We got busted for sneaking 48 cans of Coors Banquet into the Cathay DeGrande one night.
We loaded through the front doors innocently enough, Dobbs nodding us in as we carried naked guitars in one hand, and in the other guitar cases heavy with Rocky Mountain Lagers.
We left the stage looking like a hoarder’s rumpus room, El Duce pantless and snoring beneath a pyramid of aluminum cans.
After that drunken night, we were searched for smuggled booze each time we played there.
Years later, when some of the larger and greedier venues allowed us through their gates, they’d check to make sure you weren’t sneaking merch in the Anvil cases.
Can’t have the band avoid count-in and the 20 percent cut they got out of the inflated T-shirt sales, now can we? Fuckers.
Post 9-11, load in at the Downtown Disney House of Blues became nothing less than a military exercise.
You had pass a thorough security check before they would lower the phallic bollards for entry.
Cheerless dogs would sniff at us not for pharmaceuticals, but explosives.
Mirrors on poles were shoved under the van to peek at its underside, a colonoscopy of the machinery to ensure we weren’t carriers of some terrorist cancer.
And so it goes, being in a band through the decades.
You learn to comply to the latest protocol, to submit to the latest safeguards.
The world thinks up new horrors, and the punk adapts and continues on, bouncing pinball-like against and off the latest obstacle, onward toward the flashing lights once again.
Bring us up to 2020, and on one muggy Saturday we queue up at check point to have our temperatures checked and recent medical history reviewed.
We point our smartphone dumbly at QR codes and wait for a 3 page questionaire to pop up. We have to think hard as we are asked if we have had contact with the infected:
Has a Zombie bitten you? Be truthful now….
Inside, the venue is impressive, not only for its production setup and gear, but for the medicinal cleanliness of the facilities. Arrows along the floor keep us wandering in a clockwise path through the warehouse, lest we actually confront another human face to face and breathe a shared droplet of disease.
We say hello to the usual Soto devotees, Greg Antista and 2 Bags, Jorge and Frank Agnew.
Efrem and the kids of BadCopx2.
We shout muffled hellos through fabric, extend elbows to bump.
It feels like a gig-almost.
Thankfully, the greenrooms are air-conditioned, clean if not a tad antiseptic.
I mean, what we would give to sink into those germ laden couches in the black dressing rooms we love!
The contact risk of scabies and crab just another charming risk in the name of RocknRoll!
But we are here for a good cause, to play the songs of our fallen brother Soto on the eve of his birthday. Cathy Mason has graciously allowed us to be part of the show, along with all these other people who miss the big fella so much.
Fittingly, the proceeds of the show will go towards Save Our Stages, an organization that hopes to have venues still there when this madness clears.
Good ol Joe Sib is there to act as emcee, his constant patter a comfort as the room is heavy with the absence of audience. In fact, the whole day is eerily calm and quiet.
We go up and do our song, searching the black lenses of the cameras for any sign of life, listening for the slightest response from the few stagehands scattered through the hall.
We send Steve’s song Everybody into the void, and it’s like tossing a valuable gem off a cliff just to hear its reassuring crash on a distant bottom.
The stage manager gives us the cut sign and we’re out as the show switches to a video feed of Kevin Seconds beaming his sweet song down from Sacramento.
And then it’s silent once again, masks are replaced over our smiles.
We roll up the guitar cords, and for once they are not filthy, sticky with spilled beer.
No one comes up to the stage and asks for a setlist or pick, no one comes by to tell us that we really sucked tonight.
I miss that.
I stare into the camera’s dead lens, at my image inverted and black, wondering at the new digital distance between this and the audience.
Is this how it will be, if at least for a while?
Will the music and visceral beat, the sweat and smell be reduced to a binary sentence of 1s and 0s, and fed to the screens of people so far away?
Greg and the fellas come out to set up for their turn to wade in the stream, but I stay on stage a moment longer.
It’s been too long since I’ve stood on one.