We've reached the end of Day Two for Jon Black and myself as we attempt to break even while playing our way through Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and Florida before heading back home to my beloved home of Athens. Tonight's stop was in Columbia, MO, the home of the university commonly known as "Mizzou" and The Blue Fugue, a bar that welcomed us this evening.
Now when I say "welcomed", I mean we basically had to show up at the venue to make sure we even had a slot on the bill. I like to think I'm one who will generally give folks the benefit of the doubt, so in the two weeks of "nill-communication" prior to our little pop-in, I preferred to think that maybe the phone lines were down... as were all available internet connections, email servers, etc. Since our last transmission, we only knew that we had responded to them with a positive "yes, Jon and I can split a set" and had received only a "Yeah, that sounds good... remind me who you are and what night you were looking for before that slot gets booked." There was an emoticon at the end of that last email, but in all honesty, I've never really had the desire to learn cute ways to spell stuff with my computer keys. Well, other than words, that is. Perhaps it has to do with my strict upbringing and the deep-seeded guilt I still feel the first time I spelled "hell" on my calculator in seventh grade. But I digress...
More to the matter at hand, Jon and I decided to stop in on the hopes that we would have a stage that night, at least for a few songs. I'm certainly no professional at this touring thing, but I've been doing this long enough to know that if something's not officially "confirmed", then odds are your skinny white self ain't playing. It is a strange catch-22, and I pondered the mysteries of the universe as I drove west on I-70 through St. Louis, realizing, of course, that I was doomed.
If we showed up, I imagined that we would walk in and the guy would laugh in our faces, blow his hot breath on me in particular, and tell us something about the music business, the importance of confirming things, and the fragility of modern communication apparatus like email servers. For some reason, when I imagined him, he was wearing a Heart t-shirt. Not a heart shape - the band Heart. And as his thug friend Tone (pronounced "Tony") threw us out, he took a gulp of his draft beer and yelled, "Awww...Barracuda!"
Of course, if we didn't show up, I knew that he would somehow find a way to fix his ailing communication problems, at least enough to send me an angry email for not showing up. He would then lecture me via the internet concerning the music business, the importance of confirming things, and the fragility of "ever playing this town again".
Either way, I felt we were screwed.
Nevertheless, we showed up, and after a brief moment of awkward conversation (the likes of which I'd rather not try to transcribe), we walked out in the knowledge that we were one of eight acts on the bill that night. Yep, the chances of making some money that night were looking pretty dim. But you know, in dim places I've found it's best to shine your little light, and so Jon and I made a vow right then and there that we would play the best six songs of our lives. And we tried.
And it was okay. Not great by any means, but serviceable, and as we ended our set, we exited the stage, found a seat in the back of the club, and began to wait for the end of the night when we see what kind of split of the door we'd get. We hoped for at least enough to put gas in the van (and after "that guy" showed up to request "some Skynyrd!!!" we felt we'd earned it) so we could avoid selling our bodies for cash somewhere along the three-hour drive between Columbia and Lawrence, KS. Nobody wanted that.
By now, the next band had mounted the stage, with the lead singer proudly proclaiming to the growing crowd, "Yeeaaahh!!! Now we got some f'in drums up here!!!" Clearly, this guy came to rock. Unfortunately, the rest of the band was not yet ready for the rocking, and for the next ten minutes or so, they soundchecked, slowly working their way into rock-readiness.
They were an interesting band. Panning from right to left, they were a fearsome foursome; the bass player was adjusting his stance, finding the optimal body position to "rock steady". Later, he would do just that. Next to him was the drummer, clad in a wife-beater and jeans and close-cut hair. Inexplicably, he had let someone draw "tattoos" on his arms with a Sharpie, and just as inexplicably, someone had given him a vocal mic. Later, this would become a problem. Continuing on, the guy next to him was not a guy at all but a music stand raised to its highest height. A funny face had been drawn with a Sharpie (the same one, I suspect) on wife-beater #2, which had then been stretched over the stand to make a face. I'm not sure what that was about.
Clad in a black button-down and white tie, the lead guitar player must have come from a Hives tribute band audition. Or maybe not. But he definitely had eye makeup on, a decision which prompted one of those "Maybe it's Maybelline" commercials to play in my mind every time he said something stupid. This would happen many times in the next hour. Rounding out the band, we're convinced, was Nathan Lane. Soon, we would find out he was not, in fact, Nathan Lane, but Nathan Lane "turned to 11". Did you just picture him with a Steve Vail model Ibanez? You should have.
With the soundcheck over, the band launches into its set. The guys were young, and they had drawn a great crowd of classmates and friends, the kind of friends who'll support you for anything. The kind who won't tell you how much you suck. I'm definitely glad I had those friends, and because I thought in my mind I was okay, I continued to play and learn, to the point where I don't usually embarrass myself on stage. Generally speaking, of course. The guys were pretty good at their brand of riff-rock, at least musically, and I'm sure that if they continue working they'll get better. Maybe then Maybelline won't feel the need to fish for street cred by dropping the F-bomb two or three times between each set.
They're covering "Wonderwall" now, and the crowd's definitely put their "beer-phones" on. I mean, it might as well be Liam up there not believing that anyone feels the way he does about you now. It's a good time for it - they had rocked us all for two or three songs straight, and I for one needed a breather. And after all, he's my wonderwall. By now, they should have somehow realized what they're not to do, but it becomes clear that the rock has clouded their vision. Slightly confused in the aftermath of the overwhelming response to their rockilicious cover, a leader is needed to steer the ship into uncharted rockdoms afar. Fortunately, Nathan Lane steps up to the mic and plays what can only be described as Primus' "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver" played on a 331/2 at 45 speed. He keeps saying something about "licking his crack muthaf---r!", and the crowd begins to feel sick. Luckily, the lead singer springs out of his rock coma and rights the ship with another cover. Well played, sir. Just like James said, "gotta give 'em what they want - uhhh! - gotta give 'em what they need!", and they love some other folks' music. This time it's "Creep" by Radiohead, and Maybelline takes the mic off the stand and with his other hand makes singing gestures. Suddenly, Jon, my friend Rachel, and I become Simon, Randy, and Paula at those early-season American Idol auditions. Maybelline is officially crooning. In falsetto.
At this point, the set is almost over. The drummer continues to say dumb things on his mic between songs, and the rest of the band continues to cringe each time. Except Nathan Lane, of course - he likes it awkward. And what could it be for the big finish? A song about the lead singer's room. Not some allegory or thinly-disguised song of innuendo - no - this was a song about his room. His television, his Lord of the Rings poster, his Dalmations picture, and his dreamcatcher. And... scene!
The band then drank like tomorrow would never come through the next four bands' sets, and they earned it. I kid because it was pretty unterrific, but hey, they played to a crowd and I didn't. So the last laugh is always their's. And more power to them. Music is a funny business, and it's important not to take yourself seriously, though it's not always easy to laugh at 2 in the morning, having finally left the bar with $40 in your pocket to get you to the next show. Such was our adventure through Columbia, where we thought we wouldn't have a show but did, at the last minute. We crashed at Rachel's place, hoping that our next show would be much better.