people’s republic of berkeley.

 

The Mommyheads perform at the Flying Suit release party in Berkeley.

The Mommyheads perform at the Flying Suit release party in Berkeley.

And then came Flying Suit.

 

It wasn’t quite as well-coordinated as nurture was.  We had the mixup with the tour, where the band had initially planned to tour over the summer, and then pushed it back to the fall.  Then there was the Way To Go! debacle (that we never told the band about), where their CDs almost got confiscated by the pressing plant.  

The band’s tour was scheduled to begin in October, and, as luck would have it, I had plans to be in San Francisco for business right around the time the tour was supposed to start.

I flew into San Francisco alone – by that time I had been there three or four times, and loved it – and did my dayjob thing during the day.  The band had scheduled their opening night at some club in Berkeley.

At first I had considered going alone.  I had gotten to the point where I was traveling pretty frequently, and I had started playing a little game with myself.  I would fly into a city alone on business, with as little money as possible – $20 or $40, maximum – and then try and navigate my way around the city for as long as I could, without having to go to a bank.  That meant either eating at great restaurants and expensing it to the company, or eating at whatever local shithole I could find, spending as little of my own money as possible.  It also meant no cab rides – I’d either rent a car and drive, or I’d wander around, trying to find my way.

But playing that game in San Francisco my previous trip, I somehow made a wrong turn or two and wound up in a slum in Oakland with no money in a beat up old rental car, all alone.  I wasn’t comfortable trying to make my way into Berkeley alone, because I didn’t want to accidentally wind up in Oakland again.

So I called Sam from the Sarnos.

Sam and I had first met in late 1993, when he sent me a tape of the Sarnos at my request.  We corresponded occasionally after that – Sam would send me new Sarnos recordings, or recordings of his other band, Granfaloon Bus.  I would send him Dromedary stuff.  Sam had his own small label in San Francisco called Hairy Records, and he actually had done some work with the Mommyheads.  Turned out he was friends with the band.  So I made arrangements to hook up with him, and he’d take me into Berkeley and we’d see the show.

I picked him up early at his apartment.  He had a cool apartment, above a coffee shop, right across the street from Aquarius Records.  Aquarius was a well-known record store that was run by a super-nice woman named Windy, and that had excellent relationships with its customers and with the local music scene.  She had reached out to me a number of times after hearing we would be releasing a Mommyheads record, and asked us if we would sell it to her direct.  Of course at that point, the answer was yes.  

It was amazingly odd that Sam knew the Mommyheads and lived right across the street from one of the only other people I knew in the city of San Francisco.  It definitely is a small world.

We were, however, running late for the show, and I don’t think Sam was entirely sure how to get there (he didn’t usually travel by car, and I think he would have been more fluent with the area had we taken public transportation).  So we didn’t have a lot of time for him to show me around town.

Of course we found the club just fine (I obviously can’t remember the name of the club, or I would have done so by now).  When we walked in, since Sam knew the guys in the band he pointed them out to me immediately, and I walked over and greeted them with hugs and handshakes.  After grabbing an Anchor Steam, we sat together and talked.

The band seemed a little irritated that I didn’t have CDs with me to give them.  I explained that they were still being printed, and I’d have them any day.  Adam asked me if I would mind sending a bunch via FedEx so that they could have them to sell on the first dates of their tour, and I told them it was the least I could do.  They seemed to relax a little after that – I think it was less of a big deal not to have CDs to sell off the stage in their hometown than it was in, say, Utah.  Which was where I wound up sending the CDs.

There was a nondescript opening band that I politely watched with Sam while the Mommyheads got their gear ready.  And then they took the stage.

Holy shit, were they good.

They set up in an odd way.  Most bands have the drummer set up in the back of the stage, in the center.  The Mommyheads had the drummer – Dan – set up on the extreme right of the stage, with his drum kit facing center stage so that you could actually see him behind the kit.  Directly in front of him, second from the right, was Jeff, the bass player.  To Jeff’s right (second from the left) was Adam, and then at the extreme left of the stage was Michael, the electric piano player.  Michael played a brightly-decorated, vintage Rhoades piano.  So the entire band was up front.

They were so tight, and so melodic and just groovy – being in San Francisco for so long had definitely given them that same quirky flair that so many San Francisco bands have been known for.  They were very eccentric and clever, and their music was much more jam-influenced than indie rock-influenced.  Midway through their set, in fact, I recall thinking that they had more in common with the Grateful Dead and Phish than they did with Tsunami and Superchunk, and couldn’t figure out how they had become so warmly embraced by the indie community.

It didn’t help that at this point during their set, what looked like an authentic, 1960s hippie began dancing this trippy dance right in the middle of the club, all alone.  He was just grooving to the music, flailing his arms and skipping up and down, eyes closed, spinning and whirling in circles.  He looked just like the old Woodstock-era hippies you see in the antidrug videos – I expected to hear a narrator begin to tell me about the dangerous, hallucinogenic properties of LSD while I watched.

I remember thinking that if someone danced like that in New York, he’d get his ass kicked.

Shortly after he began dancing, Michael jumped off the stage and began dancing right next to him, in exactly the same way, clearly mocking him – but in a fun way.

I remember thinking that if someone mocked someone like that in New York, he’d get his ass kicked.  

But the hippie kept dancing and the band kept playing, Michael finished the song from the floor and then jumped back onstage, and everyone had a great time.  The hippie danced for the entire rest of the band’s set, and nobody bothered him – everyone cleared room for him and let him dance.  It was like a big party.

After the show, the band introduced me to some friends of theirs and the club gave me a free beer for putting out the Mommyheads record.  Everyone treated me really well.  I dropped Sam off at his apartment and made the trek back to my hotel room.

The next morning I woke up elated.  I felt like San Francisco was a second home, and that I was actually a part of the music scene there.  More importantly, though, I felt like I was about to put out a great new record – one that was really going to legitimize Dromedary in the indie community.  I was already getting unsolicited phone calls and letters from people wanting to buy copies, zines wanting to interview the band, and even a few mailorder distributors, placing orders in advance.  I was hot shit.

I decided to visit Rough Trade Records, a pretty well-known record store near Haight-Ashbury.  

I was still playing my game, so I walked from my hotel to the store, and found it right away, as if I’d lived there all my life.  I was the coolest guy in San Francisco.

When I walked into the store, I felt so confident, it was almost like I owned the store.  I was hot shit indie rock guy, putting out great records, jet-setting across the country to see shows in Berkeley with my friends from the Left Coast, walking from my hotel to the record store just to look around.  I was the man.

Just then, at the height of my self-absorption, a song came on over the stereo in the store.  It was great.  I sat there, transfixed by the music, just listening to this amazing song I’d never heard before.  Here I was in this hip, San Francisco record store, surrounded by indie hipsters, imagining that I was listening to some unknown local band.  I got all worked up in my mind that I had to find out who this band was, I had to get their contact information.  These guys were even better than the Mommyheads – the guitars were heavier, and they had that slightly out-of-tune quality that so much indie rock had in the mid-90s (which I loved).  The singer didn’t have Adam’s voice, but he delivered such personal lyrics in such an emotional way that it more than made up for it.

I wound up sitting there and listening to three songs, concocting an elaborate story in my head as to how I was going to get the band’s name and contact information from the clerk, then I was going to get right on the phone and call the band from my hotel, get a copy of their tape for myself and listen to it on the plane, all the way back to New Jersey.  Then I’d sign them.

I walked up to the clerk.  “Hey, I’m listening to this music you’ve got playing, and I think it’s fantastic.  You have got to let me know how I can get a copy of this for myself.”

The clerk didn’t even look up from whatever he was doing.  “Umm, this is Sebadoh.  It’s filed under ‘S’.”

Umm, yeah.  Sebadoh.  

Here’s me, super-cool, indie hipster, waltzing into this record store and hearing these dynamite new sounds, and I am so fucking cool that I’m going to bring my Greenwich Village ass up to the clerk and wow him with my indieness, and come home and sign a new band.

And the band that’s making these dynamite “new sounds” has been around forever, is one of the most popular indie bands on the planet, and is signed to Sub Pop Records.  Any indie rock fan that can’t recognize Sebadoh in the first two measures has no business even being in an indie record store.

One thing I can say about myself – it’s impossible for me to get too self-confident, because as soon as I begin to get that way, I do something brainless and stupid, and knock myself down a few pegs.

~ by Al on May 26, 2009.

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