The Toddlers took the stage to 19,000 fans losing their shit.
The roar was deafening. It wasn’t just a wall of sound, it hit her in the chest and the stomach like a blow. It was the sound of sheer joy, of youth recaptured after twenty years, mixed with what Corey surmised was utter shock. She was as stunned as everyone else that this was actually happening, as stunned as when Anders had appeared in her condo, hat in hand. And now here they were.
They’d played this place before, at their height, and Corey only once after, during the extended Damsel tour, though not to a packed house. As they jogged to their places—Anders at center stage, Terry at stage left, Corey at stage right, and Sloan behind his kit on the risers—she welled up for a moment. She never thought she’d see this view again. They were at the bottom of a massive bowl, the seats receding back and upward, like a mountain range. It reminded her of walking the valleys of Catalina with Ricki, the land rising up on either side of her. Only now, there was a sibilant wash of sound rolling down on her instead of a Pacific breeze, and instead of the tiny yellow flickers of lighters from years ago, the lights were now a bluish glow from thousands of smartphones.
But the vertigo was the same.
She turned her head and saw Anders, ten feet away. He was basking in that adoring, sonic wash. He too was in his uniform, gray suit trousers and a gray vest over a crisp white shirt, complete with a boho necklace and all manner of wrap bracelets. At that moment, he arched his back, gazed up at the ceiling, spread his arms wide, and closed his eyes. It was the opposite of a bow. He looked louche and lean and hungry, like a mammal emerging from hibernation to stretch, unfurling himself in the sun after too long a winter. The crowd went apeshit.
Ten feet past Anders was Terry, throwing the strap of his bass over his shoulder. When Anders straightened again and hoisted his acoustic guitar, she saw him glance at Terry and nod. Terry glanced at Sloan. Sloan clacked his drumsticks together four times and they were off.
They had decided against launching into Here Come The Toddlers straightaway. That was by far their biggest record, with most of their hits, but Anders didn’t want to “blow his wad too early.” They had hits on their other albums too, so their first set would be a grab bag. In selecting just what songs to play, they decided on the singles from their earlier records, some deep cuts and fan favorites, and then Anders broached Luminario.
He suggested playing two tracks from his solo masterpiece. It would be stupid not to, he reasoned. Luminario had outsold Here Come and had received more radio play, and he didn’t want to the crowd to walk away “feeling unfulfilled.” He would even allow Corey to do Limelight, her big hit off of Damsel.
“First, you don’t allow me to do anything,” she had said. “Second, if you do two songs, I do two songs.”
She reminded him that while he may have sold more records, charted higher, and had more radio play, she was the one who had been gutting it out nonstop for the past twenty years while he was reading scripts. This was her life.
He looked, for just a moment, like he had swallowed something bitter. Then he smiled his cat who ate the canary smile.
“Equity,” he said. “I dig it.”
She would perform Limelight and Reveille.
With the playlist locked, they plowed through two of their first songs to a rapturous reception. On the third number, they had decided to mix it up. They weren’t showcasing any new music—aside from Corey’s—so Anders wanted to do a cover, choosing Fatal Flaw by Titus Andronicus. Corey had been unfamiliar with it, and at first she thought he was simply trying to burnish his indie cred—Look kids, we’re still as cool and relevant as ever!—but to his credit it actually was a perfect song. It could have been a lost Toddlers track, with self-lacerating lyrics screamed at full volume about bad love and drugs and mental illness. A real barn burner with gigantic hooks and a monster, sing-along chorus.
The song perfectly suited Anders’s manic, live-wire energy. He looked like a mad conductor, screaming Let me show you my fatal flaw, it’s the best thing you ever saw!
Anders howled like a man on fire, and the more he seemed to come unhinged, the more the crowd roared. In her condo, they had joked that he was a vampire, but in that moment, it wasn’t blood he was feeding on, it was the crowd’s energy, their adoration, and he reflected it right back at them.
In one of their few concessions to choreography, after Corey’s stinging guitar solo, she and Terry were to move in from the wings to join Anders at center stage to belt the last chorus of Fatal Flaw into Anders’s mic, all three of them.
When that third chorus arrived, she marched over to the center mic stand…to find it unattended. As she had shifted left, so had Anders, to join Terry at his mic at stage left instead. What was supposed to be a rousing chorus, demonstrating bonhomie and solidarity after twenty years, was now a mess. She fought a momentary panic at the confusion, but she recovered quickly. There was no time to get all the way over to Anders and Terry before the final chorus, so she took it at center stage. She glanced over at the pair of them, and saw Anders wink. She faced front and shot her cuff in response before diving back into the next bar.
So there it was. A subtle jab.
In front of 19,000 people.
There was nothing to do but open her mouth and sing.