Dave Roepke, Published October 09 2008
Shirt theft a cruel trick on indie duoPromising to ask no questions if something stolen is returned rarely seems to work, but I was wishing it would this past Friday night.
One of the members of Talkdemonic, an indie-rock duo from Portland, Ore., made a no-questions-asked appeal to whoever took some of the band’s promotional shirts during its set at The Aquarium.
The show’s promoter, Chris Hennen, says if the filched duds did end up reappearing, the band didn’t tell him about it. Nobody rushed up to stage to apologize and make amends after viola player Lisa Molinaro made the awkward post-show announcement, and it’s a safe bet that the responsible party was already long gone.
“Maybe I’m generalizing here, but I’m thinking it wasn’t somebody that was supporting the band or was a fan,” Hennen says.
Indeed, if forced to guess I’d blame the sticky fingers on an inebriated impulse. But on the outside chance that someone is capable of rationalizing jacking a small touring band’s merchandise with some sort of convoluted sense of anti-something ethics, it’s worth pointing out how unkind it is.
Independent bands that are trying to scrimp their way across the country – the unheard-of, out-of-state acts that left day jobs behind to play little downtown joints like The Aquarium and Red Raven Espresso Parlor – are working with razor-thin margins. A few dollars here and there can mean the difference between broke and not-yet-broke.
“A lot of times they’ll just get gas money at the door,” Hennen says of touring acts traveling without label budgets. “If they want anything above that, it’s merch sales.”
This is even truer now that the economy is in the tank and gas is stuck somewhere north of three bucks a gallon. That’s a double whammy. Vans and buses needed for lugging gear are also notorious for glugging fuel. And checking out an unknown band is an easy deletion from the to-do list for people fretting about finances.
Shirts in particular are where do-it-yourself acts can make the most money, says Charlie Wang, who promotes punk shows at the Red Raven and other venues. CDs tend to sell well because Fargo-Moorhead is not blessed with deeply stocked indie music stores, but a cut from a record might be reserved for a label.
“Any kind of apparel, really,” Wang says. “That is what keeps bands going.”
To be candid, it’s unlikely that Friday’s theft kept Talkdemonic from going. After all, it was just three shirts. They went for $15 apiece. Assuming they cost $5 a pop to make, we’re talking $30 here and only half that if you don’t consider the profit potential. Molinaro admitted that she considered not saying anything. So granted, it wasn’t the crime of the century. It was just barely a crime.
But the fact that she did speak up says two things. First off, the duo and their sound guy are probably traveling shoe-string enough that the loss did make an impact. Second, it clearly ticked them off. It’s not what one expects to deal with in an out-of-the-way Midwestern city, which is probably why the merch wasn’t watched – not a smart move in any town.
Thankfully, incidents like this seem to be rare. Hennen only remembers it happening twice before at any of his shows, and Wang says he’s never had a problem with it.
Let’s keep it that way. The last thing this place needs is a rip-off reputation.
Forum reporter Dave Roepke can be reached at (701) 241-5535 or firstname.lastname@example.org