Yes, we all woke up on Wednesday and heard it a million times:12, 12, 12. On CNN's Headline News, they even broke from the stories of the day to show their huge digital clock going to 12:12:12 pm...on 12/12/12.
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle's Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
But did any of us know that 12/12/12 was also the first ever "National Soundcheck Day"? Well, CNN's Headline News also announced THAT too. You get it? One, two...one, two...one, two. No matter where you might go on this planet, "one, two...one, two...one, two" IS the international language of the dreaded live gig soundcheck.
It got me to think about just how damn many soundchecks a guy like me has done.The first thing that happens at a soundcheck is the "ringing out" of the PA system. At 3 p.m. on the day of the gig, the whole band is there. If you are a veteran rock guy like myself, you go anywhere other than the main room while the PA is getting "rung." A good ringing can really sting the eardrums, and I've even heard lore of the ringing creating IBS in some poor souls.
And then comes the snare drum check. Bap, bap, BAP. Again, if you know what you are doing, you go to another room (unless, of course, you are the drummer). And the snare drum is just the FIRST of all of the singular drums and cymbals that need to be adjusted --for volume and tone--during soundcheck.
Bass guitar is usually next. Most bass players (including myself), don't have much playing-alone "game" (hey! Bass players are the glue in a band...and don't take solo's! Give 'em a break!). My point is, it's not very interesting.
Guitars are next, and guitar players LOVE to shred at soundchecks (the "widdly, widdly, widdly'" that we have all now dubbed "lookatme, lookatme, lookatme").
Back-up vocals are next, and this gives us all (even the bass players) a chance to constantly prove to everyone else...that WE should be the LEAD singer of the band!
And then there's the lead vocal. The sound guy will usually ask for a level from either the singer, or, barring that singer isn't there (uh huh), a roadie or tech will assume the role as lead vocal-mike-level-getter. That is when we usually and most commonly here that mighty "one, two...one, two...one, two".
You go through all of this, and then finally get to play a song or two. The band wants the monitors on stage to be right, and the front of house sound guy usually wants a hard rocker, and a softer tune, all of this to enable the best sound for that show coming up.
But remember, there is no one in the room and it sounds all echo-y and hollow. "Don't worry", the sound guy says, "it will sound completely different once the room fills up with people."
So then, the question has to be asked: why in the hell DO we do soundchecks every day, when the whole damn thing is just going to sound different with a full room, and the sound guy will have to totally re-adjust all of his tones and volumes?!!
I never said rock people were the smartest humans roaming the planet.
OK, all joking aside, last night in NYC was the flashpoint to a most awesome 121212 Concert for Hurricane Sandy relief.
All of the artists who played did all they could to entertain. The names were so big and tastefully put together that the whole world just HAD to watch. Every band and solo artist rocked like hell.
It's a bad-ass thing to see humans helping out other humans. This stuff is us at some of our very best.
Seeing Paul McCartney play "Blackbird" alone with an acoustic guitar was gut-wrenchingly good. Sir Paul with Krist Noviselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear was one of the most rock things in the recent history of music. Period.
The TV sound was fairly good, too. The swear-knob-pusher guy had even had his cues down pat. The lighting was on point, and the artist switch-overs were seemless.
Rest assured....there was a soundcheck.