The best gig of my life

It’s 2003 and I’m playing the best gig of my life.

The graduate slacker persona is getting old and we can no longer ignore the need for paying jobs, so it’s one last hurrah for old times’ sake. Local pub and a sympathetic crowd. I play the guitar, as all seven-year indie veterans do. A Stratocaster. Never did like Les Pauls. The mic craning in front of me indicates I drew short straw with vocals too, which I avoid by writing mostly instrumental songs.

A final nod and we hurtle into the opener we always play too fast. I realise that the weight of a typical performance is gone. No more worrying about whether people will come to see us again. Only the minutes matter.

We’ve abolished pauses between songs to sustain momentum and delay the audience response. It works. Our transitions are tight and the audience knows full well we’re teasing them. I see them grin. The songs sound demanding, you see, but they’re deceptively simple to play. The complexity is all rhythm, abstract numbers and melodic set pieces. Without fear of getting it wrong, a performance can rely on expression, not mechanics.

We pull into the new song on another wave of feedback. Two basses and a weighty tempo. As the intro builds, I keep my fingers away from the strings. We’ve practised so much that my fingers are sore, and I want to pounce at the last minute.

Then the kick in, blatantly telegraphed but somehow still a surprise even to myself. I shout something indecipherable and punch the pedals. It’s ecstatic. Not just the sound and the emotion, but the feel of the instrument. Frets worn down to just the right spot, strap lowered an inch a year as my confidence grows. I’m trying to beat the shit out of this thing and it’s responding. It could rebel at any stage, but it knows me and acquiesces. Even as it screams around the room, all fizz and distortion, I know I’m in command. I strangle its enthusiasm at the count of four, muting it sharply and jumping on the pedals with both feet. I hear a yell of appreciation, but it’s not for show this time. It’s a way to remind my guitar who’s boss.

I’ve never felt so in touch with a machine in my life, and I doubt I will again.