A Typical Gig (There Never Was)

by nielskunze on August 24, 2011

(Author Narration– a bit sloppy; sorry ’bout that– with musical accompaniment by three fifths of Missing Peace– Ian, Chris and Niels– studio run-throughs from around 2000. The songs: Islander, So I, and Spanish Stucco… rhythm section only.)

Niels, Ian, Cory, Shane & half a David

That blazing star called Missing Peace had long ago risen above the blurred horizon of contemporary rock ’n roll, had streaked boldly across the sky like a Zen Master’s brush across a blank and hungry canvas, and had settled into the contented afterglow of fat cigars and warmed-brandy Sundays beside a crackling fire at the local pub. Okay, okay, perhaps our musical career had been something more akin to a soggy firecracker sputtering and fussing in the piss-soaked alley behind a stripper bar— working up the gumption for a really big bang which too often turned into the flapping of lips and the dull thud of Al falling from his barstool again. “Who is Al?” you might ask… Short for alcoholic… an acronym for Ass Licker… or usually just that Asshole Loudmouth who’s always yelling “Play some ACDC!” Thoughts like daggers— “Fuck you buddy!”— would shoot from our eyes as Cory would step up to the mic and cordially say “Hey man, we don’t know any ACDC. Sorry man.” Like this is something to be sorry about? Or perhaps the sublime intricacies of ACDC’s superlative compositional skill was something quite beyond our abilities to adequately reproduce? Yeah right. I’ve had farts that were more tuneful than their best efforts.

Anywho… the truth about Missing Peace now was that the band had been… well, dis-banded, de-funked, dis-solved for several years already. Shane was just visiting from a thousand miles away. (Some may argue that this was a considerable improvement as Shane always had the uncanny knack of being more than a million miles away while simultaneously sitting right there beside you in the tour bus. But don’t worry though; when we really needed him, he was always there singing his guts out.) And Cory was “officially” just visiting too, but the nudge-nudge-wink-wink truth of it was that he was looking to move back into the Valley pending some kick-ass employment opportunity. Just shush, don’t tell his girlfriend— they haven’t gotten around to discussing it yet. Ian, Chris and yours truly had hunkered down in the Valley, setting some creative roots into the hard bedrock of our past endeavors, trying to build something new from the hard lessons learned from wild escapades long spent. We had just begun to re-spark the “collaborative mind,” to re-explore the old chemistry— making from jagged bits of sound something smooth and gelled— not quite jam with its myriad seeds and bits of pulp; more like an audio pudding: rum and raisin. The proof, after all, is in the pudding, eh? and ours was usually 80 proof at least! especially now with Shane and Cory back in the mix.

I was busy jacking this into that, twisting and fiddling with knobs, ponderously assessing Cory’s licks, Ian’s slap and tickle, Chris’s hard driving beat and Shane’s squeals and moans when the call came in. Of course we didn’t hear the ring, but Ian whipped out his vibrator, put it to his ear and said in the businesslike manner we’ve come to expect “Ian here.” His face became puzzled and remained so for a lengthy interval as though it was a 500-piece jig-saw of just clouds and sky— virtually unsolvable. And then suddenly the clouds parted and the light beamed from Ian’s countenance. Excitement twittered and sparkled to a crescendo his eyes could no longer contain. “Yes, of course,” he assured the voice on the other end. “I’m sure they will.” The rest of us had begun to deduce that Ian was speaking on our behalf. Curiosity was piqued. “No, actually we broke up a few years ago, but as luck would have it we’re all here now. We just started jamming.” He went on to say something about fate and serendipity, and we were all silently begging him to hang up the damn phone and tell us what the hell was going on! … Sheesh!

He had booked us a gig. Just like that Missing Peace was back in business. Ian still had a touch of the old magic, making the finest and tastiest shit just fall in our laps once again. (I still don’t know how they got Ian’s cell number.) So, this weekend, we were off to Haida Gwaii. The festival headliners had cancelled last minute, and we’d always been on their call-back list, having made a good impression a few years back. Missing Peace hadn’t played in more than two years, and now we were headlining in the Charlottes! Wow!

Flights were hastily booked; arrangements were made. Schedules were tight, but we could just cram it in. Chris had already committed himself to a gig on Thursday night in Invermere— he’s a singer/songwriter and guitar player now; the whole drumming thing is more like a badly kept secret or an illicit affair— he’ll do it when necessary, but we just don’t talk about it much in public. I’m his soundman, so I’d be in Invermere too. Ian, Cory and Shane would have to pack up the motor home, swing through town to pick us up after the gig, then we’d drive through the rest of the night to catch an early morning flight on Friday from Calgary. We’d make it to the island late on Friday afternoon just as the festival was getting underway. That was the plan. Of course, that’s not what happened, not by a long shot. But I’m getting ahead of myself here… (does that mean I’m now looking at my own ass?… Hmm, not bad.)

Details… plot lies heavy and thick among the very finest of details. A good story is like a good bowl of borscht: without just the right subtle blend of spice, that dollop of sour cream and that fresh sprig of parsley, it’s just mushed up beets. Sure it’ll fill you up, even stain your poo purple, but in the end it won’t quite satisfy that hunger which lies deep below the periodic growling of bellies.

It had always been an unspoken embarrassment that Missing Peace had never officially released a second album. Flash-in-the-pan, fly-by-night, one-hit-wonder— derisive clichés we had no right to shun— we had never whipped out the proverbial meat which our adoring fans could rightly sink their teeth into; we hadn’t proven our staying power. No, flaccidly, we’d zippered up, and just walked away. So when the festival promoters had asked us about any new releases we could only stammer and gibber away about numerous works-in-progress, dusty archival recordings— live shit and such, and a few scattered gems mixed down to minidisk. But no, I’m sorry sir, we don’t have a new CD to promote. “Well bring the minidisk or any ADAT tapes. I’ve got my own studio here. We can mix something down, do a quick mastering job and press a couple hundred copies. We’ll promote it as a limited edition, just a one-shot deal. If you play a good set, they’ll eat it up.” Kick ass!… if we play a good set.

Fast-forward to Thursday night: Chris’s gig had gone well. He sold a half-dozen of his first CD and stirred up interest in the second which was currently in production. It had been a scaled-down affair, a coffee shop gig, kind of a pre-release party— just Chris, his guitar and a microphone. Now you’re wondering why he’d need a soundman for such a simple set up? All I can tell you is that I had him sounding sweet— and that it sucks being totally by yourself. I recorded the show too on my new 16-track portable studio— a bit of overkill since I only needed two tracks.

The rest of the guys picked us up in Roxy just after one a.m. They’d spent the evening going over all the tunes we hadn’t played in years, nailing down structures and cues— and just remembering which damn notes to play! By the time we hit the road we were all pretty exhausted. Now, I’m the type of guy who usually checks all the gear— making sure that all the pieces are there with all the proper connectors and that some crucial knob, slider or toggle switch hasn’t been busted off during the last loading up. But I was tired. It was a motor home. I took a nap instead.

I woke up somewhere near the top of Storm Mountain feeling much refreshed. Chris was at the wheel. Cory was riding shotgun. Ian was sitting on the beer cooler between them— manning the bar so to speak. Shane was snoozing in the back. Ah, just like old times. I climbed down from the overhead sleeper to finally do my anal-retentive check of the gear. At the first cursory inspection my heart began to beat considerably faster. Over the next few minutes I walked a half kilometer pacing up and down the motor home searching frantically but to no avail. Finally I tapped Ian on the shoulder and asked “Where’s my guitar?”

The sudden in-breath, that little gasp which Ian does when he has that spontaneous revelation which can only mean “Oh shit!” is really something to behold. It’s as though the earth has fallen away beneath our feet, and if Ian sucks in his breath ever-so-abruptly with just the right vocalization: kind of a “Huh!” with eyes thrown wide— then maybe, just maybe, we won’t all fall into the gaping maw of hell and perish instantly. Of course as soon as I heard that infamous sound I knew that my guitar was chillin’ and groovin’ on its own somewhere back in Fairmont.

“We’ll buy you a new one when we get there… Or in Calgary.” Ian was scrambling. He knew that I wouldn’t be so easily appeased.

I didn’t really feel like arguing with Ian. (Big horn sheep are wise enough to avoid butting heads with him.) In six years I had never played a show without that guitar. I knew its quirks, its temperament, its feel— and it knew mine. I didn’t bother explaining these things, I just cut straight to the chase. “The minidisk is in my guitar case.”

I thought he might do the sucky, gaspy in-breath thing again, but instead he just said “Fuck!”

We didn’t have to tell him; Chris was already turning around. No one could turn around a twenty-three-and-a-half-foot RV on a two-lane highway like Chris. And he’s the type of guy who doesn’t wait for the argument to play itself out to a nice bottom-line conclusion. He was at the wheel; he had the power; the decision was made.

“We’re gonna miss our flight.” Nobody was arguing with Ian now either. He was probably right.

The trip back to Fairmont was agonizing. I felt terrible. I hadn’t set out my guitar to be packed with the rest of the gear. I had left it down in my room. I couldn’t really blame the guys for forgetting to take it. And then I didn’t get around to checking for it until it was pretty much too late. It felt like Fate’s evil twin had put a spell on me and then conspired with his second cousin, Bad Luck, to effectively shut down Missing Peace’s resurrected aspirations. The whole gig was in serious jeopardy.

Well, we got the guitar and the minidisk, and Chris pushed Roxy to her limit which, unfortunately, was only about 120 kmph downhill with a tailwind. At 7:10 we were on McKnight Blvd. approaching the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:35. But flights are notoriously late, right? We tried to convince ourselves, bolster our hopes. We stepped out of Roxy at 7:31 to begin the race through the terminal. We arrived at the appropriate boarding gate just in time to see our plane taxiing out to the runway. Ian began issuing demands to any airport personnel he could find. “Stop that plane! You have to get on the phone and turn that plane around!” A very sympathetic janitor was so impressed with Ian’s intensity that I’m sure if he’d had a phone he would have dialed up the pilot right there and then. Instead, we watched flight 709 to Prince Rupert take off without us. Bummer!

Now what? When things fall apart someone invariably asks “Now what?” It was Shane. Cory was pretty quick with the answer informing us that we had passed a twenty-four hour bar on our recent Flash Gordon tour of the terminal. Leave it to Cory; he’d always know where we could get more beer. Ian, Chris and I were pretty tired, so we rented a cheap day-room. We decided that we could phone Tairn, the festival organizer, later that afternoon to break the bad news to him, that we’d missed our flight. Oops!

Shane and Cory went to the bar.

We overslept. The crushing weight of this sudden defeat knocked us halfway to oblivion; the sweet senselessness of dreamless slumber afforded us a brief respite from our frantic futility. We had lost perhaps the best gig of our careers, and I went to sleep knowing that it was essentially my fault. When we woke up ten hours later we were in a panic again— but I must admit that this “panic” had lost much of its urgency; it was more of a mild distress or perhaps a watered-down guilt. It was already a couple of hours past the time our flight was due to arrive in Haida Gwaii. By now the festival personnel had realized that Missing Peace was not aboard, that we were not coming, that we’d fucked up big time. We’d intended to phone, to give them the heads up, but now we’d missed that opportunity too. “Is your cell on?” asked Chris suddenly. I turned to Ian too. “Yeah, why didn’t they call right away when they discovered we weren’t on the flight?” Weird.

Ian’s phone was perfectly fine. We headed on down to the bar to find Cory and Shane, and then get a bite to eat. Then we’d call Tairn in Haida Gwaii.

The bar was moderately busy, and kept filling up throughout our stay. We had Cory and Shane join us at a table on the main floor and we all ordered dinner. I began to notice part way through our meal that the other patrons were gathering around the various television sets scattered throughout the establishment. They seemed quite riveted to whatever story was airing on the local news. Our table was out of earshot so I asked Shane if he knew anything about it from when he and Cory were sitting at the bar. “Yeah, something about a plane crash,” he answered. “Freakin’ terrorists, man,” joked Cory. You had to forgive them— Cory and Shane I mean. They’d been drinking for nearly twenty-four straight hours now; the poor little lightbulb was submerged in buckets of Kootenay Mountain Ale. Who could tell if the light came on or not? Ian and I rushed to the nearest screen to listen in. Our intuitions were confirmed in less than a minute as the reporter referred to “downed flight 709, bound for Prince Rupert.” There were no survivors. Holy shit!

From being the goat to being the hero, just like that— I couldn’t believe it! Yes, I had caused us to miss our flight— and yes, I had saved our freakin’ lives as a result— thank you very much! Ian was already on the phone to Tairn. (I never did find out if Tairn was a first name, a last name, a nick-name or something else entirely. But then my name is Niels, so I should talk eh?) Well, it turns out that the festival organizers had just announced to their Friday night crowd that Missing Peace had perished en route and they were uncertain that the festival would continue at all. Ian assured Tairn that we were more determined than ever to be his headliners if we could just find a way to get there in time… Missing Peace— back from the dead!

Tairn had a buddy with a private jet. They told us to sit tight at the Calgary airport; they’d come get us. Now that’s more like it. The whole situation was kind of ridiculous, quite hilarious really. I mean sorry about those who died in the crash and all, but our old magic— the Missing Peace charm— was gloriously intact and fully operational. Sit tight and wait for the private jet indeed… “Barkeep! This calls for a round of your finest scotch!”

Now we were all pretty cut. Being back from the dead was one of the finest reasons to celebrate if ever there was one. The party really got going when Cory ordered a round of Zombies— a most fitting aperitif for the undead— and probably would have lasted considerably longer if Shane hadn’t suddenly gotten up to say “I gotta phone Kim.” At that, Ian did the sucky-gaspy thing again and the lightbulb dimly lit the bottom of the beer barrel in the rest of us too. “Oh shit, they all think we’re dead.” We all then phoned our families, and they readily forgave our drunkenness, were reluctant to forgive our tardiness, but were really quite happy with our livingness.

Tairn scooped us up and poured us into our seats in “Buddy’s” jet. (I never caught “Buddy’s” name. I’m sure I was told several times, but I’m terrible with names, especially when I’m swimming in scotch.) The flight was largely uneventful other than bringing an odd shade of green to the cheeks of some of my band-mates. These small aircraft can make for a rollicking good ride!

From our very first appearance in Haida Gwaii this time around we were instant celebrities. The only thing known to man that travels well beyond the speed of light is a rumor among a rural island community. Everyone had heard of Missing Peace by now— twice: first that we were all dead— boo! And second, that we were coming to you live tomorrow night— yay! Such a turnout at the Haida Gwaii festival was unprecedented. The whole island turned up at the festival site, and a schwack of outlanders too from the surrounding isles kept pouring in. We knew that it had little to do with our music credentials; they all just wanted to see the five lads with horseshoes crammed up their butts. If God does indeed play favorites, they wanted to sample the same divinely-sanctioned groove-fest themselves. God bless them all!

By the time we took to the stage, it was easily the largest audience we had ever played to. Our introduction, delivered by Tairn himself, was big on the miraculous resurrection and the unlikely circumstances of our arrival, and decidedly lacking in anything about the merits of our music. But we were okay with that; we were prepared to let the music speak for itself. A set of live music doesn’t actually sound any better just because the MC is a Master of Crap and unrestrained hype— it’s really just that most of the hypnotized masses (especially those tending to worship the likes of ACDC) think that it does… Just give us a fair shake.

Before we began to play, Cory stepped up to his mic— don’t worry, he’d had time to sober up, though he still looked a bit rough from close up. “Um, hello Haida Gwaii.” (Good to use the local, native name.) “I’d just like to say that the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.” It actually got a sizable laugh from the audience. Cory had planned to rip into the introductory lick of our opening number right then— sort of an in-your-face-see-we’re-very-much-alive kind of affair, but just as his hand was poised to strike the first chord, Shane piped up. “Before we get started…” Damnit! What now?

I had always silently objected to the long pauses, the dead air, which had invariably become part of the Missing Peace repertoire in the past. I firmly believed that when a band was on stage, they should play music. Keep the chit-chat to a minimum. In the past we had been notorious for arguing on-stage about what song to play next. Sometimes these “discussions” could last several minutes. Meanwhile the audience has fallen asleep, gone out for a bite, or simply gone home because they assumed that the show must be over. I hated it. This time, however, it turned out to be a brilliant move. Kudos Shane! After Cory’s little joke, Shane had the audience, along with the band, observe a minute of silence in respect for all those who perished in flight 709. You could’ve heard a gnat fart during that minute. When Cory’s hand finally pounced on that opening riff the sheer drama evoked in the contrast from a reverential silence to the sound of sheet metal ripping delivered the audience snugly into our keeping for the next ninety minutes.

Remembering “what damn notes to play” was not an act of volition. Our conscious minds were obviously not involved— for we played flawlessly. We were once again caught up in something much bigger than five swollen egos yammering for attention. We didn’t have to think about what we were doing; we all just listened to ourselves and each other— and we were amazed. We followed a script which had long been written and faithfully programmed into us by higher powers. Some moments are so perfect and pristine that absolutely no power on Earth can fuck them up. Ours lasted for an hour and a half… Yes!

But this was not the climax— at least not for me, nor, I think, for my band-mates. The real climax— the emotional peak— came a moment after the final “big rock ending” faded into the clamorous wash of a thousand cheering voices. We laid our instruments to rest and turned to each other. Cory, Shane, Chris, Ian and Niels met at center stage. We pressed our sweaty foreheads together in a tight circle and embraced Missing Peace— that undying, unstoppable, magical creature which each of us would always cherish as family— yes, family; there is no better word. And the audience too felt something special in that moment. If a thousand people can go bat-shit crazy over five guys in a group hug, then maybe there’s still hope for this rat race called humanity. And I don’t know for sure whether it was just beads of sweat— some of us can really work up a good schwitz— but the rain which fell upon our bare or sandaled toes I will always choose to remember as tears of absolute joy… Thanks.

We didn’t have time before the show to burn anything from minidisk onto CD, but we used the 16-track to record our live set. In the days following the show we hung around the Charlottes mixing and mastering. Then we sold out 500 copies in about a day and a half.

If you happen to own a disc from that memorable night, you have a truly rare and valuable gem. Cherish it.

N.K. 2005

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