My favourite description I've read about the band is "Great Mongol Armies play like they know they're getting laid tonight, but are too cool to let it show," mostly because I never really knew what the young blogger was getting at. I think he was just excited that his "favourite underground band" had finally taken him up on an offer to play the church basement in his tiny town during a ten day touring stint we did last summer. Some thirty kids crowded up close and we turned off all the lights, keeping our strobe flashing for the whole performance. There was no stage, just an invisible line on the concrete floor separating us from them. The energy was incredible.
Tonight had a totally different feel to it, but that energy was here too. The cheering we received when walking out to the stage brought a smile to my face. There's something completely fulfilling about the feeling, when you're giving someone such a positive experience just doing what you love. I plugged in and nodded to Drew, beginning the atmospheric build we had worked out to start the show. Chelsea sat in front of her Fender Rhodes and joined in, letting dark, spacey chords resonate over the groove.
Graham stepped up to his mic. "Good evening. We are Great Mongol Armies," he spoke with his solemn stage voice, and immediately following split our phrase in half with a jarring cluster of notes that shuddered under command of his tremolo bar. He may be a little too into theatrics, but I can't say anything bad about his tone.
The bar was even more packed than when I had gone backstage to tune; they were close to three hundred strong. We hadn't played a local show in over a month, and tonight we would make up for that. The semester starting had put our little group on hold for a while and it was a relief people hadn't forgotten about us. A good amount of the underage kids here to see Fragments had stuck around for our set, and it was my mission tonight to make them fans. If nothing else they would remember the bassist in that weird band with the painted face.
Working through our set we grabbed the whole room's attention with no intent to let go. One song lead into another, creating a dynamic hour-long block of dark, grooving sounds. Graham wasn't much for stage banter, and I always thought it looked awkward when someone besides the lead singer did the talking. When we had started this thing two years ago letting the music speak for itself was our mantra, and that was still fine with me.
My forearms were shining with sweat by the time we neared the end of "Electric Doll," our slow jam about sex toys. It was the typical last song of the night for local shows and some regulars sang along with Graham and Chelsea's tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It was a blusey number and probably the most linear tune we had, ending with the song deconstructing itself into a haze of distortion and reverb. I faced Drew and let crunching notes ring out in succession while he bashed the final beats of the song, blonde hair dripping sweat over his eyes.
For an instant I worried that we were drawing out the song too long, as if the crowd had realized we were a bunch of Lou Reed hacks overindulging in the spotlight and would stop cheering before we finished. It came over me as a wave of fear for how long I can't be sure, but couldn't have been more than a couple seconds. I turned back to face the crowd and of course they were all still there, almost as soaked in sweat as we were. The feeling subsided, but I felt that my face's colour matched the paint covering it.
We ended the song with one final crash, and the crowd erupted in display of appreciation for the music. As always, Graham immediately walked offstage without a word to the audience. He was going to towel off his guitar and make sure it was perfectly safe before coming back to help tear down. Chelsea quickly left to work the merch table.
The house music came on, some radio rock deal that kept the punters drinking. We would get a nice cut of the bar sales tonight.
"f--kin'hell," said Drew, a little out of breath. He started to disassemble his cymbal stands and couldn't stop grinning. "Keep your distance, you're bleeding paint all over yerself."
"Shit, I didn't even notice," I reached for the towel kept behind my rig to try and clean up. "Nice to see they still care eh? I think this is the best local crowd we've had so far."
"For sure. But Marc, no more paint," I think Drew was more worried about me staining the wooden finish on his kit than anything else. "I don't care what kind of cocktease game Rachel's playing to get her way, she doesn't get to show off her art on our stage."
"Damn dude, It wasn't like that. Kind of spontaneous you know?" my response only made Drew roll his eyes. "I don't think she's even that into us, I didn't see her watching the show," I wasn't prepared to have band/girl conflicts so early into our relationship. I guess it turned out to be a good thing that Rachel had stuck to the periphery of the venue for our set if Drew was getting this worked up over the face paint.
"Right, and she just happened to have the paint with her?" maybe Drew was drunker than I thought. I was having trouble understanding where the hostility was coming from.
"Let's just get the gear to your place and go from there, okay?" I fastened my bass case and headed backstage. "I'm going to bring the van 'round back," Escaping my drummer's suddenly pissy attitude was priority number one.
I walked through the little hallway leading from the stage to the back door, probably one of the few places in the venue without drunk guys trying to pick up at the last minute. On the other side of the door Rachel was slumped up against the venue's brick wall, dry heaving with blood trickling down the side of her face.