Road Stories: The Show for Nobody

As I’ve said extensively elsewhere, I used to play in a metal band called Black Spiral. When we first started playing together, we were about 16, in high school, and just doing covers of Metallica songs and such. Our first gig ever was at a Catholic church Spring fair, where we played two nights (my only holdover to date) of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Back in Black” and “Cowboys from Hell” (yep) on a flatbed trailer. Years later, I was walking around our little suburb of Houston wearing a Black Spiral T-shirt, and a girl stopped me and said “Hey, I think I saw that band play at a church carnival one time. Did they ever get good?” To which I could only say, “Yes. They got awesome.” But that’s neither here nor there.

After we got awesome and wrote a bunch of our own music, we played fairly extensively in Houston for maybe 18 months or so. The high-water mark came when we opened for Acid Bath at The Abyss, my favorite ever (and now defunct, occupied by a home audio store) Houston music venue. The low point was most probably the night we got to play for nobody. And I mean frickin’ nobody.
Fitzgerald’s is a venue in Houston of decidedly mixed repute. They have hosted amazing shows, but the building has also gone through periods of utter disrepair.  They’ve got a big stage, which we always enjoyed, and a smaller stage downstairs, which I never particularly did. I was able to once play that stage like a bass drum, though, when my kit fell apart mid-song. Different story.
So we’d been playing at Fitzgerald’s off and on, and showed up for one of our gigs, playing with another band we’d played with before called Temper Scarlet. We liked them, because they usually drew a decent crowd, and after we walked off stage the first time they heard us, they called us “the heaviest thing they’d ever heard on six legs.” You take praise where you can get it.

At that time and place, all the bands got to the venue at the same time — ridiculously early, like 6 or 7 pm — to load in, and the show would start around 9:00. We were the first band to show up, and our guitarist, Ryan Dawe, who is from Canada and therefore plays hockey, had just had his toe stepped on by an ice skate. He gleefully watched as our bassist/vocalist Christopher Crowson and I did all of the loading in. Somebody was supposed to play before us, but they didn’t show up at a certain point, so the sound guy told us to go ahead and set up onstage. At the time, we were really taken with Sepurtura’s cover of Motorhead’s “Orgasmatron,” and knew how to play it, but not the words. So we went outside and got on a cell phone the size of a walrus, and called a friend who had the track on a bootleg CD. (I’m old) He listened to the song, and told us the words over the phone, which Chris scratched out on a sheet of paper. The Internet at this time was only a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, so this is how people did things back then.

This took a while, and when we went back inside, there were no fans, and none of the other bands showed up. But the sound guy told us to go on, so we got up and started playing. For the sound guy.

And that’s it. We played our set. Then we played “Orgasmatron,” with Chris propping the lyric sheet up on a floor monitor. But the bass rumble through the monitor kept knocking the lyrics off, so finally Chris stopped playing bass, and just held up the words, yelling them into the mic. What did it matter? Nobody was there. Nobody showed up. The other bands didn’t even show up, for God’s sake.

I am of the firm belief that if somebody offers you a stage, you take it, and you hold it for as long as you can. After we played pretty much everything we knew, nobody was going to run us off, and we’d seen a piano in the dressing room, so we went and grabbed it. Again, Dawe watched gleefully as Chris and I lugged this good-and-damn-heavy piano onstage. Dawe played piano pretty well, and had written a bunch of solo piano compositions. I don’t think I’d ever heard but maybe one of them. So he played those, and Chris and I improvised bass and drum parts for them. For nobody.

There is video of this somewhere, shot on grainy VHS, but I loaned it to Dawe when we were getting ready to record an EP of his piano material a couple of years later. And I have never again seen that tape. I’m looking at you, Dawe…

Incidentally, here’s Ryan’s EP, which is wonderful. I excavated and remastered it for the world to enjoy, so please do so. And also, come to the next Sci-Fi Romance show (CD release show — May 11, Pig ‘n Whistle, Hollywood), so I don’t have to play for nobody but the sound guy ever, ever again. That sucks.

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