I started writing this right after the Pinhead Gunpowder show happened on February 12, but a few things got in the way, including the death of my Uncle while I was still in California. So, I know it’s been a while, but enjoy nonetheless.
Update: 924Gilman posted the raw file of this show on 3/13/10. While the board levels are all over the place, nonetheless, the file reflects the rawness and intensity of the show. A great night. They also posted a great set of photographs from the stage. The link to those may be found here. The Green Day Community editorial regarding the show, written by J’net, can be found here. Michelle Lawlor’s blog post and pictures can be found here. Photographs from Lawlor may be purchased and all proceeds go to help Anandi Wonder with her cancer treatment. A gallery of photographs by me, mostly of attendees, can be found here.
A Show? There’s Going to Be a Show?
I had heard that there was going to be a super-secret benefit show by Pinhead Gunpowder at Gilman and I became obsessed (or as I like to say, focused) on the possibility of seeing a Green Day-related side project band in a small and intimate, show. My friend who introduced me to Billie Joe at Fake New Year’s in Los Angeles back in November keeps telling me that I heard it directly from Billie Joe himself that night because Billie Joe told him about it and I was standing there when he said it, but hell if I remember that happening. That night, all in all, is a bit of a blur.
After going to London in October to see Green Day at the O2 and then missing the Foxboro Hot Tubs by a bloody week, I became determined to head to my now favorite place on Earth, the East Bay, to see the band. PHGP is a band that I was only slightly aware of (shoot me) seven months ago and I wanted to see my friends in the Bay. As an extra bonus, the Mystic Knights of the Cobra (MKOTC) were playing at the Uptown at some point during the weekend, too. (I’ll be writing about that show in the next week.)
The rumor machine had PHGP playing on Saturday, February 13, 2010 at first, and MKOTC were rumored to open for them. However, it became evident that MKOTC weren’t going to open as they had been… Uh… banned from Gilman from the last time they played there. Then MKOTC booked a show at the Uptown for Saturday and were certainly not playing with PHGP and everyone’s attention somehow obsessed (focused) on the rumor that the benefit for Anandi Wonder, a friend of PHGP’s who was suffering from breast cancer, would happen on Friday, February 12, 2010, instead.
There had been some hard and fast talk saying that if news of the show came out too early and too furious, that the show would be canceled. I’m paranoid and pretty good at keeping a secret, but after a bit of sidestepping around the subject, a group of, shall we say… well-researched folks… from the Green Day Community somehow found themselves planning a weekend in the Bay.
I asked a friend to help me out (again) with a cheap buddy ticket on Continental, asked my friends in the Bay if I could stay with them, rented a car and prayed that nothing like a blizzard or anything would stop me from going. I had no cash, really, for any of this, and the cheap Continental ticket was a godsend that eventually turned into a nightmare.
And while everyone was busy keeping their mouths shut, Billie Joe himself, who is not known for keeping some things quiet, spilled the beans the night before the show on Twitter…
02-11 – PINHEAD GUNPOWDER TO PERFORM FRIDAY
Having band practice with PHGP today! Can’t wait for friday night show! -Billie
… and greenday.com was geeky enough to actually twit about his Tweet. It always cracks me up when they do this.
There was one giant glitch in my crazy plans: Northeast winters and their ability to make things go a bit haywire. The week before the February 12th show, a storm caused major disruptions in transportation and life in the Maryland and DC areas and I literally thanked my lucky stars that it hadn’t reached NYC. Of course, I still had a week to leave the city so anything could happen, and yes, it did.
On Wednesday, February 10th, two days before the show, with people heading to the Bay from the East Coast on Thursday and Friday, a proclaimed “Snowpacalyse” poised itself to hit the East Coast again and this time, NYC was destined to be in the eye of a twenty-four hour storm. Just. Fucking. Peachy.
A few folks including me were slated to fly standby. Standby works only if the airline does not sell out seats and they end up distributing tickets to friends and workers for a nominal fee at the gate. And I mean, nominal. If a storm disrupted service for a few hours, we still had good chances of getting the cheap seats. Any longer than that, and we were screwed. Wednesday’s 24-hour storm busted the best of good intentions for people WITH tickets, let along dweebs like me catching a good deal.
Larry Livermore posted on his Facebook a declaration that the storm had better be a doozy, because he had just given up his spot on his flight after being told that he couldn’t get booked on any other flights. Read more on his story, which sums up a lot of my own feelings about the Snowpocalypse here.
Anyway, long story short, by the time my flight was suppose to leave the East Coast on Thursday, we had such a blanket of storm that my satellite teevee went out on Wednesday, which hardly ever happens. I had already changed my original Thursday flight to Friday in anticipation of the airline industry shutting down on Wednesday (announced on Tuesday), and I went into work on my vacation-day Thursday, hoping in vain that I would actually get on a Friday standby flight. I was, to say the least, freaking out.
Another person who lives down in Virginia was slated to leave on Thursday, but her flight out of Dulles was canceled, and another friend helped her rebook her ticket by way of multiple destinations. I could feel the entire weekend that I had looked forward to for so long becoming something that would not happen if I didn’t take action. So I did.
Brooklyn to San Francisco to… Crockett?
I checked into Jetblue and found one direct flight seat at an astronomical price available for Thursday, leaving JFK at 6:55 PM, arriving in San Francisco at 10:47 PM. The time was now 2:15 PM. I booked that sucker, left work, went home, grabbed my bag, asked my friend without a kid or a job if I could crash with him that night, headed to the subway, got on the plane and finally, breathed. I then had my first real moment of guilt: the money that I paid for the ticket would have gone a long way in helping Anandi. Do’h and sigh. While I acknowledge the dichotomy, I needed this trip in a way for my head, as would become evident as the weekend approached and I found out that my Uncle was on the verge of death while I was on line at Gilman for the show; but still, I had to go to this show, I needed to see my friends. I wanted to come back home to the East Bay.
In San Francisco, I took the last BART into El Cerrito Norte, was picked up at the station, and found myself at Toot’s in Crockett, CA, until it closed and hung around the town until the wee hours. We headed back into Oakland, and stopped by Gilman at 4:00 AM to see what the line was like. There were four die-hard people already there. It was cold and rainy, and they looked miserable. We drove off and went to sleep until 9:00 AM, did nothing for a bit, and hit 924 Gilman at 10:30. By the time we got there, a few more people had shown up, and we readied ourselves for an over-the-top fabulous day and night.
About an hour after I got there, I received a call from my cousin telling me that my uncle was very sick and on the verge of death. In fact, several people that I met up with that day also received rather bad family-related news. We all needed this show something bad.
Meeting up with Green Day fans is always a fun time as everyone may have different philosophies of life (that I may or may not agree with), but they all have one thing in common, a passion for Green Day’s music, whether it’s the band itself, or side projects such as PHGP, the Foxies, or the Frustrators. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.
I finally was at the hallowed 924 Gilman Street venue, a place I had only read about in legendary detail and all of the punk that had gone before this moment. Nice.
The day had been long and dragged out, and I was antsy by the time the Gilman staff came out to sell the $2 yearly membership cards at around 6:30 or 7:00. The excitement was palpable. One girl who I spoke with in line had heard about the show the night before from Billie Joe’s Tweet and drove through the night to get to the gig. She would later have a bit of a meltdown when Billie Joe walked in carrying equipment later in the night.
We got our cards and the line started moving. Once past the atrium with its “No Racism… No Sexism...” sign, the first thing I saw as I looked up was “SWEET CHILDREN,” Green Day’s original band name, scrawled on one of the ceiling crossbeams. In a strange way, I knew that I had finally come home.
I went over to where the merchandise table was situated and spoke briefly with Anandi Wonder. I thanked her for having me at the show, despite the circumstances, wished her luck, and I then roamed around the square space of Gilman, just looking at stuff. The show started about an hour after we got in, and while most of the folks I knew were standing to the front stage right, I decided to go stage left, near the sidedoor and Bill Schneider (who I just adore and was excited to hear play) and just in case a bout of smoking (blech, ahem) happened, or if the crowd got too intense, I could just duck out. The four opening bands, Dirty Marquee, Fleabag, Mutoid Men and Grass Widow, played for about two hours until Pinhead reached the stage at 10:00. I watched Dirty Marquee and liked their eclectic sound, but as their set was ending, pangs of hunger started hitting, and a few of us needed to help one of our group who was suffering from a hangover. So we went across the street to eat during Fleabag, where we sat next to Pinhead Gunpowder bassist, Bill Schneider (who plays a damned mean bass) and author, punk, and lightning drummer of PHGP, Aaron Cometbus. We didn’t pay much attention to them as our stomachs were growling and our friend had to rush to the bathroom a number of times after he got his food. He ended up spending the entire gig in the car, passed out. Oh well.
When we got back to the venue, the Mutoid Men were rocking it out with their strange songs of hyper reality and space travel. I understand from folks closer to the stage that they also smelled really smelly, but from were we were standing, I didn’t get a whiff and quite enjoyed their sound and character. The next band was a three-piece female band, Grass Widow, and they were really happy to be performing. Between their sets, Billie Joe, Aaron, Bill and Pinhead guitarist, Jason White, walked in with equipment, and the girl I had spoken with in line lost her mind.
Billie Joe said hello to a friend of his, when just about then, a piercing scream of “BILLIE JJOOEE” hit everyone in the venue like a stab wound through the head. Billie Joe visibly winced when it happened and Aaron stormed off a little bit faster. Billie Joe walked past me with his amp and the girl came racing up to near where I was standing, hoping that he would past through again. I don’t remember how he walked out of the club (I believe they went back outside during the set) because I literally, gently, grabbed the girl’s arm and said, “You have got to calm down. I know you love him, but this is Gilman, not an arena, and he just wants to be some guy in a band. Your experience and his experience will be much better if you just treat this night like he’s just some dude.” She didn’t say anything, and I felt like an ass as I could see my friend laughing as I was saying it, but she calmed down, and went back up to the front. I am so happy that she got to see her idol, but seriously, there is a time and place for everything, and at the egalitarian 924 Gilman, everyone is just a slub (hell, in reality, we’re all just slubs), whether you’re sweating with the audience or sweating with a guitar. BJA may be bigger than life in many respects, but he’s first and foremost just some kid from Pinole, CA who was talented and lucky enough to be who he is today. As my friend likes to put it, he’s just some dude with an awesome job.
As Grass Widow left the stage and the crowd became denser and more intense, I was standing by the door, when Bill Schneider walked back in, followed closely by Billie Joe, who had an Adeline Records hoodie pulled over his head. He was trying to get through the crowd, but it was packed, and eventually the Gilman security guard on our side of the stage (an asshole of the highest quality), pulled Billie Joe onstage and he went off to play with his guitar. Aaron climbed onstage from stage right I believe, and in his asshole way (he was a bit unpleasant to people that night), pulled his friends (guys) up on the stage and plopped them right in front at the foot of it, yelling at the girls who had camped out there from 7PM to move for his friends. I love Cometbus’ writing and everything and I know a punk is a punk, but really man, that was an asshole move. Enough said about Aaron and his issues for the night. His drumming and his spirit makes up, I suppose, for some of his actions.
The funniest thing happened when Jason White came to the stage. He couldn’t get on it. No one would let him through because they were focusing on the three band members already onstage and folks were trying to save their spots. I looked up and realized that he was trying to get on, and was like, “Dude, aren’t you suppose to be up there?” He chuckled and the asshole security guard finally got him onstage after a few failed attempts. I turned back to the stage to see what was going on. Billie still had the hoodie on and they were working their equipment, so I turned back around toward the door to talk to a friend and stared right into the face of one of the most beautiful women on the planet, Adrienne Nesser, also known as Mrs. Billie Joe Armstrong. She is breathtaking.
Adrienne was there with her friends and she kept coughing, seemingly a bit under the weather, and I didn’t say anything to her. Jason White’s wife, Jenna, was also around, but unfortunately she was freaking out a little bit over the crowd, and was worried about what would happen when the show started. By this time, Billie Joe had taken off his hoodie and everyone was laughing that he was wearing… a…a… dress. Adrienne was telling her friends that it took two hours to convince him to wear Jenna White’s dress as a tribute to women, I believe she said, and I really wanted to turn around and say, “Thank you, Mrs. Armstrong, for convincing your husband to wear such a cute dress,” but I refrained, lol. As the show was about to start, Adrienne was standing with Jenna to my right, nearer the crowd, when she asked me if we could switch places so that Jenna could be closer to the door. I said sure and it was a good thing that we switched.
When the show finally began, the mics weren’t working, so we got three extra songs that weren’t planned as a acoustic sing-a-long (“My Boot in Your Face is What Keeps Me Alive,” “Find My Place,” and “Achin’ to Be”) until the issues could be worked out. Billie Joe walked offstage after the third song. Some people say he walked off to take a leak, while other folks say he walked off to turn on the mics. Either way, he was helped very daintily down from the stage by the ladies on stage right. The sight of the little lady making his way down made me chuckle.
A few minutes later, the mics were finally on, Billie Joe was back on, and the entire place was set to “on.” From the moment that the strains of “Asheville” began, it was GET…Go… non-stop frenzy. Adrienne had made a wise request to switch places with me, because I was swept up into the intense center of the pit by the second song, “Before the Accident,” and Jenna White tried to sneak out the door, but Adrienne pulled her back in. That was the last that I saw of that side of the room through the next fifteen songs (literally about 20 minutes!), until I realized that I was a girl in the heart of the pit and I was gonna die if I didn’t get out. I sometimes forget it.
I was happy to finally see Jason White sing and play in a lead capacity. He’s so subdued when he plays with Green Day, but he wasn’t this night. Aaron was pounding away at the drums at the speed of lightning (an awesome photo of Cometbus can be found here), and Bill’s bass, which I couldn’t hear well from my position in the pit (listen to the Raw MP3 file to really hear his bass licks) was smiling but attempting a tough look at the same time. Unfortunately from Michelle Lawlor’s position, and the assholery of the security guard who kept flicking his fingers in front of everyone’s camera on that side of the stage (because you know, he thinks it’s funny), Michelle could not get a clear shot of all four band members, nor Aaron. Ingrid Johansen, a Gilman volunteer, took some great photographs from the stage. Her Flickr gallery from the night can be found here.
Around about “Anniversary Song,” as the surfers were flaying around overhead and the crowd, including me, was swaying at dangerous 90 degree angles, I realized that the jacket I had tied around my waist and Jason Chandler’s “Rocktober”-designed hat that I had strapped to my belt, were gone. Minor dilemma to say the least in a heart of a pit, but I love both of them, and I had to find the jacket as it was hella cold and damp outside. While swaying with the crowd, getting crushed, and loving every second of it except for the not breathing part, I bent down at the same time, and somehow managed to retrieve the jacket and hold it in my hands. I don’t recommend trying this at home, kids.
I hung in the pit for a few more songs, trying to time an appropriate exit and regretting that I knew I had to get out. However, I didn’t think about it too much, it would happen when it would happen, so I turned back to the stage (if you can call it turning), and enjoyed the intensity. The mood slowed down when their friend Lauren got to the stage for “On the Ave.” and after Billie Joe played the mouth organ (uh, yes he did), I made my way back toward the door and struggled to help a girl trying to surf over the crowd since the asshole security guard was making her get off the stage steps. The next five songs, “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Landlords,” “New Blood,” “Homesick Hopes,” and “Losers of The Year,” were spent in a breathing, singing and dancing capacity, and then Billie Joe handed the mic to Aaron, who paid tribute to Anandi and gave a speech about community helping community, and the band announced their last song, “Mahogany.”
Then… It Was Over…
Forty-eight minutes after it started, the show was abruptly over. The back door swung open and the crowd moved to get out into the chilly air as soon as possible. I hung back a bit, because I still had to find my hat and regroup with people, and I needed to wait a bit for the crowd to clear. A bunch of people were trying to talk with Billie, who was trying to talk back with them for the most part, but he was being pulled by the asshole security guard out the door and being that he’s a nice guy, he seemed to want to at least acknowledge a few people left. Finally Aaron made another asshole move, by jumping down off the stage and with his massive body, slamming people out of the way so Billie could get out of the venue. Nice of you to help your friend out, but really, dude, really?
Anyway, once more of the crowd left, I searched for my hat but couldn’t find it. Finally, I went outside and announced, “hot damn, that was a great show, but I lost my hat.” I looked around and saw something on the ground, across the street, almost under a car. It looked like a hat. I walked over to it, picked it up, and lo and behold, it was a hat. My hat. Oh happy day!
The highlights of the show for me were hearing “West Side Highway,” “Backyard Flames,” and “Reach for the Bottle,” but seriously, every song in their set was hyper speedy (except for the slower “On the Ave.”) and satisfying and suffused with Aaron’s sharp lyrics. Despite the weather back on the East Coast, the hassle to get to the East Bay, and my sense of exhaustion, and the imminent death of my Uncle (he would pass away on the coming Tuesday), this show was like experiencing a catharsis of sweat and music. It was a show of a lifetime and I will never regret making the decision to see a band that has played only around 17 times live in their existence. It made me feel like a part of a community, even for just a night with assholes (including me, hey, I did tell a girl to calm the heck down!), punk rockers, fangirls, musicians and serious aficionados. While I didn’t grow up knowing about 924 Gilman or even East Bay punk until recently (say what you will), I will forever call the place… home.
Setlist and Links
~924 Gilman’s new blog may be found here. 924Gilman is also on Twitter.
~Pinhead Gunpowder website (not updated since the end of 2008) may be found here.
~Pinhead Gunpowder on Facebook.
~Setlist provided by the good folks at the Green Day Authority
~924 Gilman Raw MP3 files may be downloaded here in one file.
~Courtesy of StJimmy86 at the Green Day Community, the show has been split into separate song files here (Mediafire) and here (Megaupload).
~Videos to: Asheville, Life During Wartime, and Mahogany
~Video to: the mic outage.
~GDA Photo Gallery may be found here.
~Michelle Lawlor’s photographs may be found here. Photos may be purchased and proceeds go to Anandi.
~Ingrid Johansen’s photographs may be found as part of the Gilman Rat on Flickr and accessed here.
~My photographs, mostly of the crowd during the day, may be found here.
~J’net Newton’s Green Day Authority Editorial may be found here.
Before the Accident
Life During Wartime
I Used To
Reach for the Bottle
On the Ave
Big Yellow Taxi
Losers of The Year