There was a pause. The cheer of the crowd was drowned by the roar of Ed's guitar as he launched into the opening riff of Beyond This Life by Dream Theater. Paul moved quickly to pick up his bass. Luckily, he was just in time for Jace's crash cymbal to cue him in.
Quite suddenly, they were all playing in time, smashing through the opening of the song furiously. Ed's guitar led the way. The volume and distortion were screaming out to the audience as his fingers switched effortlessly between the different riffs.
Then, the lights went out and the amplifiers were silenced. Jace stopped beating on the drums with an angry cry. Unfortunately, the union building was notorious for wiring problems. Paul looked up towards the sound booth at the back of the hall, but the long haired sound engineer merely shrugged.
Just as suddenly, the lights returned and, after less than a second of buzzing amplifiers, Ed was straight back into the song; not having missed a beat. Adam looked at Paul with a look of confused fear, but Jace, taking the initiative, struck his crash cymbal again, leading Paul and Adam right back into the action.
It was fairly obvious that not many people in the crowd knew this song, so, as previously discussed, they brought it to a close after the second chorus. The crowd seemed to love it regardless, cheering and whistling happily. Paul noted their enjoyment early on and, upon the close of the song, he decided to see what they would make of him:
"Well aren't you all lovely people?" the singer asked of his audience. "We don't usually get such a response you know? You enjoying the show so far?"
In answer, the crowd gave another cheer. Behind him, Jace began to beat out a rhythm on his drums. Paul left the microphone briefly to begin a track on his laptop, then returned to the centre of the stage to supply the bassline for Hysteria by Muse. As Paul completed his first run through the popular riff, both guitars came in in unison. Adam supplied the octaves while Ed simply flew through something fancy. The guitarists acted as one during the powerchords in the chorus, but battled fiercely when it came to the solo. With two sections to the solo, Adam had grabbed the chance to have one of his own. Regardless of his efforts, however, his solo could not compare to Ed's.
As Ed and Paul moved through the outro riff in perfect unison, Adam again made an attempt to stand out. On this stage, the energy and the optimism had finally infected him, causing him to string his licks together, one after the other, until the song was complete. The alcohol that Paul had given him had not worked out too well; he had thrown it up in the toilet. Even now it burned his throat, but it wasn't necessary. He was desperate to play now.
The band members had a brief moment of respite as the laptop in the corner began to play a gentle and relaxing little piano piece. This one was an original song telling the story of a fish named Goat. It was a very random song that Paul had written for Adam during a particularly boring music lecture.
First Adam came in with slow A major chords. After four bars of this, Paul joined and the piano stopped. For this one, all Paul had to play were root notes. Jace and Ed came in together, with Ed playing a calm and capable solo composed of chord tones. He played for only a short while before Paul came in with the lyrics.
The song was short and relaxed. It was not meant to be a crowd pleaser, but it was a song which, since he had helped write it, Adam had always quite enjoyed performing. The laptop had done its job marvellously.
There was no great and exciting finish. This was a very laid back song about a fish swimming down a stream. Paul liked to calm down a setlist a little before going all out. It would to a close slowly, with one last A major chord.
Looking out over the crowd, Paul could pick out the faces he could recognise fairly easily. This meant that Disbelief had to make a good impression tonight; all of these people were potential fans.
He took hold of the microphone in his left hand. "I'd like to give you a choice now," he stated clearly, looking over the faces of his audience once again. "You have two options. We can either play a calm, relaxing song next, or a fast and heavy rock song. Which would you prefer?"
The dark haired bassist covered his ears in anticipation of the wave of noise that followed. The sudden rush was the shout of several hundred people all trying to shout the word 'Rock!' at once. Paul feigned an overwhelmed stumble, then turned to Jace with a smile he could not control. His drummer offered him a thumbs up, in complete understanding; it was time to let Ed show off.
Ed did not need to be cued in. Ed had never needed to be cued in. He walked to the front of the stage, slid down his low E string and went straight into the main riff of Plug In Baby, again, by Muse. Recognising it from the first four notes, the crowd roared their approval.
This was one that they had found difficult to fit Adam into. Eventually, it had all fallen into place, but it had taken a lot of trial and error. Adam came in for the first chorus, while Ed switched to appregios. When the main riff came around again, it was Adam's turn to perform, with Ed harmonising small sections as they went. After the second chorus, Adam continued with the main riff, while Ed's fingers became a blur on his fretboard with the speed at which he was hitting his notes. They ended the song with this final flurry.
This time around, Paul had no interest in talking between songs. He cued in Jace, who tapped his sticks together and started up their next original song: Thrillseeking.
It started out with Ed playing a chord progression in B minor. During this, Adam changed the settings on his amp to increase the volume and add a chorus effect. Ed stopped playing the moment the rest of the band came in with a bang. The progression had changed to loud and violent powerchords, driven by Jace's snare and toms. This was a song that Paul had written specifically for his own voice. It was a tribute to the bassist's favourite singer: Magnus Ekwall.
Paul's voice came out as a roar through the microphone, vibrating heavily on the high notes. Ed harmonised with him; one octave higher. When the solo came, it was a wave of counterpoint between Paul's voice and Ed's guitar, gradually going higher and higher until Paul's vocal chords were aching. For the last chorus, Ed's guitar began to sing. He swept through an improvised masterpiece, flying back and forth across the highest frets. Much like the song before, Ed drew the focus like a burning match amongst a bail of hay.
The song did not end with the solo. Instead, it ended abruptly when the power died again. The curse that erupted from between Paul's lips echoed around the hall.
The singer sighed. He looked back, past the crowd, towards the long haired sound technician in his booth. The technician was directing his crew quickly with whispers and gestures. Once everybody was working, the technician returned Paul's gaze and gave him a hand signal for five minutes. Paul interpreted this as an instruction to buy some time.
The microphone dead, the bassist marched forward to the very front of the stage.
"It seems as though we're having technical difficulties," Paul called over the sounds of unrest. Their audience was obviously disappointed. "I'm afraid we're no Monty Python, so we're going to have to see if we can end with something acoustic. Does anybody have any ideas?"
Another wave of unfocused noise washed over the stage as each and every member of the crowd shouted their opinion. There were an interesting array of suggestions made. They ranged from Creed songs, to attempts to play Slipknot acoustically. Paul laughed to himself, waving his hands for quiet.
"Unfortunately," he began again, "we have to make sure it's one we all know, because I'm going to need your help singing it. Now, who knows Led Zeppelin?"
For this question, he was rewarded with the loudest cheer of the night so far. It was clear that the crowd did indeed know Led Zeppelin.
Ed took the lead, picking the notes for the first appregio of Stairway To Heaven. It was not very loud, though the strings carried well. Unfortunately, those few people who could hear were very pleased to hear it. Their cheers immediately drowned out the notes so that Ed couldn't hear his own guitar.
"Okay," Paul shouted, waving his hands for quiet again. "That's not going to work. Let's do the stomp."
Ed took the lead yet again, and, after only a couple of notes, Adam joined in to double the volume. Jace started the simple drumbeat early, solidifying the rhythm of Adam's playing. Paul did not play at first; instead he clapped and stamped his feet, encouraging the crowd to mimic his actions. Only after the rhythmic clap and stamp had filled the hall did Paul begin to sing. A great smile claimed his face as the population of the hall began to echo him.
Down in the audience, Ally and Veronica stood near the back, watching Disbelief perform. Despite the constant discussion topic of Adam, Ally had found Veronica's company quite pleasant. Since none of her friends enjoyed this kind of music anywhere near as much as she did, Ally thought it best to make friends with her as best she could.
It was then, with the two females stomping their feet and clapping with everybody else, that somebody tapped her on the shoulder. She turned in answer to see a handsome man in his late twenties, with short black hair. He handed her a card, together with a folded piece of paper. Then he smiled, turned, and walked away.
Confused, Ally examined the card. It had two names on it, a phone number, and a picture of a phoenix in flight.
She looked at the paper next. Unfolding it revealed a message written on it, which read:
My apologies for the note, but I doubt you'd hear me in this. My name is Matthew Cooper and I have business with Disbelief. I hear you are friendly with the band, could you give this card to Ed please? My employers wish to speak to him.
Folding the paper again, Ally slid it, with the card, into the small black handbag on her shoulder. Firebrand Records, as it read on the card, was no small name. Fortunately, she was distracted as the song came to a close, with the main hall all joining in the shout of 'Strider!'