OK, so Thursday was the day after my 43rd birthday and it was also Rhys's band's big competition in Soho. Law Rocks is a London law firm battle of the bands. The competition is held at the 100 Club - a legendary basement venue in Soho that accommodates - standing -- about 400 people. Legendary of course meaning that I had to shrug off the disgusting toilets and floors and lack of ice or Champagne because it was gritty and real. Sigh. Whatever.
Rhys only had four tickets for the gig and we thought long and hard about who would we invited. We needed Penny Lanes of the highest order. We got them.
So I go from bicycling my children back from school to trying to find a vaguely sluttly outfit and applying a, well, bipolar amount of eyeliner and jumping on a train to London.
The first band was really good. Really good. Billy Jean was the opener and this mysterious Eastern European model- type sang in this sultry, rich voice. Like so rich you could almost hear the harmonics. And they pulled off a Police song even with the fiendishly difficult drumming. I thought Rhys had very stiff competition. And that was before they did Sweet Child of Mine. The singer almost pulled it off and the guitarist pulled it off perfectly. I am not saying the singer wasn't good, she was great. But you have to be a very special type of unhinged to perform Sweet Child of Mine. All of that ad libbing? You have to be feeling the crazy. She wasn't. That is probably better for her.
The second band the judges seemed to love. There was a three judge panel who commented after every band - two lawyer-types and one former band member. (Please note that there are so many one hit wonders in the UK and that there is such a small population that most people you meet are former band members of a band that had a hit song you kind of know). The judges said the second band had the sluttier chicks (my words). So wrong. The thing about that band was that it was a Glee band. They did Whole Lot of Love exactly how the Glee Choir would do it. So I didn't think sluttier and didn't get the judges' comments at all.
All six bands made very smart choices for their sets. Each had only twenty minutes and they picked some great, great songs. In fact, the only misstep was when the Glee band did Live and Let Die. Really? Live and Let Die? I heard the opening chords and I shook my head in solemn disbelief. McCartney barely pulled it off as one of the greatest musicians of his age. And Axl, well, you know, Axl was unhinged to exactly the right degree, he had a great orchestra and resources at his disposal and HE barely pulled it off. What hubris in the choice, oh, second band. What hubris.
Although I tried to adhere to a scrupulous one-warm-vodka-and-tonic-an-hour rule in order to be sober enough to follow the competition, I must admit that the next couple bands went by in a blur. Elaborate trips to the surface for Marlboro lights needed to be planned and executed. I remember an absolutely delightful I'm Feeling Good by Nina Simone sang with a woman with an honest and rich voice.
I remember next some older guys doing some punk numbers with an impressive energy. I don't know. When you are a lawyer in your fifties it's a little silly to be railing against the man in a punk song. Dispatch: Dear Band Members: You ARE the man. Love, Rachel
The previous year's champions were unbelievably slick and put on a great show. The lead singer in the tie was especially rock and roll in a great old school way and their entire sound was tight. They worried me.
Last came Birds of Prey - the unfortunately-named entry from Bird & Bird. They came on to a chant - "BIRDS OF PREY > > > BIRDS OF PREY > > > " -- thanks to our phenomenally resonantly voiced friend Fester and the birds took off immediately. Are You Going to Go My Way?, Lenny Kravitz was phenomenal.
(What was great about the whole evening was that it really brought out the spirit of rock and roll - connecting with the audience in a primal way. That quality was more important than even the musicianship - although the musicianship was ridiculously good -- the connection between the audience and the lead singer was what set one band above another.)
Then my favourite part of the night - their second number, Johnny B. Good. Rhys got to play the absolutely iconic riff and then have the time of his life playing a great solo. Fantastic. Then Basket Case by Green Day, then Mr Brightside by the Killers. The lead singer is this guy named Chris Holder and he just let himself connect with as many people in the room as he could by singing his heart out and it worked.
The judges liked them. One judge commented that with such a good saxophone player, she wished Birds of Prey had played Brown Sugar.
Then after some waffling and more opportunities to buy very warm vodka tonics, the judges decided that they needed a playoff between Birds of Prey and the previous year's winner because they just couldn't decide.
The previous year's winner repeated their best song, then Birds of Prey came on. And as easily as anything, they launched into a version of Brown Sugar that anyone could be proud of. Especially the sax solo. That guy played the sax like his life depended on it. What I loved was the the depth of musicianship shown by being able to pull a fairly unrehearsed song like that together in an inspired instant.
More time for warm vodka tonics, a trip to the restroom/creative writing outlet and time to rue the fact that no cigarette outings were planned from when Birds of Prey came on until the end of the competition.
Then they announced that Bird of Prey won. Rhys was in the happiest of dazes. We wandered the streets of London in search of the afterparty drunk with good feelings and warm vodka tonics. We danced at the afterparty then bought horrifically bad Tesco's sushi to eat in our ApartHotel with Fester.
It was one of the greatest nights since I have known Rhys and I was so happy and proud of him.