Today’s venue was a pleasant deviation from the previous one — it wasn’t frickin’ freezing when loading in. The Milwaukee Theatre has an honest-to-goodness truck dock, which holds two trucks at a time without need for ramps, and through the magic of some plasticy-canvasy material, the dock opening is sealed from the outer cold. Think of it like a sort of space dock: Spaceship Cohen meets Milwaukee Space Station.The equipment can roll straight from the truck onto the stage, however once inside the dock proper, there isn’t a whole lot of room, so we must obey the laws of time and space, holding fire and pattern to accommodate the natural pace of the venue.
When setting up, word comes down that Mickey is feeling unwell. It seems he cracked a rib, possibly while doing something as simple as getting a bag from the bus luggage compartment. Perhaps he aggravated an unhealed injury, I’m not sure, but he was told to rest for a few days. This means I had to look after 20 guitars, those of Mitch, Javier, and Leonard. And there is only one piece of equipment that will help me plough through the extra workload: Big Red.
Big Red is my Peterson AS-490 strobe tuner. It’s a genuine, mechanical strobe… without the strobes. It works by employing a digitally controlled, brushless motor which spins a patterned wheel at a precise number of revolutions per minute. Behind the spinning pattern are a bank of LEDs (in ye oldyn tymez, they were little strobe bulbs) blinking in perfect synchronicity with the frequency of the guitar’s string vibrations. When the patterned wheel looks as if it’s not spinning, the string is at the desired pitch. The device comes in handiest for Javier’s bandurria, the smallest of his guitar collection. The tuning mechanisms are sensitive and the string attack quick, meaning there is not much sustain — quick notes. Everyday digital tuners can pick up the notes, but they can give fleeting readings — Big Red gives me speed-of-light, no-nonsense pitch observation and from there, a certain amount of confidence can be gained when tuning the fussy little 12-string smurf-guitar.
Leonard stuck to the script tonight, thank every god that ever walked the Earth. I had a lot on my plate, and was busy almost the entire show. There were a few little goofs here and there on my part, but no show-stoppers; I felt OK in saying ‘It’s my first day!’ However If this pace of work were to continue I’d probably have to get new feet installed daily.
It dawned on me at a point in the show, I had barely been listening to the show itself. With the extra work, and tuning all time, and the thinking and pre-empting of guitar changes and mic stand movements, whatever sounds were emanating from the stage were a sort of background music to my business-like day. Dan was a huge help; on several occasions, it needed two people to swap instruments in a timely fashion and he was my ever-ready captain.
Well that’s my story — it might be a bit broken, but I dunno about bleak. We rode overnight to somewhere near Nashville, where bleakness reared a confused head.