So you're sure the bar manager said that we were the headliners? I ask.
Positive, Doc responds, he told me that he didn't care if it was our first gig, he wanted to give us a chance.
So what's up with these Renaissance Asylums? What happened?
Renegade Asylum, Tommy corrects.
Whatever, I snap. How come they took the lead?
I don't know, Doc says regretfully. I called the manager, but he isn't answering his phone.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Sam advises. This is our first gig, we really shouldn't be expecting to be the headline anyway.
Yeah, that's fine, but when we are offered a headline spot, accept it, and prepare a killer set, they should at least let us know that we've been degraded. It's common courtesy.
We're at Doc's place, getting ready to practise and discussing the discovery of the f--ked up poster. Sam has brought his acoustic guitar, handing it over to Tommy, who starts strumming power chords to go behind Sam's lead.
We start the band rehearsals, going through the songs we all know, saving Sweet Child of Mine for last. We play through You Will Be a Hot Dancer several times, working out kinks and mistakes, until we have a polished song that's ready to be performed. I'd taken Tommy's advice and tried to make the song sound more like me, simplify and rewrite, and it worked. The song sounds great, and I don't have to kill myself to make it so.
We only need to play Transmission once to know that it's good enough: the whole room is vibrating with energy, and we close it with an elegant fade-out. Next up we try out Doc's song. Doc takes Tommy through the lyrics while Sam shows me the melody. He's worked out some odd, intricate pattern, but he tells me that it's all based around four chords. I follow these chords and it works nicely with his guitars.
The song is titled A Monumental Disaster. Doc tells us that he wants a classic one-instrument-at-a-time build-up: drums first, then bass, then guitars. We all get ready to play, Tommy holding a sheet of paper with the lyrics scribbled down on it. Doc starts hammering a sharp rhythm. After four beats I join in, then Sam. We play along with each other for half a minute, before settling down and letting Tommy enter:
Hey, high-school dropouts, here's a job for you: pension plan prepared, not a single care in the world
Sam gives a few squeals of feedback before switching to a roar of distortion for the chorus.
It's a monumental disaster! Better to start before rather than after! Pick up your weapons, let's go to war! It's not like we haven't done this before!
Sam plays a small bridge before continuing to the next verse:
Put a gun in your hand, shoot a foreign man, don't even know his name. Don't give a damn, money comes from Uncle Sam, don't you realize: it's a crying shame
We play through the chorus two times, before Sam, Tommy and I, as ordered by Doc, freeze to a halt, letting our drummer take over entirely for himself. He starts a very basic solo, elaborating over time until Sam breaks in with an odd, psychedelic, prog-rock styled solo. It reminds me of something from Opeth's Damnation album.
Doc nods to me, signalling that it's time for me to enter. I play the rhythm bass as Doc and Sam continue together, playing like there is no tomorrow, both grinning and smiling. Sam is stepping around back and forth, sometimes using his wah-pedal, sometimes abandoning it. Eventually Doc signals for a close, and he doubles the pace, creating a quick crescendo, before retiring to the last verse:
Bodies in coffins are coming home, administration turns a blind eye, mothers and brothers watch them go six feet under, military man says: Please don't cry, while the cameras are rolling
We play the chorus one last time, letting the band explode and finishing the entire song off with a drawn-out close, Sam and I shredding up the necks of our instruments, Doc hammering at his cymbals to the last beat, Tommy screaming out the last word with a long howl.
We all stop, breathing hard and sweating.
I think that works, says Tommy breathlessly.
Yeah, Doc gasps, it went pretty damn good for being the first time we play through.
We're all pretty wiped after two hours of practise, but we still have Sweet Child of Mine left. Tommy plugs in the acoustic guitar, slipping the strap over his shoulder and striking a couple chords. It sounds alright.
Are we ready? Sam asks.
Everybody nods, and Sam starts on the opening riff. I've never been a huge fan of Guns n' Roses, but I have to admit, it is an ingeniously catchy melody. I add the first opening bass notes, Doc bangs a cymbal here and there, and first verse comes along, Tommy singing and hitting power chords on the acoustic guitar. It still doesn't sound great. We play one round of the chorus, the bridge and another verse before stopping.
This isn't working, Tommy says sourly. It doesn't sound good at all.
Try using open chords instead of power chords, Doc suggests.
What are the chords?
D, C and G for the verse, and an A suspended second, C and D for the chorus, Sam explains.
What's an A suspended second look like? Tommy asks.
Just play an A major chord and lift up your ring finger, I respond, I thought it was a plain A major for the chorus?
I thought it was an A minor, Doc says suggestively.
I'm not sure what it is, Sam ponders, but it works with a suspended second.
We try the song again. This time we play through the whole song. It sounds a lot better, but still lacking in something.
Hang on, Doc says, racing up the stairs to the rest of the house. He comes down a minute later with a roll of duct tape, some cables, a screwdriver and a wire cutter, and a loose pickup.
Here, give me the guitar, he tells Tommy. Tommy hands over the acoustic, and I watch Doc sit down on an apple box, popping the electronics out of the acoustic. He spends a few minutes wiring and so on.
Doc? What the f--k are you doing to my guitar? Sam demands.
I'm giving it acupuncture. What does it look like?
He puts the electronics back, carefully places the pickup under the strings, over the hole, duct taping it down. Then he plugs the guitar into one of the amplifiers, turning on a light distortion. He strikes a few chords. A waver of fuzz and resonance comes out of the amp, and Doc smiles.
Here, try that, he says, handing the guitar back to Tommy.
Tommy strikes a few chords. The distortion sounds great: It's loud and fuzzy, but the overall chord comes out clearly. We play through the song one more time, and this time it sounds great.
After the last cymbal clash, Doc grins, that will definitely work.
I agree, I say, the audience will flip.
Yeah, never mind the fact that my beautiful guitar is covered with duct tape and cables and shit, Sam pouts.
Hey, be grateful, Doc scolds, that would have cost you an arm and a leg if you had a store do it.
I have to admit, that was impressive, I commend, where'd you learn to rig equipment like that?
I worked in a music store when I was in high school, Doc explains, people came in for shit like that all the time.
We head upstairs into the living room for beers and to go back to discussing business. We plan which days we're going to have rehearsals, times, what songs we should all have ready for when, et cetera.
Doc gives the bar manager another call, but there's still no answer.
What should we do? Tommy asks.
We can't just sit around on our asses, we need to figure this out, I say decisively. Let's go to the bar, find the manager and talk to him in person.
What, right now? Sam asks.
Why not? We don't all have to go. I'll take Doc, you and Tommy can go home.
And so it's decided. We all head out, Tommy back to my place, Sam back to his and Doc and I take his van and head out to find the manager of the Dimebag Bar.
Doc pulls up to the curb by the Dimebag Bar and we both get out of the rusty old van, stepping inside the bar.
I look around: It's an attractive place. A simple four-wall setup, with the entrance in the bottom-right corner of the room. The bar is on the parallel wall, and to the far left there's a stage. There are plenty of tables and chairs around the room, all in the same series, and the walls are covered with photographs, framed autographs, banners, et cetera. There's a nice atmosphere, sort of a relaxed rock and roll feeling.
It's only about two in the afternoon, and the room is empty besides a man behind the bar. He looks up at us with a neutral expression that quickly turns to a mixture of fear and anxiety when he recognises Doc. I suppose Doc's figure can be rather intimidating.
Oh, shit, the man mutters.
We walk across the room over to him.
Hey Steve, I tried to call, Doc says politely.
Yeah, I know you did, the man responds in a hopeless tone. I suppose you've seen the poster.
Yes, we have, Doc states. This is the bassist and my good friend; Andrew.
Hi, I'm Stephen.
We all stand in awkward silence for a few moments before Steve starts to stutter:
Look, you guys have to understand those f--kers, the Renegade Astronauts or whatever the f--k they're calling themselves They demanded to be the headliners, and this one guy said that his dad works really high up in the city council, and I told them to go f--k themselves. Next thing I know I get a letter that says my license to serve liquor is going to be withdrawed. They tell me that if I want that to go away, I have to let them headline.
Doc and I look at each other.
You're you're kidding with us, right?
I'm deadly serious, the humble man says gravely.
Jesus Christ, I exclaim, what a bunch of f--king assholes!
Are you guys pissed? Steve asks anxiously.
Yeah, we're pissed, Doc spits out through grinding teeth, not at you, at those douchebags.
I'm really sorry guys, but I didn't know what to do, Steve says apologetically.
That's alright, I say firmly, nice meeting you. We'll see you at the show. Come on Doc.
We turn our backs and leave, getting into the van.
What should we do? Doc asks.
Simple, I say, we'll just have to hold the stage.
Doc looks at me, grins, and I grin back. Then we drive off.
Robert Ippolito July-August 2009