The first band finishes. After their gear is off the stage we get up and throw together our equipment. Bobby helps Mark set up his kit. I'm pleased to see Jason hasn't bothered with his usual spider web of patch cords and pedals, but I'm still bitter and angry over the news that my wife is now doing internet porn. I'm even angrier that some prick would choose tonight to tell me the news.
Jason's the one that notices the scowl on my face and asks if anything's wrong.
"Some guy was talking shit about my ex," I tell him.
"Oh." He looks like he doesn't know what to say. "Are we going to kick his ass?"
"Maybe, but not until after the show." We finish getting everything set up, figure out the mikes, confer with Leo about the sound and the recording, and hop off the stage to wait five minutes until our appointed starting time.
Since we've all stayed clean and sober, Mark asks if we can have one beer each, just to toast, or something like that. I look at Jason and he shrugs, so I say sure, why not. I head to the bar and buy a round, and when I bring the beers back I see that Billy, the prick who was telling me about Sheila's internet escapades is standing with the band. I grit my teeth but decide not to lose my cool. I walk up and pass the beers to the boys. I don't even look at Billy while we clink the bottles together and have a drink.
"Hey Terry man, I'm sorry if I made you upset before," says Billy. "I didn't think it would be such a big deal, you know? After all, Sheila's done that stuff before, you know like, everybody knows about it, right? So I thought I was just talking about what's going on, like catching up, you know?"
I look at Billy and through clenched teeth I manage to clearly say: "I don't want to talk about this. This is not my business. I do not want to know what Sheila is doing, and I want you to get the fuck away from me."
Billy gets pissy and shouts, "Well fuck you then! Jesus, you invite me here to see your shitty band, and all you do is give me shit! Fuck you Terry, you're an asshole!"
He starts to walk away and I step forward and swing a heavy kick into his ass, which sends him lurching forward into the crowd, bumping people and spilling drinks. Bobby steps forward and pushes me back into Jason and Mark, separating me from Billy. Billy spins around and Bobby is there in his face, pushing him toward the back of the room, clearing him away while everybody stares and chatters about what just happened. That's when I notice that Matt and Wayne, the drummer and singer from Machine Within a Machine are in the crowd.
Jason and Mark are holding me by the arms, I guess expecting that I'm going to go flying after Billy to try and kill him or something. "Let go of me," I tell them. "It's all right. I'm cool."
They let me go. I check my watch and see that it's time to get started, so I push my way through the crowd to check with Leo at the sound booth. Some people talk to me, ask me what happened, but I ignore them and keep repeating, "It's all right, it's all right."
"Jesus, what the hell was that?" Leo asks as soon as I get close. "Did you just kick that guy in the ass?"
"Yeah, but don't worry about it," I say. "He's an old friend. Are you ready?"
He nods. "Yeah, it's all good here. I'll start recording as soon as you guys step on stage."
I go back to where Jason and Mark are standing by the stage stairs. Bobby appears from out of the crowd.
"Nice one, Terry," he says. "He'll be sitting funny for the rest of the night."
"Where is he?" I ask.
"I moved him to the front room, but he'll be able to get back in. Don't worry about it. I'll keep an eye out for him. Just get up there."
"Right." I look at Jason and Mark. "You guys ready?"
Without speaking, Mark jumps up the stairs and gets behind the kit. Jason and I follow him up, and because the room is full of our friends, there is a round of cheering when we step into the lights. There is also a sense of uneasiness in the room, a feeling of unpredictability borne from the fact that I kicked a guy in the ass only moments before starting the show.
I count in the first song and we start, going fast and hard into 'Knuckles.' We get through to the end of it and a big cheer goes up, but from the back of the room I hear one lone, long "Boooooo." I know it's Billy.
We play 'Rough Go' and I hear the boo again during the audience applause. I ignore it and introduce the band. Jason is giving me a worried look, but I look hard at him and say "It's okay. Let's just play."
Three more songs go by, and I can hear booing between every one. Jason and I take a quick second before starting the next one to get in tune and he says to me, "Man, that guy is fucking this all up! We're recording this! What are we going to do?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."
I turn back toward the audience and immediately hear the boo again. "Boo all you want," I say into the mike. "I'm not going to stop calling your mom."
The crowd laughs, but he keeps booing. "All right," I say. "I'll buy a pitcher of beer to whoever brings me that guy's severed head. ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!"
We start 'End of Us' and as predictable as can be, Billy keeps booing. I can even hear him while we're playing. I look at Bobby standing near the stage and I yell at him, well away from the mike so the whole room doesn't hear: "Go kill that asshole."
Bobby shrugs and gives me a look like, "What the fuck am I supposed to do?" But he wanders off into the crowd.
We finish the song, and the cheering is lessened. The booing is confusing the crowd, putting it off of cheering. This time I can hear Billy screaming at the back, "Terry's wife is a MILF! MILF! MILF! MILF!"
A few people laugh and start cheering 'MILF' along with him, but I count off again and we start Jason's song 'Better Off Not Knowing.' Jason steps up to sing but he's nervous and thrown off by the booing and he can barely croak out the words. I end up carrying most of it. He doesn't even bother with the last chorus and I sing it alone.
This time there's no booing, and I figure either Bobby found Billy and pushed him out the doors, or Billy's throat gave out from heckling us too much. Regardless, I count into the next song and we play through the next half dozen songs, although we are definitely not playing at our best level.
The last song we had on our set list is the new song, which I had called 'Time For You And Me.' Jason takes my bass and I strap on his guitar. He takes a moment to find his fingering. I look at him. He looks shaken but still okay. I look back at Mark, and the Scotsman is red-faced and sweaty, but otherwise he looks fine. I nod to them, turn to the audience and count in the song.
We crash into the first chord and god help me I will never be able to explain this, but at that second the stage lights go out. Mark and Jason immediately stop playing, and I quit a moment later.
"Oh, what the fuck?" Jason says loud enough for it to go out through his mike. There's a laugh from the crowd and a cheer that falls somewhere between support and mockery. In the dim light I can see the sound guy from the bar rushing up to the stage to find the problem. He plays with some cables for a minute. I shout down to him and he says he doesn't know what the problem is.
I shake my head. "Cursed," I mutter under my breath. "Doomed before we stepped on stage." I clench my fists and step up to the mike. "All right people," I say to the audience. "Did you come here to see us or to hear us?"
There's a cheer. I call to Jason and Mark and ask them if they can play the song in the dark. Mark says no problem, but Jason hesitates.
"I don't know," he says.
"Do your best, okay?" I say. "I just want to get through this and get off this stage."
I turn back to the mike and announce "We're going to try this one in the dark." There's another cheer. I count us in, and we plow muddily into the song. It goes badly.
I want to say that I have faith in Jason and I don't blame him for what happens. He only learned to play bass a few weeks earlier, and is really not experienced enough to play the song without being able to see his hands. Having said that, he makes a mess of the song, missing changes, playing wrong notes and generally falling out of time enough to screw up Mark and me as well. We force our way through an absolute clunker and the lights come up just in time for Mark to do a big final roll on the drums. We finish the song and our horrible set.
There was cheering and clapping and we tear down our stuff before getting off stage. When we finally mix with the crowd, people are supportive and tell us that we were good. I know there's a lot of sugar-coating going on. I go to the back of the room and look for Billy, not sure what I'll do if I find him. Bobby catches up with me and says that the bouncers threw Billy out. I nod. I don't say anything and go to get a drink.
2006 Nolan Whyte