This is a collection of short stories about the handful of times it’s all gone wrong on stage. For the most part we’ve been lucky. In our ten plus years performing live as TesseracT, there’s only been a few shows where something has gone wrong, to the point that we’ve had to stop mid-song, or fumble around attempting to recover, or not. Perform at all.
It’s worth noting that all of the things that have ever gone wrong have been caused by human error, which is a massive learning experience when it does happen. This first story however is the exception.
London to London, via Mumbai
We were scheduled to perform at NH7 festival in Mumbai, India in December 2013. This was going to be our main appearance in India supporting Altered State. For the most part, it all went according to plan: our gear arrived in India without any accidents or breakages. None of us contracted the dreaded Delhi belly. Our chaperone in India was very helpful and the hotel they’d put us in was comfortable. We were relaxed and all set to play to a very energised weekend festival crowd.
It had been a very humid day – the type of humid that you just don’t experience in the UK, where your clothes are permanently stuck to your skin and even the most refreshing iced drink does little to aid your comfort.
As well organised as the festival was, they hadn’t really planned for a passing monsoon… so everyone got very wet very quickly. This downpour took everyone by surprise. There wasn’t adequate covering over the top of the stage, so the band who were on before us got the worst of it. As did all of the gear.
After a couple of minutes persistence with mild electrocution and not wanting to give up, the band finally fled the stage when their guitarist received quite a serious electric shock – causing him to throw down his guitar and limp off stage unable to move his arm.
The rain eventually stopped so optimistically, we set up our gear on stage and were minutes away from starting the show - when the PA unapologetically died. This may have been serendipitous as we would have probably died or been severely injured - had the organisers not asked us to leave the stage due to safety concerns. These concerns were valid – everyone, except me was receiving electric shocks (guess I have super powers!) and just to add an element of real danger into this, the stage was also sinking into the mud.
So we hastily abandoned ship, apologising to our fans from the front of the stage for being unable to perform. We did spend the next couple hours out in the crowd meeting people though, shaking hands, taking photos etc. So turning this on its head, we were lucky enough to have a positive effect on peoples days, even if it wasn’t by performing a show.
At least no one died!
The time someone died
Ok, terrible, terrible joke. No one has died at a Tesseract concert. Our equipment has though on a couple occasions.
On the 2019 smaller-market US tour we did with Between the Buried and Me, we were using a new computer set up / stage rig which had been sold to us as an upgrade to the core of our live rig. It had better pre-amps, better components, other bigger bands use this on bigger stages etc etc. All good!
I cannot stress this enough - for our show, this gear is absolutely fundamental. It’s not just a couple of knobs on a box that we can work without, it literally is the beating technological heart of our live show, without which, the show dies. It controls the communication for all sounds between the stage and the mixing desk out front. It controls our in-ear monitors on stage. It controls all of the guitar and bass sounds – as we don’t use traditional guitar amps- and live vocal effects. The only thing unaffected by this multi-capable-possible-god is the acoustic drums on stage. It can’t take away my real-life noisy noises, although it does enhance them.
In Portland Maine on 15th Feb 2019, this crucial collection of circuitry and magic beans decided to succumb to jet-lag and stubbornly, refused to perform. This happened during our 15-minute sound check so really, there was no time for us to troubleshoot the issue. We were set up on stage and a few bars into checking ‘Luminary’ when it all went silent.
Using our fourteen minutes wisely, we scrambled to check the most common causes. It was none of them. We started to think outside the box – maybe, just maybe, the position of the gear on stage was in a bass trap so something, perhaps a cable, was rattling loose. That kind of made sense as one or two of the components were restarting unexpectedly.
We switched out the four-way extension, used a different power source and power cables, switched out some patch cables, hit reboot and started again from a new location off-stage.
The same thing happened.
Bewildered, and with about eight minutes to go, we try using a different CAT5 cable – a giant network cable which runs to front-of-house – thinking there may be an issue with the FOH rig communicating with our on-stage rig.
Nope – wasn’t that either.
Stage techs and sound engineers from all three bands are now making calls to other experts, all of whom have suggestions for us, most of which we’ve already tried.
We try again after implementing all of the expert suggestions – none of which might I point out are at all obvious - and get about a minute into sound checking ‘Luminary’ before the whistle is blown on our available sound check time and we’re required to leave the stage.
We’d made it further into the song than on previous attempts and nothing had dropped out, so it was looking ok. None of us were filled with confidence though.
We left the rig set up and running while the first band, Astronoid performed their set.
Upstairs, we could hear everything through our wireless in-ear monitoring system so we knew that it was working fine, and a lot of our worries were eased at this point. We still didn’t really know what the cause of the issue was but it seems as though we’ll be able to get through the show at least.
A few bars into Luminary, the whole thing dies. The crowd don’t quite understand but bear with us for the minute or so it takes to re-boot the system and try again. We start Luminary for the second time, making it a few bars further. It dies again. There’s no sound at all and no way for us to make any sound other than acoustic drums on stage – and I’m not about to play an un-prepared 45 minute drum solo – sorry y’all.
At this point, all we could do was apologise and exit the stage.
This was really difficult for us to accept as this was not our first show using this rig. We’d had over a week with it working flawlessly and fundamentally, it’s the same as the rig we’ve toured for the past five years. It just had a different, apparently better, brain.
We walked off stage to the sound of some people booing and within minutes, received a number of messages from people expressing their disappointment and annoyance with us not having a backup plan. This really isn’t a nice feeling. We’ve travelled so far to see these people and to perform. I truly understand the disappointment and cannot sympathise enough for the folks we let down, but there really was nothing we could do on the night. It’s tricky to explain that the reason we don’t currently have a backup rig is that 1. the system has worked without error for years, and 2. the cost to purchase and importantly, travel with a second system, at our level, would make the whole production unaffordable. Most bands who aren’t Muse don’t travel with a backup plan, but do very quickly get a solution in place when shit hits the fan. And it does occasionally hit the fan.
Anyway, this whole mess cost us a lot of money and made us re-think the way we do things. We had to immediately invest in a number of possible, slightly wild solutions on the road just to keep the ball rolling, which ultimately left us in a fairly poor financial position – but literally, the show had to go on.
Aggravatingly, we still don’t really know what caused the issue, nor do the companies who make the gear. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that has resulted in us investing in a different system moving forwards.
And again, and again, and… bollocks.
Very early in our career, we were performing a small headline show at a venue in London that I can’t even remember the name of. It was an upstairs venue in a bar – the type of place that has crammed in a stage as an afterthought.
Our live rig at the time was very simple – we had real amps and were running backing tracks from a laptop (ambient noises and synth) to compliment the rest of the music. Being poor musicians, we only had the technology to afford one hardwired audio output, which went to my headphones.
My mix was quite crude and consisted mostly of the Cubase metronome, pre-recorded guitar and the backing track stuff. It was my job to make sure I didn’t stray from the metronome as everyone else in the band was following my cues on stage. I had to count into each song and keep my left foot on the pedal hat going, no matter what.
We were on the final song of the set – Concealing Fate part 1. It was all going well. Energy was high, we were still enthusiastic about playing CFp1 as it was a new song at the time (we still like it obviously, but it’s kinda Smells Like Teen Spirit at this stage for me). We were somewhere near the end of the song when suddenly, all was not ok. Acle – bless him – had left a small section of the song selected and the ‘loop’ button was active – so in my headphones, I had the same four bars looping that we’d just played, and I was trying to play against it, to play the end of the song. The backing track was also looping out of the PA so what we were collectively failing to play on stage, wasn’t matching the backing track coming out of the speakers.
Acle quickly realised what had happened, rolled his eyes and hopped off stage to fix the problem. Somehow, we managed to maintain something resembling music throughout this ordeal and I’m not sure how obvious it would have been to anyone at the time, that it had all just gone horribly wrong. There’s a video of it on YouTube somewhere – I challenge you to find it!
I occasionally get paranoid before a show and even to this day, before we’re about to go on stage, I’ll check with Acle “Loop is off right?”
Album version or single version?
In the past when we’ve been on tours further down the bill of bands, we’ve had to shorten songs slightly or play the ‘single’ version of the song rather than the longer album version. The first single we officially released back in 2010 was Concealing Fate part 2: Deception. This version ended differently to the album version – it cuts out an instrumental chunk which led into Part 3 and instead ends somewhat abruptly after the beat-down section. That made sense to me but I understand if you’re scratching your head right now.
I don’t remember the exact city but we were somewhere in America and it was on one of the Altered State tours. We’d had to change this outro last minute and I remember Acle quickly running around to everyone saying ‘Part 2, single version!’ before we went on stage. That’s our cue to remember to not go into Concealing Fate part 3.
Four out of five of us remembered this on stage. One of us did not. Such an anti-climax to the song! There’s a video of this online somewhere too – If you can find it, I’ll repost it in this blog.
The other half of this fail is that Acle hadn't copied the correct number of repeats of a riff at the end of the song, so as I played along to the computer, the rest of the guys played along to their memory of the song - so we were all over the place.
In every nightmare I’ve ever had, I’m playing a rental kit
I don’t know what it is about rental companies worldwide but no matter how much they charge, they don’t seem to be able to maintain drum shells or hardware to a good, usable standard.
When requesting cymbal stands for fly-in shows, I always request one or two more than I need because I know with some certainty that some will be held together with spit and tape.
This year the two best failures have been in Mumbai and St Petersburg.
Bless them, they tried. I received an email a month or so before the show, requesting my drum spec. This is the same for every fly-in show:
Either 8”, 10”, 12” or 10”, 12”, 13” toms
18” floor tom
14” x 6” snare
8 DW cymbal boom stands
1 DW 9000 snare stand
1 DW 9000 three-legged hi hat stand
New Evans heads (G2 toms, Power Centre snare, EQ3 kick)
“No problem, we’ll get this for you”
This is how the above list was interpreted:
Would you ask a Formula 1 race car driver to try to win an F1 race in a Fiat Punto? Probably not.
I don’t think the drum heads had ever been changed and I the kit was held together mostly with gig poo (the name given to the accumulation of grot on unmaintained equipment from decades of shows).
We had to use rubble to hold the kick drum and hi-hat stand in place as the drum riser was, I think, balancing on a couple of rolls of toilet paper.
Of the seven cymbal stands, four of them were useable, once taped down. Three of them were missing essential parts and screws so literally couldn’t be used. I admit, I got somewhat agitated with the guys organising things, and urgently requested four new cymbal stands.
“Yes, yes, they’ll be here in like, 30 – 35 minutes max”.
Four hours and many requests later, they arrive. Five minutes before we’re due to walk on stage to start the show. This is not a relaxing or effective way to do things.
I did however learn that in Mumbai, “Yes” actually means “I don’t know, but I’d prefer to please you in this instant and deal with the inevitable mess and awkwardness later”.
Giving them credit, they had sourced a DW kit, which is more than most will do. However, it was in need of attention. As expected, the cymbal stands had been previously used as practice swords in a Gladiatorial arena, so weren’t much use as actual cymbal stands. Four of eight were usable. The other four needed surgery.
No matter how much time I spend fixing / maintaining / tuning rental kits before the show, it’s always a super stressful experience on stage. especially when shit like this happens:
If you enjoy these blogs you'll like what's coming. Myself and Dan (Tompkins) are about to start a regular podcast series. We're going to be meeting with and talking to a load of interesting folks we've met on our travels, recalling stories and perhaps the idea I'm most excited about - sharing a load of helpful information about being a professional musician.