The view from stage right

The keyboard player has the opportunity to be the laziest musician on stage. Sure, you’ve got folks playing keyboards with their feet, stabbing them with knives, setting them on fire, and every now and then the Keytar makes an attempt at an ironic comeback. But these isolated examples are anomalies. Drums, piano and organ are among the very few instruments that come with a chair when you buy them.

Drummers have a lot of physical work to do, and quite honestly I’m not sure how they manage it. I’m a keyboard player, I don’t have to hit anything particularly hard, I don’t have anything hanging around my neck while I’m playing, and there’s no point working out any Chuck Berry moves because my gear isn’t going with me across the stage if I do.

Why not just sit down and relax then? Well I did, for a while, until I realised I was missing out on a lot of the real entertainment: the antics of the crowd in front of the stage. You miss a lot of the action if you’re sitting down behind a wall of keyboards. So a few months back I decided to leave the bench at home and show my face a little more on stage.

The problem with making yourself more visible is that the audience starts to feel they’re free to interact with you. Last weekend I had about three people in the audience miming to me that I wasn’t smiling enough. And the problem with being on stage and catching the eye of someone who’s staring at you is that you can’t bury yourself in your drink or pretend to be watching the TV behind the bar.

I don’t smile much when I’m playing, unless I see someone in a plaid shirt singing along to “100th Meridian”. I don’t actually smile much when I’m not playing, unless I’ve just heard a really good joke. But if you’re wondering why I don’t smile more on stage, try to see things from my point of view, say at some random moment like the breakdown in “Holiday”. That’s how things look from a keyboard player’s perspective. Dark and jumbled, the air full of compression artifacts.