Jay runs his pick up the strings, bending them to unleash a wave of distortion as Peter and Steve begin hammering out the beat to 'Fractures,' the first song in Hellakill's set. He slashes down and begins improvising runs over Steve's bass line, pushing the band forward. He slashes away, eventually working his way into the song's riff, driving the music with squeals of feedback and storms of distortion. The others sense the urgency in his playing and try to match him, not by playing faster, but by playing harder. Tyson leans forward into his microphone and begins to sing, straining to maintain his voice without breaking into a shout to make himself heard over the roar of his guitar player's onslaught.
The song is fast and heavy, and Tyson leaps and dances to engage the crowd, trying to get them involved in what the band is doing. The three musicians crash along, banging their heads with the rhythm and hammering their instruments with a conviction bordering on violence.
With a shredding solo the song comes to an end. Jay lets a wail of feedback linger until Peter counts in the next song with a rapid-fire roll on the snare drum. The band jumps on it, and they begin to crunch through the slower, heavier riff of the second song. They rumble through it, letting Tyson stretch out vocally as he hits the high notes on the chorus.
At the song's end, the audience claps politely, although Jay notices that some of the audience has drifted away to the bar at the far end of the room. Unacceptable.
They continue through their set, playing furiously. Song after song, they force their best performances forth, giving everything they can. Song after song they are rewarded with courteous clapping and the occasional whistle. Not good enough, thinks Jay. Not after the way they screamed for the opening band Lady Endorphin.
Jay flays away at his guitar, and it is Peter's challenge to try and maintain the beat and keep him from forcing the tempo up too much. Even so, a set that would usually take fifty minutes is finished in forty-six, and by the time they reach the crescendo of the last song they are all exhausted. Jay holds the final note, letting it reverberate through the hall in a long ringing challenge to anyone else who would try to perform on the same stage. Full of expectation, he looks out at the crowd.
There are cheers and applause, but it is not the same swell they heard when Lady Endorphin finished her set earlier. And worse, the crowd has shrunk to about half of the group that was watching when they started. More of the people have drifted away to the bar.
"Damnit," Jay says, pulling off his guitar. The house lights come up and the band begins the wearisome exercise of carrying off their gear. Jay and Steve carry their guitars off stage, but they can barely squeeze into the dressing room. All six members of Allsystemsgo are in there waiting to go on.
"Good show, boys," one of them says.
"Yeah," says another. "Hell of a good show."
"Thanks. You guys mind giving us some room so we can get our gear off?"
"Right. Sorry." Some of the members of the band move out, and a few squeeze past Jay and Steve to take their own gear on.
Jay and Steve put their guitars in their cases and head back up to help Peter and Tyson with the drums. When they get on stage, Jay spots two members of Allsystemsgo struggling to heft a lighting rig up on stage.
"Bloody shit, will you look at that?" he says to his band-mates.
"I guess Wal-Mart had a sale on concert lights," says Steve. "Come on, let's get this shit off."
They take the gear off stage, towel off and cart the gear out to Peter's minivan. They load it in, quietly talking about their performance and the audience's lukewarm response. Peter slams the rear door and they head back in.
The scene that greets them is little short of pandemonium: Allsystemsgo have started their set. The stage is bathed with flashing red and blue light, and the band is banging through a high-speed first number. Practically everyone in the hall is jammed on the floor in front of the stage, surging rhythmically to the beat of the music.
What the fuck? Jay shouts over the noise. They stand and watch the performance, but more than that, they watch the audience. Everyone is dancing, shouting, pumping fists. Now why wasn't everyone doing that when we were on stage?
Screw it boys, Steve says. Let's head into the lounge and have a beer.
The lounge, separate from the main hall, is well-lit and quiet. There is a small bar and a pool table, and several empty tables. The small blonde bartender accepts their little pink drink tickets, and the boys take a seat at a small table. Peter, who is driving, orders soda.
This doesn't make any sense to me, Tyson says, pulling out a chair. Ego aside, those guys are not better than us. Why are they getting such a huge response? Shit, everybody acted like we weren't even on stage.
It's two campus bands, that's all, Steve says. Seriously, Allsystemsgo are big with the college crowd here. And Lady Endorphin is getting big too. You hear people talking about them all over the place.
Yeah, but hell, says Tyson. We've been playing in this town for a couple years now. People know who we are. Look at the show we played at The Station a couple weeks ago. Everyone there was going nuts for us, and tonight it was like nobody even heard of us.
My worry is slide-back, Jay says. We've been working really hard to develop the band, get the sound we want, write quality material and learn how to put on a good show. But none of that mattered tonight. Hell, we put on a great rock show, and that didn't even matter. It looks like we've stopped moving forward. Other bands are passing us by.
No way, Peter says. You said it man, we put on a great show tonight. The crowd just didn't go crazy because they're all fans of those other guys. But they all saw us. They all know who we are now.
You guys were filler.
Steve, Peter, Tyson and Jay all turn to look at the man who spoke. He's sitting at the bar with a glass of whiskey. He's a small young man with a short haircut under a baseball cap. Tattoos creep down his muscular arms.
Oh, you think so, do you? Tyson says, straightening up in his chair.
Yeah, he says. I do.
Jay, Peter and Steve look nervously between the strange young man and their lead singer. The young man finishes his drink, gestures to the bartender for another and gets up. Tyson also stands up, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. When Tyson gets up so do the others, expecting they will need to break up a fight.
Whoa, chill out guys, the young man says. He pulls a chair from another table. While the members of Hellakill all stand, he sits down at their table and crosses his legs in an easy, relaxed manner. Come on, sit down, he says. I watched your show tonight. You guys have some serious skills. But yeah, you were filler. Sorry to be so blunt.
So who are you? asks Jay, sitting back down.
My name is Rich. I play guitar for Lady Endorphin. You guys sound great, but you're not putting on the show that we did, or the show that those dinks in Allsystemsgo put on.
Why, just because we're not using our own lighting rigs? Tyson asks. Or because we're not using all the gimmicky shit that your band uses?
Rich is calm. It may be gimmicky shit, but we back it up with the sound. What's your stage show? Four guys playing music? Pretty basic. And say what you want about our gimmicks, a lot of people turned out to see us tonight.
Yeah, that's true, says Steve.
Yeah, Rich continues. And you know how many shows we've played? This is just our fourth.
Jay looks at him seriously. How the hell did you get that many people coming to see you after only three shows? Are you friends with everyone in town?
Rich laughs. No man. Actually, the only people I know in this town are the guys in my band. No, we got our fans using the internet. Are you guys online?
They look around at each other. Yeah, we have a MySpace page, Tyson says. There's not much on it. I think we've got like, fifty friends.
Rich shakes his head. Shit, Lady's got like, ten thousand friends or something like that. How do you guys market yourselves? How do you find fans?
By playing shows, Jay says. And word of mouth.
Rich's eyes pop open and he laughs again. Word of mouth? he cackles. What it this, the sixties? Dudes, you have to get online! MySpace, YouTube, podcasting, you have to do it all. I mean, I wouldn't have even found Lady Endorphin if she wasn't all over the internet a year before she even played a show. I moved here from Indianapolis just to play guitar for her.
Tyson leans forward over the table. Are you kidding me? he says. You moved from Indy to Millenburgh to join a band? Are you retarded?
Rich continues to laugh. Yeah, I know, isn't that crazy? But seriously, it's not about what city you're in anymore. You think you need to be in a big city so you can play shows and get noticed by some record executive, but that's out of date, man. Now you play anywhere, record shit and put it online, put videos online, anything and everything you can so people notice you. Think about this, he says. If you were some music fan here tonight and you didn't know any of the bands, who would you Google when you got home?
A music fan would probably Google us, says Peter.
Maybe. Let's say he does. He finds your MySpace page. Looks pretty boring, so he Googles Allsystemsgo. He finds a detailed page, lots of videos, pictures and all sorts of shit like that. Which band do you think that guy will follow in the future?
The members of Hellakill look at each other as the message starts to sink in.
The bartender brings Rich's drink to the table. He hands her some cash and takes a sip. Hey guys, I'm not trying to bring you down. You're a very good band and you seem serious about making it. You're just not quite with it, that's all.
He pulls a pen out of his pocket and writes on a napkin. Here, I'll give you my e-mail address. I'm not just dicking you around. I've been in a lot of bands, and I know some shit. I only came to Millenburgh because I think Lady Endorphin has serious potential. But I can help you guys too. I've got time.
Tyson takes the napkin, looks at it a long time, and although he doesn't look happy, he slips it into his jacket pocket.
Okay, Rich says. I'm going to go watch the rest of the show. You guys take it easy, all right? Oh, and there's a battle of the bands in Indy maybe three months from now. You guys should check it out. Google it. Okay, I'll see you later.
He takes his drink and walks out into the main hall. The guys can hear cheering for the band on stage as the door opens. They sit and look at each other.
I'd like to kill him, Tyson says, slowly and deliberately, but I think everything he said is true.
Peter shrugs. Yeah, but what did he say, really? We need to work on our MySpace page?
No, says Jay. We need to improve our stage show and we need to modernize how we promote ourselves. And he's absolutely right. He takes a sip from his beer and a wry smile spreads across his face. If we don't kick things up a level, do you know who we are? We're Pattern Disruption, still playing the basement at house parties. We're just playing bigger basements.
The boys talk it over. When their drinks are gone they get up and walk out into the hall. Allsystemsgo is still performing, and the crowd is still dancing and cheering. Jay stops to say thanks to Nick, the event organizer while the other members file out.
When Jay steps out into the cool night air, he sees Peter, Steve and Tyson standing next to Peter's van, staring at it in silence. Jay walks up and looks. The doors of the van are open and all of the band's equipment is gone.
2007 Nolan Whyte