On Saturday afternoon the members of Riot Band got together in Nick's basement for rehearsal. It was weird though, because there was Emily again, sitting on the basement steps next to Nick, with her little video camera in her hand, recording the whole thing. She was going to edit some bits out and post them on The Typesetters' web page, all as an ongoing document of a university band's trials and tribulations. I didn't mind her recording us playing, but I wasn't crazy about her taping our conversations.
We were discussing whether or it was worth while to learn a batch of covers. We weren't going to go all-out and become a full-blown cover band, but we all agreed that a few covers could be a laugh, especially if we played them in our own style. But the kicker was whether or not we could get a gig at a bar that usually only had cover bands play.
Conrad was into the idea as soon as Ryan and I mentioned the possibility of playing The Grill House. He'd been living off busking or bumming change for months, and the idea of playing an actual, honest-to-goodness paying venue was a massively appealing idea.
"Do you know what they might pay?" he asked. "I've heard that these places will pay a couple grand for a weekend, but I never know when people are bullshitting about stuff like that."
"I don't know," I said. "But it would have to be enough for Knelson and his buddies to drive all the way down here, and they're in it for the money."
"What are we in it for?" asked Jed. He was leaning against the wall, posing the the prototypical cool guy. And he always had his comments ready, set to make himself look clever and superior to the rest of us.
I sighed. "Shit, haven't we been over this already? Would you turn down a gig there? If they were offering us real money?"
"I don't know," he said. "It seems like a pretty cheesy place to play. I'd rather stay with the university crowd than go over there and have to play 'Sweet Home Alabama' and that kind of shit."
"The idea would be to show up and be ourselves," Ryan said. "Play some covers, but play them our way, you know? Not to just give them the common shit."
We wrangled over it, and all the time I was aware of Emily with her damn camera. We eventually agreed that we could do a little mini-set of punk covers to open our first Tuesday night gig at Jake's. And despite his reservations about Riot Band somehow transforming into Cover Band, Jed was able to teach us four relatively simple classic punk songs that he knew that afternoon. He wrote out the chords and changes, and we muddled through them for a few hours before doing a quick run-through of the other songs we wanted to use for our main set.
We repeated the exercise during a shorter Sunday afternoon practice, which we had to break up early because Ryan needed to go to work. Emily was there with him again, and the two of them left together.
After they were out the door, there was a complete change in vibe. I hated having Emily hanging around, taping us when we were talking, watching and listening to everything that was going on. I didn't trust her one bit, and I realized that we were playing off each other when we were talking, trying to look cool for the camera. It didn't seem like we were working together.
"I'm getting sick of the reality show," I said after Nick came back downstairs. He'd gone to the door with Ryan and Emily when they left.
"I think it's neat," Conrad said. He was still behind the kit. He was dripping with sweat, and I'll say it: he stunk like sweat. He'd been sleeping in the basement. His "stuff" (an eight dollar sleeping bag and a sack of unwashed clothes, despite the fact that he'd been crashing a mere twenty feet from a functioning washer-drier set) was tucked neatly under the stairs.
"I feel better talking when she's not sitting there with the camera," I said, and I turned sharply toward Nick, who had taken his normal seat at on the steps. "What do you think about getting us a spot at The Grill House? I'm broke. If we can get a paying gig there, I think we should go for it."
"Oh, I see," Jed said. "You don't want to look like a sell-out when she's got a camera on you."
"You know, Jed, sometimes you can be a real jerk. Okay, fine, I'm posing for the camera. So are you. You don't know it? Just answer the question. Would you play The Grill House?"
"I guess so," he said. "It seems so stupid, though. It seems like the only bands they get there are the real serious cover bands, like your buddy Knelson, or the complete washups. You know Vanilla Ice played there a couple years ago? And that other guy, with the reality shows... Brett Michaels."
"I hate that guy," Nick chipped in. "It's like, dude, we know you're old and bald. Forget the bandana, the wig and the Botox. Oh yeah, and no one cares about your music, either. Could you imagine if Paul McCartney or Keith Richards did all that Botox and shit? Guys, promise me you'll never do that shit."
Before anyone could respond, Conrad started playing. It was a simple beat, but he kept going: ba-da-bap, bap. Ba-da-bap, bap... He kept going until I started playing a bass line to go with it. I'd been practicing playing with a pick, and I was finally getting good enough at it that I was willing to try it at a gig. It felt good to just jam with the pick like that.
Conrad and I were making a lot of noise, but I could see Jed make a grand gesture of sighing, and he started to play along with us, jabbing at chords on his keyboard. He acted liked he was too cool for this shit, but I knew he liked it. If he didn't like it, he wouldn't have kept on doing it all this time.
Tuesday night was awkward as hell. We were pretty sure that we wouldn't be getting any money, so we weren't eager to spend any. Therefore, we weren't willing to pay Jed's friend the usual twenty bucks to haul our equipment to the bar. Both fortunately and unfortunately, Emily came through for us. She got Cliff, the square-headed sports writer from The Typesetter to give us a lift. Apparently he owed her a favor for something or other. The whole arrangement bothered me, but I didn't ask many questions.
All I knew was that the bar was going to be dead, and that Lise, my hot but underage girlfriend, was going to be hanging out in the bar, nice and casual-like, as though she was just supposed to be there.
We loaded our gear in at eight o'clock, expecting to take the stage at nine-thirty. We were surprised to see a few dozen people in the bar. It was the university crowd, plus a few, for lack of a better term, "adults." There were people in their thirties and forties there, that were neither part of the usual dregs or society crowd that was usually hanging out in Jake's on a given night, or part of the just-off-work crowd that had shown up for some of the Thursday night sets.
We hauled our crap up to the stage. Lise was there, sitting at a table with Smoky and a few of his buddies. When the kit was set up, I checked in with my friends in the crowd, and then headed to the bar to greet Keith, the bar manager.
"Hey," I said with a smile. "There are actually a few people in here."
"Yeah," he said. "Did you see the ads? Or catch the radio spots?"
"What? No. What are you talking about?"
He grinned. "I talked to the owner and pried some advertising money out of him. Since we've already spent the money to have you guys here on Tuesdays, I figured we might as well try and get some people to show up. So I put some ads in the Post and on QR97."
"Really?" I said, taken aback. "Radio and newspaper. You didn't say anything about it."
"Well, if you guys would come in here once in a while, maybe we could talk these things over. I also made some announcements last Thursday. Either way, we've got a few bodies in here. Looks like the ads worked. Hopefully word will spread."
The guys were up at the stage. Emily was there with her camera. I went over and sat down with Lise and Smoky.
"He paid for advertising," I said. "Shit, he's pimping us out."
"That's good, isn't it?" said Smoky. "The more the bar makes, the more you make, right?"
"Yeah," I said. "But this feels weird. New pressure, right? I wonder what the ad said. I feel like I need to live up to an ad now."
Lise rubbed my arm. "Don't worry about that," she said. "Just be Riot Band, right?"
"I guess." I got a nervous twinge in my stomach. We'd agreed as a band not to buy any drinks from the bar on credit the way we used to, just in case the band didn't earn anything. But now I wanted a drink. I wanted one badly, but I didn't have any money for one. I knew Smoky probably had an extra few bucks to spot me, but since I was still living rent-free in his house, I didn't want to bug him a for booze money.
"I'll be right back," I said. I got up and moved toward the back of the room where the stage was, but I didn't actually approach the guys. I just hung there until I caught Ryan's eye, and then I made a smokingh gesture. He came over.
"Go out for one?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, and the two of us went outside.
"It's an odd night, isn't it?" I asked, as he handed over a cigarette and lit one for himself.
"There are people in there. We didn't expect them to come. Kieth told them to come see a band, and here they are. Shit, maybe he told them the band was us. You know. Riot Band."
"So?" he said. "We are the band. And Riot Band is us. So whatever they're here for, we're it."
I took a drag on the cigarette. They always made me feel a little sick. But in the absence of alcohol, it was better than nothing.
"It would be worse at The Grill House, you know," he said. "That place is big. And it gets full."
"I know," I said. "I'm not sure how I'd handle it."
"I don't see the big deal. We've played this place when it was packed. And we played the Ballroom and it was full of people."
"Sure," I said, "but they were there to see The Pop Rocks."
Ryan reached up and tousled my hair, as though I were a gargantuan five year old. "You're so cute," he said mockingly. "You get nervous before any gig, don't you? It's almost like you were hoping the place would be empty."
I shrugged. "Yeah. Sorry. I'm glad there's someone here to see us. Shit, maybe we'll even make a few bucks."
We went back in. Everywhere we went, whatever we did, I could always see Emily and her bloody little camera. She was all dressed up again, in a tight shimmery dress with her ridiculous boobs popping out everywhere. Ryan obviously liked it. I was happier with Lise: she was there, supporting me and looking good, but not trying to be the center of attention.
When nine-thirty rolled around, Jed, Conrad, Ryan and I got up on the stage. The lights went down, and we slipped on our gear. There were forty or fifty people in the bar. We switched everything on, and then with barely a warning, we blasted through an amazingly loud, unrelenting and completely obnoxious ten minute, four song punk set. They were the four simple songs that Jed had taught us: "Anarchy In The U.K." by The Sex Pistols, "White Riot" by The Clash, "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones, and then "We Bite" by The Misfits.
It was a wall of thrashing noise. We played as fast as we could, and as hard as we could. Jed sang through a mike that was rigged up for distortion and chorus effects. We were playing covers, but it was reasonable to guess that no one had any idea what songs we were playing. When the burst of noise was over, we'd managed to drive out at least a dozen of the people in the crowd.
"So much for the covers," I growled to the guys. "Let's play our shit." And then we got started for real.
2010, Nolan Whyte