Time for a break from the run of stories about shows I have tickets for to talk about ones I wish I had tickets or flyers or photos or something more for — in fact there’s probably an archive of sorts around that I don’t know about, maybe I should do some investigating. It would be typical of me to ignore something that’s probably just a couple of buildings away which has all this stuff.
I’ve written and mentioned off and on — here a bit but also elsewhere on the Net — that UC Irvine has had a renaissance when it comes to excellent shows appearing here on a regular basis. This is down to the efforts of the incredible Acrobatics Everyday team, who have increasingly made the campus a spot on the map for a lot of independent touring acts once more — scroll down to the bottom of their page there to see who they’ve had through in the past couple of years. It’s been wonderful to see and my hopes that this will become a regular effort which will last over time continue to increase — it’s one thing to be inspired to create something like this, quite another to fully maintain it, especially when dealing with a populace that by default mostly changes year by year as new people arrive and older students depart or graduate.
I say ‘renaissance’ and I mention the possibility of things falling apart precisely because I’ve lived through this cycle before thanks to arriving on campus in fall 1992 in what turned out to be right about the middle of a golden age there. Thanks to a combination of well-inclined permanent staffers at ASUCI, a reasonable booking budget and input from a variety of people who wanted good shows in — not least of whom was my friend Jen V., who as far as I could tell either booked or arranged for most of these shows to happen — the campus had a regular run of everything from big auditorium/gymnasium shows (and more about those soon in this series) to smaller shows booked in student center rooms or for noontime performances on the student center plaza. If there’s a lot of well-intentioned if somewhat oppressive nostalgia now about the early nineties and music — and hey, I am helping to feed it all a bit with these stories, I realize — then there’s still no denying that there seemed to be something happening all the time right around this period.
The first I’d heard that UC Irvine was the potential home for anything good like that was when Sonic Youth played there in 1990, followed by the Cocteau Twins with Galaxie 500 the following year, a now notorious show (thanks a spotlight incident involving Dean Wareham) that I really wish I’d seen. Arriving on campus and working with both the student newspaper and the radio station meant I was in the mix of this all almost immediately, especially as I’d swiftly befriended Jen V. and heard her talk about the many upcoming shows pretty quickly after that point.
The first big shows I knew about that happened — big as in mentions on KROQ big — were separate dates by Fishbone and Alice in Chains, both of which I missed. The first small show I missed, though, was apparently one by Drive Like Jehu in fall of 1992 at the student pub. (Thankfully I caught them later on but I’ll yet get to that.) The student pub was one of the key show locales, unsurprisingly enough, though it was a bit of a curious place — vaguely okay beer selections, notoriously bland food, located on the upper level of the old student center complex over the food court, also complete with a balcony area. Like the main building itself it all felt a bit like an eighties hangover.
One thing I did remember hearing about was that the manager of the place apparently — due to liability or maybe due to other reasons — accepted show bookings but didn’t want people to dance or move much. Remember, this is 1992 — moshpits and floaters and all that — but even vaguely pogoing was beyond the pale, as I understood it and later experienced it. Keep all that in mind.
Eventually I got my act and brain together and started making sure I went over to these shows, happening just about ten minutes walk away from my on-campus housing. Who exactly I saw that year and when is a touch of mystery but some memories are clear — the first ever pub show I saw was supposed to be the Breeders, touring for the Safari EP, but they had to cancel, leaving us with the opening band, none other than Unrest. A small but spirited crowd, a great performance, I really only knew the most recent releases but I loved what they were playing and the whole deal, Mark E. Robinson seemed like a pretty happy and confident performer but so was everyone.
Other pub shows crowd up in the memory, and some might be from my second academic year there so I have to be a bit careful. I got to be aware of a number of upcoming shows thanks to my newspaper work, so quite often a preview story served as my own reminder that someone was coming through. Tiger Trap definitely played a lovely afternoon set there, maybe only to ten people but we all adored it. Mecca Normal kicked major butt with their nighttime show, and I loved how the whole crowd busted out into the “I Walk Alone” chorus when Jean Smith did her walk-through-the-audience part. Naked Soul headlined a set as well — quite possibly headlining over Refrigerator or Diskothi-Q or maybe that was separate. I do definitely remember Nothing Painted Blue playing a set at some point, and also Franklin Bruno and Peter Hughes fake-charging the stage in between sets one night, I just can’t remember which night. But getting back to Naked Soul — Mike Conley asked me to introduce them, something I was both surprised and touched by, and I know someone taped the show because there’s this YouTube clip:
I’m not in that but I’m around there in the audience, somewhere.
And then there were the noontime shows, though again I’m trying to recall who did play that year and who played the following. fIREHOSE played a set, the second time in as many years (and on as many UC campuses) I’d seen them do a noontime show — this would have been spring 1993. Xtra Large did a show, even if that’s mostly of local Costa Mesa interest (but hey, they were signed to Irving Azoff’s label, to my eternal surprise). I absolutely remember the Melvins noontime show — how could I miss they were coming through, after the Mr. Bungle show the previous year — though I couldn’t actually watch it, as I was stuck in a seminar. The windows were open, though — it was a beautiful spring afternoon — and I remember that day going like this:
“And as we study Nadine Gordimer’s work in more detail –”
“–the damage of apartheid–”
“–comments? Mr. Raggett?”
“Could you repeat the question?”
It wasn’t quite like that but it was close. Later I passed Lori Black on what looked like a pretty bad trip sitting outside on the steps next to the radio station’s home building and then walked up into the station to find King Buzzo joking around on the air. Fun day, really.
However, the absolutely most legendary show of all these ones I saw or attended (or just heard) was one that didn’t actually happen. Shortly after I arrived at KUCI I started hearing about this band called Green Day, who I didn’t know about at all. Either whoever was at KLA who was into them didn’t run into me or they just weren’t big there at all, but KUCI had a happy fanbase and then some. One thing led to another and sometime in midwinter 1993 I was deep in conversation with Tre Cool for an interview for the student paper about a forthcoming show. (I have a variety of Tre Cool memories around this time as he was around campus for a couple of stretches — long story.)
At the time there was major interest in the group from various labels — the bidding war was on and of course we know how it all turned out and what happened with them, so no need to belabor that point. In 1993, it was all up for grabs, and so Sony, Geffen and Warner Bros. were all anxious to secure the band’s services (there might have been others, not sure). Therefore, the show that they were scheduled to play at the UC Irvine pub was something of a showcase performance, as reps — and allegedly David Geffen himself — were due to make an appearance. I remember Jen V. being way anxious about the show for that reason, as well as for the fact that the pub manager was getting pretty antsy about having a bunch of punk fans at his place. This was all compounded by the fact that the other two bands on the bill had their own following — the Women, a great Costa Mesa act that never quite broke through, were going to open, while Face to Face, a couple of years away from their own major label leap, were in the middle.
And to top that off, Green Day had to cancel a show the previous night in the Inland Empire but apparently told the crowd to go to the UC Irvine show instead as it was cheap and/or free, I forget which. So there were going to be even more people there that night than before.
And to top THAT off there were a lot of police and security folks on campus that very evening because one building over was a huge presentation and speech by recently defeated independent candidate for president H. Ross Perot.
I got over there early and remembered thinking ‘this is not going to be a normal evening’ when I was out on the balcony looking at the HUGE line of people waiting on the student center terrace to go up the narrow staircase into the venue. Do keep in mind, Green Day were not yet famous in the all-over-radio/MTV sense; Dookie wasn’t even recorded yet. But I pretty much assumed there and then that they were going to be famous by default if they could pull in that kind of a crowd.
All was increasingly packed and somewhat chaotic inside — Jen V. was running around like mad making sure everything was okay, the pub manager was already looking like this was the last thing he wanted. The Women played a sharp set — I was actually right near the front for it, to my slight surprise but everyone was more or less behaving themselves, since again, no slamming, no pogoing, no dancing, nothing. This while the line of people continued to slowly file in and make everything more cramped.
I remember stepping away from the stage when Face to Face got ready — and after that it’s ALL a blur. I wasn’t caught up in anything, in fact I really don’t know how I missed it, but things went ridiculous pretty swiftly. I think Face to Face lasted about a song, half a song, before the pub manager figured that the crowd was not going to stay still (in a word, duh) and called the evening over. So, no rest of the Face to Face set, no Green Day set…nothing.
I’ve heard various stories about what exactly did happen — apparently Geffen or his rep was reached by phone in the big limousine heading down to OC so they turned back around and went home, while the Sony rep was apparently maced. (Or was that an Interscope rep after all?) The police and security people who happened to be around took great delight in the fact that they were needed and while this wasn’t Black Flag being assaulted by the LAPD in the slightest, there was all sorts of squabbling, nonsense, annoyed punks, happy to be annoyed policemen and so forth. I just remember walking away home past the nearby ATMs, or maybe I went up to the student newspaper offices to type something out.
To top it all off, Mike Dirnt then broke his ankle when the band were going over to where they were staying for the evening. Apparently a Dookie song obliquely references that incident but I can’t remember which.
So again, it wasn’t a Green Day show but a nonshow, and it wasn’t like they didn’t show, they just couldn’t play. A year later “Basket Case” was in permanent rotation and the band haven’t needed to look back since but I do wish I could have at least seen them then along with all those other, retrospectively amazing pub and noontime shows.
And taken photos and kept any flyers or SOMETHING.