strat during Jason’s keyboard solo.
5) Forgetting Lyrics
Is it showed us to the land or called us to the land or to move on? Should they leave those kids or us kids alone? I think Echoes took a few goes to get right, but nothing is worse than your first big lyric blunder in an arena. I remember a German audience getting a mumbled phonetic version of the second verse of What Do You Want From Me back in 2011. Oddly enough no one in the band said a word…..
6) Just Playing the Wrong Thing
This can happen for lots of reasons - you spot an audience member doing something that looks intriguing and find you have lost your place or you can get lost in listening to the music so much that you forget you are actually partly involved in playing it! In fact I’m going to almost entirely blame the audience for small mistakes…. If only we could build some kind of wall between us and them…. wait, hang on a minute....
We all slip up sometimes and the trick is to not let it snowball into an actual mistake. Yes, there are mistakes and actual mistakes. If the song carries on and no one seems to notice then it’s not really a mistake, it’s just a jazz moment. Small mistakes happen so often that I am used to them now, they are not born out of not practicing enough, it’s just statistical. If you spend 2 and a half hours on stage you will have a few seconds of mistakes. I have listened back to gigs and not heard things that really bugged me at the time so I have learned to get over these things quickly. Most people just don’t notice.
The comforting thing for me is that the audiences seem to appreciate the little mistakes, because they know that we are real people, playing our hearts out, and that it’s live. If it was too perfect maybe they wouldn’t like it as much. Who knows?! If you are lucky enough to have witnessed one of my (or anyone’s) mistakes then consider it a bonus, you had a unique moment that hopefully won’t happen again.