Friday, July 19, 2024

Wind maestro Stan Strickland during a set with pianist Josh Rosen on Sunday at Lilypad in Cambridge’s Inman Square. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

Worst. Gig. Ever.

You never know what to expect with live performances. Whether on the road in a strange town or playing in your own backyard, anything can happen.

A few local artists shared with us their worst. gig. ever. Live, laugh, and love along with them as they dish out the dishonorable mentions.

Andy of Hammered Saint, a veteran punk rock outfit that promises to “stomp your balls off,” recalls a gig from their early days.

“In 1991, I got an absolutely terrible cold a few days before my first ever NYC gig, at the legendary ABC No Rio. Bedridden, falling asleep every 45 minutes, gunk coming out from everywhere, you get the idea. 

“I told my doctor that I needed to play this show. I needed something to alleviate the symptoms, and I didn’t care if it took a few years off the end of my life, turned my skin green, whatever. He gave me these huge horse pills and said he wasn’t gonna do it again. I still don’t know what they were. 

“I was gulping them on the way down to New York. By the time I hit the stage, clear fluid was basically pouring out of my nostrils. I was still a bit new to playing and singing simultaneously, so I used to do so with my eyes closed. Unfortunately, under the influence of this potent mystery medication, once my eyes were closed, I couldn’t tell which way was up, and nearly fell off the stage a couple times. 

“At one point, a bunch of the audience seemed to be staring open mouthed at something behind me. I cautiously turned and saw a Doberman standing on the sill of the back doorway, barking its head off at me, only to take a somersaulting spill down to the venue floor. At least I thought I did. Oh well, keep playing. I’m feeling better and kind of enjoying myself.

“We finished the set. It seemed relatively together to me, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking Colt 45 out of a paper bag, sitting on the Rivington St curb.”

Was the Doberman real? Or just a hallucination born from the magical effects of the mystery horse pills?

“Folks did confirm that there really was a Doberman right behind me, seemed really mad at me, and took an alarming tumble. The gig may have been even worse for him than it was for me.”

Alt-Americana rockers The Give have played some strange stages. Guitarist George Lanides shares a weird one.

“We played a bank. Yes, a bank.

“There was an opener who was billed as an Elvis impersonator. He was a high school senior who held an acoustic guitar, didn’t play it, and sang along, off key, to a karaoke machine. He actually had the better time slot than us and we ended up playing to a handful of employees who were sweeping up halfway through our set. File under Puppet Show and Spinal Tap.”

And the kicker? The Elvis impersonator wasn’t even singing along to Elvis numbers.

“Takeaway lesson: Don’t play banks.”

David of Battlemode, a chiptune duo (now trio!), recalls a gig from his previous band Triheart.

“Triheart was a really interesting, fulfilling project, but it needed a ton of editing. We were a rap, chiptune, violin trio – which is a really specific taste. I think some people really liked us because we were different, but others found us to be cringe. One time we were even called a, ‘dumpster fire.’ I learned a lot from being in Triheart – there were tons of lessons in how to be a band and how to navigate the music industry.”

Dumpster fire? Hyperbole is the first and fundamental sin of bad music criticism …

“This event took place in Feb 2020 (Covid was a thing, but hadn’t hit the U.S. yet, and people were definitely still out and about). We had absolutely no following. I very naively thought the remedy to this was to get out of Boston more to play shows (NYC, Providence, Hartford). 

“I emailed some of the bigger spaces in Providence for availability, and Alchemy actually responded. Out of the open dates they listed, the most attractive date was Sun 2/2/20. I felt so accomplished that I was able to land a weekend date at a midsized venue in a distant city. I didn’t want to screw this up!

“I knew this show was going to cost me money … I was having a terrible time filling this bill. Either bands couldn’t do it, or bands weren’t responding to me. I remember spending weeks researching local bands and making inquiries … After weeks, I found some really cool bands with followings: Snowhaus and Wax On. 

“I think both these bands are defunct now, but they were pretty cool at the time! I think I offered Snowhaus $300 to $400 and Wax On $200. I don’t think I would spend this much on a guarantee for this level of band nowadays, but I was desperate, green and eager. I put a lot of effort into marketing with the tools available to me. I definitely spent a good amount on FB/Instagram ads. I also remember having fliers made and taking a day trip down to Providence to flier. 

“As the date approached, I was getting amped! A Providence friend texted me, writing he had seen my flier and was excited I was playing in his city. He apologized to me, wishing he could attend, but was hosting a Super Bowl party. 

“This is when my heart sank to my stomach – I had booked my show on the night of the Super Bowl. Excuse the stereotype, but us homosexuals have never been particularly knowledgeable about sports. I didn’t even realize the Super Bowl was in February. Looking back, it did seem suspicious a midsized club was offering a weekend date to a band of our caliber.

“The New England Patriots still had Tom Brady and finished 12-4 that year. Sounds like this gig was going to be, in the words of Bill Belichick, ‘tough sledding.’ 

“Absolutely nobody came to the show. I think the only reason Wax On and Snowhaus even played their sets was because I paid them. I felt bad for the bartender on duty, so I made a point to buy tons of drinks and leave a big tip. All in all, this show probably cost me close to $1,000, all for nothing. 

“Word of wisdom to bands navigating the music industry: Learn when the Super Bowl is, and avoid booking shows that date at all costs.” 


With the Patriots mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, you can tune out the pigskin and dial in the music. Check out these gigs – maybe Mac Jones will be nursing a Cosmo in the corner!

Friday: Hallelujah The Hills, Eldridge Rodriguez, Aaron & The Lord (The Sinclair, Cambridge)

Local indie rock veterans Hallelujah The Hills are more tentacles than squid these days. Sure, they’ve got an unimpeachable discography of bouncy, anthemic rock. But their influence extends further, with suction cups firmly attached to spinoff bands, production, booking and music mentorship on both sides of the Charles. Catch them in full kraken-mode on Friday.

Saturday: Let’s Rock Cancer! (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

The concert benefits The Cancer Care Equity Center at Dana-Farber, drawing together acts from across the alt music space. The Chelsea Curve were 2023 Rock & Roll Rumble finalists. Muzzins are a cosmic groove-forward trio ready to boogie. Vapors of Morphine is a long-running project that creates music from out of the ashes of their musical comrade-in-arms Mark Sandman. Expect these acts and more on a night for giving back.

Sunday: The Furniture, Mallcops, Autumn Astronauts (State Park Bar, Cambridge)

You might not think of Kendall Square as a music destination. State Park Bar has been trying to change that with a dynamite Sunday night series that showcases new acts and staples in the local indie rock scene. Speaking of those squid tentacles, The Furniture features a member of Hallelujah The Hills. No cover, but there’s a tip jar for the bands. Don’t be a cheapskate!

Thursday: Third Thursdays with Matt Lavelle and K.J. Holmes (Harvard-Epworth Church, Cambridge)

The recurring jazz series dedicated to Ornette Coleman’s “harmolodic” music philosophy always has a surprise in store. What’s “harmolodic” all about? There are related manifestos available, but probably easier to just listen and learn. This month’s special guests are polymath artist Matt Lavelle and dancer K.J. Holmes. Series host Dave Bryant will lead his house band in support.


It was a wet December night at the Lilypad last Sunday. The moist and faithful turned out for a set of jazz from longtime collaborators pianist Josh Rosen and wind maestro Stan Strickland. Wind maestro? Strickland plays saxophone and flute, but his breathy vocal contortions to start his solo jam made it clear that the center of his artistry is a precisely calibrated pair of lungs. The looping-effects pedal at his foot lets him juggle a few balls at a time. Like Frog and Toad, the pair have a charming rapport, and teamed up to play a mix of standards and originals in the cozy Cambridge haunt.

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.