Ryan touched his guitar pick to the strings of his blue Les Paul. He was only using his practice amp to play this great big hall, but he had two things working in his favor: the room was still pretty empty, so there wasn't much competition for noise, and the songs we played sounded good with the extra crackle of an amp being pushed to its limit. It's one of the simplest rules of rock and roll: if you can't afford proper distortion, the least you can do is abuse your equipment.
He gave a hard slash across the strings, sending a crash of guitar fuzz through the room. I counted one-two-three-four and we started playing, beginning with No Destination, one of Ryan's early songs. In fact, all four of the songs we chose for the short set were Ryan's old ones. Along with giving us a fairly consistent sound, they also had the benefit of being the songs we'd practiced the most in our six-odd months of playing together.
Without Jed playing the drums we didn't have a lot of power to put behind the songs, so we decided to focus less on being bombastic and more on musicianship, which was something I had to admit would have been a joke only a few months before. But since I'd been playing with Knelson I had a lot more confidence with the bass, and I was able to snap through the bass lines without difficulty, worrying less about where my fingers had to go for the next note, and simply focusing on rhythm. I don't know if anyone in the audience noticed the change, but it made a world of difference to me.
Nick brought beers up to us after the end of the first song. A few people whistled as we drank from the bottles. It was the first peep we'd heard from the crowd. They'd remained absolutely silent after the end of No Destination.
We kept going. We played through the songs a bit slower than usual, letting Ryan try to really sing instead of frantically scream like he had the last few times we'd performed. It sounded good, although it wasn't the way I wanted to play all the time. The whole thing felt like a buildup to a big, heavy metal-powered rock explosion that never seemed to come. We just kept playing along, restricted by our lack of volume and percussion.
By the end of I'll See You Somewhere, I had the same feeling I had when Ryan and I performed together for the first time, in the hallway on the Garrison Valley University campus. We were there playing in front of an audience, but we didn't fit. We were somehow out of context, like a refrigerator on a basketball court, or a penguin on the subway. Something was off about the whole thing, and obviously that something was the absence of Jed.
When Ryan struck the last chord and we both stepped back from the front of the stage, there was a mix of scattered applause. After the insanity of the gig at Jake's Restaurant, this show was a huge disappointment. Hell, even the one song I played on stage with Crankshaft at home was more fun.
Ryan and I took our stuff to the side of the stage and slipped the guitars into their cases. We tucked them with the amps behind the mountain of gear belonging to the other groups and got out of the way. The next band, what Dustin had described as the first real' band, was already up on stage getting ready
Ryan and I didn't say anything to each other as we climbed down off stage. Nick was there, and we let him do the talking for us. Quiet in here, isn't it? he said. I was trying to get people to clap, but it's still a dead room. Don't worry about that though. You guys played great.
Yeah, we were all right, Ryan said, but he didn't sound very pumped.
I left them to use the bathroom. After a quick piss I stood at the sink and rubbed cold water over my face. I felt frustrated. I'd just played a gig and it had gone well. We didn't get a big reaction, but yes, we had played well.
But so what? I stood back and looked at myself in the mirror. It was obvious what was bothering me. Playing a gig wasn't good enough. Playing well wasn't good enough either. If I was going to play a gig, I wanted to blow the roof off the place. Rocking the hell out of Jake's had given me a taste serious rock action, and playing with Knelson had given me the confidence to believe I was capable of rocking the hell out of any show I played. After that, it was only natural that playing an extra-early slot at low volume in front of an empty room would be a letdown.
I went back out into the hall. The next band was on stage, although they hadn't started playing yet. It was only two guys: a guitarist-singer and a drummer. They were both wearing white muscle shirts, and the guitarist had a ratty straw cowboy hat. There was a massive guitar amp behind him, and it was miked in with the tower speakers winging the stage. The drums were miked as well, and when the two guys did a quick sound check, the noise absolutely ripped through the room.
Shit, I muttered as I headed toward the bar. That's what I want Riot Band to sound like.
Ryan and Nick were at the back of the room, sitting at a table. They waved to me, and Ryan tapped a bottle of beer sitting on the table and pointed at me. I nodded and came over.
The table was full. Nick knew most of the people there and introduced me around, although I could barely hear anyone's names. The two-man band on stage was still roaring through sound check.
Ryan leaned over. What did you think? he asked in a half-shout.
I'd rather play a crowded basement than an empty hall, I replied. But we played well.
He nodded. I feel the same way.
The band started playing, a screaming-fast hardcore song. The cowboy with the guitar started to sing about having his face in some girl's huge pussy. That was the chorus: huge pussy, huge pussy, she had a huge pussy, huge pussy, huge pussy...
It seemed a bit silly.
The band was so loud that conversation was difficult, so everyone sat and watched the two guys play. It was all very straightforward: incredibly fast and loud, loaded with disgustingly sexual lyrics. It went beyond campy to just pain disgusting. Their third song was about shitting on your girlfriend's chest. It was edgy, but it got old pretty fast.
They were still playing when I drained my beer and got up. I went to the bar and ordered a double whiskey and coke, figuring a stiff shot would loosen me up a bit. With our set over so early, I felt out of place there. It felt like hostile territory.
I turned around to drink my drink and watch the band, but walking straight toward me was one of the major sources of hostility. It was Jasmine. I felt the familiar stab of anxiety in my gut. Who knows where this would go? After all the, last time we'd seen each other, she hit me across the face with a beer bottle.
Jasmine looked sexy. She had on her tall black boots and fishnet stockings with a short skirt and a tight T-shirt. Lucky for me, it's hard to be attracted to someone who is a psycho, so I wasn't worried about her sucking me back in or anything like that. I was more worried about her trying to put a knife in me.
She stopped in front of me. I couldn't quite read the look on her face. It was somewhere between anger and regret I guess, although that might be a projection of how I thought she might be feeling. Mostly she just looked bitter.
So you're back in town? she asked.
You know, if you'd planned to come back all along you could have just told me instead of playing all those head games.
I took a sip. There were no head games, I said. I hadn't made up my mind.
Right. She stepped closer so she didn't have to shout over the music. I didn't realize you were such a coward, Eric. If you didn't want to be with me, you should have just said so. You didn't have to pretend to leave town.
I laughed. Yeah, and you wouldn't have hit me with a bottle if I'd just dumped you, right? I've got news for you Jas: you're a great girl, but you might be just a little bit crazy.
She narrowed her eyes and gave me a vicious stare, then turned abruptly on her heels and stomped away. Despite myself, I couldn't help looking at her legs as she went.
There were more people in the place now, and I lost track of her in the crowd. The bar was getting busier too, so I walked ahead into the big open area in front of the stage and watched the band. The cowboy was singing about blowjobs. All their songs sounded about the same.
I knew I'd made a big mistake talking that was to Jasmine. Not because I was worried about hurting her feelings; she had, after all, hit me with a bottle. But I was worried about that big crazy-looking monster she was there with. He looked like a real wacko, and I was in no mood for more trouble.
After the band got off stage Ryan found me and asked if I wanted to head out for another smoke. I said sure and we went outside. There weren't many people out there. I took a look around for Jasmine, but she was nowhere in sight. Not far away though, was her big friend.
He was alone, leaning against the wall of the building, about a dozen feet from the door. His head was tilted back and there was a cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. He looked completely smashed.
Look at this guy, Ryan said as he passed me a smoke. Is he going out with Jasmine, or what?
No idea, I said. I don't even want to know. I watched as he raised an unsteady hand to take the cigarette from his mouth. He opened his eyes and looked around. He spotted us and pushed himself forward from the wall and into a standing position.
Oh hell, Ryan whispered to me. What's this idiot going to do?
He shuffled over. His eyes weren't wide open the way they had been earlier. It looked like he could hardly open them at all. He stopped in front of us and just stood there, swaying slightly, looking at us.
Hey pal, I finally said. You all right?
You, he said, jabbing a finger toward me, you know what you need?
Ryan fidgeted nervously next to me expecting violence. Ryan stood about five foot eight, so he probably looked ridiculously small next to this big bastard and me.
No, I said. What do I need?
You need a drummer.
Ryan laughed out loud.
Right, I said, with a smile. Actually we have one, but he's just away for the summer.
The big dude just swayed there. You should let me play drums for you guys. You're not bad, but you need a drummer.
Yeah. We're pretty happy with the drummer we have. He's just in Calgary right now.
I'm really good.
That's...that's good. But we've already got a drummer.
You didn't have a drummer tonight.
I looked at Ryan and rolled my eyes. I decided to change the subject. Say, do you know Jasmine?
Yes, he said after a long pause.
Have you spoken to her in the last few minutes?
No, he said. I was out here smoking vodka.
Oh. Drinking vodka? Or...never mind. Look, it was nice talking to you, but we're going to go back inside. You take care, okay? Okay.
Ryan and I turned to go back in. Jasmine is a hot bitch, the big guy said. I paused and looked back at him. To hell with it, I thought, and we went back inside.
Do you want to stick around? I asked Ryan. This place is driving me nuts already. I don't think I want to stay all night.
He shrugged. I don't care. It's early enough that we could still pick up a case of beer and head back to my place. Or Nick's, if he's ready to leave.
We found Nick, but he wanted to stay. The next band hadn't started yet, so we were able to climb on stage and grab our gear. With an eye open for Jasmine, I climbed back down and we got the hell out of there.
2009, Nolan Whyte