Later, Luiz would think about what the bassist said: how they’d considered calling up a different drummer to play the gig. He’d think about how everything could’ve been avoided if they had, and about what a damn shame it was, the way the tiniest margins determine our lives.
It was Luiz’s first time booking this band—a three-piece outfit of San Francisco State kids who played that indie folk so popular these days. A young hapa woman named Sylvie led with vocals and guitar. She’d been a regular at the bar these last few months, coming in for happy hour with her girlfriend or a crew of classmates. A couple of weeks back, during one of the live music nights, she’d asked Luiz what it would take to get her own band on stage. He’d told her he’d be glad to listen to a demo. He liked giving up-and-comers a shot.
Now, Sylvie took to the stage in a boho dress and knee-high boots, with her drummer and bassist behind her. They played a mix of covers and threw in an original here and there, their songs hitting that sweet spot between loungey and lively. He could tell from the get-go that this group was something special. Sylvie had a silky smooth voice, which drew people in off the street throughout the evening. The bassist laid down solid groundwork for her melodies, and the drummer played with commanding precision.
The bar was a narrow shop in the Sunset District, so it wasn’t the sort of spot to rock its foundation back and forth, even on a weekend. Booths lined one wall, and round four-top tables filled the rest of the space. The bar itself was near the door, its bottles arranged on lit and mirrored shelves so they couldn’t be missed from the sidewalk. At the far end of the room was the stage—a small platform raised a step above the floor. Luiz had owned the place for nearly a decade, and he didn’t usually stay for the late Friday nights anymore. But because Isabella was out with friends and wouldn’t be home until later, he’d stuck around to hear the new band.
Sylvie and the others had another half hour in their set. They jammed through an instrumental bridge and edged their way back into a chorus. As their collective volume lowered with each bar, Sylvie let out a mellow croon. Guitar, bass, and drums quieted so much that a listener might expect the song to dip into full a cappella. Luiz leaned his elbow onto the bar, where he sat, letting himself be carried by the music and anticipating a satisfying close. But then a heavy roll on the snare drum cracked the quiet chorus like a whip. The drummer dribbled his sticks in a sixty-fourth note combo before smashing one of his crash cymbals and bursting into a heavy rock beat. Ritchie—the drummer’s name, if Luiz rightly recalled—was a young Filipino guy with a buzz cut, thick rectangle frames, and a cheap polyester vest which he wore over a T-shirt. Until then, he’d played with solid technique—great grip and even strokes—blending into the background like a good drummer should for these kinds of songs. Luiz didn’t expect him to have made such a blunder and thought perhaps the whole thing was a just poorly planned transition. But the panicked look of the bassist, a gangly white guy with his hair in a ponytail, confirmed Ritchie had gone off script. Sylvie reacted by singing improvised yeah yeahs to the beat and strumming harder on her guitar—a faithful, last-ditch move to cover for her drummer. But the damage was done. Ritchie shut his eyes and tuned his bandmates out. He thundered his sticks along his tom-toms and broke out into a full-on drum solo. Luiz’s customers caught on—some visibly disturbed by the swell of heavy music on stage, while others whooped and gave approving nods.