Recently, at the ripe (but not starting to smell yet kind of ripe) old age of nearly 49 I fulfilled a lifelong fantasy of performing with a band at an actual venue. Venue admittedly a lofty word to describe a dive bar that features pull-tabs, and a large proprietor in train-engineer-style overalls and snowy white beard flowing down his broad chest (who could easily pass as one of my Huge Scottish Uncles) serving up beer and wine and maybe a bag of chips with a gruff attitude. Yet, it was a pleasantly hot summer night in trendy West Seattle, and it was the first officially public performance for our little get-together-and-play-for-fun band, The Basementeurs, so venue it shall be. So much more exotic, so French, so not dive bar.
Joe and I were the first band members there, parking in the alley of the bar and trucking our portion of gear past the curious smoking section, me tottering on heels balancing a large marimba half my size, swishing by in a snug black cocktail dress, a little excuse-me smile playing on my face, eyes downcast. Suddenly I felt like I was in junior high, walking through the field by the school past the flannel-shirted smokers, predecessors of Grunge – me all clean and good and innocent, finally starting to shed my baby-fat, homework all done, pack of matches in the bottom of my bag just in case someone asked me for a light, so I could, you know, be cool and fit in. Just in case. Only this time I was the Marimba Nerd. My guitar was coming in another car, so no chance to look cool carrying the case; no matches. Thirteen-year-old insecurities in a middle-aged body – ugh!
The bar was filling up with friends and family, and it was starting to feel like a party to me. It soon became apparent that the Coke I wisely chose instead of beer, for the sake of the show, was in fact a sugar-rush, a nerve-heightening mistake. Hannah fetches me a beer, bless her heart, especially for coming back from her vacation a day early just to see us, even though obviously exhausted. BFF in a Wilco tee-shirt. There are some technical delays, and I can sense the restless crowd, many of whom are there solely to see us. No pressure. Finally, we burst into our set with Ballad of John and Yoko, a decent warm-up song for all. The show is on! Joe’s singing and having fun being the bad-boy singer, looking cute in his Utilikilt, sexy playing sax. John on bass is the veteran and rock steady. Ever-smiling Scott on drums, hottie Heidi on keyboard, good; check. Kevin’s doing his lead guitar fiddly bits with flair. He looks kind of nervous so I start to look only at his fingers. I play rhythm guitar on the next two songs, Folsom Prison and Honey Don’t, trying to move around, dance a little, then I’m featured playing the aforementioned marimba in the Violent Femmes’ Gone Daddy Gone. I wail on that marimba! I hit the wood planks hard, with flourishes, threatening the microphone with my mallets, some off notes here and there, but it’s working. After all, I don’t really play the marimba, I only figured out this one song, but who knows? Plunk, plunk, plunk-plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk, PLUNK!! About midway through my solo I realize I’m the lead singer on the next song and I start to sweat. Or I should say, sweat more. (By the end of our set I’m so soaked, hair dark and dripping, Hannah asks with a mischievous smile if it’s been raining outside, and in fact I’m even wetter than after a shower as the water is pouring out of my skin.) After the song is over the crowd goes wild. Fun song!
Then I start out all soft on the next song, with only the tinkle of the keyboard to accompany me. It sounds to me like pre-scary scene music from the movies. I sing Because the Night, and my mind is in a thousand places at once as I simultaneously try to smile at the audience, wink at Hannah, who is delighted by the Patti Smith choice, sing, wonder if the sound-guy’s friend who used to date Natalie Merchant and loves this song is out there and hoping he’s not thinking I’m butchering his nostalgia, slip in a natural looking arm gesture here and there, tap my plat-formed foot, wonder if I’m having a hot-flash, and what am I doing here?!? Then I notice my cheeks are quivering, and hope my voice isn’t as well, or my stomach. Miraculously we make it through our 50-minute set without anyone having a heart attack, although I’m pretty sure I look like I did. There are some rough moments, but we shrug them off and go on, although I do call a Mulligan, a do-over, a hold everything Dick Tracy, that sucks! And then the song goes great. People are very forgiving when there is beer. Or love you. Or love you and are drinking beer.
After we clear out our gear we’re all giddy with the fact that it’s over, and that we didn’t suck so bad. I think I hug everyone in the bar. One of our newfound, self-proclaimed groupies giggles at me and says, “She said gig!” when I thank them for coming. I am profuse with thanks; thank you to our friends, to the next band for letting us open for them, to the sound guy, for the friend video-taping, to the smoker-lady out back who called me adorable before the show and after and made me feel like a cuddly puppy with lipstick, all warm and fuzzy. I understand now the performer’s high, that natural euphoria – it’s because we survived what seems like a near-death experience. I just give a big sweaty sigh of relief, until later that night when we’re asked by the band and bar to come back and open for them again this Fall….I feel a sweat coming on.