Mad Dogs & Baseball Caps

Going on tour with the Guggenheims for two months meant catching one or two of their shows. I was also doing, and sometimes failing, to be guitar tech. The toughest show, by far, that I’ve seen them play was a show in Louisville, Kentucky along the waterfront.

The humidity was nearly 100%, the heat was up around 100 too. Blazing sunshine. Blue sky. Hot stage lights. Basically the perfect conditions for killing simple fair-skinned Irish people. The guys are on in the early afternoon. There’s a Noel Coward song that states “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen stay out in the midday sun”. There’s good reason for this. It’s insane. The guys sweat litres. Kev is sitting on a part of the stage in full sunshine. I’m throwing towels up beside from side-stage.

Running through my mind are images of Steve Staunton, a fair haired Irish soccer player back in the Florida sun in World Cup ’94 wearing a hanky on his head and being denied water by the American officials, or Barry McGuigan, World Champion boxer from the mild climes of Clones, Co Monaghan, insanely urged to defend his world title in the thin air of Mexico City during the blistering midday sun. Both men could barely stand, let alone perform to the best of their ability.

Kev is offered a white baseball cap by a very generous and kind lady, which he gratefully accepts. We later tell him that he looked terminally ill, in reference to an English comedian who stated that no English person can wear a baseball cap convincingly. They just look rather poorly. The English complexion isn’t exactly a million miles from the Irish one… so I think the rule remains. If only to annoy Kevin. (In case you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, we’re unbelieveably mean to each other – I think it’s a coping mechanism, combined with a sick sense of humour.)

The other problem with playing in such heat (apart from risking death, that is), is the effect on the musical instruments. As you might have noticed from the furore around the musicians who played at Obama’s inauguration – musical instruments do not do well in extreme temperatures. Metals obviously expand – so the strings, if they’re metal, loosen. The sweat, at this stage pouring profusely from your fingers in that heat, dulls and oxidises the strings quite quickly. Basically, after a short while playing in the heat, your instrument will sound less than perfect. Then the instrument itself will react to the heat, expanding or contracting… and all of this affects the tuning of the instrument too… So it’s a bit of a nightmare.

Tour Riders, which are basically a list of the technical needs and wishes of a band, were invented for these kinds of reasons. I can envision clauses going in, prohibiting us from performing in temperatures over 90 degrees when it’s 100 percent humidity. The rule will need tweaking, but I’ll figure something out.

These are not obviously massive problems. We’re touring foreign parts, enjoying ourselves and doing well, so we should not be concerned with these matters. But we’re a fickle and insecure bunch. When things don’t feel or sound exactly right onstage, you can’t help but feel that you’re letting the audience down – even when things are outside of your control. I don’t know many bands who can control the weather yet. (Especially since the Geneva Convention banned dropping chemicals into clouds back in the 50s. Although, it IS the Geneva Convention. It’s not as if any major power has respected that in the past few decades.)

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