The drummer recommends the following corrections:
1. In Sault Ste Marie we had grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, not hot dogs.
2. That band in Kingston was really more ska than reggae.
The Indie Rocker’s Prayer:
Thank You for all Your fucking bullshit.”
“Another million dollar quote from Mike Zobac”, Belland observed as I nodded in agreement. I really felt that he had expressed a deep truth. Lately Zobac has taking to saying the prayer out loud, sort of like an old time country preacher.
“Dear Lord, thank You for all Your fucking bullshit”, Mike prayed recently “thank you for all the rain, and for making us stand in the rain while we eat” Amen brother, I thought silently. Sometimes he just looks at me and we say together “Dear Lord, thank you for all your fucking bullshit”. Somehow it makes our sometimes crappy reality seem merely amusing. Mike is sick now too. Now we are all sick, in varying degrees. We don’t really care though. Tonight we play the Underground in Hamilton, it’s a Friday night, and we’re going to open for NoMeansNo.
We like those guys a lot. Ferdy’s friends with ’em. I’m too shy to talk to them because I’m such a little fan. They are my favorite live band. I would rather see them play than pretty much anybody else. I’ve listened to their records, and that’s fun, but I didn’t really get it until I saw them play live. These guys have been playing together as a trio for over 25 years. Plus they are skilled, intelligent, intense musicians. I love their songs too. I think they have a compelling chemistry between them that exists only because they know each other so well.
I love seeing experienced bands (who still like each other) play together. To me it sounds like there’s an ease and comfort between the musicians that soaks into the music, and I find it very relaxing to listen to, even though the music might be very very loud and intricate and intense. There’s a lot of joy in watching NoMeansNo as they play, and there’s a lot of joy in their music. Speed, power, agility, catchy melodies with very clever writing.
We pulled up to the The Underground. It was hot and rainy. Hamilton is one tough town. Much tougher than Vancouver, although I guess that’s not saying much. Vancouver isn’t tough at all unless you go to the relatively confined area where all the action and tragedy goes down. Then it’s one of the toughest, most depressing places anywhere. You know you’re in a dangerous area when there are no Starbucks around.
A thunderous roar was dimly audible behind the 2 sets of double steel doors. We descended into the depths (The Underground is lives up -or down- to its name) and sure enough, NMN was just finishing up their sound check. All four of us stood around and grinned. It’s hard not to when you hear them play. They said hello to us (I hid behind Mike and stared at the floor), and we thanked them profusely for letting us play with them again, and tried not to be too uncool.
After sound check we had a bit of time to wander. We were first, and our set was exactly 30 minutes starting at 9:30. Belland met up with an old friend and disappeared. Grief, Zobac and I went to Timmy’s for our pre-show round of caffeine.
We headed back to The Underground around 9:00. Sometime later Mike asked me what time it was. 9:20, I said. I don’t see Ferdy anywhere, Mike told me. He’ll be here, I said. He’s never been late for a gig, and usually he’s stage managing everybody else telling them to get started so the show can run on time.
9:30 came and went and there was no denying that the three of us were officially frantic. I’ve been playing with Ferdy for three years, and he’s never even been close to late for a show. Mike had to talk to NMN and tell them that we weren’t ready to start because we were missing our bass player. That was hard. We really, really, didn’t want to look like unprofessional chumps in front of NMN.
Grief was stalking about outside the front doors looking out for Belland, muttering “I’m going to kill him” over and over. The sight of him clutched at my heart a little. Grief tells us every day how much he doesn’t care about playing shows, but it’s now obvious that he’s only trying to convince himself. Mike was pacing around in the green room asking God why Belland doesn’t get a cell phone. Or a watch, for that matter. Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for all Your fucking bullshit.
I was thinking, he’s hurt, he’s dead, he got mugged and hit on the head, and what am I going to tell Mrs. Ferdy? She’s one of the ladies I knit with, and I don’t think I could face her again having lost her husband on the mean streets of Hamilton. I know how important this show was to Ferdy, he has great respect for NMN. It was completely and totally out of character for him to not be there on time.
At 9:45 Grief came running down the stairs into the club “He’s coming”, he yelled and we leaped up onstage. Ferdy came running across the floor, taking his coat off as he picked up his bass.
Everything changed in that moment, and things started to move very quickly. The worry and concern was replaced by knee weakening relief and then white hot rage. He was okay. He was alive. He was just late because he was careless about the time. I wanted to hurt him. Never in the history of this band have we been responsible for holding up the show. We are mock and deride other bands who do so. And why this show…this one was really important…it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it was in Owl’s Anus, Manitoba and there was just a bunch of random local bands there.
“DON’T TALK!” Mike spat at Belland, who was opening his mouth to say something. Mike has a very long,very slow fuse. It’s rare that he loses control of his anger, but if that happens, cover your head. Belland closed his mouth with a snap. Grief couldn’t look at him and turned away completely, tuning his guitar.
“I have a set list”, I snarled at him. “I’ll be calling the order of tunes”. We only make set lists when it’s critically important to play a kick ass show. My whole body was vibrating with emotion. I desperately tried to rein in my temper. Now it was time to play 21st Century Ghost, which I start by myself. Are we going to be able to do this? I wondered. There was so much anger and hate, contempt and disappointment flying around onstage. No time for resolution or explanations. Our songs require all of us to listen to each other and play as one. They also require a fair amount of concentration to navigate through the arrangements. Maybe we were just about to play a really shitty set in front of the great musicians of NMN, who had come back to the club about 3 hours before they had to so they could see us play.
I took a deep breath and let it out as I played the intro.
The band kicked in with utter precision and intensity.
I think it was the best show we’ve ever played. Grief was on fire. He nailed all of his vocal parts effortlessly and played beautiful, jagged, passionate guitar lines. Ferdy played excellently, I felt like I was hearing the absolute peak of his considerable talent. Mike was amazing, he had full charge of the rhythm section that night and he never faltered, not once. It was incredibly loud. The sound onstage was fabulous, and I knew our singing was strong and accurate.
We were all drenched in sweat after the first song. Belland’s bulging forearms were shining, and Grief’s curls were plastered against his head. Mike was still mad at Ferdy and dropped out during the first bass solo, leaving him adrift with no accompaniment. One of the nastiest things a drummer can do, but I guess it was more reasonable than jamming a drumstick down the bass player’s throat .
No talking, just song song song. People were nodding their heads and venturing closer to the stage, a good sign considering that everyone was there to see NMN, and we were just some unknown opening band. It was an incredible thing to feel how all the anger onstage was being continually transformed into a massive wall of thick melodic and rhythmic distortion, on top of which Grief etched his finely wrought, stripped down writing like a master engraver.
Too soon it was over. Half an hour goes by fast when you’re operating at maximum overdrive. We tore down and were off the stage within about 3 minutes, and the show went on just fine. All was forgiven. As Mike said, I’m sure NMN has seen worse from their opening bands than a bass player being 15 minutes late. How could anyone be angry after playing so well together…all that emotion had been spent onstage and there was nothing left except satisfaction and relief. We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in front of NMN after all, and we couldn’t have played any better. I don’t know if I could handle it if every show started like that, though, no matter how good it felt afterwards.
We sold some cd’s afterwards, and then I jammed my ear plugs in as far as they would go and shook my tail feather as NMN proceeded to casually overwhelm me with their volume, complexity, sense of humor, and fantastic songs. They are one of the few bands that make me look forward to getting older, because maybe someday if I keep working really hard, I might sound something like that.
I was so pleased with the general state of the universe after the show that I hardly noticed that everything in the van was damp. And warm. Time for a few hours of fitful sleep in the jungle temperatures of southern Ont before the drive to London tomorrow