Ever since the mess at The Pop Rocks show, I'd been resisting the urge to drink hard at the shows, but after my little "chat" with Emily, I started knocking them back. There was too much bad energy swirling around in my head at once, and having Emily tell me that I'd actually performed oral sex on Taylor (although I couldn't remember doing it) was enough to send me into semi-seizure. The first bourbon and coke helped. The second after that helped even more. And the third? Well, you can see where this is going to go.
As the third was being put into my hand, James and the other guys from The Urges brushed along behind me, moving in a line to the door. I got the scent of action and followed them, heading outside with the drink in my hand.
With the cold weather there was no one hanging around outside the door, so the band didn't go far. They stopped in front of the next business, which was vacant, and assumed the standard shoulder to shoulder circle of four guys about to share a joint.
I cleared my throat and shouldered my way in with them. "Gentleman," I said. "Observing your pre-show ritual?"
"Hey, Eric," said Dong-ha. As I expected, he pulled a long, thick joint out of a pocket inside his jacket. "You flaming up with us?"
"Sure," I said. "If I'm not interfering."
"Hell no," Kyle, their drummer, said. "Like, all that stuff about calling you an asshole aside, we appreciate you offering us this spot. It's cool that you would give us this chance for nothing."
I smiled. "I was glad to. It's good to, you know, make a connection with other bands. I feel like it's good for us."
Dong-ha lit the joint, took an initial drag, and then blew out a startling cloud, the smoke and his warm breath mixing in the cold air. He held the joint out for me. I took it, smoked, and passed it to the right.
We were out there for about ten minutes, enjoying the glow and the snow and the company. It was an easy, relaxed moment. I enjoyed my drink and enjoyed the company. Even after the joint was finished we stood and talked, letting the effects of the pot crawl up from our lungs to our brains.
James checked his watch and declared it was time for The Urges to take the stage, and like a football team breaking from a huddle to begin their play, they wheeled out of the circle and walked back to Jake's. I smiled and slowly followed them inside the warm bar.
From near the entrance I had a good long view of the whole room (luckily I'm half a head taller than most people). I watched as The Urges doffed their jackets and moved like a strike team toward the stage. It wasn't like when Seriosity went to the stage at their ill-fated basement gig, all clenched jaws and steely stares. Instead, The Urges moved with a sense of mischievous glee, in a semi-ironic race to get to the stage first and start blasting away.
For a moment I thought how awesome it would be to be a member of that band.
In the crowd I could pick out members of my own band. Ryan, predictably, was talking to Emily, smiling and gesturing, while she was standing with a cocky grin and a hand on her hip, her cleavage peeping dangerously up at him. I sipped my drink. No surprises there.
Jed and Nick were in the crowd. They were at table that was swamped with giant sunglasses, mustaches, and those desert neck scarves all the hipsters seem to be wearing these days. F-cking hipsters. Nick and Jed fit right in.
I swirled the ice in the bottom of my drink, had a final slurk, and went over to the bar for another.
The Urges were starting their feedback and distortion-heavy throb, as they built their way into their first song. At the bar I got a weird tingle up my neck and I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see Meghan and a couple of her ice-princess friends passing behind me. Meghan saw me, I'm sure she did, but she kept her eyes locked up at the stage, where her boyfriend was adding subtle, blues-inspired undertones to the pounding.
One of the girls did grace me with a withering glare of disgust as she passed by me, and I wondered what kind of poison Meghan was spreading about me. After all, did she hate me and my girlfriend, or did she really just hate my girlfriend and want to hook up with me? Or did my storming out on her a few nights before turn her against me? The bartender set a drink in front of me and I took a gulp.
The Urges blazed through their set. It's possible that my judgment was clouded by the pot and warm human feelings they'd just shared with me, but they kicked out a great bunch of songs: loud, aggressive but not obnoxious, and richly textured. They were a hell of a band.
Ryan came around and caught my elbow. "Come out for a smoke?" he asked, shouting over the band.
"These guys are awesome," I replied. "They're way ahead of us."
Ryan looked up at them. He didn't reply to my comment. "Come on," he said, and I pushed myself off the bar and into a standing position. Then I turned and followed him out of the bar.
"You okay?" he asked as he pulled out a cigarette for me. "You getting wasted?"
"No," I said. "I've hard four. Maybe this is five. Nothing out of the ordinary. You having much luck with Emily? Going to get some later?"
He gave me a bitter look. "Come on, Eric," he said. "Look, we're all sorry about that shit earlier. You still sound pissed off. Are you pissed off?"
"No," I said. I took the cigarette and let him light it for me. "I'm just frustrated. All these little things keep creeping up on me. Chicks, the band... you know, it all just keeps coming. Sometimes I even forget I'm supposed to be in school."
"Yeah," he said, lighting his own. "Hey, you want to hear something weird? This will lighten you mood. You remember Conrad, that dude you punched out? It's going around that he's homeless now."
"What are you talking about?" I said. "He was living with Jasmine, wasn't he?"
"Yeah," he said. "People are saying that he kept skipping rent, so she eventually asked him to move out. He went and lived with another friend, but I guess he wears out his welcome pretty fast, because he kept getting turfed. I guess now he's just kinda hanging."
"Right," I said. "He's just kinda hanging, in Garrison Valley, at the end of November. You would die. It's gotta be bullshit. He's crashing somewhere."
"Maybe." We stood there in stupid silence. At last, Ryan smiled. "Emily looks hot, eh? She's really got her cans out."
I laughed. "You rat," I said. "I don't know how you can talk to me about a chick, the way you've been dicking me around this last week. You've been holding that shit about Taylor over my head, and you were a jerk tonight, right to Lise's face about the t-shirts. Don't talk to me about Emily."
He nodded. "I knew it. You're still pissed. Okay, I'm sorry for jerking you around about that stuff with Taylor. And we've all apologized about being rude to Lise. But seriously, did she expect us to all wear those stupid shirts? I mean, even you, you've been talking and talking, but you're not really, seriously going to wear that thing on stage, are you?"
Inside my jacket I still had on the black t-shirt with the blurred letters of RIOT BAND across the front. "Yeah," I told him. "I'm wearing it."
"Damn!" he said, throwing his hands in the air. "You're good, Eric. Like, you're not an amazing bass player or singer or anything, but we've done pretty well together. We've gone a lot farther than anyone reasonably could have guessed, considering how completely inexperienced we are. But you really have to know what a total freak you've been. I'm starting to wonder if you're not some kind of sociopath or something. If there's a wrong way to do something," he jabbed his finger at me, "you find a way to do it!"
I drank down the last of my drink, carefully considered the ice cubes in the bottom of the glass, and then threw the whole thing across the street. The glass shattered with a ping on the empty sidewalk.
Ryan and I looked at each other with blank stares. I knew that on some level he was sizing me up, wondering if I was going to follow up the gesture with a meaningful physical attack. And I was staring at him, wondering why he made it such a point to so continuously antagonize me.
"A threat of violence is not a reasonable way to end an argument," he said evenly.
"I wasn't threatening you," I said. "My drink is finished."
"We've got a show to play," Ryan said. "Are you going to come in and play, or what?"
I took a drag on the cigarette. "Of course I'm coming in to play," I said. "Who said anything about not playing?"
We finished our cigarettes in silence, just avoiding each other's eyes and listening to The Urges totally rock the bar that we had come to know as home territory.
We went back inside. The Urges were finishing up their set, really winding the audience up, building to a huge finale. Ryan started to head into the crowd, moving toward Jed and Nick. I grabbed his arm. I was in a vicious mood. Suspicious from the pot, aggressive from the booze, I pulled him close.
"Dude, let's go get ready," he said. "We're up next."
"Come and do a shot with me," I said, and I practically dragged him up to the bar. Keith was there, and he grinned broadly at us. I guess the solid turnout for a double-bill was working for him. I ordered two shots of whiskey, and he brought them quick.
I held onto Ryan's arm, and as we held the drinks up I said, with gravity, "This is our band, man. You and me. And we'll be able to do anything, if we stick together and treat each other with respect. To respect?"
"Respect," he said, and we downed our shots. He rasped, cleared his throat, and put the glass down on the bar. "You're crazy, man," he said. "And you're drunk. Come on. Let's go play."
Jed met us up in the crowd of bodies around the stage, and we managed to move our gear up as The Urges brought their stuff down. I saw Meghan there, lurking around in the crowd in front of the stage. She and her friends looked out of place, like they really wished they were at a classy club. But somehow, these hip glamster bar-stars were at a rock show, not because they liked hard music, but because they wanted to be seen at the cool spot.
To hell with them, I thought. It's my show they want to be seen at.
We'd practiced all week, and we should have been razor-sharp. I got up to the front of the stage, and on the first song I started screaming my lungs out, trying to really blast, like it would be possible to have a big successful show, all in one song opening.
In sports they call it "trying to in the game in the first shift."
It doesn't work. We sputtered and misfired, throwing out one song after another, playing most of them properly, a few of them well, and if the audience knew how badly we were mangling some of the songs, they weren't showing it. The audience hung in there.
Somehow, all of the bad feeling between the members of the band came forward, and we played an angry set, not pausing for an instant between songs, and giving each other angry glares after every early change or missed note. We hung in there and got through the song list, but the gloom was palpable.
When it was over, we dropped our equipment without a thought of tearing down our gear. I went back toward the bar, and Ryan and Jed drifted away from the stage as well, wondering what the hell was going on. I got another drink, this time a bottle of beer, and waited to see what would come next.
It didn't take long. I started talking to a guy at the counter about the set, and about what music he liked, and what I liked. I think I spoke to him and his friends for about ten minutes when Ryan, Jed and Nick met me at the bar and told me to head outside.
It had started snowing, and we stood under a street light a little way down the block from Jake's. Jed spoke first, clearing his throat.
"Eric, it's like this. We quit."
2010, Nolan Whyte