Club Crud

The stench of beer doesn’t wash away. It always reeks at the edge of the stage where head banger’s lose their dinners from slam dancing by the bass bins. Sometimes we turn up the subwoofers just to watch ‘em squirm.

Most people think show biz is glamorous. I guess it is for the stars, but why a star would want to play at Club Crud is beyond me. The beer is stale, the stage is wobbly and the dressing rooms have to be swept daily because of the rats.

Sometimes I think the fans are as rabid as the rodents. They drink till they can’t see and then they drive home. We’ve got ten taxis waiting at the door every night and half a dozen rollers taking the drunks off the street, but do they learn? No. Their brains are mush from all the thinking they’ve been doing.

The night manager’s name is Romeo. Make sure you say Ro-may-oh or you’ll have to listen to a tirade for the next ten minutes. I call him whatever I want because he’s not my boss. I’m not his boss either and that’s where the trouble lies. Two cooks are too big for the kitchen, especially when one of ‘em can’t tell a hot plate from a Marshall head. He’s new. Maybe he’ll learn. The last one skipped town. Last I heard he was living in Mexico trying to turn a weekend’s worth of receipts into a sustainable income.

Romeo isn’t a bad guy. He’s out of place. You’ve got to have a criminal mind to play in this business, or you’ve got to have one on your payroll. Romeo doesn’t have either so he’s the loneliest kid on the block. Not even bikers are safe from his piggish squeals and that’s why they came prospecting. The friendly faces at Red and White don’t take kindly to being told where they can and can’t buy a beer.

As usual I was the last to hear about it, because you can’t hear much but the band from behind the sound board. I saw Klaus Hammer, head of security, take two steps at a time up the balcony. He practically broke down the door raging at me.

“Mixter,” he shouted, “There’s a hundred Hell’s Angels trying to get in.”

“It’s not my problem,” I told him, “Where’s Romeo?”

“He locked himself in his office and he won’t come out.”

Not much will tear me away from the desk, but a hundred Hell’s Angels will do it.

As you might have guessed, the hundred bikers turned out to be two guys with colors and twenty prospects. I walked right up to the first of them and asked for his credentials.

“Are you kidding me?” he replied.

“I need a score of guys backstage,” I answered, “I’ll pay you two cases of beer for standing around and making your presence known.”

“Having some trouble?” asked the big man.

“Not since you showed up,” I replied.

Klaus delivered the beer backstage.

“Keep the door open,” I told him, “Let the neighborhood see that we’re armed and dangerous.”

Klaus is a quick one. He knew immediately what I was doing.

“Showing Marcus Aurelius who’s boss?”

“No,” I answered, “Showing we can match him man for man.”

Marcus is as good as his name. He owns the franchise in that part of Oakland. If any contraband is for sale Marcus has to know about it. Lately he’d been leaning on Club Crud customers.

“Bullfrog is going to shit his pants,” said Klaus, laughing.

“He’s going to dock me for the beer,” I told him, “Wait and see.”

Bullfrog is what we call the owner of Club Crud. His name is Jeremiah, like in the song, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”

When he opens his mouth to chew you out he sounds like one too.

“Why would he do that?” wondered Klaus.

“You tell me,” I answered, “You’re his golfing buddy.”

Klaus used to be a road manager. He worked for half the acts in the country to hear him tell it. I know for a fact that some of his stories are true. I take the rest on faith because Klaus doesn’t have to lie. Being head of security at a major rock venue is his idea of a good time. Unfortunately, he works at Club Crud.

“Wait and see,” he always says, “I’m gonna work for McCartney one of these days.”

Club Crud couldn’t handle McCartney, though Bullfrog went on tour with him once. That was when he was a mixer, but I’m not sure he was ever one of us. A real sound guy, one who has it in his blood, doesn’t stop mixing just because he writes a hit song and makes enough money to buy a Club Crud. It doesn’t work that way.

I don’t want to give the impression that Bullfrog worked for McCartney, or anyone at that level of the industry. He worked for a company that owned some of the sound system. Bullfrog went along for the ride, but he made connections and placed two of his songs on a Cher album, or maybe it was a Maria Carey album. I don’t know. I’ve never heard it.

Most failed rock stars buy Club Cruds so they’ll always have a stage to play on, but not Bullfrog. He loathes musicians and does not consider himself to be one.

“Irving Berlin couldn’t play an instrument,” he says, “Why should I?”

“So prima donnas won’t spoil your art?” I sometimes reply.

“That’s the only reason,” he always agrees, but I’ve yet to see him pick up a guitar.

Bullfrog and I get along fine, even if we do shout at each other for forty-five minutes straight. In the end he knows he needs me, and I’d rather be sitting at the board in Club Crud than driving a bunch of wannabes from gig to gig.

Why am I still here when so many others have failed to make it a home?

Because it’s my Club Crud. I was the one eighteen feet up a ladder wiring the lights. I muscled the speaker boxes into place and I got down on my hands and knees to run cable under the stage. Bullfrog can’t fire me because I’m the only one who can fix the PA. I made sure of it when I put it in.

I charge a lot because it costs a lot to live in this town and I’m not going to let a boss set my wage. I work sixteen hour days, six days a week and I don’t go on tour with the bands who say, “Get out of this shit hole, dude, you’re better than this!”

The fact that they’re right is how I get away with it.

To work on my stage you have to be approved by me. Knowing someone who knows someone who can get me a job with someone no one’s ever gonna hear from again is not how you get onto my crew. Don’t tell me you have a degree in recording arts or some other certificate. If you can’t solve a problem in five seconds I don’t need you. Go be a banker or something.

If you’ve been on the road awhile and have a knack for gear and can do one job well, then you’re the guy I’m looking for and you don’t have to be a guy. My lighting designer is Crystal Iversen. She may be drop dead gorgeous, but she has the best eyes in the Bay Area. I call her Crystal. Everyone else calls her Pookie.

As for the rest of the crew there’s Dan Steele. I hired him because he can change the capsule on a microphone in three minutes. He’s a first class mixer as well.

Lacey Daze does the stage sound. At least that’s why I hired her, but in practice we switch off. It’s part of my job to drive all the sound systems at Club Crud on a regular basis. How else am I going to keep things from falling apart? And anyway, it breaks the monotony for everyone involved.

My artist liason is Frankie Nordell. Yes, she’s female, but I try to keep these things in balance. Besides Frankie, Lacey, Crystal, Dan and myself we have an electrician who is a pretty fine mixer. He is Ernest Yazzie and he does not aspire to be the star of the show.

“It’s not about me,” he is fond of saying, “You guys are the rock stars!”

One thing I insist upon is that everyone on my crew is able to put up a decent mix. It doesn’t have to sound like one of my mixes; we all have our own style, but even my artist liason can put on the headphones and dial in a sound check.

We’ve hosted some big names on our not so little stage. I might tell a few stories that could bankrupt my boss if have a mind too, but I’m not making any promises. I like the feel of air in my lungs, if you know what I mean.

I suppose I can say things that don’t matter now, like the time Red and White came looking for me. It was after the prospecting I told you about before.

It was late at night. Romeo had left and the rest of the crew was gone as well. I was there by myself when I heard the door creak. Three sets of footsteps came trudging through the dark. They knew where to find me.

“Mixter!” one of them said as the door to the dressing room flew open, “Heard about what ya done.”

I guess I better not tell that story either.

Whatever happened, it made me forget the awesome exhibition of narcissism that is a performance by the current top of the local heap ridiculous goth metal band, Vox Organum.

The day had begun as they usually don’t. Usually a band rolls in after my afternoon nap. Vox Organum sent their technicians to do it to us before breakfast. We all eat the same bacon so it matters little to me, but Ernest isn’t so respectful.

“Hombres malos,” he muttered under his breath, “Tonto Vox Orgami.”

“Indio!” I said, because that’s what he liked to be called, “What’s the problem?”

“This man wants me to flatten out the curve,” he replied.

“If he wants to do more work than he has to, let him,” I said, and to the visiting sound guy I added, “Zeke, Indio will be mixing the stage tonight.”

Then he said the first of many stupifying things to come out of his mouth that day.

“We’ll mix monitors from here,” he told us.

“Uh,” I said, stalling for time, “We’re not set up for that.”

“The band says they can’t hear themselves play at Club Crud,” explained Zeke.

“You think it’s our fault?” I laughed, “They come off louder than a freight train!”

“They’ll have to turn down,” he explained. I knew then it was going to be a long day.

Three quarters of an hour later both sound systems were his to drive.

“I’m not driving,” was the second stupefying thing to come out of his mouth.

I kept my cool if only as an example for my crew.

“Who is driving?” I asked, calmly and deliberately.

“You are,” replied the clueless little bugger.

“I’m not mixing monitors from Front of House.”

“You’ll do whatever I tell you to do,” replied the snivelling shit.

That’s when I lost my cool, but deliberately so.

“You don’t get much co-operation from house sound guys, do ya pal?” I querried.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know why that is?” I asked again.

“Because house sound guys are wannabes,” he told me.

“No,” I replied, “Those of us who know what we’re doing don’t like being second guessed by a weekend warrior who’s never mixed a live band in his life.”

“What makes you think I’m a weekend warrior?”

“It’s simple,” I told him, “If you were a professional I wouldn’t be mixing the show.”

My phone rang and Frankie was speaking at me, almost in a fit.

“It’s July 4th!” she cried, “Where am I supposed to get a stretch limo today?”

“Back up, I missed most of that,” I complained, “Why do you need a limo?”

“Pox Organum is flying in to Oakland Airport at two this afternoon.”

“From where?” I asked.

“From San Jose,” she replied, “I know it sounds stupid but it’s a record company promotion and they screwed up and we NEED to have a limo meet them at the gate.”

“How are you going to manage that?” I wondered.

“I don’t know,” she wailed, “but Bullfrog says DO IT. Is Ezekial there?”

“How do you know…?” I trailed off.

“He’s their producer. Some big wig from LA. By the way, you’re supposed to mix the show tonight. Big wig doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. You know the type.”

I went white as a sheet. I’d heard of Ezekiel Edwards, but I’d never met him before.

“You gonna drop the problem in his lap?” I managed to say.

“No better lap to drop it in,” she said as I passed off the phone.

“Artist liason, for you,” I said sheepishly, and then all I could do was listen.

After a while I heard him say, “Call this number. My man will set you up. No fears, darling, it’s not your fault. I’ll make it up to you next time you’re in LA. Call me.”

He closed the phone and handed it back.

“Listen,” I said, “About that weekend warrior stuff.”

“What about it?”

“I was out of line,” I admitted, “How can I help here?”

“Let’s start by tuning the system,” he said, and for awhile it was business as usual.

We set up the stage. We listened to each instrument through everybody’s personal speaker. Singer Ainsley Bonaparte wanted just his voice, guitar and kick drum in his mix.

“He’s never said that before,” I offered, because Ainsley and I had been around the block a few times about what he wanted in his monitors and why it wasn’t a good idea until one day I finally hollered at him.

“I can’t make everything louder than everything else!”

From that day on it was how he wanted it: everything louder than everything else.

“Ainsley can’t have it that way anymore,” Ezekiel assured me.

“Why aren’t we mixing monitors from the stage?” I asked.

We had an engineer available and all the proper tools to give the band their own personal sound guy, but Zeke wouldn’t hear of it.

“When they’re ready for the big time they can have onstage monitors,” he told us.

“You don’t think they’re ready?” asked Indio.

“They’re barely a band,” said Zeke, “Ainsley and the guitarist are a good team but the rest of ‘em might have to go. The drummer makes it no secret he can’t play to a click track, and the keyboard player sequences his parts. There’s nothing virtuoso about ‘em.”

“Why did Death, Goth and Mayhem sign them in the first place?” I wondered.

“It’s a right of first refusal,” he explained, “We’ll put money behind ‘em, but we’re not about to give them any.”

“But you’re going to make a record?” asked Indio.

“If they bring me something worth recording,” said Zeke, “We’ll be working out new material tonight.”

“Material you had a hand in writing?” I assumed.

“Find yourself a promising young band and you can be a Hollywood asshole just like me,” he smiled.

“I didn’t mean it like that…”

“How did you mean it?”

“Forget I said anything,” I pleaded.

“Last time,” he agreed, “From now on I remember it all.”

Indio gave me a look that said I was no longer walking in beauty. Whatever he meant by it, no one likes long looks from the son of Navajo shaman.

By two o’clock we were ready. The band would not be making the sound check because of an interview on UC Berkeley’s student radio station. Zeke assured me he would be speaking for the band during the performance.

“I don’t care what they ask for,” said Zeke, ignoring the phone chiming in his pocket, “You’re not working for them. They’re working for me and so are you.”

Zeke’s phone went silent and a moment later mine lit up.

“Is that Freddy Falls?” asked the producer, annoyed even at the thought of it.

“How’d you know?”

“He’s been calling me all morning,” he confided.

“You don’t want to talk to him?”

“No. You don’t either unless you want to be part of it,” he advised, “Freddy doesn’t get that he doesn’t manage Vox Organum anymore.”

“Aren’t they under contract?” I wondered.

“Lunch,” he announced, “You drive I’ll buy. You like raw bar?”

“You go,” I declined, “I’ve got to set up for the opening act.”

“What opening act?” asked the Hollywood producer, “I told Bullfrog to cancel it.”

“Why would he do that?” I wondered.

“We guaranteed him a profit,” answered Zeke, disgusted all over again, “Who is it?”

“Foul Play,” I said, “They’re sort of a…”

“They’re too good,” he interrupted.

“You’ve heard of them?” asked Indio.

“Two white guys, two black guys, two Latinos?”

“That’s them,” I agreed.

“They’re too good,” said Zeke again, “They’re gonna show my guys up. Get ‘em off the bill. You owe me for your attitude.”

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to do that to my favorite homegrown band.

I made a call to Bullfrog and he wouldn’t hear any of it.

“I don’t care what that Hollywood asshole says. Foul Play is on the bill. They sold six hundred dollars worth of tickets.”

“For chrissakes J…”

“They turned in the money last week,” he interrupted, “They’re on the bill.”

“Your wife signed off on the contract,” I replied, “Take it up with her before you put it on me.”

I heard some muted shouting on the other end of the phone.

“What the hell did I say?” yelled Bullfrog.

Which was followed by more muted shouting.

“I DID NOT say they were off the bill!” Bullfrog yelled again.

Which was followed by less shouting and a more reasonable tone of voice.

“What is this shit?” came his reply, and then he was speaking to me again.

“Mixter! They’re off the bill if Zeke guarantees the whole week.”

“He’s not gonna do that,” I replied.

“Tell Foul Play they’re gone,” he said at last, “They can come by the office tomorrow for their money. Keep ‘em happy. I want to hear the end of this.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said, closing the phone.

“Are they off the bill?” asked Zeke.

“They’re off,” I said, “Can I tell them they’ll get a gig in LA out of it?”

“Tell ‘em what you want,” Ezekiel replied.

“Will you make good on it?” I pressed him.

“Yeah, sure. If they don’t make asses of themselves. Let’s get some sushi.”

Driving to Emeryville we heard Vox Organum on the radio.

“…and you’ll be playing tonight at Club Crud?” prompted the DJ.

“We are going to rock the shit right off the walls!” shouted Ainsley.

The band added a rehearsed verse We Will Rock You.

“I told ‘em no to do that,” muttered Zeke.

“Yapper, I hear you’ve got some new material you’re debuting tonight,” said the DJ.

“Yeah, we’ve been writing new stuff,” he answered, “It’s pretty rockin’.”

“We’ve been working with this producer in LA,” added Ainsely, “He’s been working with us to get, you know, a more commercial sound. We’re still heavy on the guitars, you know, and Binky’s like a demon on the drums, but some o’ the stuff is a little bit lighter. It’s got a more classical sound to it.”

“We don’t wanna say too much about it,” Yapper cut in, “We’re supposed to make it a surprise, you know. Production values and all that.”

“Where’d you learn about production values?” the drummer cut in, “I’m was the one sittin’ in the studio all day while they were trying to get the drums to sound right.”

Zeke stifled a laugh.

“I take it the drums never did sound right?” I offered.

“Couldn’t even use ‘em as triggers,” he frowned, “Binky’s the worst drummer I’ve had the displeasure to work with.”

“So what’d you do?”

“We sequenced the kick and snare and moved the fills around. It was all there, it just wasn’t in the right place.”

We caught the end of the band plugging the evening’s show.

“And we gotta tell ‘ya,” said the DJ, “Foul Play is opening up the proceedings as only they can do it. Whew!”

“That’s right,” Ainsley cut in, “Foul Play’s gonna hip hop into your brain and we got a surprise worked up for ya too.”

“You gonna rap with Foul Play?” wondered the DJ.

“They’re our homies,” said Binky, “Anything we can do to help ‘em up the ladder.”

I looked at Zeke. He was about as unhappy as a Hollywood producer can be without opening his mouth about it.

“You still want me to cancel Foul Play?” I asked him.

“NO!” he cried, and though I could tell he was fuming he left it at that.

We talked sushi over sushi. Indio chowed down like it was a rare delicacy. Zeke had a bottomless wallet and by three-thirty we were ready for sleep.

It wasn’t going to happen.

When we got back to Club Crud someone was kicking the kick drum. The boom was careening all around the house.

“What the hell?” I cried as I ran headlong for the balcony. Bullfrog was at the board.

“Is something not right?” I asked him.

“Where’ve you been?” asked the man who signs my paychecks.

“Eating sushi on Zeke’s dime,” I answered.

“All afternoon?” he wondered.

“For an hour and a half,” I corrected, “I was off the clock, and you don’t have to give the money back. Ainsley announced on the radio that Foul Play is opening the show.”

“Why did I get a call from Vox Organum’s manager saying you’re not answering the phone?” he querried.

“Zeke told me not to,” I replied, “Freddy is persona non-grata in Ezekiel’s world.”

“He’s their manager,” said Bullfrog, “You have to talk to him.”

“Not anymore…”

“Freddy Falls has them under contract,” he shouted, because the drums had started up again. I reached over and muted the PA.

Zeke and Freddy were having it out on the ballroom floor.

“Is that what you call a kick drum?” shouted the erstwhile manager, “It’s a tin can!”

“Get the fuck out of my face,” Ezekiel shouted back.

“You get out of my face,” shouted Freddy.

“What part of fired don’t you get?” answered Zeke, his tall, thin frame towering over the short and squat figure of Freddy Falls.

“FUCK YOU!” shouted Freddy.

“No, fuck you!” Ezekiel assured him.

“NO, FUCK YOU!” shouted Freddy again

“Fuck off,” added Zeke, turning on his heel. Freddy caught his sleeve.

“You’ve got one second to drop it,” warned the Hollywood asshole.

“Freddy!” cried Bullfrog, leaning over the railing, “Let it go or he’ll have your ass.”

The little man dropped his sleeve.

“This isn’t over,” he said before walking purposefully towards the door.

“When is the band going to be here?” asked Bullfrog.

“By showtime I hope,” I said, half laughing and half squelching the laugh.

“And Hollywood Ezekiel Edwards wanted to cancel the opeing act,” he muttered, his head shaking from side to side, “Do what you can to keep him under wraps.”

“Under wraps?”

You’re mixing the show,” he said, a conspiratorial gleam lighting his eyes, “Do what you do best. Say yada-yada like you’re all ears and then do it your own way. I’ll be here.”

Fine, I thought to myself, but how was I going to say yada-yada to the man who had sprung for my sushi feast?

Foul Play arrived an hour before doors. Six more ecstatic young men would be hard to find. They spoke in awe about Zeke; they knew he was a Hollywood producer and hoped to make the best of their acquaintance.

I was setting them up in front of Vox Organum when Zeke laid down the law.

“We’re not striking the drum kit,” he announced.

“No problem, brother,” said Kunte, Foul Play’s drummer, “I can bang on the stage.”

He proved it by setting up a beat that they all took up.

“No guitars,” added Zeke, “Beat, bass and scratch only.”

“O man, that’s wack!” complained Stradivarious, Foul Play’s guitarist.

“Do you see room on this stage for another rig?” asked the producer.

“I’ll just sit on it,” offered Strad.

“No guitars!” decreed Ezekiel, and there were no more complaints, at least out loud.

As we were hashing it out the Clean Up Crew arrived.

Zeke threw up his hands in disgust.

“You’re staging an act after Vox’s set?” he asked, obviously unhappy about it.

“No!” I laughed, because a lot of clubs do and the last act is called the clean up crew or some variation thereof, “The Clean Up Crew are some of the bar guys. They have a band and they kick it out before the show starts.”

“Not tonight,” ordered Zeke as he turned on his heel to have it out with Bullfrog.

A few minutes later they came back together.

“Javier,” said the boss, “Behave yourselves and you can open for Rat Race.”

“We can?” Javier blurted, “When is that?”

“August second,” replied Bullfrog, “Keep it under wraps. Do we have a deal?”

“Yeah, buddy…I mean sure thing boss.”

“Good, now go home,” he concluded, and to Strad he said, “I’ve got a Fender amp in the office. Will that do for ya?”

“It’s fine, bro,” replied the guitarist, “No worries.”

Later, Ezekiel took me aside and told me keep the guitar low in the mix.

“I always do,” I could truthfully say, because Foul Play wanted it that way too.

By six-thirty the line stretched around the block. Bullfrog opened the doors early to take advantage of the extra half-hour of bar time. Romeo grumbled that he wasn’t ready with the cash drawers, so Bullfrog started selling beer out of his own pocket.

By seven thirty the beer had loosened up a few heads and the heat was sweating it out of everyone. The DJ known as Fly On The Wall was laying down the beats. You could tell by the groove he was a fan of Foul Play. Zeke tried to get him to play some metal.

“At least play something by the Beastie Boys!” I heard him scream.

Fly On The Wall obliged with Fight For The Right, but after that it was Sir Mixalot and anything else that was good and home grown.

By downbeat we were all ready for the tension to break.

Foul Play’s intro came out of the speakers as loud as God. I turned to see if Zeke had noticed but he was no where to be seen. The dance floor was packed and groaning under the strain and Bullfrog had that half happy, half scared look he gets when he thinks they might tear up his nightclub. As long as they kept paying for the beer it was usually okay.

“Good God! Wassup!” chanted the MCs. Foul Play had two: Hillboy and FLipLP.

“Pass The Cup!” yelled Hillboy, an Oakland A’s baseball cap backwards on his head.

“Pass The Cup!” repeated the crowd, and then they were roaring.

I finally noticed a light flashing at my left. Someone on stage was trying to get ahold of me. I put on the headphones to hear what was up.

“What is it, Indio?” I asked, but it wasn’t Indio who had called me.

“Unmute the drum channels,” said Ezekiel.

I wasn’t sure if I heard it properly.

“Crystal,” I said, “Heat up the drum spot. I wanna see what’s happening.”

The spotlight over the drums came on and I could clearly see Binky getting Kunte set up on Vox Organum’s drumkit.

“What’s going on?” I asked, “Is Foul Play using the headline kit?”

“It ain’t my idea,” answered Zeke, and he kept the rest of his thoughts to himself.

Moments later Kunte crashed in on Strad’s guitar solo and the crowd went wild.

Forty-five minutes later the band and the audience were amped up. It got even hotter when Ainsley Bonaparte strutted on stage. The first thing he did was to give a big manly hug to MC FLipLP.

They did a passable version of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way with Foul Play as Run DMC. Then Ainsley announced that Foul Play and Vox Organum were going to make a new version of Vox’s big local hit, Chicken Shit Boogie.

Even now, in recalling that performance, I am amazed at how it all came together.

Chicken Shit Boogie is not the greatest song in the world, but it’s not bad either. It’s main point is that everything is chicken shit so you might as well boogie all over it.

It started as a parody of itself, Ainsley’s naked falsetto quavering over a non-existent band, but when FLipLP and Hillboy began tossing the verses, line by line, as if they were so much Chicken Shit themselves the song took on a whole new energy.

“I don’t believe in nothin’,” rapped Hillboy.

“That don’t believe in me,” answered Flip.

Ainsley sang it with an angelic countertenor as if the most ferocious rock band on the planet was there to hold him up.

And then that rock band kick in.

“Don’t believe in the tooth fairy,” he sang, “He might be your uncle in drag. Maybe everyone’s a fag. Ain’t it what?”

He fed the mic to the audience and they shouted right on cue.

“Ain’t nothin’ but chicken shit. Ain’t nothin’ but chicken shit. Aint’ nothin’ but…”

They left it hanging like on the record as Stradivarious played circles over Yapper’s original guitar solo. I decided then that Zeke had a point. How was Vox Organum going to better this performance of their biggest hit? I imagined Ezekiel Edwards tearing his hair out.

Foul Play were five minutes over time but they hadn’t done Hillboy’s thoughtful and provocative Lighter Shade Of Brown.

As they left the stage without doing their signature number the crowd let them know they weren’t satisfied.

“Lighter Shade o’ Brown,” they chanted, but the band did not oblige.

Ainsley stayed onstage after Foul Play took their bows.

“That’s right,” he said, his voice a whisper.

I pushed up his mic in the mix until it fed back.

“We’re all shades of brown, brothers and sisters,” he said, “We’re gonna jam on that later, ya’ll. You ain’t seen the last of Foul Play. Stick around for some ACTION!”

He sang the last word with his high, piercing falstetto.

My hand was already on the fader.

“Hey!” shouted Ainsley to quiet the crowd, “I’m gonna change into my grave digging gear. You wait right here!”

Instead, they went to the bar, some quickly and some more so as DJ Fly On The Wall went to work on the dance floor.

Twenty minutes later the first chord of Doom Seller built quietly from the smoke that engulfed the stage. Yapper had turned his marshalls up to eleven, but Zeke had set them to a lot lower than that. I had assumed he would so when Zeke saw I was ready for it he began to relax.

“They’re gonna open with some old favorites,” he told me, “In about twenty minutes Ainsley is going to the piano…”

I didn’t catch the rest because the piano was at the back of the stage next to the drum riser. We hadn’t even checked the vocal mic that was placed nearby.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Zeke, “the vocals will be on the sampler. Just make sure the drummer has the click track in his headphone mix.”

“Binky can’t play to a click track!” I exclaimed.

“Then you better turn it up, cowboy,” said the Hollywood producer.

As they made it through Doom Seller, Vagabond, Interstellar Robots and onto Ships Of Glass the club got sweatier and the slam dancing more violent. Tripping On God ended with a baroque flourish. Ainsley introduced Yapper, saying he was going to sing one of the new songs.

“Hey,” said Ainsley, his voice low so they had to strain to hear him, “We’ve got some new stuff. Yapper’s gonna sing this one. It’s called Opus Croakus.

The song, if that is what it was, was a guitar solo alternating with inhuman grunts. It was strange, to say the least. I turned and saw Zeke, his eyes closed, leaning back against his chair with a smile on his face.

“What’s the inspiration for this one?” I wondered.

“Zappa,” he replied, his eyes unopen.

It didn’t remind me of old Uncle Frank at all, and apart from some convincing piano from Ainsley it didn’t even sound musical. The next song was apparently meant to show that Yapper could sing after all.

“This is another new one,” he croaked as Binky started a not quite right Chicago style shuffle, “It’s called Now And Forever.”

As a love song it was pretty straight forward.

“Now and forever, I will always be your friend,” sang the guitarist, while Ainsley played the blues on his piano. It was a sound, but I couldn’t be sure if it was how they intended to sound. When Binky fell back into a straight four beat I was pretty sure they were headed for a train wreck.

By then Binky was playing faster than the sequencers. In one bar he turned the beat around and suddenly the synthesizers were out of time with the band. The keyboardist hit the panic button to stop the sequence as Yapper stumbled around looking for the one beat. Ainsley’s pounding piano was the only thing that kept them together.

After establishing a new one beat the band carried on minus the sampler and synths. Airie rebooted his computers for the next song on the list, Queen’s Play The Game.

Ainsley had come out front again. Airie started the sequence and an intricate piano part started off the song.

Before Ainsley began to sing I’d already placed it.

“Play The Game,” I said, turning as I said, “You’ve got to be kidding?”

“It’s a great song,” replied the Hollywood producer.

Maybe, I thought, but not in the hands of Vox Organum.

When Binky turned the beat around for a second time that night even the casual fans knew something wasn’t right.

“Everybody Play The Gaaaaaaame,” sang Ainsley, stretching out the last word until he was almost out of air. Finishing the phrase he turned his back to the crowd. I could only imagine the look he must have given to Binky.

It ended mid verse with Yapper soloing on the chords. As his eyes locked on the bass player they started a bonecrushing riff. Binky joined in and they were a machine once again.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaa…” wailed Ainsley, his high falsetto wavering like a girl, “Yaaaaa…. Lucifer’s Palace!”

Airie abandoned his sequencers in favor of synthesizer and sampler stabs.

It was classic Vox Organum.

“Goddamnit!” I heard their producer swear, “I told them not to do this song.”

“The crowd is loving it,” I observed.

“This crowd,” he conceded, “But if they’re gonna be more than a cult band they can’t be playing songs called Lucifer’s Palace.”

“I’m going to live in Lucifer’s Palace,” sang Ainsley, a crazed, mystic zeal sparking in his eyes, “I want to serve the bearer of light.”

The song ended with Ainsley being pulled down into hell, Yapper standing over him and playing his ax like it was an instrument of torture. Ainsley put up his hands to repel the attack but it was no use. As the drums wound down and the bass came to a stop the singer lay motionless on the stage.

With his last breath, he screamed his fate to the crowd.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaa… Lucifer’s Palaaaaaaaace!”

And with that he won back the crowd.

“We’ve got a surprise for you now,” whispered Ainsley, “MC FlipLP and Hillboy are IN THE HOUSE!”

The riff to Lighter Shade Of Brown began in tandem. Both Yapper and Stradivarious were tearing it up.

“My skin ain’t white,” rapped Hillboy, “It’s a ligh-ter shade o’ brown.”

“That’s right,” agreed FLipLP and the guitarists carried on til the end of the song.

Then they left the stage, their biggest hit unsung.

“Chicken Shit!” they cried, “Chicken Shit Boogie.”

They came back out and rushed trough their big local hit not even trying to better the version that Ainsley had done with Foul Play earlier that night. They could have staggered through it and the crowd still would have loved it.

Hollywood Ezekiel Edwards stuck around long enough to introduce himself to Foul Play and to book a few of his acts into Club Crud’s schedule.

“Nothing for Vox Organum?” I heard Bullfrog ask.

“I can’t produce a band that won’t be produced,” he answered, but not before getting Bullfrog’s word that Foul Play would open for a sell-out draw before the year was up. What show it would be was left for a later date.

“Sweet,” I laughed, “Get ‘em the dates and then show ‘em the contract.”

Zeke looked me up and down.

“Smart man,” he said to my boss, “Keep on eye on him or he’ll steal your club.”

“You’ve got a new favorite house guy?” croaked Bullfrog, “I’m touched.”

Then they were out of earshot.

Freddy Falls arrived with his stretch limo to pick up Vox Organum and take them to a party near Jack London Square. Zeke knew about it, but he no longer cared.

Freddy was full of I-told-you-sos.

“What was that? PLAY THE GAME? Whoever heard of Play The Game?” I heard him saying, “Hit this. HIT THIS! If you think that’s what Vox Organum is all about you aren’t high enough yet!”

I stayed late to put the sound systems back the way they had been before Zeke had us change them around. That’s why I was there when Red and White came by, but hey, that’s another story.

© Mikkel McDow 2010