Episode 54: Taking Souls
The Youtube video of Simon trying out as a bass player goes viral. Jax clutches himself laughing when he sees Simon play with the guitar upright on a chair. Uppsala is a metalcore band, not a string quartet. Jon tells him. Do it again. Simon does it again, swaying wildly around the upright guitar on the chair. Jon looks down at the floor and just shakes his head as Rolf and the students laugh. Sling up, Simon. Play like Jax. One of the students tells him. Simon hangs the strap low, so his hands are free, and plucks a string every five seconds, smiling and pointing out students in the audience. Is this song in A sharp? He asks looking around at the others. A continent away, Mike breaks out laughing at the inside joke. Finally, Simon gives up and pulls out his rhythm guitar, and he and Rolf sit together and play Whitewashed. Arpeggios are fun to play, Jon tells his students. Rolf switched it up a little and was doing legatos. The students just nod and then glance at each other.
Ramon waits in the parking lot next to Jon’s Tuscan in a brand new Mazda 3 Premium hatchback when the guys come out of the community college after class. Hop in and check out my fiance’s new car. Jon puts his gear away, while Simon goes over and sits in the front seat. Rolf and Jon get in the back.
Did you take care of the pictures? Jon asks Ramon. Yes. They’re swapped out. What did you put in their place? Duplicates of a picture of Lana and Jax happy together. Then welcome aboard. Let’s go grab a beer, Rolf says.
Uppsala. To taking souls. Rolf toasts. They clink their mugs together and each take a sip of their Guinness. Ramon gives Rolf a puzzled look. It’s the sickly look on their face when we perform their own material better than them. That’s the objective anyway. If nothing else, we’re going to sell a lot of records for them, Simon adds grinning.
We’re just a tribute band, while we each explore different creative outlets and round out our abilities as traveling musicians, Jon says. The plan is to only do two or three set openings for other acts. So you’re all just doing this to fill the time until Jax gets well? Lana killed SH5 when she took out Jax, Simon says. But we enjoy performing, and like Rolf says, the joy is in the journey. This is a new genre for us. So why ABR? Ramon asks. Respect. Rolf answers curtly. They have mastery of their genre and are actively fighting complacency and pushing boundaries, Jon adds. And we want to see them get recognized, Simon emphasizes.
How are you coming along with the three set? Jon asks. I’ve got them down. Do you have any questions? Aren’t you going to hear me play? Bass usually doesn’t get stage volume, Rolf says grinning. As long as you’re tuned right, it’s more about the performance. We’re showmen. Show up and play Whitewashed for your audition, Don Ramon. He nods. They finish their beers and head out. Simon leaves a fifty on the table.
The following Thursday Ramon shows up with his bass guitar. This is D-R. Rolf tells the students. What’s up, doc? DeAndre quips, as Jon goes about doing setup. Rolf grins. Doc - I like it. Simon crosses his arms skeptically, and several of the students mirror him as Jon helps Ramon set up. Ramon puts on his headphones and then nods at Jon. He plays Whitewashed flawlessly. Simon nods his silent approval when he’s finished. We better call James, Rolf says.
The invitations to perform start pouring in.
A month later.
At their first show, opening for Parkway Drive, the guitars riff and the drums pound for two minutes with Jon just standing there with his head down, his shoulders hunched, and his hands clasped together in front of him, holding the microphone. Then - in the pickup after the downbeat, Rolf goes over to Jon and roars NOOOOWWWW into the microphone that he’s holding, and Jon snaps out of it, and starts doing the vocals.
Whisper your grief.
Scream your sorrow.
Proclaim your love.
Just don't call me your hero.
When the song is over, the fans just stand there stunned. And the band walks off the stage to silence. And social media lights up after the show.
BEST PERFORMANCE OF ALL TIME.
The band does a backstage interview with a Youtube vlogger as Parkway Drive rocks out with “Bottom Feeder”. Mad thanks to Winston and the guys for letting us get on their stage, Simon tells the interviewer. What was that song you played? “Antihero” James replies. We’re an August Burns Red tribute band, he explains. We rebadge their songs and tweak them a little. The song we covered is from ABR’s “Rescue and Restore” album; it’s called “Faultline”. I like the animated music video with the orange figurine, Jon says, looking down. The rest of the band quickly nods in agreement. (The number of views of said video quickly tops 10MM). So what happened up on stage? Did you choke? We just wanted to employ a minimalist take and let the music amplify the power of the lyrics, Ramon says quickly, and makes a cutoff motion to the interviewer.
The band posts an edited video with footage from the live show, to prerecorded studio lyrics. Uppsala “Antihero”. Bettina shows it to the Senator and the campaign staff in their rental house in Ohio. Why isn’t he singing? Senator Johns asks. No one answers. They eventually see the stage go dark and lights pulse as the drums cut out, and Rolf suddenly leaning over the microphone that Jon is holding in front of him and roaring NOOOWWWW. And Jon starts moving and then does the chorus. Rolf goes back to his original spot on the stage, and he and Simon give each other a nod from across the stage and switch places. Rolf and Ramon play next to each other. Ramon says something to Rolf and they each grin. Ramon screams the backup vocals into his mic, and as the song ends, raises the guitar over his head, and plays with his body arched for a moment. Jon ends the song, we have HOPE, and taps microphone against his chest twice.
Was it an act or did he actually get stage fright and his friend snapped him out of it? The Senator asks. Either way, it worked, Tim deadpans. Bettina clicks off. Lana? The Senator asks. I think they were testing the bass player, she replies. And he passed with flying colors.
Jax watches the livestream of the show. He sees Jon wearing hobo linen coveralls over a plain white tshirt. James pounds on the drums, and Rolf and Simon stand motionless, heads down, bent over their guitars, doing the intricate chording. Don Ramon glances over at Jon several times in puzzlement. Then the shock as Rolf paces over to the microphone and roars like a lion, all the while launching an epic guitar riff. Then Jon raises the mic and launches into the chorus, as he points out at the stunned crowd.
On the set of Predators II, the Sam calls her costars over to her chair. Check this out, she tells them. Uppsala “Antihero”. That’s my fiance, she tells everyone proudly, as they watch the concert footage. Jake puts his hands on his head, and bounds away when he hears Rolf. That is the best metal scream ever, he tells Sam, when he comes back a moment later. No, it’s not. She says. COOKIE, she growls. Everyone dies laughing, and a film crew captures the interaction for the DVD extras.
Raul and Tia watch the Youtube video in silence. We’ve lost him, Tia finally says when it’s finished. He’s been under the spell of the drummer ever since he met him, Raul agrees. He saved the show, Tia says. It was planned theater to complement the lyrics of the song, Raul replies. I don’t think so, judging by Ramon’s reactions. She presses replay.