It feels like we’ve been at Bill’s Place for days; like ages since first watched Black Friday Panty Brawl open up the show (headed by Tom Allen, who played a very sexy salmon pink guitar). I cannot stress how proud I am that Tom married me to my fellow band mate. He understands true love and he understands true rock n roll.
We’re the headliner (read: the last band), and everyone is drunk after Mother F Bombs exit the spotlight. It’s after 11 p.m. Maybe it’s midnight? All I know is we’ve told the owner we’d rock till 1 a.m. and we are responsible adults who keep our word.
My band, Magazine Dirty, hasn’t played a show for about two months. We’ve got new songs itching to be released into the ether. The word here is “antsy.”
Curtis, our sweaty and rambunctious singer, has planned a celebratory trick for the occasion: dancing on the bar while wearing an ape mask, of course. It is to be his “grand entrance” as we riff on the intro.
The Arroyo Grande bar is stage-less yet cozy, its walls covered in guns and animal heads. A lone pink bra dangles from the antlers of a massive unlucky mammal hung high above the bottles. I’m gripping my guitar, tuned, re-tuned, and ready to BE LOUD. I don’t know how else to describe it. I want to be heard in a way that is inescapable and semi-oppressive.
My mic, a little wobblier than I remember it being when I set it up, is right in front of my face, and I know it will soon be wearing much of my lipstick. Greg is in position, slightly to my left and behind with his bass in hand. Chad is behind the drums, doing whatever it is drummers do to make themselves look busy before the music starts.
Reid, the rhythm guitar to my lead, my “better half,” is at the bar, ordering two beers very, very slowly. The crowd is anxious and, again, inebriated. Reid is cool, calm, and collected. As he waits for his two beers (one of him, one for me) I am visited by no less than five drunken people saying essentially the same thing.
Person #1: “Curtis says you should start the song without him. He’s gonna come out and jump on the bar.”
Yes, the band is aware. But we are waiting on one REID CAIN, who is politely ordering beers and waiting like anyone else would. In the face of pressure, Reid doesn’t just laugh. He looks away, and wonders what he’ll eat for dinner. In that way, he is like a shark, and I am like a dolphin.
I hate this waiting-before-playing period. It makes me feel frayed. Like a sponge, I soak up all the energy around me, the anticipation and expectation. I’m standing there, looking into the faces of friends and strangers. My friends are talking, drinking, smiling. They know what’s coming and they’re happy about it.
I imagine the strangers are expectant, maybe even skeptical. But this is only my imagination. In reality, no one cares about some band they’ve never heard of. If we do it just right, they will care once we’re through.
The crowd is still waiting. No one has played a note.
He can’t hear me over the noise.
Person #2: “Curtis says start without him.”
Person #3: “Curtis is over there with an ape mask on and he says he wants to jump on the bar.”
Person #4: “Just start!”
I consider how funny it is the audience knows about “the surprise,” yet doesn't want to spoil it for us.
Finally, Reid returns. I am happy at the sight of my beer, and I sit it on top of my amp.
With little fanfare, we rip into our first song, a new song called “Backseat Love.” It is a rare collaboration between Reid and I: He wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics.
We jam on the opening chords for a while.
Reid spills his beer without taking a single sip.
Soon, the ape emerges.
He’s on the bar.
He’s dancing on the bar.
He’s…oh my god is he going to eat shit?
No, he’s safely jumped from the bar to the ground.
Sweet, sweet relief.
“Leather and spice and everything nice/gotta get next to you/backseat love ain’t one to fall/but oh, you do what you doooooo!” Curtis howls.
The universe is aligned.
The boisterous crowd is less than an arm’s length away. Without a stage, this mix of humanity will soon be mixing with us. It is only natural.
This is why we like Bill’s Place. Well, that and the pepperoni pineapple Klondike’s Pizza that has become our ritual pre-show meal.
I just kind of wished I had an extra piece of 'za after we packed up the PA and all the gear into my tiny Ford Focus Wagon at 2 a.m. Did I mention our van is on the fritz?
Then again, it’s a small price to pay for the glamorous title of “headliner.”
And now, some stills from Don McKee's video, “Ape on the bar.”