I left about ten messages with Ryan's Cameroonian roommates that Jed and I (plus Knelson and Conrad) were going to be playing at Jake's Restaurant around seven thirty or eight. I even called the campus office of The Typesetter, Garrison Valley University's weak-ass school paper, and managed to catch Emily, Ryan's girlfriend. "Get him to come," I told her. "It's important."
"Oh, Eric," she said. "I can read you like a book. You want him to come and watch you so that he'll be tempted to play again, right?"
"Yeah," I said. "Think it'll work?"
"I'm not sure," she said. "It might. I haven't really talked to him about it. To be honest, when we're together we mostly just watch movies, argue about them, and have sex. He wants sex all the time."
"Um. Well, thanks for being honest. You'll make sure he comes tonight, okay?"
"I make sure he comes every night. No, I'm kidding. Sorry about the pun. I'll do my best. Do you know what else I'm going to do? I'm bringing one of the paper's digital video cameras. Do you remember what I was asking you about in December, about shooting some video of the band, like an in-depth thing? This could be part of it, like how the band gets back together. Like part of Spinal Tap."
"Spinal Tap, that's a band, right?"
"Kind of. You haven't seen Spinal Tap? The movie?"
"Just see it and you'll understand."
I spent most of the day at Nick's place, practicing, phoning to find Ryan, and playing video games. Knelson spent the day with his sister and showed up at Nick's with pizza at five. Jed and Conrad showed up, and Lise came around as well. We all ate and had some laughs, and then loaded up into Knelson's truck.
Since the truck sat only three, we had to make two trips to get everyone down to Jake's. Everything was set up and ready to go by seven o'clock, even though the bar was still pretty much empty.
"You guys want to start?" Keith asked from behind the bar.
"We'll wait a few minutes," I said. No point in being too eager. If we started and Ryan didn't show up until eight, he would miss the whole set.
I sat down at the table where Nick and Lise had been sitting during the load-in. It was the first time Lise had sat inside the bar with us. I'd resisted letting her come, on account that she was still underage. I didn't want to cause any trouble for Keith, but she kept arguing that she looked old enough to pass for bar age, and it wasn't likely she would be singled out and carded. I finally gave in, realizing that I'd never actually seen anyone get carded in Jake's.
"Think he'll show?" Nick asked, as I set down glasses of soda for each of us.
"I think so," I said. "Ryan is wired into this band, whether he likes it or not. Even if he's sincere in not wanted to play with us again, I think he'll do it anyway. He couldn't stand the idea of missing anything.
"And if he doesn't?" Lise asked, sipping soda through her straw. In an extra-mile attempt to look nineteen, she was wearing a lot of makeup, and her red lipstick left marks on the white plastic straw.
I shrugged. "If he doesn't, we'll keep hunting around. Maybe we'll make a demo with Jed playing the guitars, and try to get the Pop Rocks gig anyway."
Lise sneered. "The Pop Rocks," she said.
Knelson came over. "I'm going outside to blast one," he said. "Anybody interested?"
"I thought you kept straight for shows," I said.
He smiled sheepishly. "Well, yeah," he said. "I don't smoke up before Crankshaft shows, or if it's something like that where I'm getting paid. I regard this as more of a jam, you know? Not quite so serious."
"It's serious for us," I said.
He nodded and gave me a relaxed smile. "Okay, Eric. That's cool. I can wait." He pulled up a chair and sat down with us.
We just sat and chatted until seven thirty rolled around. Keith came over and laid out the night's schedule for us: he wanted us off the stage by eight-thirty, because the second band would start at nine. The third band would start at ten-thirty. Our set would be nearly an hour, so we decided it was time to get started.
"Okay guys," Jed said. "Let's see what this is going to sound like."
"This sucks, man," Conrad said. "It's dead in here."
And it was. Sure, Lise and Nick were there, but besides them there were only a few others, and it wasn't the young crowd we were used to seeing at the Riot Band gigs. More like the beers-after-work crew of roughnecks, plus a few of the usual old booze hounds.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "This is about getting up there."
"Right," Jed said drily. "Forget about luring Ryan back, right?"
"It doesn't matter," I said. "We're here. Let's play. Knelson, you cool?"
He pulled off the old sweatshirt he'd been wearing, revealing a simple black T-shirt. "Hell, yeah. Let's have some fun."
We got up and started with "Revolution Baby," one of my early rockers. It went pretty well. I knew what I was doing, and Conrad was able to bang along with it well enough. Jed was adding a layer with the keyboards and doing some backing vocals for me as well. Knelson played the lines I'd shown him, and threw in some flourishes to punctuate the peaks. The sound was good. It wasn't as good as it could be, but I was happy with it.
We followed with another of mine, "Breaking Myself Down," and then started into the more ominous, vague songs Jed had written. Don't get me wrong, they were cool songs, but as he kept saying, they seemed unfinished. They seemed to lack strong hooks, so what you got was a cool sound that went on for four or five minutes, and then was over. The sound was aggressive and had an edge, but there was still something missing. They were more like a push than a punch.
A few people started showing up after eight, but they were still older. The thirty to forty year old crowd that lived in the area, and now recognized that there was an actual, honest-to-god cool bar in their own neighborhood had started attending. The first people to arrive that looked like they might be part of the university scene were the members of the second band. They came in and gave us weird looks as they carried their gear to the back of the room and set it down next to the stage.
But no Ryan Endstrum.
We cruised through our last song, which was basically an endlessly repeated riff with Jed shouting something through vocal distortion and droning heavily on the keys. When it was over we nodded to each other, said a simple "Thank you" to acknowledge the polite, scattered applause, and stepped down off the stage.
Nick sauntered up while we were bundling up our cords. "So," he said, "No Ryan."
"It's okay," I said. "We did it, anyhow. It's done. And it wasn't bad."
"Yeah, it was pretty good, guys," said Knelson. "You should stick with this. It might take you some time to refine your sound, but I think you're onto something."
"F--k it," Conrad said. "It was good just to play. We get a bar tab, right? Let's get f--king shit-faced."
"We got a bar tab when we were getting paid, Conrad," Jed said in a patient voice. "We did this for nothing. No bar tab."
"Oh," he said. "I've got a few bucks anyway. Hey Knelson, you still going to smoke that joint?"
We finished clearing our stuff off the stage so the next band could set up, and the guys all headed outside to smoke Knelson's pot. I walked toward Lise, and she stood up and gave me a tight hug around the waist.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I know you really wanted him to show up."
"Yeah," I said, and hugged her back. "It's okay. We'll figure something out. I want to keep playing with these guys anyway. We'll pull something together. Maybe not in time to play at The Market in April, but we could have some fun."
She looked up at me. "You won't give up," she said. "And I never want you to."
I went over to the bar and ordered a bottle of beer for myself and a rum and coke for Lise. The girl behind the bar paid no attention to the order, so I guessed that it was all cool about Lise being there. As I was paying, a guy from the other band came over.
"Hey man," he said. He had a close-shaved head and thick hipster frames on his glasses. "We didn't know you guys were playing tonight. We were kinda shocked to walk in and see a band already up there playing."
"Yeah, sorry," I said with a smile, offering him my hand to shake. "We were just here, almost as a tryout or something. Don't worry, we're not getting any of your cut. You guys are The Skyblargs?"
He shook my hand. "The what? It's Skysharks. We're The Skysharks."
"Oh," I said. "I don't really get that. What's it mean?"
"Nothing," he said. "You're not supposed to get it. It's intended to be so stupid that it's awesome."
"Oh. That's cool then. Good luck up there."
"Thanks. You're Eric, from Riot Band, right?"
I laughed. "Yeah. Well, Riot Band is done, I guess, but yeah, I'm Eric."
"Tyler. Good to meet you," he said. He shook my hand again, and then went back over to the stage. He seemed honored.
I took the drinks back to Lise and we relaxed. The guys drifted back in and the night became more of a party. More people kept coming in, and more and more of them were from the music scene around the university. The Skysharks started to play, and the busy bar began to swing.
We all had a great time. The Skysharks finished and people started getting amped up to see Blowing Up Springfield, who were apparently the big punk band in town. They were the ones who set up the multi-band show at The Market in December, which Riot Band was first not invited to, and later missed anyway because we were too busy breaking up.
I hadn't seen them play before, but I wasn't really excited about it. I actually hated them a little without knowing anything about them, on account of the non-invite to the Market show, and the fact that they seemed to be headlining where I used to headline.
They got up on stage. In the usual campus way, I recognized them without knowing any of them. They started playing some hard, fast punk stuff, which didn't strike me as anything groundbreaking (but what do I know about punk, except The Pistols and The Ramones, right?).
Lise and I were watching from our table. She was tired and relaxed from the drinks, and her head was resting on my shoulder. I was looking around, no longer really watching the band, when I spotted a familiar figure walk in.
It was Ryan, of course. He had cut his mop of curly hair short, had on a black jean jacket and white T-shirt underneath, and looked just staggering drunk. Emily was there with him, except instead of jeans and T-shirt material, she looked like she was all dressed up for something more classy. A shiny dress, with the front cut low to show off her cleavage, as usual.
"There's Ryan," I said. "I'm going to go talk to him."
I caught him at the bar. He was really hammered. When I stepped up in front of him it actually took him a few seconds to focus and recognize me. "Oh, hey Eric," he said. "You guys play yet?"
"Yeah, a few hours ago. How are you?"
"Wasted, man," he said. "Emily and a split a bottle of Jack. Not one of the little ones either. Well, she didn't have much."
"Man, you're going to puke," I said.
"Yeah, pretty soon," he said. He belched. "I want to get some ginger ale or something for my stomach. How did you guys play?"
"It was good," I said. "You couldn't make it earlier?"
"I got nervous," he said. "I thought I would run up on stage and start sucking all of your dicks. No, I'm kidding. Man, I'm drunk." He grabbed onto the rail running along the edge of the bar and swayed, rubbing his face against the shoulder of his jacket.
Emily slid up next to us. As she promised, she had the digital camcorder in her hand, and the thing was pointed up at my face with the little red light on. "So Eric, how did the Riot Band reunion show go?"
"It wasn't a reunion," I said. "We're a new band. It can't be Riot Band without this drunken idiot."
Ryan belched again. "I want back in, man," he said. "I cried tonight." He looked at me. "I f--king cried! I want to be in your band."
"Um, okay. Take it easy, okay? If you want in, you're in."
He straightened up, and still holding onto the bar with one hand, he lunged and locked himself onto me for a big hug. I hugged him back, craning my head back to avoid his breath. He released and we patted each other on the shoulders a few times, and then he leaned back against the bar.
"What the hell happened tonight?" I asked Emily. She had turned the camera off.
"He kept saying we would go," she said, "and then he kept saying he wanted another quick drink. He smoked half a pack and drank a ton of whiskey trying to get out the door. He was really freaked out about seeing you guys playing without him."
"He's been wasting time, acting like he didn't want to be in the band," I said. "He's got a lot of new songs to learn. He's got a lot of work to do."
2010, Nolan Whyte