The gig in San Francisco was hooked up by Brian Kenney – all I knew about the Odeon was its self-proclaimed status as “San Francisco’s Darkest Dive,” with a predeliction for hosting numerous eccentric acts throughout a given evening. The owner/booker, a fellow named Chicken John, struck me as highly intelligent, musically knowledgable, and decidedly acerbic when I spoke to him a couple of months prior to the show.
Finding a parking spot even remotely close to the place was the typical ordeal that parking in San Francisco generally is (and, like many San Fran streets, my spot ended up along a very steep hill). Loading the gear in, I saw that there were two seperate stages – a smaller, more direct one (where Brian and I would set up), and a larger/taller “main” one which would host the third act on the bill this evening – a female duo called the Hazzards, who sang sardonic pop tunes accompanied by ukeleles and Casio keyboards. Some bill for a Friday night, eh?
On the plus side, the Odeon had character for days – definitely a dive, and definitely a cool ambiance. As we set up during the evening, the staff played some very cool and very flipped-out stuff (including Lightning Bolt, a ridiculous bass/drums duo I was introduced to in New York in January), which made me optimistic as to the “orientation” of the room. On the minus side, I was starting to wonder if anyone would be there to hear the gig; at 10:00 PM, there was all of one person in the place.
It was around that time that Brian Kenney pulled out a piece of cardboard with the words “Flash Mob in 20 Minutes” written in magic marker on it, which in and of itself I found hilarious. He then proceeded to describe the impending flood of patrons in confident terms, though I had a hard time sharing his enthusiasm. I’d remembered talking to Chicken John, who’d said that there was very little “walk-though” at the Odeon, and wondered what kind of crowd (if any) we might have.
And then, at precisely 10:20, Brian’s prediction actually came true: people started walking in the door as if they’d been waiting in a queue. Within five minutes, all of the bar stools had been occupied. By 10:30, there were dozens of people filling out the place, and Brian grinned “I told you so!” while I quickly tried to make the mental adjustment from playing to the bartenders to playing to a full house.
As with the previous night, I was the first act up, and as with the Starry Plough show I opted to open with “Entwined,” to try and read the tenor in the room. It was quickly apparent that this was a very different gig than the Berkeley one, and I could feel that a significant portion of the crowd was tuning the music out. This would call for (to paraphrase a “Young Ones” episode) “a very careful blend of psychology and extreme violence.”
I wrapped up “Entwined,” made a comment from the stage to the effect of having lulled the audience into a false sense of security, and then launched into the most aggressive and unpredicable solo set I can remember playing. If the Starry Plough show had felt mainly like a confident cruise down a scenic highway, then the Odeon Bar gig was a bumpy and unpredictable motorcycle ride over rough terrain. There were some moments that materialized that were unlike anything I could ever remember playing, either live or in practice; there were spots where the music teetered on the verge of completely losing interest, only to suddenly morph into a new figure that would kick-start my inspiration; and there were some serious spills on the proverbial dirt road.
Regardless, the crowd seemed much more in tune with this vibe, and the reception after my “second tune” was enthusiastic. As the applause died down, a guy next to the bar with a mustache, glasses, and fedora (looking a bit like Joe Pantolianno), with a seriously disturbed look on his face, called out, “Do you ever leave your room?!” “Only to play at the Odeon Bar,” I replied. I then asked, “Can anyone tell me the time?” to which Mr. Highly Distraught, still wearing a look of bewilderment and horror, shook his head in dismay and muttered, “Time to get a girlfriend, man!” It was then that it occured to me that this guy was probably Chicken John himself.
A refined, polished performance this was definitely not, but for sheer relentlessness, drive, and surprise, the Odeon Bar gig was a definite keeper. One of my whole goals with developing my Echoplex show has been to be able to play a gig with the kind of energy that would come across in a rock club at least as well as an art gallery or a concert hall, so this show was a very gratifying realization of that aim.
After tearing down, I tracked down Chicken John, who continued to express what seemed to be very serious concern for my mental and physical well-being based upon my performance. He went on to make the observation (which he prefaced with his permission to post his comment my web site!) that my set reminded him of the time he’d done a “whip-it” while already using other substances, and found himself with a buzz that lasted for several hours. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that my music has a mind-altering nature to it, though it’s definitely the first time I’ve had it compared to an unnaturally prolonged whipped cream exposure.
(And for the benefit of my poor mother, and/or anyone from the Department of Homeland Security who may be reading, may I please go on the record as saying that I’ve never done whip-its, or any other illicit narcotic for that matter. Seriously, I’m one of the most straight-edge people I know. How or why it is that I make music with psychotropic qualities is anyone’s guess…)
I later found out that Chicken used to play guitar for the infamous G.G. Allin, a singer who would routinely beat himself bloody in mid-performance, defacate onstage (and sometimes smear the excrement on himself and/or the audience), and physically attack members of the crowd. Tours were apparently difficult to finish, as G.G. would routinely have to be rushed to the hospital due to blood poisoning.
I definitely wouldn’t have thought that someone who’d played with G.G. Allin would be taken aback by me stepping on a MIDI footpedal while playing artificial harmonics into an Echoplex, and I’m still not sure if I should be proud or ashamed at having freaked out someone with Chicken’s background. But I’m glad I didn’t know he’d played with G.G. until after the gig; otherwise, I probably never would have had the nerve to send him a demo in the first place.