Get off the damn stage

On rare nights the band will do something very unusual that is really entertaining and engaging. They will leave the stage. And I don’t mean leave the stage to go back to the green room for congratulatory tequila shots and purple Kush. I mean they leave the stage and move through the crowd, ending up at the back of the venue facing the stage like they are the audience. But they are still playing a song as they do this. Most bands aren’t able to make this happen, but if you have portable acoustic instruments and a wireless mic system (or just a really loud voice), you can pull it off.

The bands that I see do this are usually those big bands with tons of percussion instruments and about 10-12 people onstage. They will start marching off each end of the stage into the crowd while playing and singing. The crowd sings or claps along and slowly turns around to watch the band as they move through the audience and regroup at the back. It’s a really cool moment, and it definitely gets people to look up from their damned smart phones and appreciate the performance. Psychologically and physically it tears down the wall between performer and audience member. People sometimes dance with one of the musicians, clap them on the back, take a quick selfie, etc. It can also be a true ‘fan moment’, when you are suddenly just inches away from one of your musical idols.  I love when bands do this.

Some bands will continue the dance party mood of their stage show and just play a song with their acoustic guitars, a ton of percussion instruments, and loud vocals. Other bands will bring it way down, and purposely sing very quietly so the crowd has to get quieter to hear them. It’s amazing to see a concert venue get super quiet and watch everyone excitedly change their attention level. There are no lights on the performers anymore, and the aren’t amplified or even onstage. It really becomes all about the unaltered sounds of instruments and voices in a room full of people. Like musical performances for Kings and Queens centuries ago in a candlelit castle. Sometimes there is even a jester.

On this particular night, a slight problem occurred when two women decided that they could walk up onstage to watch the band performing at the back of the room. As you know, music venues do not allow anyone onstage except the performers and their crew. You’ve undoubtedly seen security guys literally throw people off stage at rock concerts. The reasons that you cannot be onstage are obvious and numerous. Usually I’ll explain that the sound engineers, musicians, and sometimes photographers need the steps clear for access to the stage. You can’t be on the steps, nor can you be onstage. The only time I’ve ever been onstage is when I was performing in a band. Or one time the singer of a band pulled me up onstage to rock out. That was Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, when he was touring with his industrial side project called TWO. There were maybe 10 people total at the show, and he pulled us all onstage one by one to be onstage during the final song. That sort of thing is ok. Just wandering up onstage on your own is always completely unacceptable.

So I walk up onstage and turn on my flashlight. I walk across the stage to the woman on the other side of the stage from me. I tell her she needs to get off the stage and she walks down the little stairs back to the floor. I walk back and tell the woman standing onstage on my side of the stage that she needs to get down. She says no. I look at her and my face telegraphed this sentence: Are you fucking kidding me right now?
But what I said was, “You need to leave the stage NOW.” She started giving me the usual bullshit about how she was watching the band, and how she knew the band, how she went to school with the bass player.” All I hear is “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I AM SPECIAL AND RULES DO NOT APPLY TO ME.”

I explained that nobody is ever allowed onstage, and the band is obviously coming back and need the steps clear to return to the stage. Get off the stage. I turned my flashlight on again and leaned one arm up against the wall so she wouldn’t be able to move further out on the stage. Luckily the entire crowd was turned around watching the band play at the back of the room, so they didn’t notice that there was an errant woman onstage refusing to do what security is telling her to do. She acted all offended that my arm was close to her and spouted some crap about not appreciating my strong-arm tactics. I calmly repeated, “You need to leave the stage now. You cannot be up here.”

Now the odd thing about this interaction is how we treat women and men in this situation. Had some drunk dude refused to leave the stage, I would’ve already grabbed him and removed him by now. Afterwards one of my coworkers suggested that I even could have told her that. I surmised that she knew I probably wouldn’t put my hands on her for this. Anytime you put your hands on someone non-consensually you are potentially making a bad situation worse. And of course somebody can film it on their smart phone. And that wouldn’t show the 3 minutes of polite verbal de-escalation, it would just show me manhandling a 50-year-old woman. If anybody gets hurt you can even face a lawsuit in the worst case. I’m justified here, but I felt that it’s still a shady area and could color people’s opinion of our staff and venue. The sound engineer, production manager, and bartenders were all watching how I handled it, and would be potential witnesses for me if it went badly. Again, she and I are literally onstage with the lights on us. We are the secondary performance now, a two person play about power dynamics. Oh the drama.

What I wanted to do was channel Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor.  So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Get off the fucking stage.” My impatience was spiking and this woman was pissing me off by still refusing to leave the stage. We definitely were having a Mexican standoff. A confrontation amongst two or more parties in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. I took the high road. I moved around her and walked down the three steps to the floor. I then looked up at her and held out my hand to help her down the stairs. Just like a gallant gentlemen helping an aristocrat across a puddle. This way I wasn’t towering over her or using my size to intimidate her off the stage. She bought it. She grabbed my hand and walked down the three steps.

And soon after that the band did return to the stage and all walked up the three steps to complete their set. Without some random woman who thinks that she has diplomatic immunity standing in their way. Jesus Christ. If any security staff asks me to stop doing something when I’m at a concert, I gladly do it. Otherwise they kick you out.

So then she felt the need to bond with me and we shook hands. She even gave me her name and asked mine. I assumed she wanted my name so she could call or write an email later complaining about me to management. I almost gave a fake name, but I’m the only white guy with dreads that works here, so it’s not hard to describe who I am. So I gave her my real name and she proceeded to try to tell me the story of her going to school with the bass player. She became way friendlier now that we were offstage. Then I got the feeling that she was flirting with me a little bit. Is she about to ask me out? Good lord, the people I meet at this job. I excused myself from this conversation and went behind the curtain to the green room. Where I just stood and laughed at the insanity.



You spin me right round, baby, right round

Most stage set ups are all the same, depending on the particular gear that the band uses. But in general, the drum kit is usually in the back of the stage, and then the amps of the guitarist and bassist are on their left and right. The singer usually is up front in the middle of the stage. Mix and match with additional instruments like keyboards, DJ turntables, the occasional stringed instruments, horns, additional backup singers, etc. The diagram of this that you send to the talent buyer or booker is called the Stage Plot. It helps the sound engineer know what to have ready when you arrive and how to properly set up all of the house equipment for what you are bringing.

The way the musicians hear themselves onstage is through several monitors set up around the front of the stage facing back at the performers. The audience doesn’t particularly hear what comes out of these monitors.  The drummer usually has their own drum monitor at the back by their drums facing them. Unfortunately I have played several venues that, for some logic-defying reason, didn’t have a drum monitor at all. I couldn’t hear shit. Just my drums. I just had to basically know where I was in the song from counting in my head and playing the songs a few hundred times. Muscle memory put to the test. I also watch my band-mates’ body language. I watch for certain lyrics or guitar solos and their accompanying body movements to know where I am in the song. It’s challenging as hell, but sometimes you have to forge ahead even when you can’t really hear the other musicians.

But when you do have monitors, and 99% of the time you do, getting the proper mix can be heavenly, and you can actually hear the songs better than you ever do during practice. Each of these monitors is a powered monitor, meaning that it can be mixed just for the individual musician that it is aiming at, to help them hear what they need to hear onstage while performing. As a drummer, I usually make sure that the vocals are highest in my personal mix, followed by the guitars. I don’t ever need to hear myself (some drummers love to have their own drums high in the mix), but I do need to hear the bass guitar prominently. The bass guitar and the drums make up the rhythm section, after all. People cue off of different things. That’s why you each want your own powered monitor to blast back exactly what you need to hear.

So on this night I noticed an unusual set up at the music venue I was working at. Instead of the guitar amp being behind the guitar played aimed out at the crowd, the amp was lined up along the front of the stage, aimed away from the crowd and directly toward the guitar player himself. He was using his amp as his own powered monitor, and had it mic’d so it would be going through all of the house speakers as well. It also had two little hinged legs to hold it up at a 45 degree angle. Amps are almost always just set level on the ground, and monitors are usually angled or come in a wedge shape so they are aimed up at the ear-level of the musician needing it. This guy was cutting out the middle man and just using his amp as a monitor. Nothing wrong with this, as long as you control any feedback onstage from other microphones that might pick up too much of a signal from his amp. I didn’t see a vocal mic for him, so the potential for ugly feedback was nil. But having the amp at the edge of the stage always seems like a bad idea to me, as the crowd is right there and could accidentally bump it, spill a beer, or worse.

Sure enough, things got weird. About and hour into the show I was standing by the curtain to backstage monitoring the crowd, and I noticed some dude dance his way right up to the front of the stage. It’s sometimes hard to determine if someone is just really enjoying the music, or is actually intoxicated. So I watched him for a few minutes. He was singing along with the lyrics and obviously was a true fan of this band. I didn’t like him dancing that close to the precariously tipped amp, but he wasn’t doing anything that the rest of the crowd wasn’t doing. A member of the opening band walked through the curtain and chatted with me for a second, so my attention strayed from the dancing dude. When I looked back, he was absent-mindedly lightly tapping on the top of the amp, along with a pretty cool drum fill. Dude knew the drum parts too, but he can’t be touching the musical equipment like that.

I walked over to him and lightly tapped him on the shoulder.  “Please don’t touch any of the equipment onstage.”  He gave me a guilty smile and his eyes got wide. He made that gesture that you make when you don’t want any trouble and are sort of apologizing. The one where you raise your hands in a sort of “I surrender” wave. He honestly acted like he was afraid of me. I just said thanks and backed up to where I was standing previously. He continued to enjoy the music.

Until he touched the amp again. I was looking at the struts holding it up at the 45 degree angle. I had no idea how strong they were. I also could see into the back of the amp and noticed the tubes. Some amps are tube amps and require little cathode light bulb looking things to amplify the sound. I won’t get into all the details of how that works, mainly because I can’t, but suffice it to say that these little bulbs are very important to the functionality of the amp. I also remember reading that amplifier circuits, even when unplugged, contain voltages that can kill you. You can see where my worried mind was taking me with this.

This time I used my tactical flashlight to spotlight him. This draws unwanted attention to the person, and also effectively blinds them for just a second. I said more loudly, “Do not touch this amp again or you will have to leave.” He nodded and actually moved away from this area of the stage. I shook my head and returned to my station. I was starting to think that he was indeed drunk, or maybe just stubborn as a mule. It’s a fine line.

Then he was back. This time he actually reached over the amp and attempted to touch the knobs on the front. He could turn the main volume knob all the way off, or all the way up, or even unplug the cable. What in the unholy hell is he thinking? I moved right up to him and as I did I noticed the guitar player onstage also moving towards the guy. The guitar player saw this dude trying to mess with his settings and lunged at the guy with his guitar, as if to skewer him with the neck of it. While playing the song and not missing a note. At that exact moment I reached him and grabbed him firmly by his shoulders. I said very loudly, “YOU ARE LEAVING.” Then I spun him around so he was now facing away from me. I grabbed his shoulders again and started pushing him through the crowd towards the exit. I could have walked him out along the side, but I was pissed off at him and wanted to make a spectacle out of him. I pushed this guy all the way through the crowd towards the door. People moved out of our way making us a path. I felt several pats on my own shoulders as I did this. Other crowd members saw him screwing with the amp and glad I was evicting him from the venue.

We got to the door and we walked through, only to have him collapse to the ground like I tripped him or something. I actually laughed out loud and stepped over him. My two co-workers saw me walk this guy out and started coming towards him to help grab him if necessary. I explained, “He was messing with the guitarist’s amp after multiple warnings to stop. He’s out.” He got up slowly and walked out with me still holding one elbow and my co-workers flanking him on either side in case he made it worse. He just kept acting shocked like he was innocent and I was just some power-tripping security guard. He walked outside complaining and whining. I saw him go to the sidewalk and flip us off. But he didn’t come back.

I walked back into the venue and even more people gave me congratulatory back slaps and shoulder taps as thanks. Everybody was quite happy that I manhandled that drunk idiot out of here after interfering with the musician’s gear during a performance. And I kept thinking, that dude paid money for this concert. He totally loved the band and knew their material. And he then proceeded to do the one thing that you never do at a concert. Screwed with the equipment. And so he got booted out for it. What a fool. I hope he left his jacket here. I hope he left his credit card here and didn’t close out his tab. And I gotta admit, when I got back to my station at the curtain I looked around at the crowd confidently and thought, “Who’s next?” There were absolutely zero problems for the rest of the night.

After the show I had a brief chat with the guitarist. He thanked me for getting that idiot out of the venue. I apologized for not getting him out sooner. I was just kind of shocked that he was actually continuing to do what I specifically warned him not to do. The guitarist was in an international touring band and had a cool accent, possibly from Denmark or Finland. I told him I thought it was amazing that he almost stabbed the guy with his guitar. He laughed heartily. I wonder if that dumbass is actually honored that the guitarist from his favorite band almost skewered him from onstage. That could make quite an album cover.



Tough guy shit

Two dudes come walking in near closing time.

I ask to see their IDs and warn them that we are about to close, so they might just have time for one drink. They say they understand and get out their IDs. The first guy’s ID isn’t valid, as it expired two years ago. Not two days ago, two weeks ago, or even two months ago. Two years ago. What the hell, man?

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Sorry, my friend, but this ID expired almost two years ago. You can’t come in here with this.

Dude: But it’s clearly me in the photo!

Me: Right, but we can’t accept any expired ID from anyone. This is basically useless once it’s expired.

Dude: Yeah but look at me, I’m clearly over 21.

Me: Yeah you’re probably over 21, it’s just that you must have a VALID form of ID to even be in here. It’s O.L.C.C. rules.

Dude: OLC-what?

Me: Oregon Liquor Control Commission. There are some other places nearby you can still hit that might not care about the expired ID. Sorry for the hassle. Have a good night.

Dude: I don’t accept this!

I paused. My brow furrowed. This guy definitely gets points for originality. Most people just give up and leave sadly when their ID is rejected. When the bouncer gives you the direct message that you cannot enter the premises, it’s safe to say it’s a done deal. Also, now that I’ve got him talking I can tell he is already drunk. Glassy red eyes, difficulty putting sentences together coherently, etc.

Me: Well, I can’t accept an expired ID, so you can’t come in here tonight. Sorry.

Dude: Is there a manager here? Lemme talk to your manager. This is fucking bullshit.

Me: Look, it’s almost 2 in the morning. There’s no manager here. I’m the security staff on shift now. I’m denying you entry due to an expired ID. Head out.

Dude: I don’t accept this! I’m almost 40 years old!

It had already been a long day, and I’d had enough of rude entitled drunk people. Especially this guy. His buddy finally started putting his arms around him in a meager attempt to pull him back outside the doorway. Or prevent him from swinging at me. I admittedly lost my cool.

Me: I don’t give a fuck if you accept it or not. You’re leaving.
First, you have an ID that expired TWO YEARS AGO. Second, you’re drunk already. Third, you’re arguing with me and giving me shit. That’s THREE reasons why you aren’t coming in here tonight. I only need one. Goodbye.

I glanced to the side to the bartenders who were watching this little interaction. I was just looking at them in exasperation over this jerk’s behavior. I knew we’d be talking about this event later after doors were locked and we were closing down the bar. But, they both walked slowly out from behind the bar to back me up in case this situation went south. They both appeared on either side of me ready to help in case this guy wanted to fight about it. I gotta admit, I felt like Darth Vader in the Death Star trench with a TIE fighter flanking him on either side. “I’m on the leader.”

I said to the guy’s friend, “Will you please get him out of here for his sake?”
He nodded yes sheepishly. He still had his arms around the rude guy and was trying to back him out of the door ineffectively.

Dude: You’re a fucking asshole!

I smiled at him and nodded.

Me: Don’t come back.

Both guys stumbled backwards out the door and the first guy kept cussing and complaining. He flipped me off as they went out the door. I hope they walk to the next bar and the exact same thing happens to them. I also look forward to reading the one-star Yelp review.


There was a concert in the venue tonight which was seated. This is unusual for this venue, normally it’s standing room only. There were a hundred and fifty chairs set up in the floor area, and numerous tables set up around the sides. And there was some drink special involving whiskey, just to make things more interesting.

I was positioned by the curtain to the green room watching the crowd. With everybody seated it was harder to spot overt drunken behavior. People weren’t staggering around or having trouble maneuvering through people or up steps. They weren’t spilling their drinks or having trouble maintaining their balance while standing or dancing. They were all sitting down drinking hard. It’s harder to tell if somebody is too intoxicated to be here if their drunk ass is sitting on a chair.

I noticed some voices getting really loud near me. Angry loud voices. I saw two groups of people sitting at the two tables nearest me arguing about something. From what I could ascertain in only a few seconds, some dude accidentally bumped the table and a drink spilled on a woman. The woman’s boyfriend got mad and started talking shit to the spiller of said drink. This is the origin of about 90 percent of fights in bars. Some accident happens, a guy has to defend his girl’s honor and exert his macho powers. Two dudes puff up their chests and bark loudly. If an acceptable apology is not achieved, the two males square off to determine who is the alpha male. By punching each other.

I walked over and turned on my flashlight and asked if everything was worked out. Both parties got a little embarrassed and settled down. I then noticed who was in one of the groups. One of the owners of this establishment. He wasn’t the one talking shit, but it was his friends who were. Now this shouldn’t really matter, but it does. I’m not going to go in and physically grab the best friend/brother of the venue owner unless absolutely necessary. It gets political. I’d be right, but I’d still be wrong.

I hadn’t even worked there very long and wasn’t exactly sure of this guy’s role in the establishment. I just recognized him as an owner. Since this could be a delicate situation I radioed my boss and asked him to come down. He had a much longer relationship with the owner and would better know how to de-escalate him and his crew. I told him that the two groups were getting loud and angry over a spilled drink and a woman, but seemed to be calmed down now. I pointed out who was sitting in the middle of the one group. My boss’s eyes got wider.

Now there are two bouncers standing right by two tables of patrons. Me and my boss. The entire place is seated, so our presence is very obvious. Normally a small show of force like that is all people need to simmer down. Most people don’t like being watched by the security staff and having attention drawn to them. Well, most sober people anyway.

The two tables started yelling again, with the two main guys ramping it up calling each other names. One guy started reaching for the other guy. My boss was down in the owner’s face asking him to get his friends to stop. He said, “If you don’t stop them we’re gonna have to.” Based on the increased volume and aggression of the two guys, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end smoothly. I then realized the table in front of them had about 10-15 glasses of beer and whiskey on it. Once the inevitable fight breaks out, this table is going to get bumped or flipped, and all those glasses are going to break. In the melee it’s quite likely that we would slip and fall on the spilled booze, and then get all cut up by the broken glass.

So I grabbed the table and slowly slid it out of the way, also allowing us better access to the drunken people arguing on the benches. My boss saw me do this and knew exactly what I was doing. It was about to turn south, and I was getting this potential hazard out of our way. This non-verbal communication between bouncers is key, and keeps us safe and on the same page. It was my way of saying, “This isn’t working and it’s going to erupt in a few seconds.”

Sure enough, one drunk dude called the other drunk dude a ‘faggot’ and reached for his neck. My boss and I each had tactical flashlights out and flashed them right in their eyes. This stuns a sober person pretty well, so spotlighting a drunk person in the dark with a 1000 Lumen tactical flashlight really fucks them up for a few seconds. We moved to the instigator and grabbed him up off the bench and away from his friends.

If you’ve seen the movie Carlito’s Way you probably remember the scene where Al Pacino is sitting at a table in his club eating and defends one of his club girls. John Leguizamo is trying to grab the girl away and Pacino doesn’t let him. Things escalate and all the security guards in suits appear out of nowhere and whisk Leguizamo off to the staircase. Well, that’s essentially what we did here.

We bear-hugged the guy away from the other group and out of the area. Manhandled him out of a side door and released him. Told him he couldn’t come back to the venue, and to get off the property. The venue owner came out and walked out with him, apologizing to us profusely.

I went back in the venue and the other guy was trying to follow us out to fight the guy outside. Still puffing up in front of his lady. I pointed at him and said, “Don’t be the second problem. It’s handled. Sit down.” He did.

The musical act onstage never stopped playing, and didn’t acknowledge the scuffle.
No broken glass. No injuries. No police involvement. I consider this a win.

Damned whiskey and testosterone.







I’m here to help

I always tell people: doing security at the places I work is 90 percent helping people, 5 percent telling people that they can’t do something, and 5 percent ‘tough guy shit’. This blog is going to focus on the 90 percent that is helping people out. The part of the job that I love the most.

My boss at one of the music venues where I work security always says, “You don’t need us until you need us. Then we’re the most important staff there.” It’s true. You often think security people aren’t doing anything, and look bored. That’s why they give us other duties to fulfill throughout the shift. But when something goes down and some situation needs to be dealt with quickly, security staff become the most valued personnel there. Nobody really wants the difficult jobs of breaking up a fight, denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, denying entry for an expired ID, intervening with sexual harassment, confiscating a fake ID, physically hauling someone outside, 86ing someone from the establishment, detaining someone while the police are called, calling an ambulance for a medical emergency, etc. That all falls on us.

When we’re not doing that ‘tough guy shit’, we are usually given other jobs to pass the time. I more often feel like a host, greeter, or concierge. I answer all of the questions, even the ridiculously stupid ones. It usually feels more like hospitality, rather than ‘bouncing’. We check everyone’s ID in accordance with the O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) regulations. Sometimes we check bags, or even pat down or wand people for weapons depending on the venue and the event. Often I end up bussing tables simply because I like to keep moving and help customers. That’s technically a barback and bartender duty. Some venues put us in charge of scanning and processing concert tickets, and assisting at box office. We usually are the ones who change the marquee sign. We answer the telephone. We monitor alcohol use. We guard the venue stage and/or green room. We act as tour guides to out-of-town guests (which I love, since I’ve lived here since 1996 I do know where lots of cool spots are). We help the bands load out their heavy touring gear into their tour bus and trailers. We lock the place down and set the alarm at the end of the night. There are numerous additional duties we take on to help the team and make the night run smoothly. We’re the first and last people you see when you are here, so we must make a good impression.

But, like I said, the most rewarding part is helping people out. That’s what I’ve primarily done for every job I’ve ever worked at since I was 19, if you distill the jobs down to their base function.

Nothing makes me happier than people making comments to me like, “You’re the nicest security guard I’ve ever met.” I hear that every couple of weeks. Or, “You win the award for nicest bouncer ever.” Another memorable one was a woman who said, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” My philosophy is that if you win people over coming through the door, you’ve got them on your side for the rest of the night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up having to ask a patron to leave, but since they remembered me “being cool” to them earlier, they do what I’m asking them without any hassle. And no punches. Some people even shake my hand as I’m having them leave. It’s a trip.

One particular night I was working the venue and a very sweet older African-American woman was there with her family to watch her daughter perform that night. I’m always appreciative when I see older people/parents attend concerts. My parents have been coming out to see my various bands perform since I was about 19.  I appreciate when the bouncers take extra care with them and help them find seats away from any mayhem or danger. Door guys have offered to walk my parents to a good table, offered them earplugs, and even waived the cover charge.

So on this night, this very kind woman was asking me the usual questions about where she should sit, where would the best view be, what time her daughter’s band was starting and finishing, etc. I helped situate her and her family members at a bench along the side of the room that had great view of the singer. She asked if she could leave to go to her car and get some pillows, since the bench was just hard wood and not that comfortable for long periods of sitting. She did that and returned to her area. I was stationed by the curtain leading back to the green room and backstage area, so I continued to check on her and her family throughout the evening.

She came up to me and asked if there were any other tables in the venue so that she and her family could have somewhere to set their drinks. Some nights there are just a couple of tables, other nights there are zero tables, and some nights there are 10 tables set out with candles on them. I told her that I would see what I could do. I could’ve just told her that I didn’t know where any additional tables were, but that didn’t seem right. I left my post for a minute to look around backstage. No tables. I went outside the venue and looked in the indoor parking garage. Sure enough, there were a few tables out there. The tables are moderately heavy, but I picked one up and walked with it across the parking garage and back into the venue. Through two doors, down some stairs, and through the curtain.

If you’ve seen the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia movie GOODFELLAS, you remember the nightclub scene. Ray Liotta is trying to impress his new lady, so he takes her to the club that he has partial ownership of. He walks her around the VIP line and through the basement of the building, walking through the kitchen and tipping everybody he sees. They enter the club and a famous comedian is performing. There is nowhere to sit at all, but since he is who he is, the staff brings out a small table and puts it down right in front of the performers. They throw on a tablecloth and silverware and a candle, and set them up in the best spot there is. His girlfriend is duly impressed. And it’s all done in one long continuous shot. I felt like I was bringing in the table for this woman in similar fashion. In I come with a table just for her and her crew. I put the table down right in front of her and held up my finger in the gesture that means, “Hold on a minute.” I then went and got a candle and put it down on the table for her. She clasped her hands together like she was praying and smiled a huge smile at me. Her face was aglow with gratitude.

Later I was out near the front doors saying goodnight to people and this woman found me and thanked me profusely for the special treatment. She gave me a side-hug and put a 5 dollar bill in my shirt pocket. I was so touched. That wasn’t the biggest tip I’ve ever received there, but it may have been the most heartfelt one.

One night we had a blind man with a guide dog come in for the concert. I walked them into the venue and found a logical place for them to enjoy the show where the dog could lay down and not be underfoot. That dog was so chill. I’ve worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs in my life. I used to run a non-profit dog rescue so I’m quite familiar. Most dogs I’ve ever had were agitated by loud noises, in particular fireworks and gunshots and thunder. But a loud rock concert could certainly be included in that group of relatively unpleasant experience for a canine ‘fan’. This dog was right at home watching all the people walk around him and ignoring the raucous rock music. This little guy didn’t even have earplugs.

Later on in the evening a female friend of the blind man asked me to come over. The man was hoping to step outside and get some fresh air and take a break from the concert. We left the dog under the charge of the woman and exited the venue. This man grabbed my shoulder and let me lead him through the crowd and out to the sidewalk. He told me about how he traveled here from Eugene for this show and how much he loves this band and Portland in general. We, of course, talked about how great his service dog was to be so calm in a noisy rock concert. We walked the block several times, with him still gripping my shoulder as I steered him around obstacles and homeless people. Observers would probably think that this man was my Dad.

It’s these little connections that make my job so unique. I spent a good 20 minutes with this man, and I’ll never see him again. But he trusted me completely and we talked and bonded on music and animals and life in general. Later I helped him call a cab and watched him and his service dog hop in the car to go back to their hotel. Everybody knows when you lose one sense, the other ones get stronger. Being a blind man, I guarantee he heard that concert more acutely than I’ve ever heard a concert. I’m actually a bit envious of how he experienced and heard this show. And I really wish I could talk to his dog and ask him what he thought of it.











I am the wristband concierge

Sometimes one of the music venues that I work security at contracts with an outside promoter. This promoter sets up shows with some national touring acts a handful of times throughout the year. These shows are sponsored by an energy drink. This sickeningly sweet beverage perhaps rhymes with the word Dreadful.

The thing about these shows is that everybody on staff hates them because of the terrible way they are set up. I honestly can’t understand why they do it this way. It is always a shit-show. We are left with a ton of unsatisfied people who make the night unpleasant for everyone involved. These dreadful events meet all the criteria for the term ‘clusterfuck’.

Normal ticket prices for concerts at this venue run anywhere from $10 to $30 on a regular night, depending on the acts. We have a 300 person capacity venue, so shows here sell out pretty regularly. For this dreadful event, they pre-sell reservations online for tickets for only $3. This ensures that way too many people will show up than will actually get in. A line will run down the side of our building and around the corner in front of another business. People will stand in this line for hours. They sell more than 300 RSVP tickets to this show, so this is technically intentionally overselling an event.

They hired two sexy women who barely looked 21 to walk around with little sponsor backpacks full of these energy drinks. I carded them even after the first door guy did because I just didn’t think they were 21. Either they actually were 21, or they had immaculate fake IDs. They actually had trouble giving away their little cans of dreadful, so they left a ton of them back in our kitchen area. I think I drank one and took one for another time. I need all the caffeine I can get tonight.

On a normal night, we have 3-4 security staff working the event. One person works the door checking IDs and assessing people for being too intoxicated. Another person scans the concert tickets and stamps your wrists. Another person sits in the venue at the curtain doing crowd control and checking for wristbands granting access to the green room. Another person is the rover, and they check the patio and perimeter and help the other staff as needed.

But on this night, we would have all security staff on shift. Maybe 5-6 people. I was given a brand new job just for this event. My job is to take the wristbands given to each person at the box office and affix them to your wrists as I attempt to explain the batshit crazy way this event works. And monitor admission numbers with the clicker. If you get all the way up to me and get a wristband from the box office, you’ve won. You already paid the measly $3 to reserve your ticket at the box office. And if you got in line hours early, you were one of the first 300 people to get processed. You were then able to pay the remainder of the ticket price to get your actual ticket, which in this case was the all-holy green wristband. Maybe $8-12 more dollars.

You can already see the flaw in this plan, can’t you? If you happen to be behind the 300th person in line, you don’t get a ticket/wristband. Even though you already paid the $3 online to reserve your spot. And after you already waited in that goddammed line for hours. So you lose that $3, you waste hours of your time, and you are extra pissed off because paying the money online sort of convinced you that you got a spot.

There’s an art to affixing those wristbands to 300 people’s wrists. They want one person to do it all so it’s uniform. You want it on the same wrist, not too tight but not too loose. The first few times I did it I sort of fumbled with it and made small talk about which band they were most excited to see. But I quickly got the hang of it and was putting those wristbands on people’s wrists without leaving any exposed sticky parts to pull on their arm hair. I got my technique down and everything. One guy appreciated my helpfulness in answering his questions and getting the wristband on so quickly. He said, “Tonight you are the wristband concierge.” I grinned at him and said, “Indeed I am.”

As my clicker nears the number 300, we walk out to the expectant faces in the line and tell them that we are 20 tickets away from being sold out. We count back 20 people and tell everybody else that they are essentially shit out of luck and should go home. Of course now we have a ton of disappointed angry people who then try to get in the bar to drink their sorrows away, and perhaps try to sneak past all of us to get into the venue. And everybody wants to argue with me about how the system is flawed and they deserve to get in. Some people try to buy their way in by offering me the ticket cost in cash. Some people just linger outside the doorway thinking that we just made that up and that somehow miraculously the venue will expand in size, adding 45 more tickets that we can sell. I’ve been telling people ‘no’ all night, and now my skills of telling people ‘no’ are activated at the highest level. And I’m apologizing for the fracas on behalf of a company that intentionally set this shit-show up this way.

Due to the over-capacity crowd in the venue, and the massive crowd of disgruntled people trying to get in the bar/restaurant section, we did something I haven’t done before at this venue. We stopped letting people in all together. We stood at the doors and told people that we are over capacity in both the venue and the bar, so nobody can come in right now. People just don’t compute that. They try to beg, bribe, and argue their way in. Some entitled assholes just act like they can’t hear me and try to walk around me. I put my hand on their arm and speak again directly to them in my loudest angry voice. “We are over-capacity and not letting anyone in. At all. You need to go somewhere else.”

I continue to tell people various forms of ‘no’. I don’t think I’ve ever told people ‘no’ so many times in one night.

“No there are no more tickets to the show.”

“No there is no guest list with your name on it.”

“No you can’t buy a ticket from me.”

“No you can’t come in to use the bathroom.”

“No you can’t come in the bar.”

“No you can’t come in if one person leaves.”

“No you can’t just go look in the venue.”

“No you can’t order food, the kitchen has dozens of active food orders.”

“No you can’t talk to a manager right now.”

One very attractive young woman was trying her best to flutter her eyelashes and stand really close to me and sweet-talk her way in to the show with her two friends. Numerous polite but firm ‘nos’ were given to her. She left for a while and then came back with a ripped up green wristband on her wrist. She talked somebody who was leaving the concert into removing their wristband and giving it to her. This is ticket-clipping, done by snowboarders and festival goers since the dawn of time. What this woman didn’t know was that I was the wristband concierge, and had personally attached all 300 of the wristbands to everybody here tonight. Also, the wristband was barely staying together on her wrist, as it had been cut. She was trying to hold it together under her coat sleeve. I told her I knew exactly what she just did and that I did not put that wristband on her. And that now she needed to leave.

The stupidity continues even in the venue. The energy drink sponsor set up a drink special where their product is used as the main ingredient/mixer. Bartenders were instructed not to pour the entire can into the drink and then recycle it, like they would normally. They were supposed to pour most of the can into the drink, add the hard liquor, and then give the drink cup and the little can of dreadful to the customer. The can only had a few ounces of sugary caffeinated liquid left in it. I later found out the strategy behind this. They wanted every photo taken to have a huge crowd of people with every single person holding a can of dreadful. Product placement at it’s finest.

The problem was, people don’t like to carry around a drink in both hands for very long. Double-fisting gets old fast. So they would primarily just leave the can of dreadful somewhere. On the side of the stage, the tables, guard rails, the floor. These cans get knocked over or fall off their perch, and the sticky yellow liquid gets all over the concrete floor. All night long. After hundreds of drinks being served like this, and several hours of this happening, the floor was universally covered in a sticky film of sugar, taurine,  and B-vitamin juice. If caffeine had a smell, the place would have been a hotbox of dreadful stank. When your shoes stick to the concrete floor with every step, it makes dancing and walking around distracting and troublesome.

And just when I thought this entire thing couldn’t get any worse….
The headlining band shot off a bunch of confetti at the end of their set. This confetti all inevitably landed on the floor. The floor that was covered in a centimeter of yellow energy drink paste and alcohol. Now we have thousands of little bits of paper landing in the sticky swamp. Genius. Maybe this is how you make napalm. And maybe that’s the solution tonight. I’m just glad that mopping up the venue floor does not fall under my job description. After tonight I need a drink. However I don’t think I want to drink a little can of dreadful ever again.






I’ll gladly enter The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil is my kind of horror movie. Because it is one giant homage to classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s. A slow burn to a riveting nightmare finale.

The House of the Devil came out in 2009. Seeing it in theaters made me feel like a kid again, sneaking out to watch scary movies on my parent’s TV in the wee hours of the night. Everything from the songs they chose to the slow pacing brought me back. Even the poster art evokes classic haunted house films from the 70’s and 80’s.


I am, of course, a huge horror fan. Analyzing the films that I deem ‘the best’, it’s clear that I love the slow build. Most of the films I cite as the best horror films are from the 70’s and 80’s. They do not use CGI. They use practical in-camera effects. They actually let you get to know the characters so you care about them when they are in peril. They don’t go for predictable and trite jump scares every 10 minutes. They use unique orchestral music on the score, and/or perfect songs from the time. They have a psychological factor that makes things even more disturbing. Think of these films: The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Fog, The Burning, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing.

So Ti West must share my love of these films, because he made a film that takes everything from these movies and recreates them in 2009. From the opening credits you know that this movie is a throwback retro experience. Even the grain of the film and slightly faded-out daytime shots feel like they were shot on 35mm film stock from 1978. Apparently he actually shot in on 16mm to give it that dated and grainy look. Nothing digital on this movie. The fonts even look like horror films of the 70’s, as do the almost random freeze-frames during the credit sequence.

The plot is simple, as it should be. A poor college student takes a babysitting job to get money to move into her new apartment. She arrives at the creepy house and makes some demonic discoveries. The plot is pretty much a collection of any horror film’s generic tropes. The plot isn’t what matters, it’s the mood and the building of creepy tension. After they show you a particularly graphic and surprising bit of gory violence, you are then always on edge. Waiting for the next one. You now know what the film is capable of. So any scene of the heroine walking around the house is fraught with danger and anxiety.

The lead actress is perfectly cast. A pretty brunette actress named Jocelyn Donahue. I have to say, her features reminded me of several classic 70’s horror movie heroines. Check out photos of Margot Kidder from The Amityville Horror, Barbara Hershey from The Entity, and Jessica Harper from Suspiria. I’m not saying that the director intentionally cast Jocelyn because she might remind people of these actresses, but it sure did make me think of those characters. And also Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween. All women were attractive, slender, and portrayed vulnerability and terror very well.


I love when a film chooses songs that I have a personal connection with and that bring me right back to that time in my life. This film nailed that. The first song we hear is an instrumental that made me think of The Car’s song, “Moving in Stereo”. It isn’t that song, but the chord progression and eerie vibe of it is strangely similar. The next song used is Greg Kihn’s song “The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”. Then they really got me by using a lesser-known favorite of mine by Thomas Dolby called “One of Our Submarines”.

One of our submarines is missing tonight
Seems she ran aground on maneuvers

Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water – channel and tide”

All of these songs have an eerie mood to them, or at least a memorable minor chord structure. Then the song they play while our heroine dances around the creepy house is the classic 80’s song from The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another.” This places the film’s events in 1983 based on that song’s release date. (The date is never given in the film) And all of these classics place me in middle school. The Walkman that she listens to in the movie was possibly the exact model that I also had in the 80’s.

Another excellent casting choice is Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman, the man who hires our protagonist for the babysitting job. For me, I will always think of Tom Noonan’s very unsettling performance as The Tooth Fairy serial killer in Michael Mann’s amazing 1986 film, Manhunter. His tall frame and calculated manner of speaking just add to his oddness. He uses a cane with a metal eagle handle, which may or may not be a tip of the hat to Angel Heart, where Robert DeNiro has a very similar cane. And that character was indeed, the devil himself.


This film truly takes it’s time with the story development, and reminds me a lot of another 70’s horror classic, Burnt Offerings. This is a 1976 haunted house movie starring the great Oliver Reed and Karen Black. One of the agreements they make, just like in The House of the Devil, is to be there to take care of the mother upstairs. This person may exist, they may not exist, they may be something else entirely. But the caretaking of an unseen person (force) in the house is done well in both films. And Karen Black also fits the requirement of being a slender brunette heroine. I used to watch Burnt Offerings anytime it came on. It was a rare horror film that was rated PG so it could be shown uncut on network TV. I am certain director Ti West watched it as well, as the similarities are myriad. Or to reference The Exorcist, the similarities are legion.

It isn’t giving away any spoilers to say that this film has something to do with Satanic cults. The preface of the film talks of how a majority of American citizens in the 80’s believed in abusive Satanic cults, and how this film is based on true events. So comparisons to another lesser-known 1971 horror film called The Mephisto Waltz are appropriate. That film starred Jacqueline Bisset and Alan Alda, and I also would watch this on TV whenever it came on. The poster had a naked Jacqueline Bisset drawing a Satanic pentagram on the floor. This film, along with Rosemary’s Baby, dealt with Satanists in mainstream cinema, and also treated them as ordinary regular likable people instead of ridiculous cartoon characters. Perhaps normalizing them makes them even scarier.


The whole Satanic cult theme even resonated with me, as I read several books about this phenomenon during the 80’s. I remember sort of hiding them because I didn’t want my parents or anybody thinking that I was into Satanism or anything. One book was called “Say You Love Satan” and another was called “Devil’s Child.” I had these books on my secret bookshelf so as not to draw attention. I was fascinated by the topic, and loved reading horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and others. I was a huge fan of heavy metal, and followed the silly lawsuits against artists like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. The PMRC was trying to ban or label musical works that they deemed offensive. I became a huge fan of Slayer, with “South of Heaven” being my favorite album from them. I even read some books by Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder of the Church Of Satan. Satanism is hugely misunderstood, and was basically an invention in San Francisco created to piss off religious people. The core of Satanism is to reject any religious dogma, and believe in personal power instead. So a 70’s throwback horror film dealing with a Satanic cult? Sign me up.


Not to oversell it, but the climax of this film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. After a long tense build, when the film finally opens up the gates it’s a bloody nightmare. Our heroine  escapes from a Satanic ritual and engages in battle with numerous things in the house. A lunar eclipse occurs while all hell breaks loose. She is wearing white shroud that gets covered with blood, evoking memories of Sissy Spacek from Carrie. Mrs Ulman reminds me of Billie Whitelaw’s evil nanny character from the original film The Omen. Some musical cues sound like they are straight out of The Shining. She wields a kitchen knife up elaborate wooden stairs, which is reminiscent of Psycho, Halloween, and Suspiria. I don’t believe any of these directorial choices are accidental. The filmmakers want us to be thinking of all these other classic horror films as we watch this one. You’ve gotta know your history. The final 20 minutes of this movie is a horror fan’s dream come true.


I guarantee that some people will dislike this film and call it boring. They are probably more suited to hyper-edited manic horror films with killings and maimings every 8 minutes like clockwork. I would even surmise that people 21 and under won’t like this film because of the films they’ve been raised on. But people 21 and over will probably enjoy this film for its loving embrace of the tenets of 70’s and 80’s horror cinema. For me, this film delivers everything that I want out of a horror film. I’ll gladly enter the House of the Devil.













New Lace Sleeves

Sometimes there is a song that just gets to you at the right moment in your life. Then it sticks in your subconscious and kicks around in your brain for a few decades. Always striking you like it did the first time you heard it. It’s lasting power means that it never sounds dated or “of it’s time”. It just sounds perfect to you, forever.

I have a theory that the songs you listen to when you hit puberty imprint upon you in a special way, deeper and stronger than other times in your life. You move from being a child to being an adult. Your brain is awakening, your body is changing, your hormones and body chemistry are raging. You’re thinking about sex all the time. Song lyrics and feelings hit you hard. Those songs stick with you your entire life in a personal and special way. But that is a topic for a completely different blog.

This blog is about the Elvis Costello song “New Lace Sleeves.”  I first heard this moody song when I saw the video around age 11. Yup, puberty.

I almost switched the channel when I saw a black and white music video start up with musicians who looked like they were in bands from the 50’s or 60’s. But I stuck it out. Close ups of the musicians playing their instruments, and lyrics like I had never heard before kept me hooked. The singer was wearing a suit but was actually pretty nerdy. Reminded me of Buddy Holly with his machinist sunglasses that he kept peeking up over the top of. Gap-toothed and slight, he didn’t strike me as a lead singer of a band. But damn, was I wrong.


The video starts with a cool shuffle beat on the drums. This was before I had started playing drums myself, but even as a kid I appreciated the odd gallop of the hi-hat and snare drum. It definitely wasn’t a generic four on the floor beat like I was used to hearing. Then a close up of Elvis playing just one string of his Gretsch guitar. Then a pretty badass bass line comes in, followed by haunting keyboards and piano. The balance is perfect, with everything sitting where is should in the mix. And then the vocals come in. And it was all over from there.

Bad lovers face to face in the morning with
Shy apologies and polite regrets
Slow dances that left no warning of
Outraged glances and indiscreet yawning
Good manners and bad breath get you nowhere
Even Presidents have newspaper lovers
Ministers go crawling under covers

That’s poetry. Some of these lyrics remind me of the great Charles Bukowski. These lines struck me as so profound that I sang along to them over and over again. I was happily surprised to find a lyricist that wasn’t just singing cliché after cliché in simple rhyming patterns. Even his phrasing was unusual to me. Stretching out short words like “Even”, and using vocabulary words not often found in pop songs. He’s almost crooning like Sinatra. I thought he said “Irish glasses” when he in fact says “Outraged glances”. It’s not about getting drunk, but is about awkward interpersonal communication. Listen to the note he chooses when singing “Even ministers go crawling under co-VERS.” It wasn’t until many years later that I would understand his words about the awkwardness of morning-after small talk with someone who you just slept with.

She’s no angel
He’s no saint
They’re all covered up with white wash and grease paint
When you say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

Here’s my favorite part of the song. I’ve recited this clever lyrical passage countless times. And I can always picture Elvis holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers when he sings, “With their continental fingers that have never seen working blisters.”  This is class envy of the beautiful people, mixed with judgment and derision for them. But he still wishes to be in their circle, or at least be around them. The unattainable women.

The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh, I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them
They say Daddy’s coming home soon
With his Sergeant stripes
And his Empire mug and spoon

I always thought that he said, “They say that he’s coming home soon.” Which I interpreted to mean that the woman who Elvis just slept with has a husband and he will return soon. Turns out he’s talking about a father returning from the war. Empire mug and spoon is the standard issue gear given to soldiers. The majority of the song is about post-war adjustment and aimlessness.


No more fast buck
And when are they gonna learn their lesson?
When are they gonna stop all of these victory processions?
You say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

These lyrics moved me with their originality and ambiguous/confusing content. I had to figure this song out, and live it. I found my tape recorder and recorded the song the next time it came on. This was way before the days of being able to just google any song to find the lyrics. Hell, this was before the internet existed. If the band didn’t print the lyrics in the sleeve of their record, you really had no way of accurately determining what was actually being sung. Best-guess. I played the song over and over again, line by line, and guessed at what the lyrics were. I scribbled down the entire song this way in pencil. Then I would sing along and memorize the lyrics I had deciphered. Years later I learned how wrong I was on some of the lines.

“Even Presidents have newspaper lovers.” What the hell? I had to look that up. Silly little 11-year-old that I was. I also swore that when he said “No more fast buck,” it was really “No more fast fuck.” I don’t know why I thought that, because that doesn’t really make sense. But in the video his mouth movement doesn’t quite match up with the audio. I thought that could’ve been intentional as a distraction. There was so much sultry singing with abstract lyrics that I convinced myself he had somehow gotten away with dropping the f-bomb on daytime cable television. For all I knew, he was talking about a quickie with someone in a back alley. Wishful thinking, maybe.

There’s no cheesy conceptual distraction in this video, which I greatly appreciated. It leaves the imagery and interpretation of the lyrics up to you. It’s just the four men playing their instruments, and Elvis looking directly at the camera as he sings. Cigarette smoke rises endlessly from the ash tray on the piano behind him. There’s certainly no sexy woman wearing lace sleeves, old or new.  They probably got this video in 2-3 takes. Elvis’s voice is striking and unique. At times smooth and silky, other times slightly nasal and borderline congested. But it works. I love his voice. His phrasing of intelligent and unusual lyrics has influenced me to this day in my own lyric writing. Elvis is the man.

This song is found on the 1981 album TRUST from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I’ve delved through lots of his other music since then. I’m a huge fan of “Watching the Detectives” (which is a karaoke staple of mine), “I Want You”, “Radio, Radio”, “Alison”, and many others. But no song gets me like “New Lace Sleeves” does. Every time. I feel like I’m eleven years old again. Sucked in and mystified by how good a song can be.

Watch the video here:

New Lace Sleeves

TRUST album cover