Jay makes his way across the dance floor, watching people drift out of the crowd, leaving The Venture to go down the street to The Station and watch The Bantam All-Stars play. He looks at Sharp Edge up on stage. If they notice the thinning crowd, they give no indication, and keep hammering out their metal riffs, jumping, grunting, and head banging. Good, he thinks. They're pros.
The Hellakill guitarist spots Rich, his Lady Endorphin counterpart, near the entrance to the green room. Rich is looking around, peering into the crowd. No surprise, Jay thinks. Lady Endorphin is up next, and as for as he knows, their lead singer still hasn't arrived.
Jay cuts to the bar at the back of the room. With a massive performance taking place on stage and the audience thinning as people leave, there is no lineup for drinks. He digs some drink tickets out of his pocket and buys two bottles of beer, and then moves toward the green room.
He meets Rich and holds out a beer for him. The small, muscular guitarist takes the beer and with a nod of thanks, drinks a third of it down. For the first time since Jay met him, Rich looks uncomfortable. Nervous. You ready to introduce us? Rich asks, leaning forward and shouting over the thundering noise of Sharp Edge.
Sure, Jay shouts back. You guys are up soon. Do you know when Casey's getting here?
She's already here. Rich tips the bottle back and gulps down another third.
Really? Where is she?
Rich nods his head back and to the side, indicating the room behind him. Jay asks if he can see her. The Lady Endorphin guitarist sighs, drinks down the remaining third of the beer, and leads Jay into the green room.
The full Lady Endorphin band is inside the cramped room. The keyboard player sits on the steps leading up to the stage. He has black and blond hair flopping down over his forehead and a dejected look on his face. The drummer, with a short blue mohawk and leather motorcycle jacket, leans against the walls with his arms tightly crossed, scowling. Jay has never met these two, but he's seen them play. Based upon their energetic performance at their last show, he would have expected a more upbeat room. Except...
Stretched out on the couch is Casey, Lady Endorphin herself. The name Lady Endorphin is misleading this time, however, because endorphins are drugs that bring a feeling of well-being. Casey looks more like Lady Chloroform. She is completely passed out.
What the fuck? Jay blurts when he sees her. Even passed out, her aviator shades and wool hat are in place, but her skin looks ashen, her mouth open. She looks comatose. Did she fucking overdose? he asks.
No, Rich says. Well, kind of. I told you she's down with a cold, and I guess she took a whole whack of different pills and cough syrups and shit. I guess she overdid it.
How did she even get here?
Her roadie girls brought her.
As if on cue, there is a banging on the fire exit door behind the sullen drummer. He turns and pushes open the door, and two girls step in, filling the little space even more. Jay remembers the two girls. They are both dressed head to toe in black tights, like invisible stage ninjas. At the last show they set up the props for Lady Endorphin's set. Handling Casey is apparently another one of their duties.
We got the energy drinks, one of the girls says. She kneels next to the couch and starts shaking Casey's arm. Hey! Baby! she shouts sharply into the singer's ear, while pinching at the nerves on her shoulder.
Casey rouses, looks around and drops back out. The girl keeps at her, shaking and shouting. Together the two stage girls are able to wrangle Casey into a seated position. One pulls off the aviator shades and looks into the singer's puffy red eyes. You okay? You're awake? she asks. Here. We brought your drinks.
Small, red and silver cans are produced. One is opened and pressed into Casey's limp hand, and then pushed up to her lips. The singer drinks a few gulps, grimaces, drinks more, and finally looks around.
Who's playing right now? she asks in a meek voice.
Sharp Edge, Jay says. He leans against the door, his arms crossed.
They sound pretty good, she whispers. After gulping down the rest of the can, she looks around at them all, and then looks at her hands, staring a little too long. Oh man, this is a sick trip. She cracks open a second can and gulps from it. The two roadie girls are still kneeling in front of her. Where's the mic stand? Casey asks.
In the van.
And my stuff? One girl points to a large canvas bag on the floor in the corner. Casey nods. Could you go get me a couple shots of Jager? Get them in the bigger plastic cups so they don't spill. She digs some bills out of her coat pocket. The girls get up and slip out past Jay into the main hall.
Casey looks at the can in her hand, then at her arm, and then at her other hand, turning it back and forth. Whoa, she says dopily.
What are you on? Jay asks.
Um. Dex... Dextromethorphan. Cold medication. Too much, I think. You guys look really screwed up.
We're not the only ones, says the keyboardist.
You're on in about twenty minutes, Jay says. Are you going to be able to perform?
Right on schedule, she says, and tips back the rest of the can of energy drink. She gestures to her drummer for help getting up. He gives her a hand, and she bounces around off them trying to find her way to the doorway out of the green room. Eventually she bounces squarely into Jay, and comes to a rest against him, her face against his chest. Little help, please? she says. I need to find the bathroom.
I'll take her, Rich says, and he gets her out of the stifling room.
Is she always like this before a gig? Jay asks the two remaining musicians.
Man, says the keyboardist with a shake of his head, you never know what's she's going to be like before a gig.
The drummer nods. Great singer, great performer, songwriter, producer, everything. But she is a complete head case. Total Section 8.
Jay nods. I'll come see you guys before it's time to go on. He slips out, spots Tyson in the crowd, and gestures for his own singer to meet him over by the hall entrance. From there they step outside and in the November chill, Jay lights a cigarette.
A lot of people took off, huh? Tyson asks.
Yeah. Man, it looked like we were doing well there for the first few bands. Pattern Disruption and those Railroad guys, they played good sets, didn't they? Sharp Edge gets up there and kicks ass, and everybody leaves to see The Bantam All-Stars. It's only going to get worse from here.
Nah, you're being negative, Tyson says, rubbing his bare arms against the cold. Look, everybody that left had already paid, so at least we got their money. And who knows, maybe they'll come back after Bantam's done. Besides, Lady Endorphin's up next. They'll kick ass.
Maybe, Jay says. You haven't seen Casey. She looks like she had about a pound of heroin before coming out. She's so wasted I don't know what kind of show she's going to put on. But people aren't going to come back after the All-Stars. Not with fucking Allsystemsgo coming up right after. Shit, those guys were smart having the All-Stars go on first. They get our people to head over there to see the bonafide rock stars, and then stay for their own set. Good tactic, really. They outflanked us.
This isn't a war, man. This is rock and roll.
Rock and roll is war, man. Jay takes a last drag and flicks his butt away. And we're losing.
You're getting dramatic. You always get nervous before a big show. We're doing fine. Hell, you were out here giving Danny a pep talk earlier, weren't you? Do I have to give you one now?
Jay turns toward the door. No, Tyson. I'm good. I'm a pro. We're going to play a tight set. Our best ever. I just hope there are still some people left in here to watch it. He pulls open the door and steps back inside.
Do you really think all those people paid for a ten dollar ticket just to come and watch the openers? Dude. Dude, hold on. Tyson grabs Jay's arm and pulls him back. Listen up, man. This is actually pretty simple. Look, those people who left here to go to The Station got text messages or phone calls, right? They got word when the Bantams went on, so there's clearly some coordination going on. All we have to do is stretch our breaks a few extra minutes, let Lady Endorphin play a few extra tunes if they want, and we just wait until those fucks in Allsystemsgo are done their set, and then we go on. Everyone from over there will come straight back and we'll play in front of a full house.
Jay thinks it over. Just wait and play after them? Hmm. That could work. But we'll need to know what's going on over there.
We could send Danny's buddy Kev over. Give him cash for a ticket and Steve's cell phone. Send him over as an inside man.
Jay bites his lip. That's dirty.
Didn't you just say rock and roll is a war? Look, this whole night is one big concert. It's just got two stages, that's all. Those guys have scooped being the closing act on us before. I think we need to make sure that we're the closing act tonight.
The guitarist grins. Okay. Let's do it.
They head back into the hall and a blast of guitar feedback hits them. Sharp Edge has raised the bar again with a ridiculously high-powered wailing axe-duel between the two guitarists. Jay turns and gives a smiling double-thumbs-up to the guys on stage, and follows Tyson toward the crowd at the back of the bar.
* * *
In the swirl of thrashing bodies in front of the stage, Danny does his best to hold his position and keep track of Benny. It's his first real mosh pit, and the constant pushing and banging with the others in the crowd is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. He wants to stay close to Benny and be the manly-man and protect her in the hostile environment, but she seems to be doing fine on her own. She has a smile on her sweat-covered face, while Danny is doing all he can just to stay on his feet.
It's at a moment when the sonic assault from the musicians on stage becomes more subdued and ominous, as Sharp Edge grinds their riffage down to a sinister, distorted screech that Danny feels the impact from behind, like a shoulder driven forward by a short run and rammed squarely into the middle of his spine. His head snaps back with whiplash and he flops forward against the moshers in front of him, only saving himself from falling down by latching onto their sweat-soaked backs.
Danny looks back over his shoulder, expecting to see Boyd standing there with a smug look of triumph on his face, but instead there are only other people dancing and watching the band. He looks around, but can't spot his assailant. But a guy in the crowd nods to him and points a finger through the press of bodies to a retreating figure. It's not Boyd, but it looks like one of his friends.
Danny nods and thanks the guy. He reaches out to tap Benny on the shoulder and feels knives of pain go shooting up his back as he does so. He manages to get her attention and jerks his thumb in the direction of the bar to indicate he's heading off the dance floor.
She catches up with him halfway back to the bar. What's wrong? she asks. Did you get hit in the mosh?
No, he says, rubbing the heel of his hand into his sore back. I think one of Boyd's friends took a run at me.
What!? She flashes angry eyes to the spot where Boyd and his clowns had been hanging out, but they aren't there. Bloody assholes! Can we get them kicked out?
Maybe, if we can find them. I don't see them around. Come on, I want to find Jay.
At the bar they find the band members of Pattern Disruption and Hellakill standing in a huddle. Jay sees Kev standing in the middle with a grin on his face.
What's going on? he says, shouldering his way into the circle.
I'm going over to The Station, Kev says. This is sweet. I'm going in to infiltrate their show.
What happened to you? Jay asks Danny. You look like shit.
I got nailed in the mosh pit. Some guy hit me and ran away.
Damn, dude, never mosh before you play, Steve says. He hands his phone to Kev. Just hit 'send' and it'll call Peter's cell, okay? Just keep us clued in to what's going on over there.
I'll go with him, says Kathy, the drummer from Pattern Distortion. This is getting too funny to miss.
Kathy and Kev get their coats and leave, promising to report back as soon as they arrive at The Station. Jay leads Danny and Benny into the lounge at the back of the hall where they can sit down and recuperate.
Peter gets the call from Kev ten minutes later, just as Sharp Edge is going full throttle through their closing number, peaking with a super-double-fast, shred heavy, double-bass-pedal pounding monster of a neck-breaking-from-head-banging, 'eighties hard-core metal-inspired finale. Peter covers his ears but still has to duck into the lounge to hear what Kev is saying. Jay gets up and joins his drummer to listen in on the call.
I said we can't get in, they hear Kev shouting into the other phone. The show is sold out, and besides, it's not all-ages. I'm underage.
Okay, Peter says. Just come back then, I guess.
No, we're going to stay, Kev replies. People keep coming out the front door to smoke. They say The Bantam All-Stars are still playing. We'll keep asking them what's going on.
Are you sure, man? It's cold out.
We're okay. We'll call soon. Kev hangs up.
Peter smiles and looks over at Danny. Your buddy Kev, he says, he's kind of a shit-head most of the time, but he's a pretty good guy, too.
Yeah, Danny nods. That's how I feel about him too.
Steve sticks his head in through the lounge door. Jay, man! he calls. Sharp Edge is coming off. You'd better get ready to introduce the next band.
Jay reaches the green room just as the guys from Sharp Edge are coming down off the Stage, red-faced and dripping sweat. Man, what a disaster, their guitarist says. They all fucking walked out! We screwed up big time.
Are you kidding? Jay says. That was the best damn metal show this city has seen since Strapping Young Lad came. After only one show, you guys are the best hard-core metal band in town. Why the fuck have you been doing playing Billy Joel covers? You guys should be on doing the big summer festivals.
Then why did everybody walk out?
They'd already paid for tickets to see The Bantam All-Stars down the street. Look, it's just bad timing, but don't worry. You guys are awesome. Jay turns his attention to the members of Lady Endorphin. Casey is there, with her makeup on and hair done, although the sunglasses still cover her stoned eyes. She has her long coat on, but he sees that she isn't wearing baggy cargo pants anymore. Now it's shiny black tights and knee-high boots. He feels a little tingle run up the back up his neck to his scalp in anticipation of seeing her perform.
You guys need to take your time setting up, he instructs. Instead of ten minutes, take half and hour. We need to stretch out the time. If you've got extra songs ready, you can play them if you want.
So when are you guys going on? Rich asks. Twelve thirty? That's late for an all-ages show, isn't it?
Maybe, but who's going to leave? This is an event. This is worth missing curfew over. Just wait until maybe a quarter after eleven, and then just go out there and destroy them.
The two black-clad roadies go about their business draping the stage in green cloth. Out comes the welded monkey-bars microphone stand for Casey to climb on. They add the extra strobe lights and set up the smoke machine. The keyboard comes out, along with the drums and Rich's Schecter guitar. And then they wait.
By a quarter after eleven they still haven't heard from Kev and Kathy at The Station. Casey still looks half-dead on the sofa, but the Lady Endorphin musicians don't want to wait any more. The smoke machine starts, and Jay walks out through the fog onto the stage.
The lights come up around him, and the crowd gives a cheer. It's an eerie effect, looking out through the smoke and lights. He likes it.
You guys ready for Lady Endorphin? he shouts. Without waiting for a response, there is a heavy chord from the keyboard behind him, which is a surprise since Jay didn't even know the players had come up yet. A second chord strikes, and suddenly Rich unleashes a spine-tingling run up the frets of his guitar. The drummer starts playing, and Jay gets the hint: no more introduction is necessary. He hops down off the stage into the crowd, which is surging toward the stage to see the band.
2008 Nolan Whyte