Did I already tell you why I like beer? I suppose I did. The funny thing about beer is that unlike many other things; you seem to like it better and better the more you drink.
Luckily I'm not drunk. Yet. The bar has two separate rooms set off as backstage, so The Burnouts have made a fort in the one and Renegade Asylum in the other. I'm sitting on a cheap fake-leather couch, noodling about on my bass, trying as best I can to play the basslines for the song Sam has written. What a crazy kid; he's called the song Jesus Doesn't Pay Taxes. I still haven't quite figured out the meaning of the lyrics, and from the look of the melody, I have a strong suspicion that he was tripping when he wrote it. Doc is sitting next to me, drumming his fingers on bottle of Jack Daniels between sips. Tommy is juggling empty shot glasses, Sam is pacing back and forth across the cramped room. I look at the bottle in Doc's hand. It's two-thirds empty.
I think it might be an idea to switch over to coffee, guys, I suggest.
Good idea, Doc agrees, taking one last, long swig and corking the bottle.
I look around the room: it's all chairs and sofas, a couple tables, a refrigerator, some posters on the wall, an extra amplifier. Something in the corner catches my eye. A keyboard. Hammond B3, to be precise. I get up, stepping over jackets and cases to the instrument. Brushing off the dust, I drag it to the centre of the room.
Tommy, I grunt, help me with this thing.
Tommy comes over, grabbing a loose cable and plugging the Hammond into the amplifier. Flicking a couple switches, he plays a few chords. It works.
That's awesome, he whispers.
Can you play? Sam asks.
Yeah, I took piano lessons when I was a kid. I still remember the basics.
Tommy continues to play, pounding out a few more chords and adding a scale on top.
That's pretty cool, Doc comments.
You think we should put it on the stage? I ask.
I don't like the idea of changing the layout at the last minute before a gig, Sam says sceptically, but if Tommy's comfortable with it, why not?
Alright, Tommy concurs, let's do it.
I open the door to the bar. I can't help but blink: the place is packed. I don't mean the-mall-on-a-Saturday-afternoon packed, I mean really packed. It's not as bad as the party last week, but pretty nearly. Tommy and I grab the Hammond, and Doc and Sam pick up the amp. We make a small parade moving towards the stage, muttering excuse-me's and getting elbows in our sides. We eventually get to the stage, humping the equipment up and plugging it all in. When everything is satisfactory and in place, we hit the bar. Steve is pouring drinks at record speed, but comes over to us.
Dear god, he exclaims, this is insane! I don't have the capacity for this many people. I have no waiters, no bouncers, nothing. I can hardly pour drinks fast enough. What happens if there's a fight?
Just relax, Steve. It's all good, Tommy says soothingly, now, can you get us some coffee?
Sure thing, but you guys better get on stage soon. Give peoples something to do besides order drinks.
He slams four coffee cups down on the table in that brisk, bartender fashion, topping us off one by one. I take a sip of coffee, and eat a couple cashews from the nut bowl. The salt hits my taste buds and I suddenly realize that I am extremely hungry. I haven't eaten anything since a breakfast, and that consisted of a bowl of fruit loops and a glass of orange juice.
Steve, I ask, any chance of some food?
He laughs while pouring tequila shots for a quartette of blonde bombshells that I'm sure are underage, but god only knows how the poor man is supposed to check for ID's in this chaos. Andrew my man; do I look like I have time to be slicing bread and spreading butter? I can order some pizzas or something for after the gig, but you guys need to get on stage, right now. I can't take this much longer.
Alright, alright, Doc mutters, taking a long gulp of coffee.
Sam, Tommy and I do the same, and make our way towards the stage. On the way, I bump into quite a few people that I know, or at least Tommy knows. Finally we climb on to the metre-high stage, switching on amps and tuning up one last time.
There's some clapping and a few meek cheers as people start noticing the activity on stage. I glance at the setlist taped to the floor. The songs and their respective artists are written down in Tommy's neat but comical hand-writing:
It's a long set, but we've done it in rehearsals and I'm not too worried. Although I really am very hungry. Suck it up Andrew, never mind your appetite. Just think about playing. I thump a few notes, and the sound resonates through the room. Sam checks the different distortion settings one last time. Doc is banging at drums and cymbals, tightening skins once more before showtime. People start turning towards the stage when they realize someone is actually going to start playing. It's now nine-thirty. I try to look in the crowd for Amy, but I can't see her anywhere.
Sam sends out a few waves of distortion and crowd claps and cheers. Doc counts us in and Sam hits the first chord.
Good evening, this is The Burnouts, we'll be playing for you tonight. Mostly covers, as we've only been playing together for a couple weeks. Enjoy.
The crowd cheers, and we start the second song, You Will Be a Hot Dancer. The stage lights are blinding, flashing back and forth (Steve paid a kid twenty bucks to control them). We haven't played two songs, and I'm already sweating like an animal. God, those lights are hot. Relax, I say to myself. Don't think about the heat, the bright surrounding, the hunger. Focus on the music. I stare at the frets as I play; things are going well so far.
I look up at my fellow band members; Sam is spinning around on the stage as he plays, bouncing up and down to the rhythm, coming crashing down on his wah-pedal when he needs it. f--king crazy kid. Tommy is in his element, coaxing the crowd, swinging his microphone like a lasso, Roger Daltrey style. Doc is hammering like a madman, letting the noise bellow out. I seem to be the only one not having the time of his life.
Is the song over already? That was fast. I try to concentrate. Next up is Purple Haze. The Hendrix classic allows me to relax and puts me in a good mood. My band mates give me a window for a solo, and I take it. It feels good, and as I increase the speed more and more, the crowd screams. Stage buzz hits me like a tonne of bricks, but in a good way.
Next up is Sweet Child O' Mine. It goes quite well to start, but I begin falling out of the rhythm when the solo comes, and Sam looses his way, forcing him to improvise the rest. No one is booing, but it could certainly have been better, and at the end Tommy gives me a what the f--k? look. I shrug apologetically, telling myself that I'll kill the next song.
As Doc starts the first few beats something kicks in; I suddenly feel great, and I know exactly what to do. The instruments explode one after one, and before I know it, I'm headbanging like a lunatic, screaming into my mic behind Tommy's vocals. The crowd eats it up, and with the pounding noise, the flashing lights, the music, the cheers of the crowd, I feel rather like a rock star.
The Man With the Golden Helmet goes down well, and crowd starts rocking back and forth to the slow, steady rhythm. I see the metalheads headbanging in half-time, as Tommy croons the retrospective lyrics:
The killing mind is soon to find its face, it's time to go, it's time to find the place he's the man with the golden heeeeeelmet
The music takes over entirely and I find myself entering a trance; a hypnotic trance that lets me play and feel all at the same time.
I wake up again when Transmission starts. There are a few extra screams when people recognise the legendary bassline, and soon enough the whole room is shaking as two hundred and fifty people start dancing like madmen (and women).
When we get to While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Tommy puts the Hammond to use, adding soft chords behind Sam's guitars. The crowd sings along, and everyone seems to slip into a, well, a gentle mood. I watch all the couples as I play; dancing together, kissing, sharing drinks, wondering if that will ever be me and Amy Snap out of it! I miss a change, fumble, and find my way back, but I can hear a couple people booing, and some people are laughing. I give a big grin, shrug and keep playing. The crowd seems satisfied with that, and soon enough the whole room is vibrating with Midnight Man, including Tommy with the Hammond.
Half a song to go: Sam has his solo left, then we're done. But it's a long solo, and there are a few minutes to go. I start feeling extremely weak and hungry, put the bassline is easy and repetitive.
We finally finish, and everybody is cheering and clapping. Any other day I would be loving the attention, maybe even go for a crowd surf. But right now all I can think about is sitting down and eating something, anything.
We're The Burnouts; thank you and good night!
We all get off the stage, slipping into the backstage room. The door is closed, but outside I can hear the crowd.
BURNOUTS! BURNOUTS! BURNOUTS!
I guess that means that we did good, Sam smirks.
I feel like I can barely move. I just want to be perfectly still, and have someone else fetch me a pizza the size of Rhode Island, or a kebab bigger than my head; whatever comes first. But for some odd reason, Doc is pulling at my arm.
Come on, Andrew: we're not done yet.
Tommy opens the door, letting the shouts fill the room; Jesus, are you so modest that you didn't expect an encore?
f--k. f--k, f--k, f--k. I stumble on to the stage again, picking up my bass with trembling fingers, and wait for someone to start playing. Like hell if I'm going to take the initiative.
Sam starts us off with the instantly recognisable Peace Frog, Tommy accompanying with the Hammond. I follow along, trying to keep things simple.
After what seems like an aeon the song finishes. Surely that's enough? No, Doc starts us on Dani California. I silently curse my band mates for dragging this out. Everything seems so confusing and hard to keep track of, it's too bright, I can't think. A searing pain starts pounding in my head, and I stop playing. The world spins around me and I feel sick. There's no music, just murmurs of a crowd. I can't see, I can't hear. I can't feel Amy, where's Amy? She said she would come there's a hand on my shoulder.
I vaguely make out the words; Andrew, buddy; what's going on? Are you okay?
Someone please help me
Then it all goes black.
Robert Ippolito, September 2009