Playing One Helluva Night Gig

It’s a bar in a tony country club in the western suburbs.

Genteel white folk are sitting at neat white tables, sipping their cabernets or whatever, and display a very mild curiosity about a bunch of guys wheeling in sound gear. The band is pointed to a corner with approximately 10 square feet of open space.

Scott and I stand there and scratch our heads, going – how are we going to fit our gear in and find standing room to play ? We quickly figure it out. As we get ready to launch our first set, I see we’re 3 feet away from the nearest table, and Todd is a bit nervous about whether we might blow off their faces with our usual blues-rock attack. So he pulls out the acoustic and we start with something… a bit mellow.

We go through a couple of songs, get mercy applause ( or so I think) from a big group at the back end of the bar, and all of a sudden the bar is filling up. We find ourselves cranking up the volume so we can hear ourselves and be heard. The crowd gets thicker, voices get louder, the guitars are screaming by the time we’re 30 minutes into the first set. We’re going through our usual stuff – the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray, Clapton, Skynyrd, The Stones,Van Halen.

The bar’s packed now with people, standing room only. Before we know it, the dancers have hit the floor : young and old bodies shaking, vast quantities of alcohol sloshing around inside. Scott yells to me – watch out for the mic stand ! And sure enough – bam ! An elderly guy has backed his butt into my mic knocking it over. A fleeting thought runs through my brain – where’s the goddam chicken wire when we need it ?

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Scott pushing the old guy away with one hand and continuing to play bass with his free hand. I’m trying to steady the mic stand while stomping on my pedals to get more wah and gain. The crowd is going crazy. They don’t want us to stop or take a pause between songs – more bodies are squeezing into a non-existent dance floor and Todd and I are running out of lung air. It’s all very Groucho Marx.

A woman sets up a table to one side and lines up a bunch of tequila shots for the band. Todd knocks back a couple and tosses a Heine to Josh at the back. Between wailing guitars and the raucous crowd, Josh can’t hear a single thing we’re singing or saying, yet he’s incredibly on time and is unleashing thunder with his drumkit. We’re in a re-run of Spinal Tap and Blues Brothers all at once.

The old guy in front pauses for a moment from his gyrations, thumps his chest, and bellows, Tarzan-like, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about ! I see him lean over and shout something in Scott’s ear. Scott tells me the guy wants us to play Elvis. Elvis Costello ? I ask. No, Elvis !! yells back Scott. The moment passes.

When we wrap up at midnight, the bar is still open, and there’s a couple of hundred people in there wanting more. The old guy, who I thought might keel over with a heart attack anytime during our performance, has miraculously made it alive till the end. It even seems like he’s got more juice in the batteries !

The bartender tells us he’s usually home in bed a good two hours earlier on Saturday nights, and this had never happened before at the club. He wants us back soon for another gig.

We’re done for the night though. I suspect they violated the fire department code for lawful occupancy levels last night at the bar. Time to leave before the cops show up.

*

Sandipan Deb introduces a song the incredibly multi-faceted Paddy Padmanabhan created in memory of the girl who was gang-raped and killed on December 16 two years ago : “… this song is not only about that one girl we lost. It’s universal — from ISIS to Boko Haram to Khap panchayats to all our other bestial ways.”

Do listen and share.

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