Without saying as much, we knew that we didn’t want to take it any higher yet. So after a while we unhooked the trio and let Mcshane know that we’d heard him, loved him, and now it was time to move on, because life’s just like that. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Tony had stood up and was moving, swaying rather than dancing, eyes closed and grooving. Back in the day that’d be bourbon or h slowly killing the singer while the people paid big money to watch ‘em die. An entire industry was born out of that criminal waste of human life. Two centuries of business experience pleaded youthful innocence while they knowingly fed artist after artist to their own demons. In their blissful ignorance some folks still thought those were the good old days. Nothing but bullshit. No, if it’s got to be a choice between alcoholic meltdown and art, I know what I choose. Death ain’t art. No how, no way. To believe it is, that’s a sickness in itself. No, when she worked Tony ran clean, always had. And now she was takin’ it in, running it over her mind, waiting for an invitation.
Then it came. Mcshane brought us back down, we settled, and finally he stood back exactly where he’d started, one note, jangly and dissonant, feedback only, back before the end of the world. I felt the space coming, closed my eyes and leaned back. If it was just me it’d be texture. If the guys felt it too then we’d hit it together. And that was exactly what happened. There. The door in. We all held the space and waited for a heartbeat. The lady didn’t need asking twice.
In that moment of silence you heard her breathe in, and the whole room held its breath. Tony would do that to you. She’d sigh, and everybody in the room would feel exactly the way she felt. That was her art. And that voice.
“She’s nothin’ but gone…”
The words sliced into me, hard and clean. But this wasn’t about me. I had no idea what she was up to, but I was damned if I was gonna let my friend work with anything less than my best. So I put it away and served it hot, Waits opened it up beside me and made it easier. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have standing there in that moment. I hoped he knew. We played it quiet and intense, let the voice set the scene.
The whole night was like that. We were all wide open and listening hard. Listening with your heart. It’s a tough place to be for so long. It feels so natural. And so naked. Like someone could reach in and cut out who you are and what you believe, leave you never able to hear like that again. But this night was about trust. And not about losing it. These people were too good, I wasn’t going to let them down. So we kept listening.
At one point deep into the night I realised I’d been staring at the crowd for a while, but hadn’t seen anything, I was so locked into the sound. I came to and turned to check in with Tony to see if she wanted the turnaround one more time. As I moved my mind caught more than my eyes, I almost stumbled as I tried to make sense of what I’d seen while keeping the groove. I didn’t have time to register much before I locked it with Tony. Her face told me she’d noticed a while ago, and was gently amused at watching me wake up. Seems our friend Archer was back.
Funny how much that mattered.
We kept at it. One long song, miles of difference from where we started. And yet. And yet. There is only one song. I guess that’s the truth. We were well over three hours in, probably could’ve kept going, but it was starting to feel like we’d said everything there was to say for the moment. Time to take it home. Mcshane was playing mister wonderful like only he could. I looked at Tony and made like I was asking the question. She nodded. I threw it to Waits and he picked it up. Killer was on it immediately. So now the game was to let Tony decide whether she wanted to finish it or leave it to the band. Suddenly it was out of our hands. Wonder boy hit a note hard and long, and held it, and held it some more. Then he threw it over his shoulder. “C’mon girl!” He was setting it up for her to take it. Decision made. We brought it around again and Tony matched his note, seemed like forever. Then she took us through one more round.
“And she said nothin’!” We rose up to feel it with her. This was where we’d been heading all night. Time to tell ‘em why we’re here.
“But in her eyes you could see…” I wasn’t hearing the words, only the meaning. Play to that, the rest would come. We hit it once. Two more lines. There, that felt like an ending. I tossed it over to Mcshane, he was standing in the space waiting. He wailed and brought us in again. We were all behind Tony but I could feel her pick up on the thought. Drums and bass worked it onetime while I held the groove. Mcshane again, this time in harmony with that beautiful voice. Finally the whole band last time, one bar. Then stop. Wait for it. Leave her space. No, not yet. Trust. Then she took it.
“Only love!” she said it, rather than sing. Quiet enough you could hear your heart beat over top, but you didn’t dare breathe for fear of blowing it away.
I went to play a final chord, but somehow I just couldn’t, it didn’t seem right. I looked up, Mcshane was already walking away. Waits hung out a moment to be sure, then unstrapped his bass and moved offstage. I set down my guitar and made off just behind Killer. Tony was still out there hanging over the mic. It would take her a minute to come down, but she’d be along soon enough. The whole house was on their feet and yelling and stomping like you’d never heard. Slowly we made our way back to the stage. I touched Tony’s shoulder gently. She looked up and I noticed she was crying. Come to think of it so was I.
We all took a bow. Then another. The noise just didn’t stop. Finally we left the stage. And still they roared. Later someone told me they’d kept at it for ten minutes. All I knew was somehow we’d made it.
And there was no way we were doing an encore.