Then-current album: Money
Opening act: …no idea at all. Not a clue.
Back of ticket ad: hey, thanks Fox Photo once more but…
Ah, the world of free promo tickets. Note the ‘GUEST’ on the ticket, the extra hole punch for no reason, the cost of zilch. Of course that meant I was bought and sold and all but hey, how appropriate given the band in question and the album they were touring on.
But this is less about them and more about a step into a brave new world of sorts — local Orange County venues.
It was a little inevitable, given that where I’d moved to — though there was no question of a culture shock. Having grown used to thinking ‘Oh they’ll just be playing at the Roxy or the Whisky’ whenever a newly-signed major label band on tour came through town, the schlep of an hour’s drive either way had already grown a bit wearying after just a couple of shows and there was a lot more to come. (And I wasn’t even driving!) So looking and hoping for more local shows by default was how I was starting to spend more of my days when it came to whatever was coming next — and at the time, OC’s show life seemed to be in an up-and-down phase.
The original punk rock venue wars surrounding places like the Cuckoo’s Nest had happened a decade before I arrived, and up to the point of my move to UCI I’d only been to two spots in OC — the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, which functioned in its own basin-wide world, and the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, site of the legendary Mr. Bungle show. Figuring out exactly what was around and of interest took some time when I got there — the OC Weekly was three years from launching, KUCI got show announcements as they happened, the LA Times OC edition provided some coverage but…it was all a bit haphazard.
But they were resources nonetheless and through some combination of them or new friends at UCI I heard that KMFDM would be returning to town. I’d just seen them in June and had enjoyed the show quite a bit, so seeing them again was no worry for me, especially since they’d just released a new single, “Sucks,” a reasonable enough number. But the Rhythm Cafe I knew nothing about — which made going there a bit of an experience.
As can often be the case with any venue, the exact physical location has gone through a few transformations over time. Exactly what it was before the Rhythm Cafe, if it was anything, was unclear; not too long after this it went through the first of a couple of name changes and has now been the Galaxy Concert Theatre for a number of years now. Its location remains one of the weirdest things about it — a demi-light industrial park area set away from main cross streets in the vicinity, totally impossible to notice if you were just randomly driving or walking around unless you saw a small sign or two. Any venue worth its salt should be next to at least something more amenable to a clientele pouring out late looking for eats or drinks or somewhere else to chill and chat but not this spot, not even a 7-11 or its equivalent.
It tried to make up for all this by being that most unusual of things given some of the bands that performed there — not merely a concert theatre but, frankly, a dinner theatre setup. Or a nightclub if you preferred — there was the stage and the open floor in front of the stage, but it was walled off in a semicircle arcing outward from the wings. Behind the semicircle were the remaining seats, but they were at tables, booths and free-standing bars — and if you sat there, you had better well be ordering something. Typical enough but I will still in relatively starving student mode in those years, so that was a little obnoxious. I also don’t remember the food being all that, unsurprisingly, but I’ll try and dig out more memories of it when I talk about shows later that I saw there.
However, as the ticket shows, this was a case where I didn’t have to buy one so I had that going for me. The connection had to have been KUCI, and I went with one of the more enjoyably intense, excitable fellows I’ve ever known through the station, Jarret Lovell. A great guy — he teaches at Cal State Fullerton and still works at KUCI with a long running public affairs show — but at the time was most well known at KUCI for being the always-on industrial music fanatic, along with friend Mackro, who was far more calm in comparison. Not a criticism, just an observation!
Jarret, myself and someone else who I simply don’t remember in the slightest — a female KUCI DJ or trainee, but beyond that I just couldn’t say — bundled into his car and headed out to the Rhythm Cafe, and I seem to remember us being a bit confused as to its location. (Again, this was all pre-widespread GPS days as well.) Jarret was especially excited because he’d arranged to do an interview with En Esch of KMFDM before the show for broadcast on his radio program — I’d read a few interviews with him at that point and figured it would be intriguing, if nothing else.
I’m not entirely sure what happened next — we arrived early, talked to staff, etc. and otherwise settled in — but at some point the three of us were introduced to En Esch and we went outside the back of the building, where bands park their vans and the like, to find a quieter spot to do the interview. Given that En Esch was, well, En Esch — already in the torn fishnets and towering over us all with his intense look and bald head — that had to be a little disconcerting for me. Jarret, to his credit, had already figured out for himself that he could combine his enthusiasm with charging right ahead with his questioning — not a bad approach, given his career foci since — and so we all sat down somewhere, on something (a pile of wood? a concrete block? I have no idea) and he took it from there. I very VERY ungraciously snorted a bit at a few of Jarret’s questions which I felt were a little obvious — and he rightly called me on that afterwards. I doubt I would have done any better, really! Wonder if there’s still a recording out there somewhere…
After that I’m not too sure what happened next, except that we were back in the venue and the opening act, if there was one, was going on. But I’m not even sure if there was one — I am completely blanking here and I wouldn’t be surprised at that since while generic openers always can be a problem with any ‘genre’ show as such, with industrial bands they could be VERY run of the mill. (But not always, of course. Some years later KMFDM played the very same venue at a show I missed — which I regret given that the opening band that time, on their first American tour, was Rammstein.)
KMFDM were a different matter, happily — though at the same time this didn’t sound too far different from the June show, with the only major setlist change of note I remember being their inclusion of “Sucks.” (I also only just remembered that either at this show or the previous one they busted out their cover of U2’s “Mysterious Ways” — which may seem strange but apparently Bono et al had all become KMFDM fans when recording Achtung Baby and pretending they were Nick Cave or Bowie pre-Berlin Wall collapse so who knows.) Jarret and I and others were quite happily right up front having a blast along with a small but spirited crowd — the venue was definitely not sold out, and I can’t imagine many fans of the time being ones to go and politely eat and drink while they were on stage. I remember their dancers on stage grooving along — quite well, actually, and given they were female and lithe, I admit my male gaze was in full effect.
There is one very funny moment I remember, though — during the choruses of “Godlike,” En Esch would approach the front of the stage and, while still singing, lend out the mike to whoever he was facing to singalong with. Hey, why not — a common enough thing to do, a fun touch. I do remember at one point he approached Jarret, who was standing a bit to my right. I still remember him looking thrilled when he realized he was going to get the chance to sing along with — but I think he was so excited I only remember him screaming happily. He might remember the story differently!
As for me, I got my own chance to do that a chorus or two later. And there is something pretty satisfying about sing-screaming “You’ll be GODLIKE!” through a microphone while a full band completely goes off right in front of you. No wonder people join bands.
Never saw them again but I did interview Sascha some time later — and the recording of that, I think, will be something for a newer project down the road…