November 21, 10:00 AM.
For a number of reasons, I have to skip the New York City show and head straight up to Rochester for the Monday night show. I have been very apprehensive about this one ever since it was announced. The club DH has been booked into, the Bug Jar, is tiny. The date also happens to be on a Monday–a tough night to draw a crowd to begin with.
Except it’s not just any Monday. It’s the Monday before the US Thanksgiving holiday, a time when most people, including metalheads, are resting up for the long weekend festivities.
I get a text from Karl telling me load-in is at six. But Mother Nature is having other ideas.
In order to get to Rochester, the band has to travel up the New York State Thruway and through Syracuse, the snow capital of the US. It’s a seven-hour drive on a good day, but today happens to be a bad one. A really bad one. Syracuse decides it is going to live up to its reputation, and DH have to drive through eighteen inches of freshly dumped lake-effect snow–the second snowiest November day in Central New York history.
4:24 PM. I get another text from Karl: “See ya when we see ya.” It’s accompanied by this picture:
It’s hurry-up-and-wait time.
6:30 PM. The roads in and around town are clear, and Tessa and I make the short drive from her home in Irondequoit to the Bug Jar with no problems at all. We chat for a while with some of the staff. There are supposed to be three support bands on the bill, but two of them have already dropped out. I take a look at the room and the tiny 12 ft. x 18 ft. stage. It’s not even big enough for one band, let alone two.
7:15 PM. Karl texts. They are in the hotel and will be there in twenty minutes.
7:40 PM. The band arrives and we spring into action. I dig out a snow bank to make load-in easier, and we have everything inside the club in minutes. Unlike Poughkeepsie, however, Karl isn’t assuming his normal setup duties. I walk past the van to see him talking animatedly on the phone. Things don’t look good.
For a few minutes, no one is sure what is going to happen. I hand a package of strings to Dean that he had shipped to Tessa’s house earlier in the day, and chat with Brian about last night’s show in New York City, which he felt had gone well despite his own performance.
Before long, Ras looks up and notices the club’s ceiling is decorated like an upside-down apartment. We enjoy a quick moment of fun as he does a headstand to make it look like he’s standing on top of the fridge.
Meanwhile, Karl heads into the club, still on the phone and more agitated than earlier. I try not to eavesdrop, but it’s hard not to hear words like “lawsuit” being bandied around. Given everything he has been through today, and given that he is still grieving the loss of his mother less than two weeks ago, he could be forgiven for blowing his top. But he remains calm and composed as he tries to take the professional high road.
Finally, Karl calls the band into a huddle at the front of the stage and explains the situation to them. Things get tense for a couple of minutes, and Tessa and I keep a respectful distance as they figure it all out. But to everyone’s relief, the conversation ends swiftly, and it’s back to business as usual–clearly, no one wants to bail on the show at this point.
The band stages their equipment as close as they can to the back wall in order to give the last remaining support band as much room as possible. I still remain doubtful that they will fit on the stage, but that’s for someone else to figure out.
Brian and I then venture downstairs to view the dressing room, which consists of a ratty sofa and a handful of plastic patio chairs, all nestled cosily next to the club’s furnace and a less-than-hygenic bathroom. Trooper that he is, Brian takes it all in stride.
Upstairs, Karl and Ras decide to venture out to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. Dean disappears, but Brian stays in the club, dining on the cold pasta the promoter has laid on for the band. Tessa and I decide to let the whole situation diffuse, and we leave to grab food somewhere else.
10:00 PM. Tessa and I get back to the venue to find that the third warmup band has also failed to show, so DH has finished setting up and are finishing up their soundcheck. Ras proceeds to do something I have never seen a singer do before: taking the microphone, he performs a sliding scale from his lowest note to his highest. He pauses, sings some individual notes, then tells the front-of-house mixer to notch down the 120 Hz frequency, which is resonating throughout the room. The soundman obliges, and the acoustic difference is immediately noticeable.
Then, before we know it, the band is tearing into “Wild in the Streets.”
There will be no “Mars” introduction tonight. Instead, we get a semi-drunk punter who is screaming “Diamond Head!” at the top of his lungs, trying hard to energize the other fifty onlookers. Thankfully for all concerned, he succeeds, and everyone gets into headbanging mode from the opening notes.
The band has had to compromise their show somewhat to adapt to the the size of the club. Ras has about four feet between the kick drum and the front of the stage in which to work, but to watch him from the back of the club you wouldn’t know.
Karl’s kit has shed a floor tom to fit into the available space, but no one is any the wiser as he executes the legendary Cozy Powell/Rainbow “Stargazer” drum intro note for note, leading the band out of “See You Rise” into a frenetic “Helpless.”
Considering the way the day has unfolded, Karl’s energy–heck, the whole band’s energy–is remarkable. Just once, during “Dead Reckoning,” fatigue sets in, resulting in a couple of missed cues during the time changes. But the band recovers quickly and builds up a huge head of steam for the “Prince”/”Shoot Out the Lights”/”It’s Electric”/”Am I Evil?” conclusion.
Brian’s guitar work is flawless as always, with his Engl amp blasting those familiar crunching riffs to the delight of the small group of fans that have congregated at his feet. They can’t believe their good fortune that they are this close to a metal icon on a miserable Monday night in their hometown.
11:45 PM. The crappy weather, the exhausting drive, the problems with the promoter and the low attendance are all forgotten. CDs and posters are signed for the faithful, photos are taken,
the van is packed for the next show in Ottawa and we say our goodbyes. I’ve never seen Karl so tired, but he still has time for one more bear hug and a joke before getting behind the wheel and heading off with the rest of the band into the frigid night.
Fifteen shows down, nine more to go on an exhausting month-long trip across the US. Part of me would love to take the rest of the journey with them. But a warm bed and a sane existence are calling more loudly.
“Safe travels, gentlemen,” I say, as the van makes its way down Monroe Avenue.
Until next time.