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Fun With Torture

Practical jokes to drive your bandmates crazy

Sure, playing music is fun, but do you know what far exceeds the joys of a live performance? Punishing your band-mates. Here are a few tried and true practical jokes which will mean big laughs for you and frustration, self-loathing, and perhaps tears and/or loss of employment for your friends with whom you share the stage. Remember, the secret to comedy is timing. Play these right and you will enjoy legendary status; blow the delivery and your only legacy will be shame.

1) THE FUZZ BUZZ
Materials: One fuzz pedal, two 15” guitar cables, a guitar amp with an effects loop, one hapless victim.

The set up: Stealthily hook a fuzz pedal up to the effects loop of the victim’s amp. Place the fuzz pedal by your pedalboard and turn it all the way up. When you are half way into your second song, surreptitiously stomp on the fuzz, leaving it on for no more than two seconds and watch the panic and annoyance on the victim’s face. Repeat throughout the night.

A friend of mine, Bob Whitmer, inflicted great emotional and physical pain on a guitar player in his band throughout an entire hour set with this gag. After the sneaky wiring setup, Bob engaged the fuzz ten minutes into the set, unleashing an immediate cacophony of feedback.

The victim turned around and smacked his amp a few times, then Bob turned off the fuzz. The victim surmised that a wire or tube was loose and all it needed was a good pounding. Five minutes later Bob engages the fuzz again, the victim beats his amp again; this time Bob waits twenty seconds, allowing the amp to takes its lumps, before he turns off the fuzz. This continues for the entire set, with each session of feedback growing in length and intensity while amp abuse increases in ferociousness. Regrettably, the set was only an hour long and during the break the dupe found the lines running in and out of his effect loop. The stress induced from Bob’s genius prank probably took a few years off the life of both the amp and the guitar player while simultaneously torturing the audience with earsplitting feedback and therefore ranks as one of the most brilliant bits of performance art I’ve ever witnessed.

2) THE KEYBOARD CLAMINATOR
Keyboard players lean toward anal retention, maybe because they grew up with mommy taking them to music lesson. Here’s a devilish deceit that will torture your uptight schoolmarm of a keyboardist.

Materials: Strong transparent tape (Scotch Tape) and one persnickety keyboardist working with a keyboard, not a conventional piano.

The set up: During soundcheck, ask to have keys spread around the stage mix so they are fairly omnipresent in the monitor mix, not so loud as to arise suspicion but loud enough to make any clams obvious. After soundcheck, sneak over to the keyboardist’s rig and tape the C above middle C to the parallel B key. Apply the tape generously underneath the keys so as not to be seen or felt. When the keyboardist hits that C/B cluster for the first time, look over at him with a friendly it-happens-to-the-best-of-us smile. When he hits it again, smile and shrug your shoulders in a forgiving manner. The next time, hopefully during a piano driven ballad, give him a WTF? glare. Escalate to full on, unforgiving rage. When the ruse comes to light, go Clinton on him: deny, deny, deny. Remain smug and unforgiving and watch the formerly condescending keyboardist crumble. Oh, how the mighty fall.

3) THE POWER POWDER SNARE SMACK
Materials: Hard hitting, Neanderthal drummer, dark stage, one bottle of baby powder.

The set up: After soundcheck, sneak onto the dark stage shortly before the show starts. Gingerly pour half a bottle of baby powder onto the snare head. Make it even so that it becomes indistinguishable from the white drum head. This prank works best with a new, white head. You may consider giving your drummer a new white snare head for Christmas both as a kind gesture and a cunning set up for his undoing.

When it’s time to play, occupy the drummer with a conversation right up until the last free second, forcing both of you to rush to the stage. Perform this with military precision so he arrives behind his kit seconds before the first downbeat. Ideally, your set should start with a drum-heavy rocker. When he smacks that snare for the first time a mushroom cloud of baby powder will engulf the entire kit. If he’s a dedicated musician, he will continue to play through the gagging thick fog of white, sending out more white bombs of powder every two and four beats. Bonus points if it’s a high profile gig with a mandatory black dress code.

An imaginative lark well-executed will get people slapping their knees, giggling and buying you drinks for the rest of your life— it’s the currency of late night hysterics. Pull off these beauties and enjoy your new status as the funniest person in the room. One small disclaimer: it may not be a good idea to inflict these jokes on anybody who lacks a sense of humor and is bigger than you. If you decide to go this dangerous route, keep your operation clandestine, like a man who steals a Van Gogh, locks it in a hidden room within his house and enjoys it alone with a nice red wine.

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