Liz turns around first. Things haven’t been the same between the two of us since that Collateral Damage tour, but the look she gives me now, I don’t know how to describe it: Like I’m her biggest disappointment in life, but she tries to rise above it, to tamp it down, to act all casual, like I’m just one of the fans, one of the hangerson, one of the many people who want something from her that she’s not obliged to give. “Adam,” she says with a curt nod.
“Liz,” I begin cautiously.
“Hey, ass**le! Nice of you to join us!” Fitzy’s irrepressible voice is both sarcastic and welcoming, like he just can’t decide which way to go.
Mike doesn’t say anything. He just pretends I don’t exist.
And then I feel the brush of Mia’s shoulder as she steps out from behind me. “Hi, guys,” she says.
Liz’s face goes completely blank for a moment. Like she doesn’t know who Mia is. Then she looks scared, like she’s just seen a ghost. Then my strong, tough, butchy drummer—her lower lip starts to tremble, and then her face crumples. “Mia?” she asks, her voice quavering. “Mia?” she asks louder this time. “Mia!” she says, the tears streaming down her face right before she tackles my girl in a hug.
When she’s released her, she holds Mia at arm’s length and looks at her and then back at me and then back at Mia. “Mia?” she shouts, both asking and answering her own question. Then she turns to me. And if I’m not forgiven, then at least I’m understood.
The rain keeps up throughout the next day. “Lovely English summer we’re having,” everyone jokes. It’s become my habit to barricade myself at these types of giant festivals, but realizing that this is probably my last one for a while, at least as a participant, I slip inside the grounds, listen to some of the bands on the side stages, catch up with some old friends and acquaintances, and even talk to a couple of rock reporters. I’m careful not to mention the breakup of the band. That’ll come out in time, and I’ll let everyone else decide how to release this news. I do, however, briefly comment on Bryn’s and my split, which is all over the tabloids anyhow. Asked about my new mystery woman, I simply say “no comment.” I know this will all come out soon enough, and while I want to spare Mia the circus, I don’t care if the whole world knows we’re together.
By the time our nine P.M. slot rolls around, the rain has subsided to a soft mist that seems to dance in the late summer twilight. The crowd has long since accepted the slosh. There’s mud everywhere and people are rolling around in it like it’s Woodstock or something.
Before the set, the band was nervous. Festivals do that to us. A bigger ante than regular concerts, even stadium shows—festivals have exponentially larger crowds, and crowds that include our musician peers. Except tonight, I’m calm. My chips are all cashed out. There’s nothing to lose. Or maybe I’ve already lost it and found it, and whatever else there might be to lose, it’s got nothing to do with what’s on this stage. Which might explain why I’m having such a good time out here, pounding through our new songs on my old Les Paul Junior, another piece of history brought back from the dead. Liz did a double take when she saw me pull it out of its old case. “I thought you got rid of that thing,” she’d said.
“Yeah, me too,” I’d replied, tossing off a private smile at Mia.
We race through the new album and then throw in some bones from Collateral Damage and before I know it, we’re almost at the end of the set. I look down at the set list that’s duct-taped to the front of the stage. Scrawled there in Liz’s block lettering is the last song before we leave for the inevitable encore. “Animate.” Our anthem, our old producer Gus Allen, called it. The angstiest screed on Collateral Damage, critics called it. Probably our biggest hit of all. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser on tours because of the chorus, which audiences love to chant.
It’s also one of the few songs we’ve ever done with any kind of production, a strings section of violins right at the top of the recorded track, though we don’t have those for the live version. So as we launch into it, it’s not that rolling howl of the crowd’s excitement that I hear, but the sound of her cello playing in my head. For a second, I have this vision of just the two of us in some anonymous hotel room somewhere dickering around, her on her cello, me on my guitar, playing this song I wrote for her. And shit, if that doesn’t make me so damn happy.
I sing the song with all I’ve got. Then we get to the chorus: Hate me. Devastate me. Annihilate me. Re-create me. Re-create me. Won’t you, won’t you, won’t you re-create me.
On the album, the chorus is repeated over and over, a rasp of fury and loss, and it’s become a thing during shows for me to stop singing and turn the mic out toward the audience and let them take over. So I turn the mic toward the fields, and the crowd just goes insane, singing my song, chanting my plea.
I leave them at it and I take a little walk around the stage. The rest of the band sees what’s going on so they just keep repping the chorus. When I get closer to the side of the stage, I see her there, where she always felt most comfortable, though for the foreseeable future, she’ll be the one out here in the spotlight, and I’ll be the one in the wings, and that feels right, too.
The audience keeps singing, keeps making my case, and I just keep strumming until I get close enough to see her eyes. And then I start singing the chorus. Right to her. And she smiles at me, and it’s like we’re the only two people out here, the only ones who know what’s happening. Which is that this song we’re all singing together is being rewritten. It’s no longer an angry plea shouted to the void. Right here, on this stage, in front of eighty thousand people, it’s becoming something else.
This is our new vow.