By 6 p.m., the band arrives at the Blender Balcony at the Ritz for load-in. The place sits on the corner of Sixth and San Jacinto, SXSW ground zero. A good-sized hall sponsored by the popular music magazine, Blender Bar's door is obvious from the street, but the Balcony is reached via a narrow, undesignated stairway hidden off to the side of the main entrance.
Upstairs, things are no less confusing. There's no stage, a wall of speakers is stacked on one side of the room, and there are six tiered, box-seat areas. It's a weird layout.
Although nobody in the band seems outwardly nervous, they're not exactly calm either. After the hours on the street, the thousands of miles, the thousands of fliers, and the success of the video, no one's really sure how the night is going to go.
"Either I leave here drunk and depressed because there's only six people here," Caesar announces, "or I leave drunk and ecstatic because everybody shows up."
"A lot of people might not know this is the Blender Balcony," Tony says. "I missed it when I was loading gear in."
"It's easy to miss. Why don't we make a sign for outside that says 'Humbert, 9 p.m. '?" Ferny suggests.
With two hours left before the gig, the band goes into full-on action mode. Tony, Franco, Dave, and Leo head outside to dish out the last of the fliers. Rimsky gets to work making signs indicating the stairway. Ferny and Caesar check out the backline equipment, the amps and drum kit they're borrowing from the band playing before them.
They're diffusing nervous energy. A distinct, powerful ambivalence settles in, strong feelings pulling in opposite directions. This could be the biggest gig Humbert has ever played, the gig that attracts all the right people, that soars into the heavens, that guarantees a record deal. Or it could be just another gig.
"There's the hype of South by Southwest," Rimsky says, "but really it's the same as playing Churchill's or Tobacco Road. We totally busted our asses, and even if nothing comes of it, we had a great time. Tony told me the same thing the other night. If nothing happens, he just wants to have stories to tell his kids."
"I visited this place twice last night," Ferny says, "and both times, there were maybe 20 people. I don't know if it was the bands or the room, but it was kinda empty. I can't tell you if there's more riding on this gig, but I do know we wrote a set list. It wasn't computer-generated or anything, but wow. We know what's next."
Outside, Rimsky insists he's not moping. "There's a difference between mopey and cynical," he says. Franco gives him a coaster-sized sticker of a bug-eyed, cartoon cobra. This elicits a reluctant smile. While Dave runs off to grab a CD for the Irishman who's head of Island Records Australia, Rimsky hangs back, detached.
"He was just asking about a club down the street. I'm not gonna jump around like a monkey for some Irish guy from Australia," he says. "Like I'm sure they're looking to sign Weezer from Florida."
Dave seems irked at Rimsky's lassitude. "Dude, the reason for this trip is to get Humbert signed."
"The reason for this trip is to get Humbert noticed," Franco corrects.
"It's like Triple-A for musicians," Rimsky says. "You're just trying to get to the majors. After a while, you kind of figure out how it works or you don't. So many bands just don't get it. I think I'm over it I forgot we were even playing today."
It's a quarter till 9, and upstairs, the room empties after the early band's set. Humbert takes its place and begins plugging in and tuning up. The crowd is sparse, but the South Florida contingent is strong: Leo and Dave, New Times contributors Dominic Sirianni and Jamie Laughlin, Mike Toms from Churchill's, Jay Flanzbaum from Boca-based website OnLineGigs.com.
At five past 9, Tony steps to the microphone: "We're Humbert, and we're from Florida."
"But we're not Republicans," Ferny adds.
The opening chords of "Hugo" explode from Ferny's Farfisa organ. After all the waiting, all the stress and anxiety, there's nothing but shamelessly unbridled joy in the song. Rimsky rears back on his teal Hagstrom guitar, face orgasmic toward the lights. Caesar hammers like a viking on his drum kit. The band injects all its mixed emotions into the music. By the song's end, there are close to a hundred people stacked along the tiers and crammed in front of the stage. The applause is raucous.