Arriving at San Diego’s Balboa Park a couple of hours early, my wife and I thought we’d take our our six-year-old daughter and her two cousins to a few museums before the Drive Like Jehu reunion show started. No such luck because they were all closed. It worked out, though, because we heard the sound check begin and booked over to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to catch it. There were perhaps two or three dozen friends, fans, and nerds present and I was stoked to be one of them.
The “real” set was purported to be only five or six songs long, so any extra music was a bonus. As advertised, civic organist Dr. Carol Williams accompanied the band on the largest outdoor pipe organ in the western hemisphere. And of course O was up there handling sound. It was actually difficult to hear the massive instrument from up close since the pipes are so high and the amps were so low and loud.
We left to get a snack and returned to find the space between the stage and seating quickly filling up with familiar faces from all sorts of current and past San Diego bands: Heavy Vegetable, Olive Lawn, fluf, Pinback, The Locust, Retox, Rocket from the Crypt… I should have taken pictures but then it would be even more obvious that the same people are in multiple bands. Williams warmed up the crowd with a selection of originals as well as the most famous piece from Phantom of the Opera. When the time came to introduce her guests, she admitted that her playing would be harder to hear after their instruments were plugged in.
Someone told me that the sound wasn’t so good during the first song but it seemed great from where we stood. To accommodate the organ, the set was admittedly on the melodic side of Jehu’s catalog: Do You Compute, Super Unison, Sinews, If It Kills You, Luau. The organist seemed to be really feeling it in “If It Kills You” and John Reis seemed to be communicating with her throughout. Rob Crow came out in a suit to lend his vocals to the closer, “Luau.” The band only had two weeks’ notice to put the show together because they happen to know someone on the organ committee, practiced like hell, and kicked ass. Yes, Rick Fork can still wail. It looked like everyone onstage had a great time, too.
Holy crap, what a cool show and how rad was it that the much-anticipated reunion was a free hometown gig in a public park? Anyone could go, and diehards arrived from as far as the East Coast and even Europe to complement the local organ lovers, park users, and tourists who just happened to be there. There were no reunion T-shirts but Drive Like Jelly shirts from Donut Friend are out there for the true fans.
Of course there will be comparisons between the Jehu reunion and the rebirth of the band’s flip side, Rocket From The Crypt. RFTC reunited for Yo Gabba Gabba! and most of their most loyal fans freaked out about not being able to be on the set (my family and I were there, thanks to a hookup by our friend and YGG photographer Ben Clark). But Jehu followers who lament missing the Labor Day Weekend show will get to watch the set on YouTube via fan videos just like they got to see Speedo sing “He’s A Chef” on the kids TV show. And although there are no future shows planned at the moment, after the show Drive Like Jehu drummer and Donut Friend founder Mark Trombino said, “Who knows?” He took off his gloves to reveal taped-up fingers that were perhaps a little tender after the 19-years break.
What won’t happen again was all the old friends reuniting under the stars on a perfectly noisy summer night. I saw so many pals who drove from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and all over San Diego; musicians who were in old bands but are now in new ones; college peers who now relate as parents… We all loved Drive Like Jehu, got to be part of this special evening, and must have hung out for at least an hour afterward before finally admitting it was over.