Saturday, July 8, I Died Trying returned after a four year hiatus with a one man show performed by multi-instrumentalist Tony Goff who played two 45-minute sets at the Actors Theatre in Fairborn. It was a rare sit down affair but the experience everyone shared that night was one for the ages. The performance in scope and delivery went far beyond a rock show as Goff sweated out multiple built up emotions that had been stored for musical release and purging. That night he honored fallen heroes, close friends and his mothers memory. The contortions were written across his face as he squinted, united with guitar wailing screams and the alchemic, madman soloing he unleashed.
A rare experience was beheld with audience comprised of close friends, devoted fans new and old and others who sat in the sold out theater joined in the group emotion that erupted from Goff’s body and guitar, rapturing the stage and walls. Goff delivered an emotional speech during the second half though it was unclear before how much of the liquid rolling down his face were tears, sweat or both. The closed eyed cries of pain, anger, depression and torment seemed to be released and escape him onto the floor as looks of crazed, euphoric satisfaction covered his face.
Goff dreamed up the Encore show about 6 months ago. Roughly four months to the day he booked the theater, spending every day working on the show. Sound checking the night before was very surreal and extremely hard to believe it was already here.
“When I got backstage, the doors opened and everything started to hit me at once. I got very emotional. I went seamlessly between smiling, laughing, crying, nervousness, every emotion possible. As it neared [showtime] a feeling I don’t really have a word for warmed over me. Before I perform, I get this warm feeling all over me and go into a trance like state like I’m going out to a fight. Honestly, to me, it is. It’s a fight. It’s war. I had glimpses of that at rehearsals and during sound check, but this was the first time in almost four years, it washed over me completely.”
Goff was concerned he’d get so emotional that his health might be in danger but he made peace with it and told the crew to film whatever happened no matter what. “I was ready to go out there to fight and if need be, die on stage. My best friend of almost 35 years Justin helped me plan this entire thing. He did the theater warm up and starred in the “IDT-Mart Commercial” during the show. I made him promise me, that if I went out there and didn’t leave the stage, if I died on stage, the DVD MUST still be released. All included. If I went out during the performance, so be it. I was prepared.”
That night, Goff went all in, if it was the last time he performed, he’d do it his way and go out swinging, guitar screaming with his boots on. The Encore was Goff’s way of honoring his mother’s last wish in her final moments saying, “You have a life to live, a dog to take care of and a motorcycle to ride and music that needs played.”
It was a night when the audience genuinely felt the passion and reacted with shared tears watching a man purge himself of so much internal turmoil.
“The lights went down, the curtains opened, the intro began. I was standing by the doorway [by] the stage and I remember peeking out [seeing] a full room of people, all completely fixated on the stage where the video was playing. Their faces reminded me of the girl in Twilight Zone The Movie who is watching cartoons, eyes agape but she doesn’t have a mouth. That’s the level of engagement I saw on those faces. I will never forget that.”
Multiple feelings and emotions were displayed doing the show, ecstasy mixed with agony, happiness with rage and peace/accomplishment with depression and despair. Besides the music, his instruments were a personal portal to an emotional cleansing of the past, unresolved history and a comeback as much as a completion of a long journey.
A number of people helped make The Encore happen including venue owner Jim Harworth, Kenny and Cherie Sheets, stage director Justin Moore, stage hand Joey Hall, lights Brian Foster, Kenny Sheets, merch table and concessions Lindsay Wright, Marc Godsey door and security, photographer Jebenezzer Law ,Chris Corn with performance recorders Matthew King and Nicole Tefft. Former band members also came out to support Goff.
The stage was equipped with two large flat screens and one laptop, with branches hanging from the ceiling and two standing banners of his mother’s fingerprint.
Act one gave the crowd some unexpected humor as well as a solo with a Pee Wee doll. Act two brought the emotional weight to the forefront with Goff playing homage to his mother, declaring his deep admiration for Prince and honoring some close local fallen friends.
He invited everyone to sing along as he gutted out a cosmic star studded tribute on “Purple Rain.” He struggled through trembling words about his mother’s love and devotion to his music, white knuckling the mic saying her last words to him were; the show must go on.
He thanked all those who helped him make his dream and that night a reality and all the local support.
It was a night of open painful bloodletting through music as memories poured from Goff’s head through all orifices. Five new songs were played with an ending tribute to old school material.
The Encore officially began with the opening 12 minutes of “What You Won’t Do Is What I Will Do” with Goff hitting the stage, immediately throwing himself full body into intense anatomic, spastic movement. The monitors showed footage, shapes, colors and all manner of media showcasing Goff as the center piece. The slow, grinding, cathartic beginning was audio built for what was to come as Goff yelled lyrics into the mic, fingers vigorously, viciously attacking the strings. Echoed vocals spewed forth as the song itself historically and symbolically marked Goff’s first live performance in four years.
The slow moody blues bars started as Goff toggled and whammied notes out of his guitar. The first sounds, facials and tastes of the overpowering emotion in the air came forth. The story of the last few years played over Goff’s face as the music and screen did the rest, ending in a kind of tribal cadence.
Guitar and drums went spastic on “Incandescent” filled with audio samples, frenetic neck work and prog mixed with elements of technical speed, thrash and hardcore.
As part of Act One’s humor a commercial for I Died Trying-Mart aired with deals available in the lobby and IDT retailers nationwide.
“Glitter Eater” started with an almost Sepultura-like tribal vibe with tastes of hip-hop and atmospheric ambience. Goff’s animalistic roar erupted between audio clips as the drums smacked down an almost danceable groove. His fingers went into Van Halen mode erupting on the frets, cranking out a space aged, robotic solo accompanied by a club dance beat before returning to the regularly scheduled program of deep creative chaos.
Everything calmed and quieted to a Pink Floyd level ease as cosmic atmosphere filled the screens before Goff’s final, bear stuck in a trap, eruption came.
Act one was a blur for Goff, replaying as a digital distortion-like dream. He was completely present but not there at all. It went by fast. During intermission he was in a weird state, emotionally raw and given his laser focus ,unsure how it had gone so far.
Goff’s cousin said he was FUCKING KILLING IT! Goff laughed and exhaled as his phone blew up with comments and messages about the show so far. The audience had already starting posting heartfelt comments and overwhelmingly positive reviews. Goff was in shock but calmed and took a break.
“Act two began with a Marc Maron Intro. When I walked out, I was fully present and in the zone. I knew this last set was going to be the toughest emotionally I had ever performed and I wanted to feel it all. I played “The Things We Think and Do Not Say” into an interlude, into “How To Invent Your Encore.” I felt those songs went really well but my body started to really fight me during “The Things We Think.””
Things turned more serious with the strange, off note opening twangs of “The Things We Think and Do Not Say.” The slow, emotional, plodding pace gave voice and warning that the most painful, gut wrenching parts were to come. The pace went from deceptively calm to slam sections of loud blasting drums and autobiographical audio samples. Goff screamed out the blues making the guitar voice his voyage to that night ending with a few extra moments of guitar/microphone pounding.
“How To Invent Your Encore” ended the new material searing out the emotion like an open wound spilling out the pasts negativity and tribulations, sown up with drum beats and blues notes, clamped tight. The crowd witnessed a transition of personality and identity through song, lyrics and sound. If at no other point in the show, through facials, music and mannerisms, that was the moment when Goff seemed to be physically living the memories again and releasing the pain.
Live, “The ending of “How To Invent” was very weird.” On the record the song ends with Goff going outside to his mother’s wind chimes with the wind picking up, which wasn’t planned. During the show at the end of the song both of Goff’s main screens went out, with only the laptop showing images.
“Live, for whatever reason, my screens glitched during that ending. Both of my 55″ inch screens shut down and the video only played from my laptop. I had been rehearsing this stuff for a month solid and not one time during a rehearsal did that ever happen, nor did it happen during sound check or before the doors opened. We ran that song, both nights before, never happened. On stage, filled room, emotions on a super electric high, it happens. I didn’t put two and two together but Jim Harworth, the owner of the theater and Lindsay, my merch girl, among others connected those dots. Was it my Mom? I’ve had all kinds of things happen my entire life during emotionally charged performances that are unexplainable.”
“Was it her? The next day we were breaking down and one of the stage lights was turning on and off on its own and the light board upstairs was shut off. In a 96 year-old-theater, emotions running at an all-time high for me, all those people packed in there feeling everything with me? I think it’s possible the room was filled with a lot more than those in the seats.”
Goff took a moment to explain his journey to the crowd, “I saw a lot of tears in [peoples] eyes during those moments. It was so powerful, having them that engaged and behind me.”
When he was little, with his own money, he bought his first record on vinyl Purple Rain. “Prince is my hero. That’s my favorite album of his and favorite track. My mother and I bonded over that record. I’ve listened to it more than any other song in my lifetime. It’s in my DNA at this point.” Goff told himself he would never covered it but if he did, it would be after Prince passed. “I honestly thought he’d out live me.”
“Once my mother passed, then he passed, I knew I had to do it. I had already started putting it together when one of my oldest and closest friends passed away; he was a huge Prince fan as well.”
Goff cried for two weeks after Prince passed. He said he wasn’t sure if he would make it through but we were welcome to help him sing along. The screens went skyward and heavenly as images of the Purple One appeared as Goff started “Purple Rain.” The crowd helped as he struggled, barely getting the words out, face burning red with emotion.
“A good solid closer is like a finishing move in wrestling. If my last name was Von Erich, than “Swallowing Swords” is my ‘claw.’ Originally Goff wasn’t going to do any old material but “Swallowing” was his mom’s favorite song and not closing with it would have been wrong.
“I figured if I was going to play something old, I might as well honor the past further by slipping in a bit of “My Red Little Dream” and “With An Upraised Knife” in it as well.”
Ending old school he finished with a mini-medley and the last song he played live four years ago. “Swallowing Swords” began with creepy cranky guitar notes as rain fell through the speakers with its ballistic battalion tempo and speed with portions of “My Red Little Dream” and “With An Upraised Knife” making ending appearances. Top of the world mom!
Ending the show Goff sat down Indian style back to the crowd guitar behind him, breathing heavily, shaking with emotional culmination, taking it in as exhaustion slowly turned to the beginnings of recovery.
Goff says, “Swallowing” was the most difficult and emotional part of the entire show. “I relived the last 15 years up there in those 18 minutes and I know I was not alone. After the show, the feedback has been honestly overwhelming.”
In 15 years of doing this band, 700+ shows, he’s never gotten a reaction from people like this. “I think more than half the room, told me they cried at least once, if not multiple times, as well as laughed and raged right along with me. I’ve been told by a good portion of the people that it was “the best show they have ever seen or experienced.” That’s the most unbelievable thing to me. I will never forget that night. It was the greatest night on stage I have ever lived, in my entire life.”
Images by Mike Ritchie