Thought I kept a concert scrapbook, I never had an ad for this show until I found this recently on the San Diego Reader’s online archives. I had no idea the Inspirals played the Backdoor just two days before I saw them in Hollywood.
This was originally written for my Jellyfish site in 1996 when these memories were far fresher. Highly edited 21 years later with more than enough geeking out still intact. Yer welcome…
After months of loving their debut album, Jellyfish was finally coming back to southern California. Who knows how I got San Diego concert news back in late 1990 (not from this brief mention in the SD edition of the LA Times) but I found out they were playing my hometown, which was only a two-and-a-half hour drive from where I was going to school in Los Angeles. Close enough. Someone in the band once told me that they, like many bands, just didn’t do well in LA. After doing early shows at Club Lingerie and the Roxy, they only did one more headlining show there, at the Palace in Hollywood in 1993.
Inspiral Carpets were playing said Palace the night before and I was going through a wicked Manchester phase. Even Anglophiles Jellyfish weren’t immune, name-checking the Carpets onstage at one of their first shows, mentioning the Stones Roses in interviews and even covering “Fool’s Gold”. My friend Jim, who’d introduced me to Jellyfish AND the Roses, came down for both shows from Santa Barbara, where he’d seen Jellyfish a few months earlier. After making us wait for two hours, the Inspirals opened with “Weakness” and induced instant pandemonium, immediately prompting a stage diver to land on my nose.
The next day, Saturday, February 23, 1991, we picked up Jim’s girlfriend and future wife, Sonya, and drove down to San Diego State University, where I’d attended school the year before. The show was in a small downstairs room in the Aztec Center student union called the Backdoor, where bands like Talking Heads, the Ramones, Tom Waits, U2, the Replacements, Jane’s Addiction and Metallica had been playing since the early 70’s. As a child, I’d watched The Black Stallion while going to summer camp there and, in late 1989, had seen Food For Feet play the same room. Before the show, we walked across campus to visit radio station KCR, where I’d spent most of my freshman year. On the air was my old friend Jeff Motch, who would soon start 360 Magazine, design album covers and eventually own several successful restaurants around town. By the time we got back, there was a huge line to get into the show. I couldn’t believe how many people had heard of them. The album had been out less than six months but still hadn’t received much radio airplay.
What the arcade next door probably looked like when I was seeing the Black Stallion at camp. Photo c/o http://universe.sdsu.edu/
I’d seen local opening act If Tomorrow, several times before. They brought the house down, closing with an epic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. The band came offstage excited about their version, until someone told them that someone who had worked with Pink Floyd was in the crowd and they quickly went from “Yeah!” to “We butchered it!” They were followed by an LA band called Everything who played a chugging, well-received set.
- SDSU Aztec Center c/o https://library.sdsu.edu/
We jockeyed for a decent spot and the anticipation ratcheted up. I’d never enjoyed watching a stage being setup so much before. First, you notice that all four of them are lined up at the front of the stage. Christmas lights are draped over the instruments. Here comes a bubble machine and sections of white picket fence to lean against the instruments. I couldn’t wait.
Niko Wenner, early 1990s, Palo Alto photo by Hillary Sloss
Out they come in 70’s outfits, of course. Having not seen them before, I didn’t notice that the guitarist looked a little different. It turns out that it wasn’t Jason Falkner, but, Niko Wenner, a Bay Area friend from the band Oxbow. Jason had dislocated his shoulder earlier the year before and when it acted up horribly in November, it required surgery. Wenner filled in for him from December to February of 1991. No one mentioned Jason that night, Wenner sounded great and I didn’t know the difference. I’ve never seen any pictures or video from these shows but audio from a San Francisco show at Slim’s popped up on the Jellyfish media archive at http://jellyfish-archive.de. It included a rare cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Love You” I uploaded earlier this year.
The only snag the band hit was when they played a show in Long Beach recorded by the Westwood One Radio Network. Jason didn’t want any of the songs to be released as Jellyfish tracks unless he played on them. So, he went back into a studio and re-recorded the guitar and vocal parts, which were released as b-sides and in full on the 2012 live album Live at Bogarts. Wenner wasn’t thanked on the original release but was on future pressings.
The band starts in and it’s not something from the album. I know I know it, but, I’m not sure from where. Wait, it’s “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent. Despite my classic rock childhood, I’d only recently heard it on the Queen’s Logic soundtrack. From there, they go right into their unreleased gem, “Hello”. Perfect rocking hooky guitar pop. I’m in heaven. I was wondering how this band with only one album was going to do a full set and they’re not disappointing.
It’s the THE JELLYFISHERS, damnit!
From there, they go RIGHT into “Calling Sarah”. Interesting, the first song they play off of the album is the last one on the record. Finally a breather in between songs. Some guy keeps yelling that there’s too much reverb on the snare. Andy sarcastically replies, “Thanks, pal.” Before we have time to think, they’re doing “King” and it’s glorious. The middle eight vocals are unreal. From there, we hear “I Wanna Stay Home”. Next, we get two more new songs. The first is “Mr. Late” and it’s incredible. The next is “Bye, Bye, Bye”. They’re doing a polka! This is too much.
“She Still Loves Him” is the biggest rocker of the night. They mention that Chris Isaak is in town and Roger does a fun impersonation. Also, they just went to an outdated Chuck E Cheese style restaurant called Bullwinkle’s, where the puppets still sing Hall & Oates songs. Important stuff. Here comes another new one called “Marry Me” and, again, it’s as good as anything on the album. “Now She Knows She’s Wrong” follows it and the acoustic parts sound soooo good. They start into a lounge thing, no wait, it’s Player’s “Baby Come Back”!!!! They do a bit of it and go right into “Baby’s Coming Back”. Next up, they cover “Jet” by Wings. In the middle, Andy yells, “Ladies and gentlemen, Linda McCartney!” and Roger plays the solo horribly. The last notes go right into Badfinger’s “No Matter What”. They rock out “All I Want Is Everything” and leave the stage.
The crowd goes nutso and gets them back out to play “The Man I Used To Be”. The band informs us that the Gulf War ground war has just started, as we’d all been fearing, so hopefully “this will send a scud missile straight to your heart”. “Into battle” would never sound so eerie. They follow it with a bit of “Let ‘Em In” by Wings. Too much! Saving their biggest radio hit for last, they segue right into “That Is Why”. They leave again and come back to people yelling for every 70’s band imaginable. Finally, in a brief moment of silence, someone yells out “Fleetwood Mac!” and Roger immediately starts playing “Go Your Own Way”, nodding as if to say “Oh, you want Fleetwood Mac?!” Our jaws drop as they actually do the….WHOLE….SONG. We were disappointed to find out later that a friend of theirs knew it was coming and yelled for it. Still, an amazing closer.
We staggered away knowing the trip had definitely been worth it. I passed up buying a shirt with the circle logo on the chest and a square with the album cover’s bellybutton in the appropriate place but grabbed some stickers and a postcard to join their fanclub, the Jellyfish Army. We went out back to wait for the band and talked to Everything for awhile. They’d played together a few months earlier at the Roxy in Hollywood, where the drummer told me JF had done a hilarious Dennis DeYoung soundalike contest onstage. Jellyfish had asked them to come down to open this show and, not long after, I saw them play a noontime set at my school, Cal State Northridge. Years later, singer Dave Ambrose found our site and recalled playing with them: “Both times we played our hearts out, both shows they blew our asses right off the stage. No band played tighter or sang better than those guys.”
We’d been hanging out near the backstage area awhile and it was getting late. As some current KCR DJ’s were excitedly telling me that they still played commercials I’d produced there, someone finally ran up and told us that the band had walked right out the front door. We rushed around to the front to see them chatting with fans. I wanted to ask Roger about their previous band, Beatnik Beatch, but couldn’t remember the name, accidentally asking him about Beat Happening. He knew what I meant but refused to remember. Andy was friendly and happy to tell us how they’d met Cheap Trick recently and that they hadn’t aged well. I told him he actually looked a little like Robin Zander and he replied, “Don’t say that!”
Chris is alright, Tommy’s alright, Roger’s alright, Jason’s alright, Robin’s alright….
We talked a little bit about the covers in their set and he and Roger both agreed in unison. “Too many covers,” they said, shaking their heads. We reassured them that it was good fun and I asked if they’d ever consider doing a Beatles song. Andy said that Wings were a little more their speed, though they soon played a bit of “Rain” during a rainy MTV taping and covered “Eleanor Rigby” on Japanese television in 1993. They told us about a recent interview they were “FREAKING OUT” about where Kurt Loder had mentioned them in an interview with Paul McCartney. I’d always wanted to find it but- oh, hello, internet.
It was the nicest conversation I ever had with Andy, so, naturally, I ruined it by asking for his autograph. No one seemed to have a pen, so I started to run back to my car, only to realize halfway there that I hadn’t driven. When I got back, someone had found a pen and lacking any paper, I had him sign the back of a coupon I had for Mexican restaurant La Salsa. It reads “Adam-An official Flying Burrito Brother. Andy”.
Jellyfish returned to SDSU just four months later, opening for the Black Crowes at the Open Air Ampitheater, where I’d gone to my very first show back in 1984. Although I moved back to San Diego in 1995, I never saw another show at the Backdoor, though I did see the Grays’ Buddy Judge play guitar with Liz Phair upstairs at Montezuma Hall. They closed down the room for concerts in 1997 and it became a meeting space before the amazing midcentury student union built in the sixties was sadly demolished to make way for a brand new student center in 2011.
Sooooo, after waiting for months to see Jellfyish, they’d gone way beyond expectations and I couldn’t wait to see them again. Little did I know I’d see them another twelve times in just three years. To my surprise, I got to see them less than two weeks later….
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