Little Lonely Scream: When great performers and empty venues collide
By Laura Witkowski
I’ve blabbed on and on about Little Scream (aka Laurel Sprengelmeyel)’s debut record to anybody who would listen since it was released earlier this year. It’s called The Golden Record and it is just that – an auditory treasure and easily one of my favorite albums of 2011. So I was pretty excited to finally get to see her live, which I did just last night at Small’s in Hamtramck (Hamtramck is a tiny city within the city of Detroit, and a central force in the Detroit live music scene). After finishing her first song, Little Scream smiled warmly, looked into the audience and said, “This is the smallest audience we’ve ever played for … thank you for coming”. Hearing her say that was a relief. I hate the idea that somebody so talented may have at one point played for less than eight people. I think that’s how many people were there. As easy as it would have been, I never got around to doing a proper head count. But I think eight is about right. Oof.
Oh, the criminally under-attended show … While I imagine that music fans all the world over have experienced this phenomenon at least once or twice, it seems to happen a lot in Detroit. There are several different theories as to why this might be – Detroit is a city of poors, touring bands usually hit the city on a week night on their way to or from better drawing cities like Toronto, Chicago or Cleveland, everybody here is fat and suffers from seasonal affective disorder … lots of possible reasons! As a misanthropic audience member, I both revel in the joy of not being surrounded by people and agonize over the fact that the band I’m watching is going to end the night with three dollars and will struggle to scrape together enough money to fill up the tank so they can get the hell out of Detroit and never come back. And that agony far outweighs the joy of a semi-private performance.
How a band handles playing for a much smaller than desired crowd says a lot about them. It has to be frustrating to know even before you start playing that your show wasn’t a draw. And that, even if every single person buys a record or a T-shirt, you’ll make maybe $100. And let’s face it, most people are not leaving the show with your merch, they’re leaving with a few Miller High Life’s sloshing around in their bellies and heading to an all-night diner to get fries. So when a band responds to a tepid Detroit turnout by playing a hurried, phoned-in set, packing up their shit and fleeing the venue as quickly as possible, I can’t blame them. But it does make me feel awkward. Like they’re thinking, “Oh, great. If this little group of pesky nerds would’ve just stayed home and streamed episodes of Cheers on Netflix, we could’ve cancelled and gotten a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s Chicago show where actual people are going to come out to see us.” It’s a weird feeling.
Little Scream, however, was not like that. The set was not phoned in – it was gracious, intimate and beautiful. I was curious to see how the songs would be performed live, seeing as the record is full of lush layers of sound and multiple vocal harmonies. Live, Little Scream was fleshed out to a three-piece band – she with an array of effect pedals, a Casio keyboard and a guitar, along with another guitarist and drummer who both sang back up. They sounded fantastic. Laurel Sprengelmeyel’s warm smile stayed in place for the entire performance. She and her two bandmates were engaged, charming and just seemed really, really nice. Sure, nice isn’t everything, but when bands are dicks it’s kind of the worst. After they were done, I got a chance to talk to them and gush like a nerdy fangirl about how much I loved the record and how great their set was. Not only were they as nice as they seemed on stage, they expressed a genuine interest in and appreciation for Detroit. That made me feel really good. I’m totally going to be their Detroit tour guide the next time they are in town.
Were they disappointed with the turn-out? Sure. How could they not be? Did their set deserve a larger audience? Without a doubt. But those of us who were there experienced something really special. It seemed especially fitting that the Little Scream tour T-shirt features a picture of a full moon with the words, “I AM GLAD YOU ARE HERE – Little Scream” across it. Because I felt like they really were. Little Scream has several more U.S. shows on this tour, and if they are coming to your town, I highly recommend taking the time to go see them. You’ll be glad you were there.