“-and I know from experience that these reps like a tight set that gets the crowd going and showcases our potential as a band. Which means a mix of our own stuff and songs that we cover, yeah, but with our own take on them. It’s not like we do ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ just the way Sonny and Cher do. We give it a twist.”
“We are not doing a Sonny and Cher song here tonight!” Ted yelled. “No way, man. I am not going to be the G Flats for this chick. That’s wedding crap. Forget it.”
“It was just an example,” Lucas said flatly. “We can do another song. Calm down, would you?”
“Hey,” Robert, the owner of Bendo, yelled from behind the bar, “you guys planning on actually working tonight?”
“Let’s go,” Ted said, standing up and finishing his beer.
“Did we even decide anything?” Lucas asked, but Ted ignored him as they made their way to the stage.
Dexter sighed, running his fingers through his hair. I’d never seen him like this, so on edge. “God,” he said softly, shaking his head. “This is so freaking stressful.”
“Stop thinking about it,” I told him. “Just go up there and play the way you always do. Thinking about it is throwing you off.”
“We sounded like shit, didn’t we?”
“No,” I said, which wasn’t entirely a lie. But Ted had been off-key, John Miller was showboating outrageously-tossing drumsticks in the air, missing them-and Dexter had mangled the words to “Potato Song Three,” a song that I knew he could, literally, sing in his sleep. “But you sounded unsure of yourself. Wobbly. And you’re not. You’ve done this a million times.”
“A million times.” He still didn’t sound convinced, however.
“It’s like riding a bike,” I told him. “If you actually think about it too much, you realize how complicated a concept it actually is. You have to just hop on and go, and not worry about the mechanics. Let it run itself.”
“You,” he said, kissing my cheek, “are so right. How can you always be so right?”
“It’s a curse,” I said, shrugging. He squeezed my leg and slid out of the booth, still tugging at his collar, and I watched him weave through the crowd, stopping to flick John Miller, who was still chatting up Scarlett, on the head as he passed. Ted put on his guitar, played a few random chords, and then he, Lucas, and Dexter exchanged glances and head nods, setting the game plan.
The first song was a bit unsteady. But then, the next was better. I could see Dexter relaxing, easing into it, and by the third song, when I saw the A &R chick come in, they sounded tighter than they had all evening. I recognized her immediately. First, she was a little old for Bendo, which catered to a college and younger crowd, and second, she was dressed entirely too fashionably for this small town: black pants, silky shirt, small black glasses just nerdy enough to be cool. Her hair was long and pulled back loosely at the base of her neck, and when she walked up to the bar for a drink, every one of the guys chatting up my girlfriends stopped to stare at her. By the time the song wound down, the crowd on the floor was thickening, and I saw Ted glance at the bar, see her, and then say something, quietly, to Dexter.
After the applause and hooting died down, Dexter tugged at his shirt collar and said, “Okay, we’re going to do a little number for you now called ‘The Potato Song.’ ”
The crowd cheered: they’d been playing Bendo long enough now that “The Potato Song,” and its many incarnations, was known. Ted started the opening bridge, John Miller picked up his sticks, and they launched into it.
I kept my eyes on the girl at the bar. She was listening, beer in hand, taking a sip now and then. She smiled at the line about the vegan princess, and again when the crowd chimed in and yelled, “sweet potato!” And when it was over, she clapped enthusiastically, not just politely. A good sign.
Feeling confident, they continued with another “Potato Song.” But this one wasn’t quite so strong, and the crowd didn’t know it as well. They gave it a good shot, the best they could, but it sounded flat, and at one point John Miller, who’d only recently learned the new part, screwed up and lost the beat for a second. I saw Dexter flinch at this, then tug his collar. Ted was looking everywhere but at the bar. They launched right into another original song, one not even about potatoes, but it too sounded off, and they cut it short after two verses, ditching the third.
By now the A &R girl seemed distracted, almost bored, looking around the club and then-very bad sign-at her watch. Ted leaned over and said something to Dexter, who shook his head quickly. But then Lucas stepped forward, nodding, and Ted said something else, and Dexter finally shrugged and turned back to the microphone. John Miller tapped out a beat, Ted picked it up, and they launched full force into an old Thin Lizzy song. And suddenly the crowd was right with them again, pressing up closer. And after the first verse, the A &R chick ordered another beer.
When the song was over, Ted spoke to Dexter, who hesitated. Then Ted said something else, and Dexter made a face, shaking his head.
Just do it, I thought to myself. Another cover won’t kill you.
Dexter looked at Lucas, who nodded, and I relaxed. Then the first chords began. They sounded so familiar, somehow, as if I knew them in a different incarnation. I listened for a second, and the realization grew stronger, as if it was just at the tip of my mind, close enough to touch. And then, I got it.
“This lullaby,” Dexter sang, “is only a few words…”
Oh, my God, I thought.
“A simple run of chords…”
It sounded more retro and lounge-singer-esque, the maudlin aspect that had made it a wedding and lite FM favorite now twisted into something else, something self-mocking, as if it was winking at its own seriousness. I felt a drop in my stomach: he knew how I felt about this. He knew. And still, he kept singing.
“Quiet here in this spare room, but you can hear it, hear it…”
The crowd was loving it, cheering, some girls along the back row singing along, hands on their hearts, like washed-up divas on the Labor Day telethon.
I looked over at the bar, where Chloe was staring right at me, but she didn’t have a smug look, instead something even worse. It might have been pity, but I turned my head away before I could know for sure. And a few seats down from her, the A &R chick was swaying, smiling. She loved it.
I got up from the booth. All around me the crowd was singing along to the song, one they’d heard all their lives too, but never quite in the context that I had. To them it was just old and sappy enough now to be nostalgic, a song their parents might have listened to. It was probably played at their bar mitzvahs or sisters’ weddings, trotted out about the same time as “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “Butterfly Kisses.” But it was working. The appeal was obvious, the energy coming through the crowd so strongly, the kind of response that Ted, in a million potato dreams, wouldn’t even have hoped for.