I haven't been to many instore shows in all my years of going to shows. The first one I went to was accidental: Harvey Danger was performing at the Tower Records in Austin and my friends and I didn't even know it until we got to the store. We heard them soundcheck and play one song, but that was all we saw. We didn't dislike what we heard, but we were going some place soon and we had to leave. After that one, I saw a couple instores at Waterloo Records, but they were also by accident as I was there to shop.
A few weeks ago, the Happy Bullets and the Tah-Dahs played a free instore at the last Tower Records store in Texas. This store just happens to be less than ten minutes away from my house, so I figured what the hell. This definitely was a different kind of show as there would be no cigarette smoke, no bar in the back and plenty of area to move around. The show was by no means packed, but plenty of familiar fans, friends and family gathered around the small stage set up towards the back of the store by the DVDs. The Happy Bullets were first and they went into their regular set. However, following their first song, the store manager told them to turn their sound down because it was too loud and customers were complaining. My response? Oh brother.
With the Happy Bullets, probably the loudest parts of their songs are the vocal harmonies and horns. Nevermind the two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, those are the louder aspects. Overall, they're not a really loud band, so it kinda came as a shock that they were considered too loud. The rest of their set went with no noise complaints and with the exception of a point in the Tah-Dahs' set where the vocals were turned down, the rest of show went without a hitch. But I wondered: what was the staff expecting when they decided to open their doors for bands to play live?
Oftentimes, instores feature a band playing an acoustic set at a tolerable level. Not so with the last two instores I've seen at Tower. The bands played with their amplified electric guitars, full drumsets and keyboards. Fearing that last night's [daryl] and Black Tie Dynasty would be another tense "Hey, could you turn it down a little?" battle, I originally didn't want to go. Well, since the show was free, at a early time and so close to home, I went on down. To be honest, I'm glad I saw this to prove my point: a full-on electric instore while the store is still open is not the way to see a band play live.
With [daryl]'s set, I felt like I was watching the band play in someone's garage with restless neighbors. They weren't playing at their full potential as their rather unencumbered sound was encumbered in this setting. Chargers like "Happy Accidents" and "Serious" were slowed and toned down and just didn't have the same kind of impact. I felt bad for the guys and had no idea as to how Black Tie was going to be treated. Longtime [daryl] fan DB said he felt like the place was more of a library than a record store and I agreed. Surprisingly, Black Tie played a little louder and was never asked to turn things down. Maybe as a result, I enjoyed Black Tie's set much more because they weren't conscious of things that bands normally should not be worried about when they play live.
If Tower continues to have instores in their building, they should not be telling a band to turn things down. It's extremely hard not to play loud when you have electric guitars going amps, drummers playing with regular drumsticks and microphones turned on. Maybe all-acoustic sets would be better as they would be quieter and a chance to see bands in another light. However, just walking around the place makes me wonder how much longer this Tower is gonna be around.
To pass the time between sets, I decided to look around at the magazines, CDs and DVDs. While roaming the aisles, I was reminded of a reason why people don't buy that many CDs anymore: the outrageous prices certain places like Tower and Virgin charge. The new Secret Machines record was going for $18.99 and I gasped. Who would really buy this at this cost? Ten Silver Drops is an awesome album, but I'm not about to pay $20 for a copy of it. Couple that with Tower's current Chapter-11 status, a local Virgin Megastore closing and all Best Buys drastically reducing the amount of CDs they stock, I think it's safe to say that the days of big corporate CD chainstores are about to be behind us. It's been a great ride though.