In The Van On Comeback Road Part 27

author: Nolan Whyte date: 11/28/2006 category: fiction
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We load our gear into The Firelight Bar. It's not a bad place, although the stage is very small. It's a long room with a lot of exposed brick and black paint. Judging by the Harley-Davidson posters on the walls, I gather it attracts a biker crowd. That's all right with me. I've played for bikers. I doubt Machine Within A Machine has. I chat with the bartender a minute and confirm my suspicions. The place draws bikers, but also a lot of younger people who want to see live music. I figure The Clutch Dogs can please them all. After our stuff is inside I collect Mark and Jason and lead them back to the van. Why out here, Taz? Mark asks. It's cold. Let's go sit inside. I want a chance to chat without the Machine guys around. How would you guys feel about adding another song to the set tonight? Jason looks suspicious. What song? One of yours? No. This place draws the bikers, and probably a good number of older locals as well. I figure we should add an old blues rock number. I don't know, mate, Mark says. Sounds like, we're trying to be crowd pleasers or some shite instead of playing our own stuff. Not if we actually like the music. You guys listen to the old Stones albums? Not much. Just what's on the radio. Okay. Well there's an old bluesy-country-rock song I'd like to try. It's called 'Dead Flowers.' I don't remember what album it's off of, but it's just three chords. If you guys are willing, I think we could pull it off. It seems fake to me, Terry, says Jason. We've been working hard to play our own stuff, ninety percent of which I might add, is your music. Now you think the crowd might like blues, so we have to play a blues song? He shakes his head. I'm sorry man, but neither of us joined the band to play the blues. And I think you just want to suck up to the crowd to try and beat Machine Within a Machine. I take a deep breath and mentally sort through his objections. I wish I had cigarettes. Okay, I say, trying to keep my thoughts straight. I appreciate your dedication to musical integrity and all that. I really do. However, throwing a Rolling Stones song into your set because you think the audience might like it hardly goes against the integrity of this band. We're a rock band. I want to add a rock song. It's bluesy rock, yes, but it's still the Stones. Think of this as a lesson in showmanship, I continue. You might think it's pathetic to try and be crowd-pleasers and suck-ups or some shit like that, but the fact is that we're here to entertain the audience. If we were adding a song that we hated to try and please the audience, okay then, that would suck. If we were a death metal band playing Garth Brooks covers that would be fake, but we're a rock band and I want to play a Stones song because I think the audience will like it. What's wrong with that? They both remain quiet. You're a Sabbath fan, Jason, I tell him. That's blues based rock too. Mark shrugs. We've got no time to practice it, mate. It's three chords. We can do it. We'll run through it a few times. If it sounds like shit we'll skip it, but let's give it a try, okay? Shit, trying new stuff on the fly like this is half the fun of playing shows. I grab my acoustic out of the back of the van. I'll play it through for you a few times and we'll give it a shot. We've got hours. Christ, it's only five-thirty. C'mon let's head back in. Are you going to talk to the guys in Machine? Jason asks. Like, I know you want to kick their ass on stage and everything, but I really don't want to go all the way across the continent without anybody talking to each other. I nod. Okay. Yeah, I'll say something. We head inside. After all of our gear is set up we start running through 'Dead Flowers.' It goes pretty well. It's an easy strumming tune, and they both pick it up without much trouble. The guys from Machine Within A Machine sit crowded around a table talking quietly, sending occasional looks our way. I feel that they are plotting against us. Jason is right. As much as I want to be better than them, it doesn't help anyone to have open war with them. After we finish jamming through the tune, the staff of The Firelight Bar sets the seven of us up at a big round booth near the back of the room. A pretty waitress with her hair pulled into a long ponytail passes out a bunch of menus and leaves us there, with both bands jammed in together. It's tense and uncomfortable. Because everyone is on edge, and everybody knows about the fight but doesn't want to admit they know, we all stare maniacally at the menus as though we'll see God's words printed between the lines describing the Monster Chili-Burger ($11.99). I can see that Wayne's cheek is getting puffy and discolored where I punched him earlier. Sometimes he makes an action with his jaw like he's yawning, but I can tell he's really stretching out the sore spot. Gina won't look at me. Dave, who I told was going to get fired from his band, won't look at anyone. I lay down my menu. So, Dave, I say. He looks at me and gives me knife-eyes, like he wants to have my entrails dripping from his bloody fingers and teeth. I cough. I'm sorry about what I said on the phone last night. I was a bit pissed off that nobody was coming to pick me up, and all that. I had just tripped over a pile of bicycles in the dark and skinned up my shin, and with the bottle to the head I might have had a bit of a concussion. Besides, anyone would be pissed off after being kidnapped. Oh Terry, you're so full of shit, says Gina, who looks hot when she's angry (also when she's happy, bored, concerned, focused, distracted, concentrating, confused, playing guitar and sleeping). Nobody kidnapped you, you just passed out in some bitch's car. Well, even so, I say, I was angry and not quite in my right mind, and I exaggerated a bit. I'm sorry for what I said. No hard feelings I hope. Exaggerated? Dave says. Don't you mean lied? I sneak a little glance at Matt, who I clearly remember saying in front of a down-town rehearsal space that he wished I were the bass player in Machine Within a Machine instead of poor stupid Dave here. He doesn't look at me, so I look back at Dave and shrug. Whatever. That's about all the conversation we have, except for awkward requests to pass ketchup. After the meal we bum around the bar, each band sticking together as the place begins to gradually fill with patrons. I was right about the crowd. It's working class, and I see a lot of leather and denim, craggy faces and beards. The cougars come out of the woodwork, single women in their late thirties who no longer have to stay home with the kids and don't mind going out and getting pissed and maybe latching onto a man for the night. I worry about Jason or Mark getting loaded and getting attached to one of these ladies. But after my escapades from last night I'm in no position to give anyone advice. Mark, Jason and I manage to pass the few hours until show time with a few pitchers of beer. I write out the words to 'Dead Flowers', as best as I can remember them, and repeat them over and over again. At nine o'clock we get up on the little stage. The crowd doesn't pay much attention. They seem like after work drinkers, but I figure we can bring them around. Test. Good Evening, I say into the microphone. Some of the younger patrons look our way. It's a pleasure to be here at The Firelight tonight. We're The Clutch Dogs, and this is called 'Knuckles.' We play through, hitting it hard, trying to get some attention. After that we do 'Dead Fingers Play' and 'Runaway.' Some people have stood up and are near the stage, but by and large everyone is still drinking at their tables. It's discrimination, I figure. They've been programmed not to pay attention to opening acts. They think we're no more that previews before a movie. I turn away from the mike. Okay boys. Let's try 'Dead Flowers.' Jam it, don't play it. If anyone wants to improvise, do it. Let's have some fun. To the audience I say We've never performed this next one before. It's an old Rolling Stones song that we're going to try out for you. It's called 'Dead Flowers.' There's no response. I nod to Mark and we begin. It sounds all right, albeit a little clunky in the timing. We run through the opening lines a few times until I smile at the boys to say, yeah, that sounds right. I begin to sing and have to fudge a few lines to fill in the holes in my memory, but we sound good. Goddamnit, we're a good band. I stand there, looking into the black depths of a biker bar in Sault Ste. Marie playing a song that Mark and Jason have never even heard before, and it clicks. We sound good. For the first time I think to myself, hey, we're a good band. And no one cares. There's one chick near the stage that is swaying to the music, standing next to her boyfriend, but that's it. No one else is paying attention. This bar is full of dead people. We keep jamming through, and towards the end of the song Jason improvises a short solo that goes off pretty well. I'm proud of him, and Mark. They're capable. They've taken another challenge and responded. The song ends and there is a polite response. I shrug at the guys and they smile back. Fuck it, I say. Let's keep playing. We blast through the rest of our set, and by the time we hit the last song there are maybe a dozen people out of the full room standing up front to watch us. But we sound good. That's what I tell myself after each song. These people aren't paying much attention, but it doesn't matter. We sound good. Before our last song, I introduce Jason and Mark. Stick around for Machine Within a Machine, I tell the crowd. They are the best of the fucking best of the best, and if I'm wrong then my name isn't Broken-Face Joe. We play through 'Rockin' In The Free World,' get our final applause and clear off the stage. 2006 Nolan Whyte
More Nolan Whyte columns:
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