At four o'clock in the afternoon Danny, Kev and Benny climb down out a city bus to look at the brown brick exterior of The Venture, the venue for Hellakill's benefit concert. The building is not what you would call stately, but not squalid either, despite its warehouse district home next to the railroad tracks.
The three high school seniors walk around to the front doors. The venue entrance is locked, but further down is the management office, which is open. Danny leads them inside. The office space is shabby but hip, giving a half-hearted nod towards respectability and professionalism, but mainly resembling a late-seventies flophouse for a bunch of rock and roll burn-outs. Torn and stained pictures and posters cover the walls and ancient brown carpets cover the floor. At a desk sits a teenage girl with lank hair, a grey cardigan and a "Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994" t-shirt. A dude with two feet of pony-tailed blond hair hanging down his back sits in a chair reading a magazine, and another dude is asleep on the couch, his trucker cap pulled low.
"Can I help you?" asks the girl in a limp monotone.
"I'm part of Hellakill," Danny says. "We wanted to come in and check out the room and stuff."
"What's your name?" asks the pony-tailed guy reading the magazine.
The guy has a look at a clipboard. "Yeah, okay. You're on the list. Are these two staying for the show?"
"Yeah. They've got tickets," Danny says.
"Go through there," the guy says, pointing to a door. "There are some guys in there already setting up their gear. Do you guys have equipment to bring in?"
Danny shakes his head. He leads Kev and Benny through the office, through a heavy door and into the darkened cavern of the hall.
Near them on the right is the bar, and at the far end of the long room is the stage, the only illuminated part of the big room. On stage are two seated figures, partly facing each other, partly looking out into the room. They each hold guitars. There is a moment of quiet as Danny, Kev and Benny enter, but the silence is soon broken by a rumble of bass notes, soon accompanied by a gliding guitar line coming through the stacked speakers winging the stage.
Danny walks toward the stage and the other two follow.
"Danny?" Kev says. "You told that guy we have tickets. We don't have tickets."
"I'll get tickets for you," Danny says, stepping into the light near the stage.
Scott and Ron, the guitarist and bass player from Pattern Disruption, look down at Danny and the other two.
"Hey there, brother," Ron calls. "Come to rock with us?"
Danny shrugs. "We just came to check the place out."
"That's cool," Scott says. He nods to Kev and Benny. "Are these guys at IUM too?"
"You guys know I'm not in college," Danny says. "We go to McLaughlin. This is Benny and Kev. Ron and Scott are in Pattern Disruption."
Ron and Scott exchange a grin. "Hi there," Ron says.
"Where are the girls?" asks Kev.
"Julie didn't need to come," Ron says, taking off his bass. "and you missed Kathy by about fifteen minutes. We're just hanging out for the afternoon. The other bands are going to be dropping in with their gear, and we just want to, you know..."
"Keep an eye on our stuff," Scott finishes. He pulls off his guitar and gets up, leaving the guitar leaning against the chair. He flicks off the amplifier behind him. "Since you guys are here, do you mind sticking around for a while so we can go grab something to eat?"
"I guess," Danny says. "Are you going to be long?"
"Nah, we'll just go to the burger place on Third." The two Pattern Disruption players climb down off the stage and put on their coats.
"Can we play your guitars?" Benny asks as Ron and Scott start for the exit.
"Be our guest," Ron calls as they exit through the office doors.
The three kids climb up onto the stage. Kev stands at the edge and looks out into the dark empty space of the room. "This really is a big place," he says, standing up on his tiptoes. "It's like a primary school gym."
"I thought you'd been here before," Danny says, picking up Scott's guitar. He grips the strings to silence them and flicks on the amplifier. He adjusts the volume down, looking over at Benny trying on Ron's bass.
"I've never been up on the stage, Kev says. I saw Flag-Burning Youth here. They were okay. I don't know if I would pay ten bucks to see them again." He turns to see Danny and Benny sitting down with the guitars. They touch the strings and then start tuning up.
"Give me your 'E' again," Danny says.
"What the hell am I supposed to do while you guys play?" Kev asks.
"Get your ass behind the drums," Benny says.
"I don't know how to play drums."
"It's just tapping," Danny says. "Tapping and counting to four."
"Yeah, right," Kev says, stepping behind the kit. "If it were easy, everyone would do it." He picks up the drum sticks and starts tapping randomly on the skins of the different drums.
"What do you want to play? Benny asks.
Danny shrugs. Do you remember 'Skulls'?
Sure. I downloaded it. Ready?
They begin playing the song, running over the changes with no one singing. Kev sits behind the drum set holding the sticks, resembling the ape at the opening of the movie 2001, staring at the broken bone in his hand. At last, just as the ape learned to use the bone as a tool, Kev tentatively starts tapping one of the sticks on the skin of the snare drum, trying to keep in time with what Danny and Benny are playing. He starts counting to four, tapping awkwardly.
The three of them slowly play through an awkward and clunky version of Skulls, and follow it with a similar attempt at Twenty Eyes, another Misfits standard. This time Kev tries to alternate the snare with the high hat, going one-two, one-two, but he quickly falls out of time. He picks the rhythm back up just tapping the snare again, and manages to work in the high hat on the fourth beats.
Look at me, I'm Joey Jordison, Kev says as the song trails off. Cool. We're a band now. What are we called?
Danny smiles. The Lost Bandits of The Video Game Empire.
Too long, Benny says. How about 'Sound Check'?
Cool, Kev says. He tries to twirl a stick in his hand and drops it.
They play a few more, stretching Benny's memory of the songs. It's easier for Danny, who has been playing every day at home and at intense group practices once a week. In the few short months he's been playing, he's gained a lot of confidence through sheer repetition.
Benny pauses, stretching out her right hand. Danny starts tuning the Strat. Are you still mad about the posters? she asks him.
No, he says. I shouldn't have gotten mad about that. Sorry I was so shitty about it. I know you were helping us out. It's just weird, you know? To see your face all over the school hallways. I usually try to stay in the shadows.
Like Batman, Kev chimes in.
You're going to be on stage tonight, you know, Benny says. There are going to be big lights shining on you and everyone is going to be watching. I'm not trying to freak you out or anything, but you do know that, right? There aren't going to be any shadows to hide in.
I know, Danny says, twisting a tuning knob as he touches the strings with his pick. But everybody is going to be watching Jay and Tyson. Those guys are the show.
There are voices from the dark end of the hall as another band arrives to load in their gear. They step forward into the light from the stage, but Danny doesn't recognize them.
How's it going? asks one of the three guys. He's carrying a guitar case. We'll just toss our stuff backstage, right?
Sure, Danny says. Which band are you?
The Old-Timey Railroad Band, the young man says. I'm Brett. This is Gavin and Leo. You with Hellakill?
I am, yeah, Danny says.
Should be a pretty f--ked up night, huh?
What do you mean?
He smiles. I worked the ticket sales table at the university with your bass player Steve this afternoon, Brett says. We saw a few of the guys from Allsystemsgo. They are plenty pissed off at you guys, let me tell you. They said your guitar player was calling them fags on the radio, or something like that?
He never said fags. He might have said something about rim-jobs.
Well, whatever. Anyway, I don't know what's going to happen tonight, but I think we're going to have a pretty good time. Should be funny, anyway.
The Old-Timey Railroad Band takes their gear through the door at the side of the stage. Danny looks at Benny and Kev. I think I'm going to give Jay a call. See what's going on. He sets the guitar down and hops off the stage, walking toward the office.
The three OTRB musicians come out of the back, heading back outside to bring in the drums. One of them, either Gavin or Leo, stops by the stage and look up at Benny.
What's your name? he asks her.
Kind of a dude's name, isn't it?
It's short for Belinda.
Oh, like Belinda Carlisle.
She shrugs. I guess. She stares at him until he finally breaks away and follows his band-mates out the door.
He didn't ask my name, Kev says.
You don't have boobs.
In the office, Danny calls home. To his surprise, his father answers the phone. Hey, Dad. Um, is Jay home?
No, Jeff Warren says. He picked up his guitar and left about half an hour ago. Are you coming home for supper?
I don't think so, Danny says. I'm downtown right now, and I would have to come back down again, so I'll probably just stick around down here.
You have to eat. Do you have any money?
I've got a couple bucks. Don't worry. I'm fine.
Well, where are you? I can bring you something to eat. Or at least some money. You can't have a proper meal with a few dollars.
Um, just let me talk to Jay first so I can figure out what's going on. I'll give you a call back, okay?
His dad is silent for a moment. All right. But you promise to call if you need anything, okay?
Okay, champ. Love you.
Danny hangs up the phone. Weird, he mutters. He calls Tyson's house. Tyson answers, and sure enough, Jay is there as well.
I just had the strangest conversation with dad, Danny tells him. Like he's suddenly super-protective. Like instant TV-Dad.
Over-compensating, I would gather, Jay says. Where are you?
At The Venture.
Already? Jay says. What for? The first band doesn't play until eight. Shit, we don't play until eleven. Why don't you just go home? Eat, shower up, and put on something cool. If you want, we can pick you up with Peter's van later.
Yeah, I guess, Danny says. Um, there's one other thing. The Old-Timey Railroad Band is here. They said the guys from Allsystemsgo were talking shit to them and Steve at IUM today.
Hmm. Well, I guess we should have expected that. What did they say?
I'm not sure. You should talk to Steve.
I will soon. I'll see you in a few hours, okay? Call me here if you need anything, but don't bother going back to The Venture at least until seven. You can't just sit there for like, eight hours waiting. Are you excited to play?
Danny smiles. Kind of. Kind of nervous, too.
Don't worry, Danny. This is going to be awesome.
2008 Nolan Whyte