I come back into the bar after a cigarette. There's a door guy now set up and he's charging three bucks a head. I stand next to him while he tries to get three bucks each off a couple of young guys coming in.
"Three bucks? Who's the band?" asks one of the guys.
The door guy, a big ox with a shaved head looks at the generic-looking poster on the wall next to him. "These guys. The Clutch Dogs."
"Are they from here?" asks the kid.
"I don't know anything about them," the big guy answers.
One of the young men shrugs his shoulders. "Do you want to bother?" he asks his friend.
"They play hard rock shit," I say. "Grungy punk type stuff, going right back to the old school. The same stuff that a lot of crappy young bands are ripping off, except The Clutch Dogs are the real deal. No fucking around. Just good music."
"You've seen them?" the kid asks.
"I'm the bass player and singer," I answer.
The two guys laugh. "Oh, well at least you're objective," he says. "All right, why the fuck not. There are chicks in here anyway." He reaches into his pocket and fishes out some loonies (Canadian dollar coins, to you yanks).
"That's right," I say. "Come for the chicks, stay for the music."
They move past me. I survey the room, trying to do a rough head count, wondering how many showed up before the door man started charging the cover at nine o'clock. At the very least we would get the three hundred dollars Bob, The Bovine's manager promised, but just on the strength of the regular crowd we might get more.
Speaking of Bob, I see him at the bar, serving drinks. I move over to the bar and try to get his attention. He nods my way when he sees me. "Whenever you're ready, Terry," he shouts over the heads of his customers.
I take my watch out of my pocket (the strap has been broken for a year or so, but I couldn't be bothered to fix or replace it). It's a quarter to ten. Time to rally the troops.
I look around for Jason but he's no longer talking to Gina and her man and I can't see him. In fact, Gina is nowhere in sight either, and it worries me that maybe she's already left. Even if she does have a boyfriend, I still want to show her what I'm capable of on a stage with my own band behind me.
I start moving through the bar and find Jason halfway back through the long narrow room, almost at the bottleneck where the bathrooms are. He's talking to a slender blonde who's probably my age. That means she must be at least fifteen years older than he is. She's holding a glass of red wine and has on a classy dress with a suede jacket. She looks sophisticated. Jason may be on the make with an older chick, but at least she looks like a proper lady. I guess I had him mistakenly pegged as a school-girl hunter.
"All set, Guitar-star?" I ask when I get close to him.
"Oh, hey man," he says. Up close I see the lady he's talking to is wearing sexy makeup and looks a bit like a retired porn star. More likely she's a divorced accountant out looking to get fucked by some young rock cock. Jason gestures to her. "Terry, this is my mom. Terry Wilson, Janine Pleasant."
"Oh, hello," I say, shaking her hand and smiling at my mistake. "I didn't expect to meet you tonight. It's my pleasure."
"I'm sure," she says with a crooked smile. "Jason's told me quite a bit about you." I assume she means that Jason has told her I'm a complete dickhole, but that doesn't matter much to me.
"I bet he has," I look at Jason: "Are you ready to go?"
He gets a look of nervous excitement on his face. "Now?"
"Sure. As soon as I grab Mark from the back."
"Okay. Should I get up there, or should I wait for you?"
His mother is looking at me with a look of what? Disgust? Amusement? Naked lust? I can't tell. "Go ahead," I tell him. "Make a little bit of noise. It should get the crowd interested."
He heads up front. I push through the crowd to the back, to the table where Mark had been hanging out with his buddies. He's there, sloppily necking with the red-haired girl. "Hey Ginger," I say to the girl. "Can I borrow your man for a while?"
The two gradually disengage and Mark looks up at me. He looks worse than before. He's got a full beer in front of him along with three empty glasses. How the fuck did he drink them so fast? Fifteen minutes ago he was on his first!
"You ready Mark?"
"Yeah, mate," he says, and slides out from his chair. Worse than just stoned, he also looks fully pissed. He starts to walk with me, but he's weaving. I grab him by the arm and stop him. "Mark, what the fuck is wrong with you? When we met at that jam you weren't all smashed."
"I was pretty skint that week," he says. "No cash like, eh?"
"Can you fucking play right now or not?" I ask him. My stomach is clenching like a squeezing fist. I'm too fucking worried to get angry.
He takes a deep breath. "Yeah, mate. I can play. I just need to use the washroom."
I go with him into the can. I start to take a leak in one of the urinals while he locks himself into the stall. Just as I get a good stream going, I hear the unmistakable splash of beery vomit into the toilet.
"Mark? Mark man, are you okay?"
He responds by retching and I hear the splashing again.
I tap off, zip up and wait. He throws up some more and grim memories of the disastrous Sarnia show come back: getting pissed, Jason puking in the alley and him, Bobby Metronome and me putting on an absolutely rotten performance, followed by Bobby attempting to walk out of the tour.
There is only silence from Mark's stall, until at last I hear his voice: "Taz?"
"Yeah man?" I stand petrified in front of the urinal.
"Taz, I've never really been in a proper band before."
"I played jams and stuff like, but I've no played a real gig with a proper band."
I walk with deliberate steps to the sink and begin carefully washing my hands. "Mark," I say.
"You can play tonight, can't you? You can go out there and play, right now."
He makes a gagging coughing noise, but after a moment he answers: "Yeah mate. I can play."
The door to the stall opens and he comes out. He stands in front of me.
"You can play," I tell him. "You are a dog now."
"What kind of dog are you?"
He wobbles slightly, and in a croaking voice he answers, "A Clutch Dog."
I feel the cheesy, melodramatic power of the moment and hold my arms open. Mark steps forward and hugs me. We hold the embrace for a moment, and the bathroom door opens. A young punk steps in, says nothing and steps around us to the urinal. From out in the bar I hear Jason strike a guitar chord. Mark and I step apart.
"It's time," I tell him.
"Aye." Mark washes his face and walks out into the crowd.
"We're not gay," I say to the young punk before I follow Mark. "It was just kind of a moment, you know?"
"Hey man, not my business," he responds.
"Right." I walk out into the bar. Mark is walking up to the stage, still a little wobbly, but looking determined. Jason is up on the stage, and the bright lights are on him. He's taken of his jacket and has on a faded black Pearl Jam t-shirt. He's striking random chords, pausing, letting the sound reverberate, and looking over the half-interested crowd with a defiant stare.
"Good stuff, Guitar-star," I say to myself. Instead of going directly to the stage I ease my way over to the bar and order three bottles of beer and ask if a staff member could bring three glasses of water up to the stage. The bartender nods and gets me the beers.
On stage, Mark has begun banging his drums, loosening up, trying a few improvised fills, battering out some sketchy rhythms independently of what Jason is doing. Jason turns and watches him. Mark falls into a straight beat, and Jason crashes out a heavy power chord in time. He hits another and another to follow Mark. The two of them sound ready, and I approach the front of the stage and set a bottle of beer down in front Jason, just next to his tangle of useless effects pedals. I walk around to get up on the stage and set a bottle down next to Mark. He nods and keeps thumping on his tiny kit.
I take a sip and step out to the fore of the stage. There's a slight response from the crowd: scattered clapping of welcome. Some people have adjusted themselves so they can see the stage, but people are hardly stampeding over to get a look at us. I want to knock 'em all flat, make sure they wouldn't dare waste their time paying attention to anything else but us. Jason and Mark are still jamming. I mouth the word, 'Runaway' to Jason and he nods, and I do the same to Mark. I raise one arm up in the air and their playing comes to a halt.
I lean towards the microphone and scream: "One-two-three-four!"
We rip in, slashing through Del Shannon's fifties rocker at double speed. It's a nice old ditty that most people remember by the cheesy way Del sings the chorus: "And I wonder?I wah-wah-wah-wah wonder?" There's nothing cheesy about the way I like to sing it: just fast, angry and as loud as I fucking can. "As I walk along I wonder what went wrong with a love a love that was so strong?" We cut out the dipsy-doodle on Jason's guitar part and keep it straight slashing, fast, fast, rough and rusty razor-edged. And people are looking. They're looking and listening.
We crash through the end of the song and there are some cheers. I look back at Mark. He pulling off his shirt and dripping with sweat. He looks a little ill, but he smiles at me.
"We are The Clutch Dogs," I state into the mike and count in again, starting 'Knuckles,' one of my originals. From there we blast through the set ridiculously fast, our nervousness and excitement driving us to play faster, with Mark playing straight boom-tat-boom-tat raucousness to cover his ignorance of some of the material. It all works brilliantly, and the audience comes around, gradually approaching towards the stage to watch the chaos. We are a brilliant disaster, and although our play is riddled with minor errors, they disappear behind the ferocity and noise.
'Dead Fingers Play,' an anthem to never quitting even after death, brings us to a close. Our set is a full ten minutes shorter than we planned, but it feels long and satisfactory to me. I'm pouring sweat as I thank the audience and acknowledge the bar staff.
The lights turn down, the house music turns up, and we start stripping down our gear. Jason's mother and some other friends come up, as well as Mark's goony friends from the back of the bar. The two of them leave the work of tearing down and start chatting about the performance. And me? I invited no friends. Most of my acquaintances are musicians, and I'm no longer in the habit of trying to get other musicians to come out to my shows. Most of them spend too much time at other people's gigs critiquing and thinking about how much better they are than the performers and don't actually just enjoy the show. What the hell, I'm guilty of it too.
We finish clearing away our kit, and eventually get all the shit loaded into the minivan. Jason and Mark want to head back in for a few more beers and I agree, even though I won't have anything more to drink. Jason's mom is still hanging around, talking to some of Jason's friends and other young men. I'm not sure how I feel about that, and I steer clear of her. I get a bottle of some weird nine-fruit juice and Jason, Mark and I toast the first gig. It seems like a success. We've gone through the five steps of the emotional roller-coaster: 1- excitement, 2- nervousness, 3- on-stage exhilaration, 4- post-performance joy mixed with relief, and 5- gear removal bitterness. Now we can just relax, hang around the bar and hope for props from the drunken punters who watched the show.
Mark and Jason drift away to hang with their friends and I end up at the bar. I entertain a fantasy that maybe Gina will show up again, but she doesn't.
Fifteen years ago a gorgeous girl came up to me after a gig in a bar downtown and told me how hot I looked on stage and how great I played. We ended up going home together and banging each other senseless all night. A year later we got married. Tonight though, I don't talk to any girls. Instead I drive home Jason and Mark, both incoherently drunk, and head back to my apartment. There have a shower and crawl exhausted into bed.
2006 Nolan Whyte