On Thursday night the boys from Hellakill are scheduled to play a fundraiser show for the women's shelter in downtown Millenburgh. The show was organized by a group of college students, basically as an excuse to put together a wide range of talent for one big show. The lineup includes some spoken word artists, a drum circle and three bands including Hellakill with a DJ set to play all night afterward.
Jay is the last to get picked up when Peter drives around picking up the band in his minivan. Steve slides open the side-door and Jay pushes his guitar and amp inside.
"Not bringing Danny tonight?" Steve asks.
"Yeah, where's Slash?" says Tyson from the front seat. "Is he staying home to work on his solos?"
"He's got homework, smartass," Jay says.
As the sun goes down they arrive at the venue. The show is at an event hall that usually hosts wedding receptions and corporate parties, and occasionally local music events. The main room is still mostly empty when they enter. A poet is on stage speaking, apparently warming up the audience, such as it is. The boys move in, hauling their guitars and bags with them.
Nick, the primary organizer of the event, comes over to meet them. "Hey guys," he says. "Thanks for coming. Come on to the back room and you can drop your stuff."
Jay, Peter, Steve and Tyson follow him to the small dressing room at the side of the stage. It's a big hall with a full bar and an attached lounge, but the dressing room is a cramped little space, more so because it's already filled with other people's equipment including stacks of drum cases and loose bongos.
"Everyone's sharing the space for their gear," Nick tells them.
"So what's to stop people from stealing each other's stuff?" Steve asks.
"We're going with the honor system."
"Well, that's great for the people who are on early," Peter says, running his fingers over a bongo. "But we're on last. Everyone who goes out of here before us gets a chance to walk out with some of our stuff."
"Yeah," says Steve. "People are thieves."
"Well, this is a charity gig," Nick says. "I hope people aren't here to rip each other off. And since you mention it, Allsystemsgo has the last spot."
The guys all turn and stare at Nick. "What the hell?" Tyson says. "I thought we were closing."
"Yeah, but most of the tickets were bought on campus, so it looks like it will be mainly IUM students here tonight. And Allsystemsgo are a big act on campus."
The Hellakill boys are silent until Steve says, "I guess we can't disagree with that."
"Right. Anyway, the hall came through with free drinks for the performers. Want them now?" He digs a roll of little pink tickets out of his pocket, counts out eight and hands them to Tyson. "Okay, first band should finish at nine fifty, and you start at ten. Thanks guys." He steps out, leaving them in the little room.
The guys stand there looking at their little pink tickets until Tyson mutters "Fucking Allsystemsgo."
"They are a good band," says Jay, setting his guitar case down and wedging it out of sight behind a stack of drums.
"Do you think they're better than us?" Peter asks.
Jay shrugs. "I don't think so. We stack up pretty well, except they have the keyboard player, which gives them some versatility. And of course, they have two guitars."
"I think," says Peter, "if you put our ten best songs against theirs, they would have more songs in the top five. But I think we would have more in the top ten."
Steve grins. "So they have better singles but we have a better album?"
"Bullshit," says Tyson. "We're better."
"They're a good bunch of guys, anyway," says Jay. "I'm not going to hate them just because they've got the closing spot. Besides, if this place is going to be full of their fans, they'll all see us play. Maybe we'll get some new fans out of it."
"Good," Steve says. "We're not getting any money, so we'd better get some new fans."
Jay gives him look. "And of course we get the satisfaction of knowing we're helping a good cause."
"Yeah, sure. That too."
They start going back and forth between the van and the dressing room carrying in Peter's drums. "Hey Tyson," says Jay. "Maybe it will end up like that Svengorgon show."
Tyson laughs. "Maybe."
"What's that?" asks Steve.
"We saw this shitty metal band once called Svengorgon. So they suck, right? And they were going to come back out for an encore, but the crowd started chanting for the openers. It was hilarious."
"They were so pissed off," Tyson says.
"Yeah, I bet that happens tonight," says Steve.
After the gear is inside the boys drift apart, killing time until it's their turn to perform. Tyson and Peter head into the lounge to play pool and Steve talks to a school friend at the bar. Jay gets a beer with one of his tickets and sits alone at a table near the front, listening to a young poet read his stuff. He claps after each poem but doesn't listen too intently. He's thinking about the upcoming set, thinking about his solos, thinking about what he should emphasize to make the crowd sit up and pay attention.
Someone kicks the back of his chair. "Hey there, Jay." He turns and sees Ron and Kathy from Pattern Disruption. They sit down at the table.
"Hey guys," Jay says. "Here to watch us play?"
"What are we, your groupies?" says Ron. "No, Kathy's in the drum circle thingy."
"Oh. Right on."
"So is your brother here?" asks Kathy, with a teasing look on her face.
"No. He has homework." Jay starts to sip his beer, but stops and looks at Kathy. "Why?"
She smiles. "No reason. He was pretty funny the other night. I was wondering, how old is he?"
Jay thinks for a second. "Danny's twenty," he says. "He's at the university. He's taking um, English."
"Oh. I thought he was younger than that."
Jay sips his beer and doesn't answer.
The poets finish and the drum circle starts. Kathy gets up on the stage with fifteen others, and they all begin playing their bongo drums. It doesn't interest Jay much, but he's pleased to see the room filling up. Ron talks most of the way through the drum performance, explaining how he's getting into Delta Blues and how much this old stuff is helping him 'feel' the guitar.
"Yeah, that's cool," Jay says. "You know who I just started listening to? The Black Keys. They've got a great sound for--"
"No, no, man," Ron interrupts. "See, with the Delta Blues..." And blah, blah, blah.
After half an hour the drummers clear off, and Ron and Kathy disappear. The other members of Hellakill arrive at Jay's table to watch as the first band gets ready.
"This band has the hottest chick I've ever seen," Steve says. "She's at IUM. This should be awesome."
The band, called Lady Endorphin, sets up the stage. While the male drummer, keyboardist and guitar player ready their gear, two young girls dressed in black appear, bringing a large, elaborate microphone stand out. It's like a set of monkey-bars on a broad metal base. Once the stand is in place, the two girls begin hanging large green drapes around the stage and setting up a variety of lights and other equipment.
"So where's this girl?" asks Tyson. "Is she one of those two chicks?"
"No," Steve says. "I don't see her."
The two girls finish and when the three musicians are ready, the lights go down and keyboardist starts to play a ringing drone. The stage is suddenly flooded with green light and a smoke machine starts. The cloud of smoke begins to drifts across the stage as the drummer and guitarist begin to slowly play.
"This is pretty serious for a college band," Peter says.
Suddenly a strobe-light starts to flash, creating a startling visual effect as the drummer and guitarist cut in fast and hard. The guitar player, a shirtless young man with six-pack abs and big shoulder tattoos starts to shred his way through a solo, while the keyboardist brings in a heavy throbbing beat. Out of the smoke emerges Lady Endorphin herself, a lithe young woman with long black hair and a shiny green cat-suit costume. She climbs up onto the elaborate microphone stand, pulls out the mic and begins to sing as a second strobe starts to flash from the base of the stand, illuminating her from below. Her voice is a breathy singing whisper, part Patti Smith and part Tori Amos.
"Holy mother-fucking production values," shouts Peter over the beat, as people from every corner of the hall stream forward to the dance floor in front of the stage. "This is the opening act? Jeez, we're going to look like amateur-hour after this."
Jay and Tyson look at each other, both thinking the same thing: Svengorgon.
They watch as Lady Endorphin slinks along the stage interacting with the audience, climbs, dances, leaps and prowls around while the lights flash and change from green to purple. The music is a constant thumping mix of metal guitars and dance-floor beats, creating an industrial grind that has the crowd dancing from the first song forward.
At nine forty, Jay gets up and starts for the dressing room. Tyson and Peter follow, although Peter has to go back to grab Steve, who is staring open-mouthed at Lady Endorphin, too mesmerized to notice his whole band has left.
Inside the dressing room, Tyson pulls on a tight black t-shirt. "We'll have to go as hard as we can to follow these guys."
"It would be a good night to have a rhythm guitar," Peter says.
"Yeah," says Steve. "Hey Jay, call up Danny and get him down here."
Jay gives Steve an angry look. "Will you guys shut up about him?"
They listen as Lady Endorphin finishes her set with a swell of approval from the crowd. The house lights come up and the two girls in black t-shirts come in from the dance floor, cut through the dressing room and head up on stage to help take down the lights and equipment.
"Should we give them a few minutes to get their stuff off stage?" Steve asks.
"We've got to get the drums out there or it will eat into our set time," says Peter.
"Fuck it," Jay says. "Let's get our stuff out there."
They start carrying their gear up, dodging to avoid the members of Lady Endorphin's band and the two girls who are pulling down the drapes and carrying the gear off. Lady Endorphin herself is not to be seen.
"What, did she leave through the audience?" Jay asks.
"Wow, just like in wrestling," Steve laughs. "I love this chick!"
"Are you ready?" Tyson asks sharply.
The other musicians clear off. Jay looks around at his band-mates. After the dramatic set-dressing of the previous band the stage seems bare, with only the four young men standing in front of a brown wall. The crowd is still assembled in front of the stage, waiting to see what will follow the dramatic first group. Jay nods to Tyson and then to Peter, and the drummer taps his sticks together to count in their first song.
2007 Nolan Whyte