The touring life is an unforgiving one for upstart bands attempting to make an impression in music scenes that still reward blood, sweat and tears over the ability to produce formulaic hit singles. There is a sharp disparity between the luxury of Beyonce and Bieber’s deluxe touring buses and the harsh reality of a four person band, their crew and gear trekking across the states in a tightly packed rented van. When confined to this standard of living, a five-week tour often seems an eternity.
I’ve frequented the tight, dimly lit clubs that facilitate punk shows since being introduced to the genre by my older brother in middle school. I’ve seen bands destined for greater things sell out venues and been amongst crowds of no more than a dozen fans echoing the words of the artist on stage. Central to the punk scene’s philosophy is the do-it-yourself mentality — a belief that respect in the scene is earned, not given, validating the long weeks away from home, the sometimes disappointing turnouts and the frustrations of life as a touring musician.
Bearing this in mind, I looked up at Have Mercy with frustration as they worked their way through a 45-minute headlining set at Greene Street in Greensboro on Saturday night. Near the end of the Baltimore, Maryland quartet’s time on stage, vocalist and guitarist Brian Swindle thanked the crowd for allowing him to live the touring life; I’ve heard this sentiment expressed scores of times, and once dreamt of issuing a similar statement while standing on stage myself.
When I heard the familiar phrase on Saturday night, for the first time, I didn’t believe a word of it.
With a single show remaining after Greensboro, the wear of the road had started to encroach on the band; in his mannerisms more than his manner of dress and appearance, Swindle in particular seemed haggard. He sarcastically remarked on the number of fans who had seen Have Mercy before, bemoaned the loss of power in one amp, and snarked at his bandmates about throwing out their set list when the crowd made requests. Though these aren’t damning transgressions, Swindle’s stage presence was essentially nonexistent, allowing his few, curt comments to define the non-musical aspect of his performance.