I used to be just like you. I thought that rock shows were simple. I thought you just showed up, had a few stiff drinks, and had your mind (generally) blown by the bands onstage.
Now I know better. As house manager and talent buyer at Rickshaw Stop, I see all the chaos that goes on behind the scenes. And I know just how many of your favorite shows nearly collapsed into misery and mayhem.
Here, then, is an inside look at all the things that can go awry with a show – and a peek at the people who make sure you never know about them – in the course of one day.
The bar manager opens the door to find the cleaning crew cursing. During the previous night's show, someone broke open a pinata, and all the candy affixed itself to the floor. The crew gets out La Machina – kind of a Zamboni without ice – and vanquishes (most of) the candy.
The headlining band calls to say they're going to be late for the 4 p.m. load-in time. The excuse? Something about chronic constipation and the guitarist's dog dying.
The show manager arrives to find the ice machine empty. He calls the company that rents out the equipment, and they say someone will be by to fix it, but not until the next day. The manager jumps on his bike, calculating how many bags of ice he can haul on his back.
Three employees call: One is massively hungover, the other has a nasty staph infection, and the third has a friend visiting from Bulgaria. The manager phones everyone who's not already working, but no one answers.
The ladies' room toilet is still clogged from the night before. When the manager unscrews the toilet from the floor and flushes it out with a hose, he discovers big shards of glass blocking the pathway. Is throwing your pint in the toilet a new thing?
The opening band shows up for soundcheck, but without their drums, which they were supposed to share with the headliner. The drummer jumps in his car and hurries back to the East Bay as fast as he can in logjam rush hour traffic. The headliner shows up and complains about the lack of drums.
After taking an hour to set up, the headliner finally starts soundchecking. The lighting rig begins going bonkers, and the tour manager freaks out, saying that strobes give the drummer seizures.
The drums arrive. Soundcheck continues. The sound guy can't locate the cause of a low-level feedback buzz. He swaps out a cable. He swaps out a monitor. It's still buzzing. The bassist goes out for a smoke, then jumps in a cab and roars off.
The headliner decides they finally sound good enough, but they refuse to move any of their gear, so the opener has to set up on the floor.
The bassist is still missing. There's a minimal amount of ice. Bartenders furiously cut limes. The manager runs around, tucking band equipment backstage. Time to open the doors. Deep breaths, crossed fingers.
The opener begins their set with the crowd pressed up against them on the floor. The intimacy galvanizes the band, and they deliver an amazing set.
The headliner's bassist returns. The lighting tech keeps the visuals minimal, so that the drummer doesn't pass out. The singer spends most of the set singing in the crowd, which eliminates the feedback buzz.
It's all over. The fans walk out with big smiles on their faces, oblivious to what has transpired. The Bulgarian friend pitched in, and the second cousin kicked ass. The tour manager does shots with the sound guy and the show manager. The club will survive to rock another day.