Monday, February 05, 2007

Hitting The Road With Keno (Part Two)

Now at dusk, the San Francisco sidewalk has emptied of shoppers and office dwellers, displaced by nocturnal beings just awakening. Kids that take 25 minutes to make their hair look like bedhead walk around adorned with $145 jeans shredded in the factory to give the privileged buyer the appearance of a junkie. Makes me wonder if some third world country villager is paid 3 cents a day to wear the pants for a couple of years to give them the fringed hem and faded thighs. African-Americans in huge parkas and baggy pants strut like tiny Michelin Men and tourists in shorts and t-shirts from warmer climes now huddle for warmth as the sun disappears over Union Square.

Keno and I now hustled up 4th to Market Street and spun on our heels to turn left. We were now energized, our bellies full of beef and mouths full of Tootsie Pop. As we made our way past the next shift of street performers and the now more alert zombie army of homeless, I became more and more anxious. It hit me that I was just a couple of hours away from seeing Rollins Band in the incarnation that I most enjoyed on record. I looked around, wanting to remember that moment, and took a deep breath. The Korean camera store and the stench of urine are now embedded in my memory as an attachment to Rollins Band music; I'd forgotten that I was on Market Street.
We came upon the entrance to the Warfield Theater and one. The doors were open and for the first time ever, I did not have to wait in a line. I'd seen bands in this building ranging from Spin Doctors to Joe Satriani, from Gov't Mule to Tin Machine, and no matter what time I'd shown up, I'd always waited in line in the bitter cold fending off panhandlers and wishing I'd been smart enough to bring a tallboy or stogie to pass the time. Most of the time, I had the wife to wrap my arms around, so it wasn't all bad.
This time though, Keno and I walked right up to the bored ticket takers and strolled into a barren lobby. He looked at me and cocked his head as to comment, "hmm, big time concert you brought me to". I shrugged. I didn't care how many people showed up. We were going to have a great time, of that I was sure. I wanted to show him around the place so he could see the concert posters of the past and soak up some history. As I pointed out some of the memorable bands memorialized by their posters in the lobby, I watched carefully to gauge Keno's interest. I was thrilled to see his face light up when he saw the amazing artwork that was used to announce even more amazing lineups of bands on any given night. I smiled to myself for I had conspired to make this night a mini-tour of Bay Area music history.
The woefully underrated and sometimes overlooked guitarist Robin Trower was playing over at the Fillmore on the same night. While having a ton of exposure on FM radio with "Bridge Of Sighs", I would consider Trower more of an album and tour success. I'd seen him perform in Fresno a number of times at various sized venues. Once, I was told that Trower would be signing autographs after the show. When it ended, my buddy Chet and I gathered along with a few dozen other concert goers behind the Warnor Theater. Stagehands and security personnel scuttled about but we had no idea where Robin was. Finally, someone with a pass hung around his neck and carrying a radio had us all line up in the alley. Then, one by one, we were allowed to approach Trower, who sat in the back seat of a big black Cadillac. It was like a scene in a straight-to-video mob film.
The way I had this night worked out was that if Rollins finished up at a reasonable time, we'd catch a cab and head over to The Fillmore to catch whatever was left of Trower's show. At just 7 miles wide and 7 miles long, the city of San Francisco can be traversed quickly by any good cabbie and cost just a few bucks. I mentioned this to Keno as we got a beer and headed onto the main floor of the Warfield. In typical Keno fashion, he shrugged and said that it sounded good to him and that I was in charge.
Once out on the main floor, I went into recon mode and pointed out some good spots on the rail of one of the tiered sections. The rail provides the best vantage point in the place as far as I'm concerned. As I've mentioned here before, S.F. tends to draw mammoth humans that always stand directly in front of me at standing room only venues, so standing at the rail effectively removes that possibility and the next tier is a step down, giving an unobstructed view over the heads of even the tallest patrons. Keno agreed, but we both saw no need to stay there and babysit the spot. It would more interesting to hang out in the lobby and watch the crowd come in.
We took a seat along the wall nearest the entrance and watched people get patted down and chug their contraband liquor that was to be otherwise thrown away. I was struck by the age range of the entering fans. At 39, I figured to be somewhere near the upper reaches of the age chart graph, given the fact that X and Rollins (whether with Black Flag or his own band) have been going strong since the early '80s. In fact, I skewed smack dab in the middle and saw kids as young as 14 and former punks old enough to have sired me and/or the slightly older Keno wander in with wide eyes and broad smiles. I especially liked watching the kids come in and slow their walk to a scuffed footed pace with mouths agape as they looked up at the posters and then looked at each other with joy. I still do that, but like sex, it's never the same as the first time.
The Riverboat Gamblers started up and we listened for a few minutes from the lobby and it was confirmed that they interested us not even enough to watch from the doorway. We kept our seat in the lobby and continued to watch the parade of pseudo punks so contrived in their look that I realized they were, in spite of what I consider to be the lost punk ethos that they're shooting for, not that different from the dorks that wore spandex pants and shirts with unnecessary zippers while attending 80's metal shows. I especially love what I used to call the fake Mohawk; young men simply gelling their hair into a spiky middle while the rest of their mane hangs naturally. I almost admire someone with a true Mohawk because it's a commitment to the look. These other guys can twist and twirl their 'do into something passable at work or school if they have to. Then I find out the snarky, fashion industry name for it; The Faux-hawk. Oooh, snap!
When the opening band's set came to a merciful end, Keno and I waited for the young ones to exit the main floor and chose our moment to do the "Market Street bob and weave" to get back to the rail. Our spot was open and we set up shop. "Look at these people", said Keno. "They're all leaving the best spots without leaving someone to protect their claim".
"Amateurs", I hissed with a grin.
I told him to spread out a bit while I fetched a couple of drinks to last us through the set, but then a waitress came up to take our order. With all of the kids in attendance, she'd not had a ton of work that night, and I could only imagine that she sighed all the way through the opening set thinking about her tip total. We ordered up with Keno moving to cocktails to curtail the full feeling left from dinner. Me? More beer for the hollow leg. Keno scratched his head and wondered aloud where I put it all.
We went over our escape plan one more time; as soon as the lights came up after Rollins' set, we'd make for the door. No bathroom break, no looking around, no nothing. Exit signs and making tracks. Then we'd hail a cab and see if we could get into the Fillmore. I did not secure tickets for Trower's show because the timeline wasn't comfortable enough for me. If we couldn't get in, we'd simply head over to the Boom Boom Room cater-cornered from the Fillmore to see an old blues guy named Chicken Man. Short of going overboard and synchronizing our watches, we agreed on the details of the plan and toasted to the music ahead.
I took a few moments to look around and wondered how many, if any, of the patrons now moving towards us and down towards the stage were Rollins Band fans. As much as I love the music, I would still consider myself a latecomer because I became a fan a third of the way into his solo career and I'm only now warming up to the Black Flag material. I imagined some of the fans were there from the punk days and wondered what Henry was up to nowadays, without knowing the material. Others might be there for X, but were somewhat aware of Rollins Band stuff. I figured that many looked at Rollins as some sort of One Hit Wonder with Liar from the 120 Minutes MTV exposure. I knew why I was there and while I felt a little alone at the time, it wouldn't be long before I rubbed elbows with a kindred soul.
I was getting excited. I'd read enough of Rollins' tour journals to know that he was backstage now, pacing and breathing heavily like a fighter entering the ring. Keno smiled wide in anticipation, but I almost laughed knowing that he had no idea of the aural onslaught he was about to encounter. Our rail was filling up a little with a really "normal" looking couple to my left and a few youngsters to Keno's right. Then, the waitress tapped my shoulder. My internal Show-O-Meter gauge still read "Memory Function: Intact/Vision: Single", so I held up the reverse peace sign to tell her that we'd like another round. We watched as the floor filled up gradually with the bizarre mix that we'd watched enter the venue and we did a little pointing and laughing. Our waitress came back remarkably quickly and we tipped her well, partly out of pity and partly out of the fact that we'd been drinking and she was marginally attractive.
The lights went down (how many times have I used that phrase on this site?) and the band walked onto the stage. My skin tingled as I watched my favorite Rollins Band lineup take the stage and tune up for a second before Henry Rollins himself came out and took his position between two large monitors pointed not back at him from the stage rim, but surrounding him like a sonic bunker. He wrapped the mic cord around his hand more than a few times and squatted like a fencer as drummer Sim Cain counted off into "On My Way To The Cage".
I looked back at Keno only for a second to see his face contort into that of someone that has just witnessed a violent auto accident. I laughed out loud. The woman to my left screamed and then growled the opening lines to a song I thought nobody but me knew. I glanced over my left shoulder to see what I thought was a Soccer Mom rocking out with abandon. After months of anticipation, I was now within throwing distance from the band that had been my companion in the weight room for years. I bobbed my head with the beat and thought to check in with Keno.
I backhanded his shoulder. "Well, was I right?"
Keno didn't even look at me. His gaze was fixed on Henry Rollins and I couldn't blame him. I took my curled index finger and tapped his jaw.
"Holy shit", he mumbled.
Next: Part 3-- The San Francisco night welcomes two explorers.