TheOut of the blue comes an email from brother Miles saying:'All confirmed. Rehearsals are next Friday, and your show with Andy Summers and INCUBUS at the KROQ weenie roast will be on Sunday.'
Whaaaat? I dimly remember Miles mentioning something about this, months ago. At the time I said 'Wow cool' and then forgot about it.
So I'm thinking about it now (a little panicked) and figure, what the heck?
They¹re a cool group, they were nice to my boy Jordan when he interviewed them for his belly-dancing documentary, so why not?
Of course I had better dig out my drums and try to get some life into my wrists. I remember too vividly getting my ass whupped by young Brain of Primus when I jammed with them some time ago, after not addressing my kit for years. After a long lay-off I can still play, but the tiny little muscles that provide the finesse, that enables the cool persnickety stuff that the folks like, are only good for a few squirts before they quit.
Actually, it¹s nice to have an excuse to blast away on my long-suffering tom toms.
I get a phone number and call up Mike, INCUBUS¹ guitarist, to see what they have in mind. He proposes that we play ROXANNE and MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (from THE POLICE) and PARDON ME and MEGLOMANIAC (from INCUBUS).
Andy and I have been trying for years to think of a way of playing POLICE songs together that doesn¹t stink to high heaven. We like the songs and we like playing together but Sting don¹t wanna, so what can we do? Of course anything we do isn't THE POLICE unless it includes Sting but how do we get to play with our toys (our oeuvre)?
We once had an idea to go out with Ziggy Marley and play Bob Marley songs as well as POLICE tunes but Ziggy, sweet as he is, gives whole new meaning to the expression 'Trust-afarian' and new space to the word 'vague'. So nothing came of that. We were even considering playing a festival in Hanoi with the cream of Asian singerdom singing for us. So far away that no one would ever hear of it. I was still a little queasy though and fortunately the festival organizers were arrested for international shystering and the whole thing fell through.
Mike suggests that we meet up for dinner the following night at a fancy restaurant in Santa Monica. When I get there at the appointed hour, I find Andy regaling the INCUBUS guys with his vast repertoire of road stories. They are a fun crew and we have a riotous evening trading notes and tales.
We haven't met their singer Brandon yet since he is off with a flu but the rest of this cheerful gang seems to be led by Mike, who has an easy confident air that relaxes me. Ben, Jose and Chris each have their own vibe though. In fact they are like the United Colours of Benetton. Black scratcher, Latin drummer, Jewish guitarist, Mulatto bassist and Scottish/Native American/Mexican singer. They seem very close. Maybe because they have been playing together for fifteen years!
After dinner, as we climb into our cars everybody admires my brand new conveyance which is the newly modelled Jeep Grand Cherokee. Since I suspect that I may be amongst Liberals, I tell them all that it's the new Jeep Hybrid.
Next dayNext day we meet again for rehearsals way over in Glendale. I get there early to tinker with my kit. I've got my boy Scott in tow and he is very impressed to be hanging out with a band that many of his friends are into. His ole Hall Of Famer dad is just a dad but ICUBUS, like Wow!
Andy arrives at the crack of 2:00 (the agreed upon downbeat) but there is no sign of our new young friends for another hour. While we wait we remember with joy the glorious anarchy of young players.
We also get a chance to inspect their gear. The first thing that an old seventies rocker like me notices is how small it is. Speaker cabinets are now so efficient that no one needs the huge stack-ups that I used to fantasize about as a kid. Mike just has a couple of small two speaker enclosures with a classic Marshall amp and Bens' bass rig is similarly un-intimidating. What they have a lot of, is effect pedals. Andy walks straight over to Mike's collection clustered on the floor next to his mike stand. He is muttering: 'Got that one and that one, sold that, and what's that?'
Even the drums are small and oddly shaped. Jose has everybody's (except mine) new favourite brand of kit called 'DW'. He has them tuned way tight like a jazz kit (so do I, but neither of us play jazz). Kids these days have it all figured out. I used to be the only drummer who knew how to get a heavy sound from high-itched drums. Kids today start out knowing everything that we had to learn.
The most elaborate corner is the DJ rig. It's a row of turntables, rack mounted FX boxes and odd retro synthesizers. He even has a Theremin, that strange squeaky instrument of the sixties.
When the band shows up they are all business. We go straight into ROXANNE and everybody seems to get it pretty quickly, so with time to fool around, Ben suggests that we could go into the Marley song 'WAR' during the bridge. Veerrry cool idea.
Jose is fun to play with. He clearly has my chops completely figured out. Like I say, kids these days start where we left off. Having two drummers means that each of us can occasionally depart from our sacred mission of steady groove. We can indulge in flights of fancy while the other guy holds it down.
Over on my left all kinds of strange noises are coming out of Chris. I've never even seen a DJ in a band context before and it's a whole new thing to hear odd natches of music and sound design while we play. It's sort of like live overdubs. Brandon is keeping a low profile. Like all pro singers, he saves his voice during rehearsals (its called 'marking') but he gives us the cues we need so we know where we are in the songs.
Andy and Mike have their heads together, staring intently at each other's fingers on their fret boards as we play through our combined repertoire. By six o'clock we have knocked some semblance of order into the material and call it a day.
Walking out into the parking lot I see Chris climbing into an enormous tricked out black Cadillac Escalade SUV. Thing must weigh three tons. He looks over his shoulder at me, flicks a dreadlock out of his face, says: 'It's the new hybrid' and then roars off into the night.
The gigThe gig is actually called 'The KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas' and there are eleven bands playing tonight. At the sound-check this afternoon, twelve drum-sets and a hundred tons of amplification are being hustled around the stage by black clad gangs of tattooed roadies. It's all very professional and good-natured but I still want to run home, rifle through the kid's toys and see if I can find me some tattoos. Maybe some Polly Pockets or a big Sponge Bob right over my jugular.
The drums and amps are all set up on rolling platforms and it's a revolving stage so the pace is brisk. As one band runs through its sound-check another is setting up behind it. The stage revolves, the gear is wheeled off in a twinkling and the next crew rolls their stuff on.
When it's our turn to bat we go straight through two of our songs and are trying to cram in just one more but the stage is turning. We're still blazing as we rotate out of the hall and into the sunshine outside the Universal Amphitheatre.
When I arrive back at the gig after an afternoon lounge at home, the Rock and Roll party is in full swing. There is a large back-stage area separated into layers of access to the booze, bands and stage. Everybody back-stage gets the booze. It's a mob of carousing fun lovers with crazy hairdos and loud clothing.
One layer deeper is where the dressing rooms are. Some are large suites; others are small. Once you get into this area, most of the people you see are rock stars. Down the hall, the early playing bands (in the small rooms) are full of after-show swagger. Their doors are open and they are slouching in and out of each other's rooms exchanging Manna. Closer up are the bands who are still getting ready and the atmosphere is a little more sober.
When I get to our room, INCUBUS are all there. They seem pretty relaxed as we goof around, with about ninety minutes to kill before our moment. There's a TV monitor in the room so we can watch the show on stage and rate the competition. Sum 41 are there one minute and next it's a guy with a LOT of tattoos. Then it's us.
Or rather, then it's INCUBUS. They depart for the stage to do their own show. We'll be joining them after a few songs. They look great on stage and have a lot more going on musically than anyone else I've seen today. They are an excellent combination of power and poetry.
There is a tunnel under the backstage party area so we can get up to the stage without having to run the gauntlet. After a short wait in the wings, the crew pulls the drapes off my drums and out we walk. As soon as I'm sitting down my hands take over and my horse is charging through the bit and over the fields. Somewhere I can hear Andy and Mike start up the Doo Doo Doo riff and I try to rein it in a little so that Brandon can sing the song. Next up is MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, then ROXANNE and then just like that, in a flash, it's done. Sure, there were a few fender benders. OK, so I played too loud, too fast and too busy but shows like this are such a rare treat that I feel no remorse. Catch me at a real concert, on a real tour and you may see some finesse, but this was something else. So shoot me if I had too much fun.
As Andy and I leave the stage and head back, we pass VELVET REVOLVER coming up the tunnel. For some reason we studiously ignore each other. Maybe because Andy and I have post-show swagger and they have pre-show tension. I've actually met Duff and Scott at various times in the past and they are good guys.
Thank you IncubusBy the time I get out of the shower the rest of the band are all whooping it up in the dressing room. Everybody is happy. It was a good show and the crowd obviously liked it too. The room quickly fills up with friends and family. On the TV monitor, the show goes on with VELVET REVOLVER in full swing. The sound is down so I can't hear them but they are raging away. Pity about that hat that Scott is wearing. It gives them kind of a VILLAGE PEOPLE vibe.
The band that I really want to see is GREEN DAY. I lost a bet that I made ten years ago with my niece that they would vaporize after one hit. I had them figured as a McPunk band (which I didn¹t hold against them because that¹s pretty much what THE POLICE were at first). Well I was wrong. They are still here and I want to know why. So I drag myself away from the party and head out to the auditorium to catch their show from the front. Here¹s why they are still here: They write hits, keep it simple and they connect with the audience. They are tight, professional, confident and energized. I¹m not about to rush out and buy all their CDs, but I respect this band and I owe Ashley one dollar.
Life is full of rewards and miseries but I¹m very happy that shows like this come along every once in a while. To some it may look like Andy and I are clutching on to past glories by playing old hits rather than doing something new. Fact is we are both doing much new stuff. Heck, I have a whole new and unrelated career as a film composer.
The Devil may take me but every now and then I will reach into the cookie jars
Thank you INCUBUS for letting us hitch a ride.