Thoughts on a really great show

*warning = this is a loooong rant.

Luke Janela live at The Catalyst, January 28, 2010 - Photo Credit: Pete Geniella, petegeniella.com
Photo: Pete Geniella

Last Thursday, January 28th, I got to open for AFI, one of my favorite bands. We played The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and all the pieces fell into place for a great great show.

The show had been big in my mind for too long, I knew it was on, but the band I had recorded REDWOOD SUMMER with wasn’t to be available. I thought, ok, we’ll just make it happen for a good long while, and yet the band wasn’t nailed down, even just a couple weeks before the show.

My own fault, because the obvious choice for the best drummer was right in front of my face; I finally realized that I needed to call one of my best friends and bandmate of many many years Mr. Keith Feigin. He was with me for my first show ever, he recorded Blue Star, he recorded The Key, he is an amazing drummer. However, he hadn’t played drums, literally, for 5 years. Nonetheless, he was open to the idea. We’d jam on the songs, and if it worked, great. If not… welllllll….

My brothers pointed me in the direction of a guitar player they knew also in Ukiah (Keith lives there now), my hometown. A really talented guy who knows the business, touring all the time with his band, Luke Slinkert. Fortunately for me, Luke is also a huge AFI fan, which meant that the expenses and time spent practicing and traveling, especially when compared to the nominal guarantee we were getting to play (standard for opening bands) were worth it.

So I headed up to Northern California with less than a week to prepare for the show. A new band, I didn’t know Luke S. that well, and I didn’t know if Keith was going to be comfortable playing drums at all. I didn’t know how well my cello would play live, if my amp would even do the trick, if this was really realistic at all, or if it would all sadly implode.

I was optimistic, however!

Got into Ukiah, really really excited and anxious for our first practice that day, stopped by a friend’s apartment, bent down to pet the cute gigantic growling pit bull and promptly got bit in the face by said dog. Everything was suddenly chaotic, the dog got pulled off, I looked down at my hand and blood was dripping everywhere. Asked where the bathroom was, went in, and saw my lips looking pitifully mangled, kind of hanging there, as if confused, in all kinds of directions.

We rushed to the hospital, Keith was there, my brother Nate was there, my Mom showed up soon. I was sitting in the emergency room and I was on the verge of tears not because of the pain, which was pretty intense, so much as the idea that we would not be able to play this show. I wanted, I needed to play this show. It mattered to me.

The doctor stitched things up and took his time. He was great because he seemed to care and methodically put 28 stitches in my lips and face. He did a nice job. I went home, high on morphine and still wondering about the show.

The next morning things were good enough in my face to go ahead and schedule a practice, albeit without vocals from me. We’d play through the songs and kind of evaluate if it was even conceivable to go up on a stage in front of 1,000 people in less than three days. Things went well. I don’t know how, but Keith could really really bust it out still. Luke S. had memorized all the songs quickly and instantly was laying them down. The first time through the set was a little scary. The second time, the songs already sounded great.

So we had two more rehearsals to go. And they went really really well. Our set was only 6 songs and went like this:

True North
Strobe Light
The Unattended Ball
Time Is Near
Closure
Fever Saved Me

It clocked in at about 25 minutes, and we played it over and over again, just one song leading into the next. The last rehearsal we played through the set 5 times straight. That’s all we could do.

And it sounded good. I can honestly say that I wish I could re-record a version of REDWOOD SUMMER with the songs recorded in this raucous, garage/punk style that we had formed together in few days. Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Vocals. Simple, sweet, short.

There’s a kind of crummy sounding/looking recording of it available for the curious here:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/4262515

We drove down to Santa Cruz the day of the show. I went to college in Santa Cruz and knew it oh so well. I learned to really play cello there. I played the clubs and coffee shops (mostly coffee shops when I was there) often, it was my town. It was epic to return to the big venue in town and be loading my stuff in.

AFI’s bus and equipment truck were there, and the equipment had been unloaded. To me, it was an impressive setup, boxes and boxes of gear and stage equipment. The stage was already setup, with AFI’s huge banner tied like a curtain behind the drums. Davey Havok was walking around talking to all the folks at the Catalyst (he is a verifiably super-nice person by the way), Adam, their drummer was there. I love Adam, I don’t think I know very many people, musicians or otherwise, who are as cool, kind and humble as he is. Smith was running the show, Fritch was selling the merch. Much of the AFI crew was intact from the last time I had seen them play, only since then they had gone on to sell millions of records and land a #1 billboard debut. And yet they are still real, down to earth, nice people. No BS. And they are GOOD if not AMAZING as a band these days. I watched their sound check and they now have this amazingly fluid sense of their own sound, super super tight and just, in their element. I suppose the countless weeks of touring will do that for you.

Pre-show AFI, at the Catalyst

My nerves were crazy. I was still on antibiotics for my wounds and couldn’t really eat well so I had been on a liquid diet for the whole week. It was an enormous and woozy feeling. All my favorite people in the world, my family and my girlfriend to name a few, old college friends, showed up pre-show.

At one point me and Keith walked around the block to go grab a protein shake for me and a bite to eat for him, and the line to get in the club was already around block. That recognizable AFI crowd, dressed in black, non-conformist, devoted. Then we were scared… would they boo us off the stage? Also, up on the marquis, my name alongside AFI and Ceremony. Really cool for me, a good image, unexpected, and great.

The Marquis

Then we just tried to be not nervous. And soon enough it was time to get on stage. And we’d have to not blow it, of course.

Keith pre-show

And we got up there and just tore through the songs. The crowd was amazing. They were kind and into it. There were a lot of people in there too, 500-1000, I can’t really say a good estimate, but a lot. And the sound ruled, and my bandmates NAILED IT. And it was fun. This was it, a good show, good music, that euphoric state that musicians live for. It really was… yeah. It was great.

I had a lot of people to talk to when it was over, and thus I missed Ceremony. AFI put on an incredible performance, as they always do. Those guys play their hearts out EVERY TIME they go on stage, and that is often. They give everything to their fans, which is how it should be, in my opinion. The songs were so tight and so good, they played a couple really old ones, and a couple new ones off of Crash Love, and a few from in between. I was kind of in heaven, I had a great view, and I love seeing AFI play.

AFI performs live at The Catalyst, January 28, Santa Cruz

My brother took some amazing pictures of AFI that night, check them out here.

So the night settled down, nothing to crazy that evening, as my stitches were still healing and that was a good excuse to kind of get to ruminate on the whole thing. I couldn’t have asked for a better show, with better people around me. I’ve already directly said my thanks to all mentioned, but to my family, my girlfriend, my friends, to that crowd, and to AFI, I have a lot of gratitude.

Now it is on to the next big show. I’m eager to get it all going. I’ll let you know as it unfolds… Thanks so much for stopping by…

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