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It was raining in Pittsburgh when we arrived and seemed much darker than it should have been for mid-afternoon. There was no thunder, just sheets of rain, the water seemingly warm but the gusts of wind cold. My thumb ached.

The venue was a general-admission type club, but a big one, with a clean dance floor and immense rig for lights. Despite the cleanliness of the place the air was stale with cigarette smoke and spilled beer.

We all helped with load in to speed things up as we were in a No Parking Zone and the sanctioned place to park the truck was two blocks away. I hadn’t realized it before, but the change in venue made the show earlier, as well. The club promoters were going to put us on at six p.m., then clear the place out after we were done and let the disco crowd in. They did the same thing with live shows the Citi Club in Boston and it didn’t really affect me one way or the other. A bigger place was good news, no matter what.

The backstage area was a basic unoccupied office kind of space that was literally behind the stage, a short hallway with one big room on one side, and two small rooms on the other, one of which was also a storeroom for broken, unused, or out-of-fashion lights. We moved ourselves happily into the big room and I once again began to think of my life as a long parade of secondhand couches. These had sheets over them as if they might be too hideous too contemplate. The walls were painted completely black with occasional glittery graffitoes, band names mostly, and some bumper stickers.

A club employee wearing a bunch of laminates around his neck stuck his head in to tell Carynne that someone had dropped the ball on catering and what did we want. She told him to come back in five minutes. There was plenty of stuff around, pizza shops, a pinball arcade, etc. and I suggested they ought to give us all the bottled water and beer we could drink and a hundred extra bucks and we’d fend for ourselves on food. The PA had been rented for the occasion and took longer to debug than usual. Digger stayed with us while Carynne went to the hotel to get our rooms set up. In other words, things were in their usual logistical frenzy of preparation.

And eventually it was time to go on.

I had not forgotten what it was like to play to a dancing, jumping crowd, with people pressed close against the foot of the stage, as much sweat and smoke and heat coming from them as there was from us. The air was humid with rain and the air of people. With my eyes closed I could sense them, and I played notes out into them like a beauty queen throwing kisses. Every now and then Ziggy would catch my eye and kind of do a little shuffle-dance, but I’d look away, into the sea of faces. With the smaller size stage here I spent all my time right up at the front, while Intellibeams pierced fake fog like rays of god light, and police lights twirled above the dance floor. My thumb hurt a little but not enough to do anything about. The crowd was going proverbially wild and I wondered what radio stations here played us. The truce between me and Ziggy held and the show went without major mishap.

When we came off stage, Christian poured half a bottle of spring water over his head and then put his wet hand on my shoulder (which was almost equally wet with sweat), and said “Thank the lord above, praise the lord” in a voice that was supposed to sound Southern preacher but came out a bit like a Richard Nixon impression. Then he added in his own voice, “I knew it wouldn’t last.”

“Knew what wouldn’t last?” As if I didn’t know.

“I think you just needed to get back in touch with the audience, Boss.”

“Yeah, now if only I can get back in touch with you and Bart, we’ll be in business again.”

“Me and Bart can take care of ourselves,” he said and took a series of long gulps from the bottle.

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