My GPS told me that I had to take a certain route which would best suit my punctual arrival at the ViperRoom. I had always wanted to play there, but I had never had the chance until the gig on February 8. Other original bands that I had been involved with were either not up to par or they just didn't have an interest in playing there. It was an historical musical landmark; as far as my humble opinion goes. It had once been owned by Johnny Depp and the fact that River Phoenix passed-to-the-other-side there only served to romanticize it's mystique among in the L.A. hipster elite. The venue was - and is - indelibly cool no matter how you look at it. I left early to get there early. My wife Christina was with me.
405 North...get off on the Wilshire Boulevard, take a left on Santa Monica Boulevard. I took the left on SMB. Driving east I could see short glimpses of beautiful houses peaking through trees and fences. No people anywhere, man. No one walking. No one waiting at a bus stop...nothing. The streets were populated with people driving their cars...that was about it. And anyone from L.A. knows how everyone drives here: faceless masks with road rage emotion lying just beneath the surface of false engine tranquility. We passed a sign which read "Beverly Hills". The scent of money wafting in through the ventilating car windows. Except for the noise and movement of traffic; the streets themselves were still in relative repose. (A digression: we passed many nondescript streets until I happened to notice a street named "Camden". Camden happens to be the name of my as-yet-unborn nephew who is going to be born soon in Sacramento. At the time I thought that it was kind of a cosmic coincidence and it seemed to hold infinite significant meaning. Now it seems funny - and on the verge of stupid - that I should mention it here, but I guess this is the way my brain works and this is how I write.) We made a left on Doheny (I was still dutifully following every command of my GPS). The streets on Doheny seemed different; dark and a little mysterious. Trees mutely hung over the street still casting ominous twenty-four-seven shadows. The passing apartments probably housed musicians, actors, maybe an artist or two.
When we finally reached Sunset Boulevard, it was like a light went on. In fact everything seemed to be lit up like a Christmas tree, man. The streets were full of people walking around in black clothing (no doubt somehow silently exhibiting their varying degrees of hipness). The ViperRoom loomed-up on the right side so I passed it and turned on the first street on the right: Larrabee. Parking was located directly behind the club. I turned in and paid the 10 bucks which would supposedly ensure my vehicle's safety.
"Is anyone going to break into our car?", my wife said jokingly to the parking attendant.
"They wouldn't dare! Over my dead body! I will protect it with my life!", the good-humored attendant retorted in mock self-importance.
(Wow...am I really experimenting with trying to add actual dialog to this story?)
Christina and I were allowed in through a side door. There was a small bar downstairs. We went upstairs to the room that I was going to be playing in. It was cool! Bigger than downstairs. Shiny black floor. Thousands of words floating around in the dense air blurring together like mixed colors. Loud music. Lots of activity. People were engaged in drinking, dancing, and the kind of conversations where you have to talk directly into someone's eardrum in order for them to hear anything that you are saying. Lots of people dressed in black up there too. (Must be a signature Hollywood thing.) We stood there for a few minutes and decided to kill some time elsewhere. It was still an hour and a half before the performance so we decided to go get some coffee. We went back out through the side door (where we had come in) and asked the cool bearded-guy at the door where we could go to get some java. He told us that the best place for coffee was the Hustler Hollywood store just up the street; one block west of the club. My first reaction was "really?" as I could clearly see that there was a Peet's Coffee right across the street. But my wife and I decided to trust one 'o the locals so we headed up the street just as he (the bearded-guy) had directed.
We walk into Hustler Hollywood and, lo and behold, there actually was a coffee shop in there complete with teas and all sorts of pastries! We decided that it would be best not to drink too much caffeine at that late hour so we opted instead for some de-caffeinated green tea. I noticed that there were a few empty wooden tables in there amidst porn mags, porn videos, how-to-fellatio-and-or-cunnilingus books, kinky leather gear, and handbags that had dyed fluorescent blue fur all over them. While waiting for the teas to come, a bearded-guy (another one) wearing a Green Bay Packers jacket and jeans comes up to me. I could tell that he had thrown back a few...if you catch my drift. He asks me whether he could 'borrow' a cigarette. Upon overhearing his request, the chick making our teas behind the counter went off. I mean...she was irate, man! She told him to get the hell out of the store if he didn't have any money. (Apparently she thought that the guy was trying to bum a few dollars off of an already self-proclaimed bum such as myself). He tried to explain himself, but the chick behind the counter wasn't having any of it. I didn't really know what to say to the poor guy as he was hazily trying explain himself in earnest. All I could say was that I didn't have a cigarette or something similarly obtuse. (Later I saw the same guy at the show and imagined that he might have snuck in through the front door as we were loading-in to get to the stage.) We drank our teas distractedly and then left to go back to the club. As we were leaving the chick behind the counter smiled and wished me luck at the show. That was cool of her, I guess...
Our set was to start at 10:30pm. It was about 9:30pm. We watched the band before us. They were good. As they launched into their last number it was time to load-in. I schlepped my sparse gear (snare, bass pedals, and various cymbals) to the closed front door of the club. Brian, Mike, and Dan were already there. I could hear the last bit of a song humming, and then fading away, through the outside wall. Then the front door opened. The other band was leaving as we were entering which, of course, adds a little more chaos to the proceedings; but we got on stage and started to piece everything together as quickly as we could. It took me a few minutes as I was looking around for a tom to bang on. (The girl drummer in the last band used a minimal set which is blasphemy to me. I usually like to use everything humanly possible on a drum-set.) The sound guy (Chris) sets the mics on the drums and then asks everyone what they need. I tell him that I need some guitar here...a little more bass guitar there. Chris follows my directions to a tee. No 'tude' (as per usual with sound dudes in Los Angeles). If I asked him for a certain level on a certain instrument; the level was there! He was fucking amazing! Usually what happens on the circuit is that a sound man will ask you what-you-need and what-you-need is usually there in the monitor before the set. During the set is a different story. It's as if any conversation that you had with the sound man before the set was completely and utterly irrelevant.
We start playing and, from start to finish, it was one of those nights when everything goes right. A perfect gem of a set. I am of the belief that - besides the actual members of the band - the sound men played a big part in creating the vibe and how we were coming across to the audience. They were an integral part of the band. The songs flowed well...like going from one musical landscape to another. I had the best seat in the house as far as I was concerned. From the drum throne I watched Brian and Mike perspire profusely under the heavy bright lights. Dan, who does not perspire (or maybe he just perspires inwardly), dug into his bass-lines, keyboard, guitar, and percussion parts with self-absorbed efficiency. All three of them were twitching and contorting their bodies in all kinds of ways in order to get a particular note, emotion, or sound across to all those sets of eyes and ears. The audience was loud and receptive. They understood what we were trying to do up there. All of us were grateful. After the set - when it was time to get back to life and reality - the band said their goodbyes to one another and then thanked the genuine sound-man Chris. We hoped that we would return to the ViperRoom soon. The entire staff there was professional, cool, and ready to help. Christina and I jumped back into our vehicle - our souls burning - and took a part of that particular evening's events home with us. No moon out. Just the night, the streets, and the snaky freeway.