In the near dark, you can feel the restlessness of the crowd. Expectation thrums in palpable waves. The glow of small screens, turned on and held up to thousands upon thousands of faces, aimed at the stage, each a pinpointed moment, a person, each a singular whole other world out there in the dark, twinkling together like a constellation.
"Cue sixteen. Lights ready!" the stage manager shouts into his headset.
"You did it, Shu," I say in a whisper. Onstage, Joshua turns to me as though he heard somehow and flashes me the smile I've known forever, the one that still makes my stomach clench with butterflies.
"Ready and go!" I hear behind me.
The stage lights flash on and sweep down, like the illumination of an angel descending.
I didn't think it was possible, but the cheering grows louder, crests like a wave, ricocheting around the cavern of the arena, searching for Joshua Blackbird.
The audience has one voice, and it crashes into us, a shriek of anticipation and desire.
The drummer, Speed, counts in with his drumsticks. Lights flash around him, backlighting the loose coils of his short Afro.
The drumbeat and a guitar start together.
The stage is awash with golden light, bright as an unending fall of stars. The scale of the room is unbeliev able, the stage massive and yet swallowed by the space beyond it.
The distinctive chords of Joshua's first hit echo out, and the crowd starts bouncing—trying to dance in front of their seats, bodies and voices calling.
Joshua joins them, jumping in place easily, steadying his guitar with one hand, pumping his other arm in the air in time with the music.
Speed intensifies the beat, and then the familiar synth notes rise like bubbles, the hook in them so catchy I can't help but join in the dancing.
Even though I've heard this song a thousand times.
Dancers enter the stage, crossing the front, all silver flash and gyrations, forming a shifting shield in front of Joshua. They glide forward, keeping him nestled behind their bodies.
The immense screen over the stage both teases and reveals the object the Birdies all scream for as he moves closer to them.
Then the dancers part and Joshua steps to the edge of the stage. Hands reach for him, fingers hungry, camera phones glowing and devouring.
An enormous black-feathered bird crouches on the screen above. Then the raven lunges upward, opening ink-dark wings, a glare of light accentuating dark edges as it rises, wings sweeping wide.
And just like that, Joshua Blackbird takes flight.