In The Van On Comeback Road. Part 2

author: Nolan Whyte date: 03/07/2006 category: fiction
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Our gig that night is at a pub near the University of Western Ontario in London. I wish we were having the gig right on the campus, but beggars can't be choosers, right? We show up around eight to unload our gear, and when we back up the van behind bar and bang on the door, the manager comes out to see us. He's a good guy, name of Jake. He shakes my hand, and we talk. He tells me that the openers, a group from Grimsby, have cancelled and he has nobody who can replace them. "What do you say, Terry?" he asks me. "Think you could do an extra set? I'd give you their cut of the door." Bobby is unloading his drums when he hears this, and he puts them down to come over. I look at him. "What do you think, Bobby?" He shrugs his shoulders. "We don't have enough material. We've got our own set counted out to the minute, and doofus over there doesn't know any other songs." He jerks his thumb at Jason, the kid guitar player, who's struggling to get his amp out of the side door of the van. "The only way we could do an extra set would be to play the one set over twice." Jake, the manager, shakes his head. "No, that wouldn't do. Jeez, I think I'm stuck." I was thinking about the money, even if it might not be very much, and I wasn't interested in letting it get by. "How about this, Jake," I say. "I could do an acoustic set, maybe forty-five minutes to an hour. Nothing too fancy, but I could play covers and some originals. Have a laugh." He thinks it over for a second. "Yeah, that sounds okay," he says, "If you don't mind doing it. You go on about nine thirty, take a break and then we could have the rest of the band on at about eleven." I nod and Jake heads back inside. As we unload our stuff, Bobby gives me a funny look. "You ready to do this? You have an hour's worth of stuff ready?" "Sure," I say. "I know lots of old stuff. It might not be the best hour of entertainment, but I can work a crowd and put on a show." We bring our stuff in. I was expecting a pub, but inside the place is a full-on metal bar. The walls are all painted black. The guy behind the bar has a long goatee, hair down to his ass, and pierced eye-brows. A massive Danzig demon-skull is painted on one wall. Bobby looks around and starts laughing. "You're gonna do an acoustic set, huh? What are you going to open with? An acoustic Slayer tune or acoustic Cannibal Corpse?" "Jesus," I say. "Why'd this guy even book us? He must know we're not a metal act." Bobby shrugs. "Ahh, who gives a shit? We get paid either way, right? Come on and give me a hand with the drums." I set my bass and the acoustic up on the stage and help Bobby get his kit set up. Jason is fucking around with various effects pedals (which he has no skill at using), so he manages to miss out on carrying most of the gear. I make a mental note to kick his ass later. The bar is open but still empty when we finish up. There's a massive bald bouncer at the door with a cash box. Bobby and I leave Jason to dick around with his pedals while we go up to the bar for a beer. The bartender with the goatee and piercings turns out to be very friendly, serving us and chatting. "So you guys were with Tremor of Intent?" he asks, not sounding impressed, just friendly. I nod and take a sip of beer. "Yeah. Bobby here played with them from start to finish, and I was with them for the first few years. I split before the first album came out." I don't bother to mention that the first album was the band's big one, and that I wrote half the songs on it, which no one ever seems to bloody realize. "Hey, what kinds of bands usually play this place?" Bobby asks. "This looks like a metal joint." "Yeah, it is," says the bartender. "But all kinds of rock bands play. You guys should do fine." "Cool," Bobby says. "But just out of curiosity, what was this other band that backed out tonight?" "The Planetary Demolition Unit." "That sounds pretty metal." "Yeah, they are," he nods. I sit alone for a while and work out a list of fifteen easy tunes I can pull off without any difficulty. I figure that essentially, the roots of metal is rock'n'roll, and the easiest thing you can do to satisfy metal-heads with an acoustic guitar is to play some old rock numbers. I figure Elvis, The Stones, The Beatles, Floyd and stuff like that will satisfy the masses in a pinch. I figure I can throw in some bad-ass old country like Johnny Cash and Stompin' Tom Connor just to shake things up. All good, straightforward drinking songs to please the punters. Nine-thirty rolls around and the sound guy that Jake brought in gets me set up for sound, setting one mike up for vocals and one for the guitar. I pass on a stool, since I hate watching people sit and play. I switch the strap from my electric bass to the acoustic and get ready. I don't introduce myself; I just start strumming out the chords to "Jumping Jack Flash," trying to start with something everyone would immediately recognize. The room is filling fast at this time of night, which is good for the money. It's a rough looking crowd, with a lot of leather and beards and ugly men wearing sunglasses inside of a dark room, which can get a little scary. I figure I'm easily as ugly as anyone in here, so I have nothing to worry about. After a few numbers, which receive sparse applause, I introduce myself, and say that the openers couldn't make it. "I hope you'll stick around and see me and my band a little later." There's a bit more applause, and I start playing "Strawberry Fields." Okay, now I grant that "Strawberry Fields" is not a rocker, but it is The Beatles, and I had the impression that you had to go pretty far and wide to find someone who would boo The Beatles. Nonetheless, some dirty prick starts booing. Have you ever been booed? Playing music, or doing anything at all? It's horrible being booed, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either crazy or full of shit (usually they're just full of shit. It's surprisingly difficult to find a genuinely crazy person these days. It's just hard to tell the authentically crazy ones from the legions of people out there who are completely full to the brim of shit.) The important thing about getting booed is how you react. I've seen people get booed and turn dark red, get flustered, lose their place in the song and end up getting laughed off the stage. I've been booed before, so I know how to handle it, and the best way is to laugh and finish your song, and then play another one. As soon as I finish "Strawberry Fields," I hear my new fan scream out "Play some metal or get the fuck off the stage!" I guess the acoustic set wasn't going over too well. It's a balancing act when a crowd starts booing you. You have to make sure that what you're doing is pleasing your audience, but at the same time, if you immediately change what you're doing to try and satisfy anybody's whims, you become the audience's bitch. And you can't be cool if you're a bitch. It's a balancing act, but I have to do something to get the crowd back on my side, because if I lose them now, there's no way I'll get them back when Bobby and Jason get up here with me. "You want some metal?" I ask into the microphone, sounding nice and calm. There are some scattered claps and cheers to the affirmative. I start playing my next song, nice and slow, gentle, and the audience listens, thinking that they recognize the tune, but not quite sure from where. I start to sing, quietly, almost crooning: "Living easy, living free?" A few lines later, a few people catch on and cheer, a few even start singing along, and all the rest finally clue in when I start singing the chorus: "I'm on a highway to hell?" The boos stop, and from then on the set turns into a big acoustic sing-along to classic metal and hard rock tunes. Softly sung versions of "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "Come On Feel The Noise" are a hit, and Bobby jumps up on stage and climbs behind me to jam along on the drums, using his brushes to lay down a gentle pthh-tss-tss-tss-pthh-tss-tss-tss behind me. Everyone smiles, everyone laughs and everyone sings along, and I know I've got the crowd behind me, and they'll be behind me for the rest of the night. When I get off stage and head to the bar for a beer, a big muscle-headed guy grabs me by the arm and says "Sorry for booing you. That was good shit." "No problem," I say. "Have a good time tonight." He smiles and heads off, and I decide then and there to buy him a beer later that night, and spit in it before I give it to him. -Nolan Whyte
More Nolan Whyte columns:
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