Wednesday 25th July 2012
Deja Vu, Reading, RG1 2LG
Bohemian Night open-mic hosted by Rob Sowden
"The Eyes, the Eyes, Look into the Eyes..."
Reviewing someone else's performance over the last week, I noticed the lack of eye contact. More than anyone, I know I'm guilty of this, either playing with my eyes closed or looking into the distance, in fact I would go so far as to say I would do anything to avoid eye contact for fear of being put off. However last night I noticed that I'm not alone in the habit. Nearly all the performers last night avoided eye contact in one way or another including one which although energetic and full of life and vigour seemed to be playing in a bubble somehow.
Talking of bad habits, one of the acts that I thought connected well with the audience was Reverend John who sang very funny songs with plenty of eye contact. Indeed it felt like he was there for the benefit of the audience, to entertain and communicate rather than some self-serving purpose. (I don't think the self-serving purpose should be dismissed by the way, one of the functions of open-mic is to get confidence etc, however when measuring the connection with the audience there were clearly some more successful than others last night).
It's not uncommon for me to have to follow great acts and indeed it was me that followed Reverend John last night. What to do? Do I try and maintain the high energy from Reverend John's set and change what I had intended and start with the tried and tested Cold Heart? I did a compromise. I started off with Jackson Browne's Barricades of Heaven which may have been a bit risky as it has a moderate pace although surprisingly, it seemed to be well received. I had then intended to play Something Wild and a new arrangement of Magic Back but I think a combination of a lack of confidence in the two and also a doubt that it was a suitable time to play them (i.e. about 23:15 and people were losing concentration and leaving), I decided to do the trusted "favourites".
So in effect I played safe. Except for the fact that I decided that I would concentrate on making eye contact with the few that remained. Very interesting is the effect of being proactive and looking at people rather than trying to avoid their gaze. It might be the old, never lost, teacher stare: "I will kill you if you don't pay attention", but somehow it did seem as if I engaged the audience more than I usually would at that time of night. It was interesting.
As an aside, if you're a Jackson Browne fan, from checking the link below on Barricades of Heaven I've just discovered this really great version of Fountain of Sorrow. And actually, coincidentally, maybe it's a good example of eye contact between performer and audience.
Barricades of Heaven (Jackson Browne)