People downstairs on the main floor seem to be a little more put together than Catherine’s friend, but not much. The band isn’t supposed to go on until 9 o’clock, so the scant crowd skews dorky, the adult equivalent of the 9th graders who get to the homecoming dance a half-hour before doors open.
Almost everyone wears at least one piece of clothing that nods toward ‘90s fashion. Most don cliched Spandex or neon or flannel. One guy, whose craggy face indicates he’s either over 50 or did a lot of shitty drugs, sports a lime green shirt reading DID I DO THAT? in an angular surfer font.
If “that” is meth, sir, I’m going with a yes.
Other costumes are a little more aggressive. Standing in front of me at the bar is a middle-aged man wearing a blue Metallica shirt, which would be fine, except he has the neck hiked over his head a la Beavis and Butthead.
“Dude!” says a guy wearing a tie-dyed DARE T-shirt. “Do the thing, do the thing!”
The man in the Metallica shirt turns out his palms and does a little snort. “I need TP for my bunghole!” he yells, and he and DARE Shirt trade those cheese grater Beavis laughs for an unnecessary length of time.
There’s also a few costumes I’m confused about, like the guy walking around wearing a yellow hardhat, safety goggles, and a flannel shirt. “I don’t get it,” I say to Melinda. Did he think this was Disco Night?” Melinda shrugs.
Then I see the guy’s name tag. Hello, my name is Al it says, and the pieces fall into place. He’s not supposed to be a member of The Village People, but the lovable bearded sidekick from Home Improvement.
Rachel and her friend Alyssa are also dressed up, wearing matching horizontal striped T-shirts with neon sleeves. Rachel told me all week how excited she was to get out of the house, away from her kids and chores and just cut loose.
Over our time working together, Rachel’s insisted she doesn’t drink, but when I find her and Alyssa in the growing crowd, they both clutch plastic cups garnished with limes.
“What’ve you got there?” I ask, pointing to her cup.
“Oh, I don’t know, Alyssa got it for me,” she says. “I think it’s vodka.”
It’s a double, Alyssa mouths over Rachel’s shoulder.
“Allllll righty then,” I say, not buzzed enough to appreciate my own Ace Ventura pun. “Cheers.”
“It tastes like burning,” she says, sipping from the cocktail straw.
The other part of our group, Ted and his wife Jessie, are also well-lubricated. Ted and Jessie have six kids. Just think about that for a second. Six. Enough to staff a basketball team and still have one left over for when they get into foul trouble.
Needless to say, Ted doesn’t get out much, so he’s taking full advantage. By 8:45, he’s already had three double IPAs and a fourth he tried to chug but mostly ended up spilling down the front of his shirt.
Up until now, the soundtrack has been supplied by a DJ wearing a red Power Rangers T-shirt. He’s done a solid job of juxtaposing some interesting songs, including a mashup of Biggie’s “Big Poppa” and Creed’s “Higher.”
But at 9:00, DJ Power Ranger fades the trumpets of Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca” and gets on the mic.
“Alright Falls Church,” he says. “You know what to do. Welcome to the stage, The Bayside Tigers!”
There’s a little whoop in the crowd as the band enters from the wings. There’s four of them, and they all appear to be in their late 20s. Upon further research, I discover The Bayside Tigers is not an organic cover band that formed over the members’ passion for ‘90s nostalgia, but actually a quartet of hired guns playing a role for the Saved by the 90s company. In fact, there are SIX versions of The Bayside Tigers located in various regions of the country, each with musicians so formulaic and interchangeable, I had to put their photos side by side to confirm that yes, these are different humans.
I don’t learn this magic-sucking information until after I get home and start doing research for this essay, so for the time being, I’m mostly amused by the band and their cheesy memory-stirring outfits. The petite, bob-haired singer wears a black velvet baby doll dress, and the guitar player wears a Mighty Ducks hockey sweater, which draws a little bit of envy out of me.
The band kicks off thir set with Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” and for the most part, the setlist is so predictable I could have written it before we arrived. But that doesn’t matter to the now packed dance floor, which shouts the lyrics in unison.
No one is more excited than Ted, who leaves our spot near the bar and dives into the crowd when the band launches into Blink’s “All The Small Things,” bowling over a guy wearing a Charlotte Hornets pullover Starter jacket.
Uh oh, I think. Ted’s gonna get kicked out.
This behavior isn’t surprising coming from Ted. I’ve seen him do similar things at happy hours. He’s the guy in your group who puts his tie around his head, starts an awkward conversation about masturbation, and has to be asked by the bartender to lower his voice. All within the first hour. But I can’t fault the guy. If I had to cram all of my relaxation into two hours a month before I went home to feed my six kids, I’d probably try to dance on the bar at 4 p.m. too.
Rachel is feeling her double vodka tonic. Even considering my limited experience with the art of dance, I’m hesitant to call what Rachel’s doing dancing. It’s really more of a high-stepped stationary march, the way I used to run through a set of tires during football practice with my coach yelling keep your knees up! Her movements are repetitive and mechanical and seem to have no relationship with music genre or tempo. She keeps up these high step movements even between songs, when the band is asking us if we’re ready to “get jiggy with it.”
“My Apple Watch keeps asking me if I’m working out!” she yells in my ear.
“That’s so weird,” I say. “I wonder why.”
An hour into the band’s set, I’m ready to sit. I’d say my desire for a comfortable place to watch the rest of the show is a result of my age, but honestly, I’ve always hated standing and watching a band. I remember being 16 and shifting my weight from foot to aching foot, wondering how many songs the band had left.
Melinda, who has a human growing in her, is ready for a break as well, so we head upstairs to the balcony’s auditorium seating.
I assumed the diehard ‘90s fans would be sweating their good vibrations down on the dance floor, but up in the balcony, it is just as lively. These aren’t the wallflowers watching the fun with sullen envy. They’re just the older, fatter crowd who prefer to dance while seated.
In the aisle next to us, three portly friends wearing vintage Backstreet Boys, Usher, and Spice Girls T-shirts test their chairs’ structural integrity, bouncing and rocking to the beat of a C&C Music Factory tune.
From my vantage point I can see Ted right up against the stage. He’s arguing with a bouncer who’s pointing to the door. Ted pats him on the shoulder, flashes him a thumbs up and keeps dancing. The bouncer stands there for a second, shakes his head, and then walks away.
I find out later the bouncer was about to toss Ted because he was dancing too aggressively and people were complaining, but Ted just pretended he didn’t understand what the bouncer was saying.
“Thanks so much man!” he said to the bouncer. “I’m having such an awesome time. You guys rule!”