The Coach

We go on in 45 minutes. The place is a dump. The place is perfect.

It’s a typically hot Windsor night in July, with the air so thick you could
drown on dry land, and my bandmates and I have just arrived to play
our inaugural bar show at the Coach and Horses. Hipsters call this
place “The Roach and Corpses”. They’re not far off. The place is as
well known for its reputation as a live music venue as it is for its filth.
We descend the creaky wooden stairs, tilting our heads to pass under
the overhang and enter the pub. My eyes quickly tear from the
amount of smoke hanging in the air. I press them shut to adjust to
the darkness of the bar. Greg and Sarah go to meet friends; Jeff does
the meet and greet with the headliners.

The Coach is an L-shaped cavern chiseled in concrete and trimmed
with wood. It looks like an Englishman’s, partly furnished basement
taken over by all the no good punk kids of the neighbourhood.
Concert posters plastered over pastoral shots of gentlemen on
their carriages and courtly Victorian scenes.

The ceiling’s so low I can touch it without fully extending my arm. I
say a quick prayer hoping tonight is not the night the old building
finally collapses in on itself.

The bartender’s making the rounds, inserting sticks of incense into
slots notched into the support beams scattered throughout the bar. As
if something so small could overcome the cold, musty, fishy smell of
the place.

The stone fireplace in the north wall isn’t being used tonight, but they
do have the candles going. A single green candlestick stuck in an
empty liquor bottle on each table, held in place by the melted remains
of those that have burned before them.

Sarah walks over, smiling at me, “Does it get more rock and roll than
this?”

“Only if I was snorting blow out of a hooker’s bellybutton.”

She laughs and calls me an asshole. I agree with her.

I weave through the tables towards the bar. The hardwood floor has
swollen and bubbled in spots, and my feet sink in as I walk over them.
I order my beer and the cute bartender with the eyebrow piercing and
the armband tattoo pulls a mug from the hooks attached to the ceiling.
All the glasses are different.

I pay for my beer and walk back to the stage, spilling some of it as I
navigate through the soft spots in the hardwood. Onstage, Greg
struggles with his guitar. It lets out a spiraling spike of feedback that
catches me right in the eardrum.

“Every time I turn this amp past six I get nothing but skreehonk,” he
says. I shrug. It’s hardly my area of expertise, so I settle behind the
drum kit, making minor adjustments to the angles of the toms and the
position of the cymbals. Soon Greg’s worked out his feedback problem
and the others are taking their positions. Greg, Sarah and Jeff, left to
right, as always.

They check the mics and amps to ensure they’re on and working, then
turn to me. They can’t start until I count them in.I look at the three of
them, my dear friends and musical comrades, and a swell of pride
surges in my chest. For the next 45 minutes, I’ll hold us together;
keep us locked in time and meter as best I can, and they’re ready to
throw themselves backwards into the abyss, confident that I’ll catch
them and hold them safe.

This moment, as we’re about to begin, is bursting with possibility. I
have rarely been happier. I raise my sticks.

Click… click… click… click…

2003

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