I stand, blinking, dumbfounded to suddenly be faced with Matt, Wayne, Dave and Gina, all the members of the seven-hour-late band Machine Within A Machine. Tammy, the blonde cougar from inside the bar looks back and forth between the band and me. Gina is looking at Tammy with knife-eyes.
"Well," asks Wayne. "Did you guys play, or what?"
"Of course we played," taking a drag on my cigarette. "Where the hell have you guys been?"
"Oh hell guys, just grab our gear," Wayne says, "I'll go in and talk to the manager." He runs inside, giving me a suspicious look as he passes me.
"Shit," I say, and flick the cigarette away, running after him.
"Hey, wait a second," says Tammy, but I leave her behind. There are more important things right now then loose women with big breasts. I run inside the hotel and leap up the stairs two at a time. I run down the hall to The Clutch Dogs' hotel room and burst in upon Jason and Mark. They've just opened beers.
"Let's go, right fucking now," I say, panting. "Machine is here. If we want to play the second set we'd better get down there."
Jason shrugs. "If Machine is here, we don't need to play the second set, do we?"
I make angry fists. "God damnit, there's no time to debate this. We've got to get downstairs and get onstage."
Jason looks at Mark, then back at me. "They'll kill us."
"Let them fucking try. Everyone in the bar will be on our side, including that fat hooligan manager. Come on, we've got a chance here."
They follow with their beers in hand. We get down to the bar, which is a raucous pit of bodies. "Shit," I think, pushing my way towards the stage. "People in Thunder Bay party hard."
I see Wayne up at the bar arguing with Jeff, the manager. Jeff is pointing and shouting, and Wayne has his hands up in the air, wildly gesturing.
Mark points to the two of them. "Hey Taz, do you think we should get into that?"
"No. Just grab the bartender who flipped on the stage lights for us before and tell him to flip them on again as soon as we're on stage."
"Aye." Mark dashes off towards the bar, the skinny Scottish kid pushing his way through the crowd. Jason and I get up on stage and grab our guitars.
"This doesn't seem cool, Terry," Jason says. "It seems like we're trying to fuck them over."
I nod. "Yeah, I know. Don't worry. We've only got four songs ready. By the time we finish those, Machine will be ready to play and we can just give them the stage."
"That's not what you're really thinking," he says. The crowd has spotted the two of us on the stage. There are a few whistles, a cheer. "You want to steal the spotlight from them."
"Yeah," I say. "I do."
The stage lights come on and Mark jumps up on the stage. He climbs behind the kit and bangs the drums while Jason and I turn our amps back on. The sound is good. I can see at the bar Wayne is waving wildly at me, gesturing for me to come over and join him and Jeff. Jeff is still shouting at Wayne and pointing up at us on the stage.
I see the rest of Machine Within A Machine entering the bar, carrying their gear. I turn and look at Jason and Mark. "All right boys," I say. "Are you ready for whatever comes next?"
Mark laughs. "Too fucking dramatic, Taz."
I look at Jason. He looks dead serious. "It's your call, Terry," he says.
I bite my lip and look out at the crowd. Jason's right. This could go very, very badly, depending on how I play things here. "Good evening, Thunder Bay," I say, and hit a random chord. "Our second act has arrived. The unstoppable Machine Within A Machine will be taking the stage shortly, and we're going to play a few songs for you while they get ready."
I look at Jason and he nods. "Okay."
We hit it and fly into 'Dead Fingers Play.' The crowd recognizes the old Tremors of Intent song. I can see people dancing. I can also see Wayne fuming. To the side of the stage Gina is tuning her guitar.
As the song nears its end, I can see that Machine is ready to jump up on the stage and start their set. The last chord of 'Dead Fingers Play' is usually sustained for a four-count, but as soon as we hit it I scream into the microphone, "'End of Us!' One-Two-Three-Four!" Mark and Jason pick it right up. I have to give them credit. I keep them on their toes on stage, and they always manage to respond.
I start singing, but from the side of the stage I can hear Wayne screaming at me to cut it short and get off the stage. I wait for Jason's solo to give Wayne the finger.
We finish the song and get a big cheer. "Okay, Thunder Bay, that's it for us. We're The Clutch Dogs and we've got CDs for sale. Machine Within A Machine is next." Jason and I unplug our guitars and we hop off the stage, making way for the others.
"You're an asshole, Terry," screams Wayne.
"Yeah, but I show up on time," I shout back. We get as much of our gear together as we can, leaving our amps and drums on the stage for Machine to use. We haul our guitars and other shit upstairs to the room. With everything safely put away, we head back down and check in with Jeff.
"Sorry about the bullshit," I tell him.
"You should have played your whole set," he tells me with a red face. "That guy's an idiot. But they're playing now, so I guess you missed your chance."
"Yeah well, we have to make it to Vancouver and back with those guys."
"I've got some friends that could take care of them for you."
"Um, no thanks. Do we settle up after closing time?"
"Yeah, come back and find me at about two."
"Cool." I join Jason and Mark, who are watching Machine Within A Machine. Wayne is screaming his way through a song. The band seems tentative and off-balance. I wonder why the hell they were so late.
The song ends. "I see The Clutch Dogs are still here watching us," Wayne says to the crowd. "I guess they want to learn something. No, just kidding. They are a great band aren't they?" The crowd cheers. "Man, they sure are assholes, though. You're a bunch of assholes, aren't you guys?" he shouts in our direction. Then he laughs, like it's just a good joke between friends, and they start their next song.
"Well guys, what do you think of that?" I ask.
"Let's set their fucking van on fire," says Mark.
"Naa, forget it," I say. "They're pissed off because they messed up. Really, we could have screwed them way worse than we did. We look cooler than they do, so Wayne wants to get the last word in. Let him think he's cool."
"This is getting worse and worse," says Jason.
"No man," I say. "It's getting funnier. We could keep this shit up all the way across the West. It'll make us stronger." I point up at Wayne, screaming into his microphone. Veins in his neck are standing out. "It'll destroy them."
Jason shakes his head and laughs despite himself. "Let's get drunk and sell some CDs," he says.
We set up at a table, and people stop buy to chat with us and occasionally buy discs. Machine keeps playing, and the insults that Wayne hurls our way get uglier. "This one is called 'The Queer Dogs,'" he announces before the band starts a number. The next song he declares is called 'Terry is a Dick.'"
"We've got to do something about this shite," says Mark, emptying a beer glass.
"Relax man," I say. "The more he insults us, the more he looks like an idiot."
After a few more songs I go to get a pitcher of beer. When I get back to our table, Jason is sitting there alone. "Did Mark go to the can?" I ask.
Jason looks at the seat next to him, as though he hadn't noticed our drummer leave. "I guess," he says. I look up at Machine playing and see Mark slipping through the crowd to the stage.
"Oh shit," I say. "Come on." I set the beer down and begin to follow Mark, trying to catch up with him before he gets to Wayne. The crowd is too dense however, and Mark is too fast. Before I can catch up with him, Mark climbs up on stage and fires himself like a missile, planting his shoulder into Wayne's gut and knocking him solidly on his ass. As the music crashes to a halt Wayne and Mark wrestle, with Mark coming up on top. He begins raining punches down on Wayne's face.
Dave whips his bass off and grabs Mark, pulling him off of Wayne. Wayne gets up, blood coming from a split lip, and begins kicking at Mark, whose arms are pinned by Dave. I climb up on stage and jump on Wayne. The two of us crash over the drum set, landing in Matt's lap. I can't quite tell what happens after that; the world suddenly becomes a tangled mess of elbows, knees, cymbals, drums, sticks and fists.
Gina and Matt manage to separate Wayne and me. Once again the cut on my nose re-opens, and Wayne and I both have bloody faces. Gina holds me from behind, saying into my ear, "Okay, just chill, okay, okay" Matt is holding Wayne, although he looks too exhausted to fight any further.
I look over at the others. Jason has Dave in a headlock, and Dave has Mark in a headlock. The crowd is hooting, stomping their feet and cheering like the audience at a wrestling match. The bouncers, big bastards with shaved heads and beards show up and separate everyone.
Jeff comes forward. "You boys," he says, pointing at Mark, Jason and I, "go upstairs to your room. We'll look after your gear. And you assholes," he says to Wayne and the bunch, "Get the fuck out of my bar."
Jason, Mark and I do as directed, dragging our sorry, bleeding asses out of the bar, getting slaps on the back from people on the crowd on the way. We head up the stairs and into our room. Luckily we have plenty of beer. We sit down, open bottles and look back and forth at each other.
"Sorry lads," Mark says at long last. "I think I've done us in."
"It's okay," I say, pressing a bathroom towel against my bloody nose. "I think it was bound to happen sooner or later."
"So that's it then," Jason says, taking a long drink. "That's the end of the tour, is it? We can't go on with these guys now, can we? I mean, we might as well just head straight back to Toronto. And we only have what? Eighty CDs that we didn't sell?"
"Wait and see man," I say. "We'll work it out. When Machine booked the shows all the way across Canada, they said they had two bands. They can't replace us, so I don't see how they can fire us."
"Terry, are you crazy?" Jason shakes his head and stares at me like I'm a misbehaving child. "We just busted up a gig with a fist fight. We can't keep touring with these guys. Can't you see? It is over."
I shrug. "I'm not quitting."
The phone rings. I figure it will be Jeff. I grab it.
"Terry? It's Gina. We need to talk."
2006 Nolan Whyte