I stomped back inside The Garrison Valley Ballroom with Lise two steps behind me. James and his evil girlfriend stayed outside, presumably getting to know the front-woman of The Pop Rocks.
Lise and I were both pissed off, although for different reasons. Lise was mad because Meghan, James' new squeeze, seemed to be a psycho mega-bitch with nothing on her mind except picking on Lise. The two girls were a total mismatch: Meghan was the bouncy blonde, trying to play mature, striving towards fashionable, going for the worldly know-it-all type of thing. Lise, on the other hand, was a semi-criminal, jailbait, street-trash metal kid. It was understandable that they wouldn't end up as best friends, but the animosity was instant, mutual, and way beyond excessive.
I was pissed about Meghan's behavior, but I was also embarrassed to be called out for the second time by the tall red-head who was the leader of The Pop Rocks. Riot Band was one tiny degree above being absolutely nothing, so to get an opening slot for a band like this was a huge coup-- but we already seemed like a joke to the supposed headliners we were there to support. I simply didn't have the experience or savvy to deal with a situation like that.
We got inside. The room was dense with teen girls. The Pop Rocks had a weird cross appeal of young fans who embraced their 'Girl Power' message with a college-age crowd of ironic hipsters who were "in" on the "joke" and dug them for humor factor. They were like some weird blend of William Shatner and The Runaways: self-aware and self-deprecating, but also full of snarling attitude and shiny spandex outfits.
I had no idea what Riot Band's appeal would be in a room like this. We weren't pretty, and although we talked a lot of loud shit, we weren't very funny either.
The first band wasn't doing well. As Lise and I cruised through the crowd to find the rest of Riot Band, the first openers were up on stage, ramming away at a tediously technical metal number, and the crowd could not have cared less. They weren't there to see bad local metal. They were there for The Pop Rocks.
Nick came out of the crowd and got up in my face. "Dude," he said, breathing booze on me, "you've got to do something about Ryan, man. He's going off."
I gave Lise a look that said I was ready to rip out my own eyeballs in frustration, took a deep breath, and turned back to my manager. "What's going on?"
"He's downing shots like crazy, man. He's trying to work up the guts to go apologize to that newspaper chick. The shot girl came around and he brought like four shots, plus he's working on another double rye. He'll be too f--ked up to play, man!"
"Oh, come on," I said. "Relax, Nick. We don't need the drama." I stepped around him and went up to Ryan, who was standing with Jed. They were both holding drinks.
"Ryan dude, you all right?" I asked. "Not drinking too much, are you?"
He swayed back and forth a little. "No, I'm cool," he said. "I'm just getting my game face on. I've got a plan, okay? These guys should have one or two songs left. I'm going to go get her a drink, and just as the band is finishing up, I'll pop out the crowd and be like, Hey Emily! Here! Sorry for being a dick!" He grinned. "I'll give her a double! A double! She'll get all loaded and be like, that's okay, I love you guys."
"You're trashed," I said, and nodded to Jed. "You put him up to this?"
Jed laughed. "No, this is full-on Ryan magic. You should've seen him with the shooters. Comedy gold."
"What were they?"
"I'm not sure," Ryan said. "Something creamy, really sweet, and...good. Really good."
There was a clanging crash of cymbals up on stage as the Local Metal finished a song. Ryan knocked back what was left of his drink and set the plastic cup down on a table. "O-kee. Doubles!" He clapped his hands and started to walk off into the crowd, although he stumbled against a chair and nearly took a fall.
"We're dead," I said to Jed. "We're going to be complete shit."
"Ah, he can play okay drunk," Jed said. "It's not like he does descending arpeggios or crap like that anyway. He'll be able to find F and G."
"You're enjoying this," I said. "Aren't you?"
"Hell, yes," Jed said with a grin. "I'm still stuck behind the drums. I need to take amusement where I can find it. And I'm also not delusional about us becoming big rock stars or anything, so I can laugh at our screw-ups." He slapped me on the shoulder. "You should relax, man. Enjoy yourself more. This is going to be hilarious."
Lise, Nick, Jed and I watched as Ryan wobbled through the crowd. He carefully evaded Emily, snuck around her up to the bar, and ordered two fistfuls of booze.
Emily was standing with her arms, watching the guys up on stage. She might have been the only person in the place that was actually paying attention to the band, but since she was there as a rock'n'roll reporter for The Typesetter, maybe she felt an obligation to actually watch the bands perform. Whatever.
The band played their final notes, and while the drummer powered through an extended outro, the lead singer thanked The Pop Rocks for having them, the audience for listening, the venue for hosting the show, and on and on. You'd think he was accepting a f--king Oscar the way he was thanking everyone. We didn't care. We were too busy watching Ryan make an anus of himself.
"Okay, here he goes," Lise said, narrating for us. Ryan bumbled up behind Emily, and skirted around to stand beside her. "Oh, hello," Lise said, speaking in a low voice to imitate Ryan. "I just happened to be stumbling by with these drinks. I was hoping alcohol would make you forget that I'm a complete dick who called you fat."
We watched as Ryan awkwardly spoke to her, holding out one of the drinks. Emily stared at him like he was Hitler's mentor. She looked at the drink, said something, and then turned and walked away. Ryan watched her go, and then started drinking one of the doubles.
"Fail," I said. "Who's going to go get him? We need to get on stage in a few minutes."
The first band had finished and was taking down their gear. Jed and I grabbed Ryan, and we led him to the little room to the right of the stage. He managed to slug down one of his drinks and sipped the second one while we waited for our turn to set up.
"What did she say to you?" Jed asked Ryan.
"She said," buuuuurp, "she said she doesn't drink rye."
"You can try vodka after the set," I said. "You gonna be able to play okay?"
Ryan looked green, and he had a pained expression on his face like he was trying to swallow a big hunk of glass. "I'm cool," he said. He belched again and patted his stomach. "Ugh. The shooters are starting to turn."
"The can is back there," Jed said, gesturing to the tiny bathroom in the corner. "If you need to, you know..."
"I'm cool," Ryan repeated. There were about three heartbeats before he suddenly cursed and started lunging toward the door to the bathroom. He got in there, got the door half closed, and started puking sweet creamy shooters and doubles of rye into the toilet.
The opening band was coming down the steps from the stage, hauling down their equipment. The bass player paused and listened to Ryan's performance. "What's that?" he asked.
"Stage fright," Jed said.
"Oh, nice," the guy laughed. "Hey, one of them is honking in the shitter!" he called up to the guys who were still on stage.
A few minutes later we had Ryan up on stage, trying to figure out how to hold his guitar. The stage lights were down and the house music was playing. We were almost ready. With the timing of the bands, we were even a few minutes ahead of schedule. Jed was still tweaking his kit. He had the replacement snare from the opening band. I had a distortion pedal set up for my vocals. Our equipment was ready.
Lise came up to the edge of the stage and gave me a kiss for luck. I told her there were a few minutes, and she left to use the bathroom before our set started.
"She's out there," Ryan said in a dead man's croak. "She's watching us."
"Emily. The newspaper chick."
"Can you see her?" I looked around through the crowd, but I couldn't pick out faces.
"No, but she's watching. Man, she hates my guts."
"Forget it," I said. "Are you going to be able to sing? Do you remember how the songs go? Anything?"
He ignored my question and clumsily tried to kick at his guitar cord.
"Hey," said a female voice from the front of the stage. I knelt down. It was Meghan.
"Hey," I said. "Where's James?"
"Outside, talking to some guys," she said. "Don't worry. He'll be in to watch you guys. Look, I wanted to say sorry for the whole fight thing with Lise."
"Well, yeah," I said. "It's all pretty unnecessary, you know?"
"I know," she said. "I'm sorry to screw up your night when you're trying to play a show. I mean, I hate her, but I'm just sorry if it made it hard for you to play, you know?"
I shook my head. "What? She hasn't done anything. What's your problem with her?"
"I don't know," Meghan said with a laugh. "She just bugs me, and I don't know why. It's just a chemical thing I guess, but I'd just love to really give her some shit. I'd even suck your cock, just to piss her off." She smiled up at me and then laughed.
"What are you, some kind of f--king sociopath?"
She laughed and blew me a kiss, then walked off into the crowd.
"What was that?" Ryan asked.
"Never mind!" I shouted. "Just read your bloody set list! Okay! Let's get started!"
I clicked my microphone on and nodded to the sound tech. "Ready?" I said, and the word went out through the huge speakers winging the stage. The sound tech nodded. Everything was turned on. I nodded to the guys, and Jed counted us in.
We burst into action, ripping into our first song. I screamed through the distortion line, trying to draw the attention of the disinterested crowd in front of us. They took notice, somewhat. Maybe it was just that the room was getting full, but there were people on the dance floor in front of the stage. They weren't dancing, but at least they were there. And they were watching.
Jed and I were blasting away with everything we had. Ryan was giving everything he had too, but at the moment he had a lot less than he usually has. He was keeping up, playing most of the notes and keeping time, although movement was clearly painful. But he wasn't falling down and he wasn't puking. And given the circumstances, that wasn't bad.
During the second song I noticed Lise on the dance floor, in the middle of the crowd, smiling up at me.
During the third song I noticed Meghan in the crowd, not far from Lise. She was smiling up at me too.
During the fourth song they noticed each other.
Where the hell was James? The girls started jostling for position in the crowd. Meghan, the demented freak, started standing in front of Lise to cut off her view of me. Lise elbowed in, and they started chirping at each other.
We started the next song, but I kept my eye on the girls. The song was one of Ryan's and he started singing. He wasn't in top shape, but he was doing it. I kept working away on the bass, trying to keep some energy in the sound, while still trying to see what the hell was going on in the middle of the dance floor.
I'm just not a good enough bass player. I always have to look and check my fret hand, and one time while I looked away from the scene in the crowd, shit went down in a major way. I don't know how it started, but I looked at my fingers and when I looked back at the crowd I saw Lise and Meghan tearing into each other like a couple of animals.
They grabbed each other by the hair and started pulling and swinging each other around, and in seconds it looked like they were fused at the head. They pulled and swung more and more violently, and suddenly their legs were like helicopter blades, chopping down the girls in the crowd around them as they screamed and clawed at each other.
I looked at Jed and screamed "Keep going!" and I pulled off my bass and jumped down into the crowd. Everyone had backed away from the fight, but now people were closing in, trying to disengage the two combatants.
I pushed in through the pack of screaming little girls and grabbed hold of Lise. I tried to pull their hands away from each other's heads, but neither would let go. Seeing no other option, I slid my arm underneath Lise. Using the confusion and the crowd for cover, I brought my fist up sharply into Meghan's chin.
Meghan dropped to one knee and suddenly it was possible to pull the girls apart. I picked up Lise, unaware if anyone had seen me deck Meghan.
2010, Nolan Whyte