For the sake of transparency, and against the advice of most of the people close to me, I'm going to expose some chinks in my armor. First, though, let me explain that I do believe that my strength is my songwriting. I learned to play multiple instruments, not by taking lessons but, by sitting down with an instrument (mostly a guitar) and getting melodies out of my head. These days I'm playing more covers than originals and it seems to be exposing limitations that were previously buried under original compositions.
At nearly every show I have played lately there is at least one person who makes a request. As a reminder, before El Paso, I only knew a small handful of cover songs, and most of the time I made them my own. Now, however, I have been doing a decent job at building a repertoire of various genres and when someone makes a request I'm usually confident that I can give them a taste of that song off the top of my head.
Well, I was TOO confident last Saturday when a woman at the bar requested ‘Better Man’ by Pearl Jam. In my defense, just A couple of weeks before, someone requested ‘Black’ at the same bar, and I was able to shovel out some chords and vocals that gave the individual who requested it the impression that I actually knew how to play the song. This has happened before with a number of other songs so, in my mind, Better Man seemed on par technically. It was a little more complicated. What came out was embarrassing, to say the least. To make matters worse, I was really trying to establish myself at the Venue I was playing so I would be invited back as a possible regular performer. It was very bad and the next few songs suffered because my confidence had taken a couple of shots to the ribs. Then, as if the musical Gods were taking the opportunity to keep me humble, my amp was puking out the familiar sound of a fried cable. That was not the end of the musical God's lesson.
I had been practicing using a loop pedal inspired by the seamless well oiled machine that is Julio Ortiz. (Shout out to this local genius… ) In my ever-frazzled state, I was not in a rhythm, timing-wise, or vibe-wise, and what came out was a cacophony of hideous sounds that were reminiscent of a teenager noodling in his basement, not a professional performer. I heard the stirrings of the critics so I regrouped, took an early break, changed my cables, and sacrificed a baby cow to appease the music Gods. Luckily, the second set was better, the third set was solid, and the wonderful venue is looking into booking me further. The takeaway from this experience was that it's ok to tell a listener that I am unable to play their request currently. However, there is nothing wrong with promising them you will learn that song for the next show and encouraging them to follow you so they can hear you nail that sucker later on down the road. These little lessons only hurt until they heal and, like building muscle, you come back stronger and more capable. So, thank you to the woman who requested Pearl Jam. You taught me a hard but, valuable lesson. I'm a BETTER MAN for it.