First Gig: Nyles Lannon
First Gig is our series at Stereo Subversion that asks various musicians to look back at their first-ever live show. This time, we’ve asked Nyles Lannon to tell us firsthand about a very embarrassing feedback-laden concert at Princeton. When Nyles is not playing guitar for Film School, he’s creating beautifully textured electronic pop under the name n. Lannon, as he is on his latest album, Falling Inside.
We drove up from Philadelphia to play a gig at Princeton University, as part of some spring festival of sorts. I was in an “emo” band at the time; this was in the early ’90s. We loved bands like Fugazi, Shudder the Think, Jawbox… a lot stuff on Dischord and Touch and Go records. Math rock. I played bass.
It was a bright, clear afternoon. The air was crisp. A little early in the year for an outside festival. We carted our gear out to a big grassy field where there was a big mobile stage. We were gruffly told to start setting up, the festival needed to start on time. Were we late? I dont think so. Anyway, we hastily set up our gear — this was going to be a big gig! Festival! People will discover us! My nerves were starting to really kick in.
The stage was a bunch of squares all pieced together in a grid. It was about 3 feet off the ground I’d say. I remember setting up and thinking, “Huh… this stage is pretty wobbly. Well, must be fine, these people know what they are doing. They’re professionals.”
We startled some people with a particularly dissonant, loud and nervous sound check, with lots of mumbling into our microphones and piercing feedback. It did not go well. People who were obviously expecting a cover band got some distance from the stage and turned their backs to the noise. We had to cut sound check short as it was time for the festival to begin.
A tiny trickle of students, seeming to not really know where to go, started to make there way out to the field. A ball started being kicked around. Everything seemed slightly muted somehow. I still held on to the feeling that there might be some music nerds hiding in their dorm rooms who would come running as soon as they heard our loud, angular guitar rock start playing on the green.
“Time to start, you guys need to start now!” the stern organizer-type barked. I’m realizing this guy is kind of a dick.
We jumped up on stage, plugged in, looked out at the sparse crowd. A few people glanced our way. We said, “Hello Cleveland!” but no one got the joke.
We started our first song. It was loud, rough. But hey, here we are! This is awesome! It’s so fun to play outside. Wow, they are going to love–
the guitarist’s cord suddenly becomes taut. Time seems to slow down as we watch his amp (a Marshall stack, speaker and head) wobble and then topple off the back of the stage. The cord rips violently out of his guitar. BAM, the amp screams. Feedback.
Instead of this being a cool Kurt Cobain thrash-your-instrument, anti-establishment type of moment, it was a silence-inducing, horribly awkward moment. We sloppily ended the song (the drummer kept playing another fifteen seconds or so, ahem), we sheepishly looked at each other, shuffled off the stage. In what seemed like hours, we hoisted the amp back up. That lovely sound of unplugged cords being plugged back in to pedals, instruments, piercing the silence over and over. Buzz, buzz buzz, crackle. There was sporadic laughter. Mostly dead silence.
What little confidence and mojo we had going into this gig was now gone. “Just get through this,” I remember thinking. We stumbled through the rest of our set, the awkwardness never quite dissipating. We talked to no one, packed our stuff, and then headed home, tails between our legs. Bye, bye Cleveland.