First Gig: Ennui
First Gig is our series at Stereo Subversion that asks various musicians to look back at their first-ever live show. Pittsburgh’s own Jim Doutrich, a.k.a. Ennui, is next up on the list with a frustrating night in front of a bar crowd used to cover tunes. Ennui’s forthcoming album, Telepathic Beat, comes out in September on Mush Records. Until then you can check out the new single “Summer of Love” below.
I started out as, more or less, a singer-songwriter. I used to prep or cut my teeth on my songs at open mic nights at the Fire in Philadelphia. It’s worth mentioning that these open mic nights used to be a pretty big deal. They were usually packed and you could usually catch Amos Lee, before he signed to Blue Note, and Mutlu, who was another great Philly songwriter, performing most weeks.
Anyway, I would debut songs that I was writing there and once I had gathered about 10-11 songs, I ended up recording a demo that I passed out to venues and bars all over Philadelphia. After a few weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from a tavern outside the city in Conshohoken. I don’t even remember what the bar was called. Perhaps, it was just Tavern.
For the gig, I had an acoustic guitar and keyboard and I planned to play about a dozen of my original songs. There wasn’t a stage so I was set up in the corner of the bar on the floor. Luckily, I had a bunch of friends who came out to support me and as I ran thru my set, most of them listened and applauded after my songs. The rest of the bar didn’t seem to care or were despondent.
After I played about half my set, one of my good friends, rather drunkenly, came over to the mic and said to play “High and Dry” by Radiohead. I agreed and all of a sudden, my friend starts belting out the song in perfect Thom Yorke falsetto. Now everyone at the bar were blown away. “Finally, a cover song!”
This basically started a free for all. Soon, my other friend asked if he could play a few songs and then he proceeded to play two Neil Young covers. Not surprisingly, the crowd was even more excited by this. I was like “screw this” and decided to go back to playing my originals. This only pissed everyone off who had finally started enjoying what were doing. Obviously, this was a bar that were used to hearing cover bands 95 percent of the time.
Regardless, I finished my set and then packed up my stuff and went over to the bar manager to get my $100 flat fee we agreed upon. He basically looked at me like “thanks for nothing, dude” and then begrudgingly handed over the money. That was my first gig.