Danny follows Benny as she storms away from Boyd in anger. Kev trails along behind them. Boyd stands leaning against the wall with his friends, making wisecracks and laughing at them.
Well, you really told him, Kev says to Danny. Danny turns back to glare at his friend. What? Kev says. All I'm saying is that you had a chance to tell the guy to shut his mouth and you didn't say a word. You kind of pussied out there.
Danny stops. Damnit, Kev! He clenches his hands into tight fists. I've got a lot on my mind now, all right? I've got this show to play, this girl, that ape and his goons screaming at me, my brother and you all hanging around. I feel like the whole freaking world is staring at me here. Shit, I just want to stay home, smoke the odd joint, and play video games. How did I get myself into this?
He turns and walks off, following Benny. Kev, humbled by his friend's outburst, looks meekly around and drifts away toward the bar at the back end of the room. The guys from Hellakill are standing around down there. They aren't really his friends, but at least they are someone he knows.
Danny, meanwhile, catches up with Benny up near the stage. Hey, wait up, he says, grabbing at her elbow.
She pulls away from him. God, he makes me so mad, she says. I can't believe I went out with that prick.
Look, don't worry about Boyd, Danny says. Just clue me in, okay, because I'm getting really confused. You were acting before like we're going out, but now you're telling Boyd that we're not. I'm having a hard time knowing where I stand.
I'm not going to talk about this here. Look, they're still watching. Benny points to the far wall where Boyd and his friends are standing. Danny looks over. Boyd gives them a sarcastic lovey-wave and one of his buddies gives them the finger.
Come with me, Danny says. He leads her to the green room door at the right of the stage, knocks, and pushes the door open. There's no one back there, so Danny pulls Benny inside.
Benny looks around at the piles of equipment: the stacks of drums, the guitar cases, cymbal stands, and coats. There's a funky-sweet smell of spilled beer, body odor and faded cigarette smoke. Whoa, backstage, she whispers, looking around. Cool.
Look, this whole night is getting weird, Danny says. I just want to know what's going on.
She shrugs her shoulders and looks up at him, then looks away. I'm sorry about what I said to Boyd about us not going out. I think you're cool, Danny. I didn't want to tell Boyd we're going out, because that's none of his business. But like, if you want to go out, that's cool with me. I'd like to go out with you. She looks up at him. He smiles.
Fifteen minutes later when it's time for Pattern Disruption to take the stage, Kathy opens the door to the green room and finds Danny, the high school video game nerd, on the stained green sofa in full make-out mode with Benny, the blue-and-pink-haired punk chick. Oh my god! Kathy shrieks, and then ducks giggling back out of the room.
Danny and Benny look at each other and smile. We should probably get out of here, Danny says. The bands will need to use the room. Benny nods.
As they step out into the main hall, they meet the smiling faces of Pattern Disruption's four members. Danny tucks his hair behind his ears and smiles shyly back.
I'm going to the washroom, Benny says and flits off through the growing crowd, while Ron, Scott, Kathy and Julie squeeze past Danny into the green room to get ready to go on stage. Danny stands around for a moment, suddenly alone in the big venue. He doesn't know where to go or what to do. Where's Kev? Where are Jay and the other members of Hellakill? There is one person that he has no trouble finding, and that is Boyd, who is still standing by the far wall. Danny takes a quick glance in that direction, and sure enough, the four goons are watching him. Suddenly Danny feels like a rabbit in a room full of wolves.
He starts crossing the room, looking around for his friends. There are a lot of kids from his high school floating around the room. A lot. Some of them nod to Danny or smile as he passes by. It feels weird, but not bad-weird like it did at school that morning. The people are looking at him, but it's because they came here to see him. And maybe some of them came hoping of seeing a train-wreck, like Boyd and his jerk friends, but probably some of them came to see him play in a well-known local hard rock band.
Danny spots Jay, Kev and the others hanging around at the back of the room. A crowd of fans and friends has formed around them, and Danny can hear the words as he presses through to find Jay: Hellakill, or Allsystemsgo and The Bantam All-Stars down the street at The Station. Who's going to come out on top?
It seems stupid to Danny. He knows Hellakill and Allsystemsgo aren't actually against each other. The fact that both bands are playing on the same night is a coincidence, and Jay managed to pump the whole thing up into some kind of competition to build buzz and increase ticket sales. But there's no actual contest. There's no way for one band to win and one band to lose, except maybe in public opinion, and people forget silly crap like that in no time. All the same, Danny can't help feeling curious if there as many people turning up at The Station.
Hey, Danny, Jay says, reaching through the crowd to pull his brother toward him. Are you having fun?
Danny thinks about the first-ever make-out session of his life, with hot punk chick back stage before his first-ever rock show. So far, so good. He smiles at his brother. Yeah, not bad, he says.
Steve steps up on his toes and looks toward the stage. Okay, Pattern Disruption is up there, he announces. I'd better go. He sets his empty beer bottle down on the bar and pushes his way through the group of kids surrounding the musicians. The Hellakill bass player makes his way to the front of the room and climbs up onto the stage. The Pattern Disruption players are taking their places, taping down their set lists, testing their instruments, placing their water bottles. Julie backs away from the microphone and allows Steve to step up.
Good evening! he shouts into the mic to address the audience, getting a lukewarm cheer and scattered clapping in response. My name is Steve, and I'm the bass player for Millenburgh's very own Hellakill. He pauses, expecting a cheer from the crowd. I guess you all know why we're here: we got our equipment stolen a few months ago, and we put together this little show to try and raise some money to buy new shit. So, thanks everyone for coming and helping us out."
We're got a great bunch of bands here tonight, Steve continues. We've got Lady Endorphin and Sharp Edge, and The Old-Timey Railroad Band, who will be playing their first show ever here tonight. Our first group tonight did a lot to help us set this whole thing up. In fact, they're even going to let us use some of their gear when we get up here later.
He's talking too much, Tyson says to Jay. The guitarist nods.
Put your hands together for Pattern Disruption! Steve shouts. There is mild applause for the mostly-unknown band, and Steve hops down off the stage. Julie and the band waste no time, and they immediately explode into their first number. The sound tech brings up the stage lights, and the whole room is filled with sound and color. Ron pounds on the bass, Scott sends an electrifying riff out at the audience, and Kathy hammers away on her drums, her brown curls bouncing with the rhythm. Julie takes the microphone and begins to sing, grabbing and holding the attention of everyone in the room.
Steve reaches his band-mates at the back of the room. Good intro? he says.
A little long, Tyson says.
Steve shrugs. We'll see how you do with the next band.
Shit, these guys are good, Jay says, looking up at the performance on stage. They really should be playing their own shows.
Except for the drinkers, the people at the back near the bar drift forward to get a better look at performance on stage. Benny and Danny meet in the crowd and move forward to watch. Pattern Disruption takes nothing for granted, keeping the songs hard, fast, and tight, and keeping the breaks between songs down to only seconds. Although the crowd of high school kids and older gig veterans don't know the songs, it isn't long before there are people dancing in front of the stage. The band's power pop style isn't quite right for moshing, but there is a good party atmosphere during every song.
Perfect, Jay thinks with satisfaction. People are having a good time. As the performance goes on he stands back and watches, his attention switching back and forth between three things. He watches the stage, taking in the polish and expertise of the young band. They may have not played a lot of shows, but they've practiced enough that their material is wire-tight, and it's exciting to see.
He watches the crowd. Ten dollars is a small amount to charge for a five band show, but he wants to see people enjoying themselves. He wants everyone to get their money's worth.
And he watches the door. He can't help but counting people as they come in, because every one of them means another ten dollars towards a new set of band gear. And he wants a proper new guitar. He wants this show to be his first and last using his little Sears practice guitar.
Pattern Disruption ends their set at eight fifty with a dramatic song full of call and response with the crowd, drawing a huge cheer when they take their bow. The lights go down and they begin their teardown immediately. As well, the three members of The Old-Timey Railroad Band begin setting up their own gear.
Tyson slides up next to Jay. Those guys were great. I hope everybody plays that hard. Crowd's getting thicker, too.
Yeah, Jay says. I figure the shit is going to get going down at the other show, so our crowd might not get much bigger now. But it's a good crowd. I don't know if it's thousand-dollar-guitar good, but it's pretty good.
Tyson nods. We'll see.
With only a five minute break instead of the expected ten, Brett, The Old-Timey's guitarist and singer waves over to Tyson. I guess they're ready, the Hellakill singer says. Any advice for my intro?
Short and sweet, Jay replies.
Tyson gets up on stage and grabs the microphone. I'm Tyson from Hellakill, and these guys are The Old-Timey Railroad Band! There's a cheer from the crowd and he hops off the stage. The band starts to play and Tyson works his way back to the bar where Steve and Peter are talking to some girls.
Now that's how you introduce a band, Tyson shouts at Steve over the crashing din of the country music speed-punk band performing on stage. Steve grins and makes a sarcastically thankful face in reply.
On the floor in front of the stage, the crowd is dancing, hopping along to a hyperactively-played version of a Kris Kristofferson song. Danny and Benny hop along with them, bouncing in place next to each other. Danny watches Brett, the guitar player on stage. Every time he sees someone playing guitar on stage he watches them. He watches how they hold their guitar, he watches their stance and how they spread their legs for balance: one foot forward/one foot back, legs spread wide, or shoulder-width apart. He notes how the length of their strap affects the way they strum. Shortened straps mean they strum against their lower chest or stomach with great stability but cramped-up arms, and longer straps mean a low, swinging guitar and a straight-armed, up and down hammering style. He watches everything: what makes it easiest to play, and what looks cool.
On stage, Brett stands with his feet close together and his guitar against his waist with his hips slightly turned so the neck of the guitar is pointed out toward the audience. He leans forward to sing into the microphone, the veins in his neck protruding as he screams about being on the sidewalk on a Sunday morning.
Cool, Danny thinks. He looks cool.
His thoughts are interrupted by a body colliding with him from behind as the kids in the crowd start engaging in a higher-contact level of dance. Danny looks behind him and the kid who hit him smiles and mouths the word sorry. Danny smiles and nods back. He recognizes the kid from chemistry class.
The Old-Timey Railroad Band play a fifty-five minute set at a frantic pace, screaming and slashing through souped-up versions of Cash, Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson, Williams, Owens, Presley, and a host of lesser-known country singers. At five minutes to ten they practically collapse off stage, dragging their gear behind them, clearing the way for Sharp Edge, one of Millenburgh's most successful play-it-safe/take-no-risks cover bands.
Danny and Benny squeeze their way from the stage to the bar at the back of the room. Earlier there had been a broad swath of empty floor between the crowd at the front and the crowd at the back, but now The Venture seems crowded all the way through. While Sharp Edge sets up, Danny and Benny wait in line for cups of ice water.
Peter is there, holding a bottle of juice and talking with friends. He spots Danny. Hey buddy, he says, slipping through the people to get close. You're all sweaty. You're not wearing yourself out, are you?
No, I'm just having a good time. That band was awesome!
Yeah, a Misfits fan would like their sound. Just rest up for a while, okay? There are still two bands to go before we play.
Danny nods. It's packed in here now, isn't it?
Yeah. Jay and Tyson think we're getting close to capacity, which is awesome. Anyway, I've got to go. I'm introducing these guys.
On stage, the five members of Sharp Edge have set up their gear, and the sound tech brings up the lights on them. Jay looks up at the stage and raises his eyebrows in curiosity. He has seen the band play before, and their style has been glitzy. Almost tacky. That was why he was hesitant about booking them to play the show when Peter recommended them. They would get up on stage in flashy matching costumes and play straight radio and pub hits from the eighties, nineties, and squeeze in a few contemporary rockers to stay current. They would play anything that a crowd would sing along with, from Billy Joel to Blur.
That's why he isn't sure what's happening on stage. The five guys up there are not wearing glitzy outfits. They are dressed head-to-toe in black, with sleeveless black T-shirts to match their black jeans. The usual cheesy Sharp Edge banner, which they always hang behind them when they play, is in its usual place, but now the band's logo looks as dangerous as it is supposed to sound: like it is forged from steel and ready to cut.
Peter hops up on stage. He knows what the band is up to, even if no one else in the place does. He knows that the dudes in Sharp Edge are sick of playing commercial shit, and they are ready to play their own material. Peter loves it.
I'm Peter from Hellakill, he shouts. Now hold onto your ass! In his best impersonation of King Leonidas from 300, he screams THIS... IS... SHARP EDGE!
The band explodes into action before Peter is even able to jump off the stage, and a deluge of metal riffing washes over the unsuspecting audience in a tumultuous wave of double bass drum pedaling and shredding.
Holy shit! Jay shouts out loud in surprise, staring open-mouthed and smiling as the cheesy, in-it-for-the-money cover band blasts out the music they actually want to play.
Sharp Edge is ferocious and uncompromising. They sound like a band that Black Label Society would party with, and the audience, although shocked, cannot take their eyes off the band. That is, until cell phones start to buzz. Jay, standing at the outer edge of the crowd starts to see it: people checking their phones for text messages, nudging their friends and starting to work their way out of the crowd. Instead of people coming into the venue, suddenly people are going out.
Jay works his way toward the exit and catches up with a departing couple. You guys taking off? he shouts over the music.
My friend texted me, the guy says. The Bantam All-Stars are about to go on at The Station. We don't want to be late.
2008 Nolan Whyte