The UMW production of Little Shop of Horrors closed it’s doors Sunday after a three week run of shows. Fifteen show total. I had a few other gigs sprinkled in between those shows as well because..well, yeah…what’s running another half mile when you’ve already a marathon?
That being said, sometimes you are ready to shift gears after a project and move onto the next one. In this case…I feel like I could have done this show for another week or even two if needed/desired. It is a fast, short show. But, IMHO, credit is also due to a band that had good chemistry; Angie Fullarton Benson on keys and as our music director, Nicholas Adam Walker on guitar, Wesley Hockaday on keys, Zach Ware on drums. And shenanigans. Everyone on shenanigans.
Phrases were coined involving words that are rarely, if ever used together.
“We need more egg in the monitor.”
“Death Button. Now, there’s a band name.”
And the hashtags. #whalesongsatwarmups #passthechocolate #omgthecupcakes
I’ve enjoyed that murder happens to a dirty, gritty funk rock groove these past few weeks. When things are innocent and sweet, it’s do-wop. When blood is invoked in song and the plot turns darker, the band responds by invoking tones inspired by The Who and Led Zep. I’ve enjoyed being told to turn up. Repeatedly. As in really DO play this gig like a rock band, DON’T play it as a pit band for a musical production. I’ve enjoyed walking in, putting a pedalboard on the floor and developing tones for the musical moods of the show. I’ve enjoyed watching the guitar, drum, and bass setups evolve as players came up with ideas for this show.
Here’s some video clips from the pit. Folks can get an idea of how the two basses proved out “on the job”. These were all taken on different days on the final two weeks of the show.
I’m thumping along sitting right next to Nick. That being said, the bass in the audio from his video is probably a far better representation of what the new bass sounded like than the close proximity videos from my phone.
This was the longest stretch the new black Spector 5 string and the Lightwave fretless have been consistently on the job this year. To clarify further, the Lightwave did both “Back To Broadway” and “Little Shop” this fall, playing most of the first set on “Back to Broadway”.
I’ve been tweaking the black Spector bass since the early spring. It made an occasional appearance on gigs over the summer. There’s a brief blog entry about it here as people began asking about it when it turned up at shows.
I started mods on the new black Spector as “Back to Broadway” closed. I finished them during tech week for Little Shop…roughly one week later.
Throughout 2017, I’ve come to look at this bass as a symbol of some of the change my life has been undergoing this year “behind the scenes.” The first of many changes is an ongoing effort at downsizing. I’m systematically going through my house, room by room, and pretty ruthlessly clearing the clutter as time permits. Again, the first of many ongoing changes.
So, this used bass showed up at Sam Ash in RVA. Someone sold it to the store, so this (typically) $1000 bass was going for $600 used. I was already thinning out a lot of accumulated gear by trading it in for store credit at Sam Ash, with the intention of letting that credit accumulate. I pulled the trigger on the black Spector after another ruthless thinning out/trade in session. I brought a carload of gear to the store and traded it in. Total cost to bring the black bass home; $100. And I still had credit left on my account.
The first goal…well before this musical…was to make this bass a workable backup for my number one (the 6 string simply named Blue). After testing the 5 string on a few live shows and listening critically, it became apparent it needed some work. It played quite well, and the neck felt similar to Blue. It desperately needed new pickups. EMG HZs weren’t going to cut it to make it an acceptable backup. I also had to replace the linear taper pots a previous owner had wired this bass with. #facepalm
For those not familiar with this, there are two types of pots, audio taper and linear taper. The briefest explanation I can give without putting any luddites to sleep is this; linear taper pots suck in audio applications. You definitely don’t want to use them as volume controls on a bass. Audio taper pots have an A stamped on the bottom. Linear taper have a B…as in Bad for Audio applications.
In total…I swapped the EMG HZs with EMG 40DC pickups, installed Mullard volume bypass caps, installed Bourn volume pots, and fixed some wiring issues the previous owner left behind when they made some mods to this bass (like…ground wires..what a concept!). I also converted it from 9V to 18 V, giving the bass more headroom. Instead of going with Kaliums, I put a set of DR Black Beauties on it to swap things up. The bass had a stiffer action, but it sounded punchy; it sat very well in the mix.
After “Broadway” closed, I also installed a new speaker in the Warwick combo amp to give it a different, growlier voice with more clang for the Little Shop run. All these mods were time consuming, admittedly. However, both basses and the amp all proved out well and earned their keep.
Yesterday was my first full day off (meaning no shows and no teaching) in two months. 🙂. The past few fall seasons have been on a similar schedule as this. Some years, it has felt like I needed that day off. This year, I’m pretty relaxed, happy, and grateful. I think that is largely from being involved with good people and great projects. Those influences can serve to recharge one while one is “in flight”. 🙂
The shows were all quite packed. 180 to 200 people at every show, and many shows were sold out. You can find more info about Klein here and the audio/lighting tech used in that venue.
Thanks to everyone who came out and supported the show. Your laughter and reactions inspired more than a few moments of well intentioned, empathic laughter in the pit and from the cast. There were so many truly amazing moments in this show.
Sunday was last day, so I was doing some things on the bass during Audrey’s death scene…admittedly, things I would never normally do…but I was moved to give Audrey a rousing, truly inspiring last send off on our last show. My music director smiled approval in my direction, noting the variants I had made in the bass part. Zach Ware, our drummer, truly delivered a powerful performance on one of the ballads on the final show. He truly pushed me to deliver an even better, even more rousing performance on fretless for that song than I had previously done in the prior fourteen shows. And most likely, he had unknowingly affected me so until I turned to him and gave him a silent thumbs up from across the darkened pit.
Playing the cast out for the bows today, our music director took her bow from the audience. The audience was already screaming and cheering for the cast and crew. However, the tech crew actually began applauding loudly from the backstage area.
A few of us in the pit had admitted to having weepy moments today as we came to terms with the idea that the show was ending. Guitarist Nick Walker and I had developed a rapport over the course of the show. Chocolate, Frank Zappa, playing riffs to songs during warmups…just general shenanigans…our inner 12 year olds play well together. So, I was watching Nick mute his pedalboard and unplug his acoustic guitar from his rig after playing the last ballad of the show. This is normally quite a mundane action, but that’s when it hit me…this was it. He was coiling his cable up and taking it out of his board; the electric guitar was all that was now needed to finish out the remaining songs. That was now my unexpected moment. I found myself blinking back emotions as I too, muted my pedalboard, turned to my left and unplugged my fretless bass. The final song we would use these instruments on had just gone by.
There’s usually a very adorable/funniest moment in the run. As in…”actors trying to stay in character and not laugh” type of thing. In this case, the sadist dentist, Orin Scrivello, has strapped Seymour into the dental chair. Seymour has pulled a gun on him already, so it’s clear that an intended murder will probably happen in this scene if Seymour has his way. (The dentist mistakenly chalked up Seymour brandishing a gun as a case of odontophobia before disarming him.) The dentist tells Seymour “Wait here, I’m going to use my special gas mask.” Orin is going to get himself flying high on nitrous oxide before working on Seymour.
At this point, a little girl in the audience spontaneously (and adorably) shouts “YAY!!” really, REALLY loudly in response to Orin’s comment. The audience is laughing. We are literally laughing ourselves to tears back in the pit. Alexander, who is playing Orin Scrivello, is dying on the inside and struggling to stay in character.
One of my favorite parts of the show was discovering how Audrey 2 actually works. This video was created by UMW Theater, and take you through how all four pods were manipulated throughout the show. Bonus; you’ll hear the band at the end, around 16:40, and how it sounded from front of house. This is not something I got to hear as the band plays from an elevated second story “pit-loft” above and behind the set. We have our own monitors and amps back in that pit for our own reference.