Some lineups and shows are perfect microcosms of time and space.
Last week good friend Mackro went and saw Trumans Water play a show up in Seattle, which made me think of this show, which Mackro and I and others went to — the timing is right to talk about it in this whole series, and like the many UC Irvine shows from 1992 to 1993 I mentioned in the previous entry, there’s no ticket or flyer or anything I have to hand for this one. In fact, as I keep looking around for more information about this show there’s nothing out there about it from what I can immediately tell. It’s not too surprising, the whole point of something happening, a scene or a gathering of like-minded bands or an accident of touring history, is often that it’s not some sort of ‘legendary event’ except in retrospect. At the time it’s more ‘well yeah, that show would happen, and this stuff would occur.’
With the Matador 21 fest about to happen over in Vegas, including Superchunk given their first albums were released on the label, with Trumans Water still happily at it, with Thalia Zedek still making music, with fluf still being fluf, this show feels less like something distant and long lost than it does like one step of many for all involved. Soma’s still around, heck, Superchunk are playing there later in the year too. But the story of this show isn’t just of a show, but of a day — a random, wonderful day. I oversimplify it by saying we had lunch with Trumans Water, tea with Superchunk and dinner with Come, but we kinda did.
Some context — I only realized after I had finished up my previous UC Irvine show story that I had left out a band I saw there and around a few times that year, fluf. They were actually the subject of one of my first interviews for the New University and it all served as a reminder to me that while I’d been going to high school and puzzling things out on Coronado, over in San Diego itself all sorts of other things were happening, including the foundation of Cargo Records and an increasingly higher profile homegrown scene, though it really only kicked in further during my UCLA days. O., the affable, friendly fellow who played guitar and sang for fluf, was a hell of an interview; he had stories about production work for other bands, hanging around with J. Mascis, playing pool with Robert Smith, more besides. The early singles and albums still are favorites; they had the gift of creating and performing songs that knew their classic rock and punk rock and all that and weren’t draggy or sludgy — it all felt warm, friendly.
So them I knew about. Come I had read about, thanks to Melody Maker giving them some attention — I’d vaguely heard some Live Skull at that point but that was the extent of it. Trumans Water I knew next to nothing about though they’d apparently played the UCI pub at that point, as well as KUCI — Mackro was a massive fan and I was intrigued and started to listen to them in turn. Then there was Superchunk, who I had first heard of via fIREHOSE covering “Slack Motherfucker” at a noontime show at UCLA in senior year. All I really knew is that a lot of friends were really really REALLY into them, so that made sense.
How exactly it all happened I’m not sure but some combination of myself, Mackro, friend Jen V. and someone else (Eric R.? Steve C.? somebody else entirely? [EDIT: and Steve C. confirmed it was him.]) ended up heading down to San Diego on whatever day of the show this was. I want to say it was a weekend but possibly not — a glorious spring day at the least. It was the usual ride down, one of the last visits I would make to San Diego before my parents moved away in 1994, but instead of going later in the day to the show we were heading down early because of an interview — I can’t remember if it was Mackro interviewing Trumans Water for KUCI or Jen V. interviewing them for something else or just hanging out or something else entirely, but we were all going to the show and nobody minded and off we went in a heap. Which meant going to the Trumans Water house somewhere well inland from the coast in an area of San Diego I’d never been to before.
It was a typical enough spot, I guess; the band were all there renting it, though I think Glen Galloway, soon to depart to form Soul-Junk and create his own inspired pathway, was out elsewhere. Kirk and Kevin Branstetter were there, though, and I remember we all got along pretty well. They were originally from Yorba Linda up in OC as it turned out, and both friendly fellows, Kirk taller and slightly more energized and Kevin a little more laid back. I can’t remember what we all did at the place but we were there for a bit — they pointed out their cat who had just had kittens, and who appeared via a drawing on one of their tour shirts. The subject of their newfound love from England came up — famously, John Peel had been so excited by hearing them that he ended up calling them live on the air — and we all eventually went to go get lunch at a Mexican spot nearby, as well as visiting a Guitar Center, presumably so the band could get strings or something for the show that night. Again, no real specifics about any of this stick in the brain, but the whole feeling of enjoyable, casual talk.
Our little group then went over to Coronado briefly to relax a bit and so I could introduce Jen and Brian and whoever else it was to my folks; later I remember both of my parents saying how cool everyone was. Hey, I pick my friends well. We then crossed back over the bridge to go to Soma, down near the shoreline not far from Horton Plaza. The latter I’d been to many times but this was the first time I think I’d ever been in that exact part of the city near it, so as before I was getting a new perspective on a city I thought I knew well. Better late than never.
It was still some time before the show itself would start and there might have been more interviews or other things happening. I really don’t know how it happened but somehow I ended up standing in a circle in the parking lot of the club around back (or to the side?) with Mac and Laura of Superchunk, possibly John Reis of Rocket from the Crypt/Drive Like Jehu but I’m not positive (he had produced On the Mouth but he could well have been on tour elsewhere at that point) and at least a couple of other folks. I really didn’t say much — I didn’t have much to say! — but it was a low-key chat in general and I remembered thinking both Mac and Laura seemed pretty chill and friendly. Given that they were either breaking up or about to right at that time, that might explain the relative restraint; then again I think the story was that they’d decided to break up before the tour. Not that I knew a thing about any of it!
After a little more time our bunch, possibly with O. around, ended up chatting with some of the members of Come. Again, it could well have been that there was another interview or similar talk that had been arranged, I’m not positive at all, but it was Thalia, Chris Brokaw and Thalia’s girlfriend (not a band member, maybe she was the road manager, or along for the ride or the like) and possibly one or two others in the group. At my vague suggestion — this is before I knew better on where to scrounge for food in San Diego in general — we ended up walking the short distance to Horton Plaza to get dinner at a 50s retro place that was there, which was about what you might expect. I remember Chris being quietly talkative but Thalia being almost totally uncommunicative — very withdrawn, wide-eyed, who knows what else. Her girlfriend was a kick, though, very chatty and forthright, and seemed unfazed by Thalia’s mood. Some couples’ dynamics just are what they are.
So after all that and a little more waiting around, the show. Soma’s location reminded me in terms of size of somewhere like the Great American Music Hall up in San Francisco, not as big as the Wiltern or even the Palace but a good sized spot with an open floor space in front of the stage. I remember thinking that it was the kind of place where I could easily wander around and not worry about not being able to find people later on, always handy. fluf started the show and given my past times of seeing and hearing them there were no surprises — it was just another good, quality show from a solid band, O. singing and playing with his usual easygoing but high volume approach.
Trumans Water were next — I remember the club owner or manager, who apparently was not entirely well thought of by various members of bands on the bill, coming on and introducing them while clearly not really knowing much about their music or the way they did things, though he did mention about how ‘they’re getting big in England now’ or something like that. This turned out to be the only Trumans Water show I saw with Glen in the band so for that reason alone I’m glad I caught it, but even though they were clearly befuddling a number of folks in the audience a lot of us were just as into it. Fractured, turn on a dime arrangements, weird half-shouted rants, but nothing angry per se, more just wild energy — one moment I loved was when Glen, Kirk and Kevin all started a song a capella, singing nothing but a ragged “AaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” that rose in pitch and volume. There needs to be more of that.
On balance, Come were probably my band of the evening, though the whole night was generally pretty good. I don’t think I had actually heard Eleven:Eleven at that point even though it had been out a bit; I actually knew Brokaw’s work in Codeine more. But it was a damn great set — whatever mood Thalia Zedek was in, and whether it drove the performance, I wouldn’t presume to say, but she was on fire and the rest of the band weren’t slacking. “Car” was my standout but there was one part where she and Brokaw traded guitar lines while the rest of the band paused — near Neil Young levels of feedback-as-melancholic-bummer, all while not letting up.
Which left Superchunk and…I was deflated. Honestly it wasn’t a bad performance, but I felt a bit like I had the previous year when I saw Rage Against the Machine and everybody around me was going nuts and I was all “…huh.” Not quite as bad as all that, really, because three songs do stick as standouts — “Tower,” which opened the set, “The Question is How Fast,” probably around the middle, and their cover of the Magnetic Fields “100,000 Fireflies” which either closed the set or was near there or the encore. “Slack Motherfucker” was in there somewhere too, I’d guess. But something about what they were doing left me a little unsatisfied — even bored, to be honest. It might have been what seemed like the endless non-variety of the set after such a good start, one quick hooky number after another — and given some of the bands I’d seen by then or was into who pretty much did the same thing it wasn’t like I could pretend I was done with the form. Still, it just didn’t quite fly and while my grouchiness about their set and work has subsided a long time back, I’ve never really thought much about their work since — I’m happy Merge is the success it is, Mac and Laura are now legendary for being good people made good, but Superchunk excel at scratching a nonexistent itch for me.
Then we all piled in the car and went home. Long day.