Seymour Rants: Thirteen Tonne Theory
The Hunters have a problem. They need to make more noise.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 1 March 2006.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
In the summer of 1989 a thousand people went to see a band in a pub somewhere in the western suburbs of Sydney. They started queuing up at the door around eight and a Samoan bouncer watched the heads to be sure there was balance of boys and girls. The boys dominated three to one.
They wandered into the room and chose a spot on a spread of lurid orange carpet. There were no chairs or tables so they stood around in groups drinking beer and wine coolers. As the room filled up they held onto their patch by “tag-teaming”, a way of rostering the booze run so that someone was always protecting the turf. Eventually the room filled up and they was forced together, chest against back, yelling at each other over the music.
By ten the room was a firetrap. When the band hit the stage everyone was primed to party. Drinking became a dangerous business. Anyone who tried to move towards the bar was considered an arsehole but everybody tried anyway. The room kept getting hotter. Plastic cups were held overhead as people tried to get back to their spot without spilling anything. The music was too loud to talk. People bellowed and when that didn’t work they resorted to brute force. Skirmishes erupted. A couple of blokes started swinging wildly at each other’s faces like berserk robots. The crowd around them surged backwards.
The singer stopped the show.
And launch into a tirade.
“Idiots. Yobbos. Fuckwits.”
It worked. The audience were galvanized by the singer’s outrage. How dare these drunken idiots spoil everybody else’s fun? It was always that one percent when the other ninety-nine were really nice people trying to have a good time. Those nearest the evildoers stared at them accusingly. At that moment life became unbearable for the poor bastards. They were instant outcasts. Security men in black t-shirts descended and frog marched them outside into the dark never to be seen again.
Conditions in the room made violence inevitable but that was beside the point. The heat, the booze, the hot press of sweaty bodies and the thunderous music were a dangerous cocktail of energy. That’s why the people were there. There was “one hell of a party going on mate.” If you weren’t prepared to get on board then you had no business being in there in the first place.
The singer was a little man in a singlet. He was running up and down the front of the stage screeching like a ferret on speed. His face was twisted with the effort of trying to be heard above the band. He wasn’t pretty and whatever internal conflict he was engaged in, and it looked pretty horrible, he wasn’t winning that either.
The crowd didn’t care. They loved it, the band, the sound, the relentless anthemic power. They roared along to the choruses, riding rough shod over the subtleties, which were indecipherable anyway. The words were unintelligible but they sang them too, or about a thousand different versions of them.
Their faces were lit up with the effort of holding their ground in the surging mass. They were smiling, even entranced. But the broader picture was hellish. The mass of bodies seemed to heave and fall, surging violently across the room as the sheer press of numbers lifted people off their feet and swept them helplessly as if they were caught in an overpowering human rip. It looked mortally dangerous. They cheered manically.
While the little bloke ran up and down the stage the rest of the band stood motionless like sentinels. Seven well-dressed men in their mid thirties gazed out upon the seething mass with total indifference as though it was all completely normal.
The band played with brutal precision. This particularly applied to the brass section whose dignity was a breathtaking contrast to the singer who had none. They stood at the front of the stage lined up in a row of three behind their mikes and simply blasted long stentorian chords. They bore stoic blank expressions that gave nothing away, not even a flicker of emotion. Their collective sound was remorselessly powerful and cruelly indifferent to the effect it was having. People who stood directly in front were transfixed. Some were crying. Some even seemed catatonic. There was something darkly mysterious about the brass section. It was as though their blank disinterest in the chaos they were generating was the very thing that was driving the punters nuts.
Meanwhile the singer was leaping around like an idiot. He looked like he was doing everything in his power to compensate for the inertia of the others, with absolutely zero impact.
Off in the corner, shrouded in gloom, a blues guy was wailing away on a Telecaster. His sound was saturated with harmonic distortion. He was using a bottle neck slide that slithered over the frets. The guitar screeched like a banshee. Lights flickered across his face, which was heavy with sweat. His eyes were closed and his skin had a sickly glow due to the fact that he’d had too much red wine before the gig and was working hard to keep it down. He looked bloody awful but he played like a mother. His riffs were fat and threatening. He made the guitar moan like a sick animal. To top it all off he seemed to have his own exclusive club of admirers who were clustered together over near the left hand P.A. stack squinting and grimacing, mimicking his facial expressions. One bloke stood out. He was close to seven feet tall, fat with a shaved scalp. He was screaming at the guitarist.
“You fucking hero. You fucking hero!”
Then there was the rhythm section. They were the driving force of the whole event. In fact they were the very essence of what was taking place in the room. These guys were so loud you could not get within two metres of them without suffering permanent ear damage. The bass player had proved it at sound check by measuring the volume of the snare with his portable db metre. 120 decibels. The band was technically deaf. How did they do it you may ask? They could feel the music through the floor of course, like a regular bunch of Beethovens.
The drummer was huge. He played with his chin squashed into his chest. His gut hung over the snare drum. He looked like he was nodding off but he played with enormous power. It was all coming from his wrists. It was a miracle really. Sweat dripped from his head onto the skin of the snare compelling the drum tech to stay permanently on stage directly behind the drummer’s stool with a towel to mop up. He mopped the Drummer’s brow too. They were very close. The drummer called the drum tech “Mop.”
“Hey Mop, where are you?”
“Wipe me. Quick.”
The bass player was a force unto himself. He controlled the whole shouting match. He was a ball of stoic tension. He stood with his legs akimbo like a martial artist on his own riser. He was dressed in the band’s merchandise, which he casually discarded every night after the gig so that he wouldn’t have to do any laundry. He was extremely intelligent. The merch was all surf gromit style, which made him look about twelve even though he was forty.
He was wearing thongs.
For the entire show, the bass player stared over at the back of the left hand P.A. Stack. There was something over there that seemed deeply important to him. He frowned a lot. Occasionally he’d glance down to see what his hands were doing only to return his gaze to the back of the P.A.
He owned it.
Needless to say his performance was also flawless. The notes weren’t pluck as such, but driven home with brutal authority. His sound had an uncanny affinity with bridge construction. There was something industrial about it; like a pile driver. The bass notes landed dead in the middle of the thump of each kick drum beat. The kick-drum was so deep and loud that it literally sucked oxygen out of the room, which only added to the euphoria of the crowd. The power of these two musicians was arguably terrifying. They were like a huge thumping V8 having the shit thrashed out of it. There was something fundamentally inhuman about them. They were the band’s dark heart. Everyone was scared of them, especially the singer.
Out in the middle of the seething mass was a man who danced behind the mixing desk. His hands flew across the board like church organist.
He was “the mixer”.
There was a protective wall of road cases around him; so high it was like a fortress. He too was raised above the crowd. He had a fantastic vantage point looking out across the multitude like a rock star. He was tall and languorous with long blonde hair that shone magnificently under his own light show so that people could witness the man at work. He looked like Rick Wakeman. In fact he looked like he should’ve been doing the singer’s job especially considering how small and pathetic the singer looked.
The mixer leapt and bounced around inside his box, howling with excitement at the symphony he was wrestling with, throwing his head back and running his hands through his long sexy quiff. Noises erupted on one side of the room only to be thrown sickeningly to the other. He panned the controls like a joystick.
The show went off. There were several encores. The crowd erupted in a roar of pleasure.
Security moved in. Men in black forced there way into the crowd forming a human shield across the front of the stage. Crowd control was critical. The band came back over and over again only to retire to the band room when they where they lay on the floor utterly exhausted. Nobody moved for a good half hour.
Finally the bass player, who was lying down next to a black garbage bin in the middle of the room, raised his arm and rummaged beneath the ice for a cold one and then collapsed back down onto the floor where he sipped at it carefully in a horizontal position.
Right at that time the mixer burst into the room.
“Where’s the beer? Oh. There it is.”
He strode over to the bin and took one out. It was a twist top. He drove the metal top into the soft skin of his inner fore arm and twisted. It came free. He drank. Then he stood there looking down into the bass player’s face. The bass player had his eyes closed. He was still frowning.
“We’ve got a problem.”
“I know,” said the bass player, still with his eyes closed.
Everybody looked up on the word ‘problem’.
“What?” said the singer who immediately jumped up and started to pace around in circles in the front of his chair.
“We’re not getting over the crowd”.
“I know”, said the bass player.
“What?” said the singer.
No one answered the singer.
“What’s he mean, ‘we’re not getting over the crowd?’ ” Said the singer.
Still nobody answered. The bass player rose slowly from the floor and strolled to a chair in the farthest corner of the room. All eyes were upon him.
“I’ve been watching the power amps.”
“Yeah. I noticed,” said the drummer. “All night.”
“What?” Said the singer. “What’s ‘underpowered’ mean?”
No one answered.
“We need more power.”
“Yeah, well that means more speakers”, said the mixer.
“And bigger amps,” said the bass player.
“Oh,” said the singer who sat down and stared off into the corner.
“Why are we under powered?” said the drummer.
“People can’t hear me”, said the mixer.
“You?” Said the drummer. “What about us?”
“Well, if they can’t hear me, then there’s a logical line of argument that suggests they can’t hear you.”
“But they went nuts”.
“Do you have any idea how loud they are? They’re out there raving at each other. And what’s more we turned away hundreds. We’ve barely got their attention as it is. Do you realize what that means? If we don’t do something soon we’ll lose them. The numbers will plummet.”
“But we did have their attention.”
“Only because they know the songs. They’re not hearing the subtleties. They can’t hear the subtleties.”
“What subtleties?” said the singer.
Nobody answered. Nobody spoke for a while as they collectively reflected on the crisis.
And then the drummer spoke. And when the drummer spoke it everybody listened, including the bass player.
“We need to play in bigger rooms.”
“Why bigger rooms?”
“Because you said we turned away hundreds.”
“Well in that case we’ll need a bigger P.A.,” this from the bass player, “which I’ll have to build.”
This comment brought on another wave of silence. The P.A. was the bass player’s turf. They all needed it. He was in control of it.
They stared at the floor.
The trombone player spoke. “How big?”
“What, the rooms or the P.A.?”
“How many did we pull tonight?”
“Fucked if I know. A thousand?”
“1,250. I checked. The promoter’s laughing but it was illegal.”
“About 400 over the legal limit,” said the mixer.
Again they fell silent.
“What about the Revesby workers?” said the bass player.
“What about it?”
“I did The Crawl there in May”.
The singer gasped.
The bass player got up and went to the toilet. He was gone for a while. Nobody spoke. They drank steadily. Finally the toilet door opened and the bass player walked back in and straight across to the beer bin. He drove his arm decisively into the ice. There weren’t a lot left. His arm was in there for a while and then he drew it out smoothly with a brown stubbie on the end that was frosted with condensation. They all watched it rise to his lips whereupon he steadily downed the contents. His uvula rose and fell rhythmically. Everyone watched his uvula. He finished the can and dropped it back into the bin and then went for another.
Still they waited.
He sipped the new one.
“We need a bigger truck.”
“WHAT?” said the singer.
“How big?” said the mixer.
“Big enough to hold ten tonnes of gear.”
“Will that cover it?” this from the trombone player.
“So how big?”
“Isuzu. Thirteen tonnes”.