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Note: For the full experience of this article, you can listen to Ghostline’s EP as you read.

Outside a two-bedroom, Tudor-style home in a quaint section of North Park, the heartbeat of a bass guitar, thump of a floor tom and screeching sounds of a Fender Stratocaster pierce the hum of a quiet afternoon.

Inside the house, three young men are preparing for a highly anticipated moment in their musical careers. They’re days away from playing their first show together as Ghostline — a three-piece rock band with a penchant for playing loud and technical numbers.

The songs are familiar to me. In fact, I’m undeniably un-objective about the band. The guitarist and lead singer, Chris Plaia, is my former roommate. We’ve played music together and been close friends since college. I’ve known bassist Brian Rathjen and drummer Patrick Bohan for years.

So when I say this night is important to Chris and the rest of the band, I know it. Music means everything to these guys. And the sound they plan to unleash the following evening has been years in the making.

As the day of the show arrives, there’s still work to be done. Chris paces the house wondering where his band is. Brian and Patrick have yet to arrive and time is wearing on. He wants everything to be perfect. He wants an early and smooth sound check, lucid and focused bandmates and a strong showing of supporters. He makes a few calls to Patrick and Brian.

While he waits, Chris rifles through a yellow notebook, tweaking words in the songs, preparing his set list and double-checking his equipment. This is the sort of careful calculation he and the group put into this band. Chris went through about 50 guitar pedals, buying and selling them on eBay, before he got the tone he wanted. The drum solos Patrick unleashes are foreign to me. They’ve evolved so far from when these sounds used to wake me out of mid-afternoon naps.

Eventually, the band arrives with plenty of time to spare. Patrick, his twin brother, Ryan, Chris’ girlfriend Christine Piccolo and roommate Rex Brookhart take in some fresh air on the porch as the guys talk through details of their most recent rehearsal. They’re mulling their stage presence and reminding each other of timing changes and transitions they’ll need to nail tonight. Although they’d played before in different bands, they wanted to get a feel for how Ghostline would sound, so they practiced at the spot, Soda Bar, a day earlier.

As night falls, it’s time to pack up the gear and haul it to Soda Bar on El Cajon Boulevard. Their excitement about the gig is evident in the speed with which they load up Patrick’s truck.

Once they’ve set up, they grab drinks and sit down at a booth for a band tradition. At most practices, they take breaks to play a four-person card game called “Killer.” Keeping with this small routine will make everything else run smoothly, they hope.

Finally, it’s time to take the stage. Chris’ girlfriend grabs him and gives him a huge kiss. The crowd of about 50 people, packed with friends and curious musicians, wraps around the stage.

The band steps on stage, and they tap and strum their way through a final sound check. Finally, it’s time to go. Chris turns to Patrick, who gives him a knowing look. They launch into a technical intro in unison.

I can feel the anticipation coming from Chris. It’s his first time performing as a vocalist and he has to wait several minutes to get through the intro before he begins singing.

Finally, he inches closer to the microphone and his voice rips through the room. Brian thumps his bass, holding that deliberate, concerned look that only a bassist can muster. And Patrick pounds out punctuated sounds from his drum kit.

As the set moves on, the tension comes out of the bands’ shoulders. They’re still focused, but they begin to play with their guts rather than their brains. You can see all of their arms loosen up a bit and move more fluidly across the instruments. Chris is bellowing every word and beaming after every song. They’re sweating profusely. With every song’s conclusion comes loud applause.

As they wind down, Patrick rips through a drum solo that I’ve never heard before and can’t quite contemplate. His technical skills from playing in a drumline shine through as he rolls through the beats.

Close friends dance wildly through the last song, hanging off of one another and shouting loudly, just inches from the stage. After a punchy finale, the small but supportive crowd erupts. The guys just smile and switch off their gear.

From the grins on their faces and the energy of the crowd, it’s clear the show was a hit, but Chris still wonders about what can be done differently. His vocals weren’t perfectly on key at the start, he says.

But they all agree the first show was a success. As Patrick steps off the stage, his twin brother Ryan throws a jacket over his shoulders and beams proudly. Ghostline is now official.

Please contact Sam Hodgson directly at sam.hodgson@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5664 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/samuelhodgson.

Sam Hodgson

Sam Hodgson is a freelance photojournalist and contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can contact him at samhodgsonphoto@gmail.com...

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