There's got to be an upside to being stranded in the East Bay for three and a half weeks, I kept telling myself, and sure enough, I'd been here barely a day when I discovered that my old friend JESSE MICHAELS was going to be performing down the legendary GILMAN STREET along with fellow legends KEVIN SECONDS and MIKE PARK.
I'm guessing, though I don't know for sure, that Jesse must have played at Gilman during his days with COMMON RIDER, but if so, I wasn't there, so this marked the first time I'd seen him on the Gilman stage since the last OPERATION IVY show almost 20 years ago. As you'd expect, some fellow old-timers showed up to see him, including PAT WRIGHT, who's been a part of Gilman since pretty much the beginning, and could barely contain his delight at having, at age 65, started collecting his Social Security. While others, including the lovely KAMALA, of the KARNIVORES et al., assured me (there were a lot of similar assurances going on among the Gilman old-schoolers) that I "hadn't changed a bit," Pat wanted to know if I too had signed up for Social Security, rather abruptly undoing all the good work by the numerous flatterers.
Also in attendance was AARON THORNS OF LIFE, who's taken up residence on the West Coast for a while, so Next Big Thing seeker-afters can relax for a while when it comes to finding out about that next top-secret show that they're not invited to. Meanwhile, what was happening up on the stage? Well, Jesse, who told me beforehand that his main goal in doing these shows is to "learn how to sing and play guitar at the same time so I can join a band," ran through about an album's worth of brand new songs (new to me, anyway, and I think to the crowd at large) with just himself on vocals and electric guitar. "But Jesse," I'd said, "you've already managed to be in a few bands and do, um, reasonably well..." "Yes," he said, but I want to be able to use the guitar as a composing tool for writing songs." "But it seems like you've managed to write a few songs in your time, too..." But at that point I uncharacteristically shut up, it having occurred to me that there was probably not much point in my trying to tell one of the greatest performers I've ever seen how to conduct his business.
The new songs do sound good, though they seem as though they're not fully developed yet, and would probably benefit from being performed by a full band. Jesse also seemed a little nervous on stage, at least during the opening songs, but relaxed noticeably once he realized that the crowd was totally supportive and was going to let him do whatever he wanted (i.e., no one yelling for Operation Ivy songs, etc.). As it happened, though, there was one magical moment at the close of Mike Park's set, when he came down into the audience to pose for a picture at the end of his set and then suddenly broke into a rendition of what was arguably Op Ivy's most anthemic number, "The Crowd." Jesse was standing just a few feet away, and eyes kept straying toward him to see how he would react, but then just as it came time for the second verse, he edged up to the microphone and started singing, "Drink drink in the badlands..."
Those of you who know the song will be aware that just as he kicks into that lyric there's an inadvertent (or perhaps not) catch in his voice that catapults things into another dimension, and not only did chills resonate up and down my body, but my eyes rolled heavenward until I was staring at the ceiling of Gilman Street. There's something about Jesse's voice when he really nails a lyric that does that to you, and I was reminded of the way DAVID HAYES described the feeling of another Op Ivy song, "Bad Town," where LINT (very creditably handles the vocals until the last chorus, when Jesse comes in with a "No, no no, no" that, as David said back then, was "almost scary."
But last night's magical Gilman moment was short-lived, at least for me: while everyone around me started singing along (just like Op Ivy shows of yore), the guy behind me sang so loud that even without a microphone, he completely drowned out Jesse. I hope it was a very enjoyable experience for him, singing along with his hero that way, but frankly, just for those couple of minutes, I would have rather heard his hero. Oh well. My feeling is that Jesse's headed in a good direction with the new stuff and that there will be more chances to hear him in the coming months.
Kevin Seconds also did his acoustic thingie and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Not sure how much he liked me reminding him that the first time I saw him with his old band 7 SECONDS was more than 28 years ago, but hey, we're all getting along in years, and the far more important thing is that he's still getting out there and playing and making things happen, and from all appearances, enjoying the heck out of it. From the stage, Jesse told a story that I'd never heard, and which I'll have to assume is legit: that back in the late 70s, Kevin and his brother started an American Sex Pistols fan club while, Jesse made sure to point out, "the Sex Pistols were still a band."
Anyway, good spirits and high times all around on a chilly California night. Gilman Street will be 22 years old in a few weeks time. It's an ongoing miracle, and almost singlehandedly makes up for much that is wrong with the world today.