"There haven’t been this many people here since 1915,” an older man taking photos said to me. He was referring to the year when the world’s largest outdoor organ, The Spreckles Organ, was unveiled outside of San Diego, CA. Likely this man wasn’t around to see that crowd but it's pretty safe to say that at 99 years old, the world’s largest outdoor organ probably doesn’t pull the same numbers it once did.
And then came Drive Like Jehu.
Bands reunite at festivals, it's what makes the most sense financially and there are enough other bands with similar draw on the bill that no matter what, as a reuniting band, your effort will look flop-free. It’s not worth dissecting, it’s just a fact. If you want to see that band who broke up before you or even the internet existed, you’re going to have to suffer through the Human-Centipede-like dehumanization that is the modern music festival. To deny this formula (there are plenty of rumors about DLJ rejecting reunion offers) and set up your own show free to the public, you’d have to have some real guts. It makes perfect sense Drive Like Jehu would be the band to do it.
With barely two weeks between the announcement and the show, word had spread that they’d only be playing five songs accompanied by an organist, prompting mixed expectations. It was made obvious from the beginning this set was the result of the band’s own interest in a collaboration involving the organ, and that because it was finally made possible they’d play one show and promise nothing else.
Organist Carol Williams (the first female appointed Civic Organist) took the stage first and warmed the crowd with her own piece, one from Phantom of The Opera, and made some children cry before introducing the band. Close to 2,000 people went from complete, organ-recital-silence to twenty years of built-up excitement when John Reis begin playing the lead riff into "Do You Compute." It was a special moment, hearing that riff for the first time in twenty years echo out of the towering, century old pavilion over the sound of four thousand rattling organ pipes pushing out some strange dissonance. It continued being special for the rest of the evening.
For a moment near the beginning of the set it seemed like Reis and company were going to half ass their way through an entire set. By the time they started rolling through the second song, "Super Unison," it was obvious how much fun they were having. Rick Froberg’s voice was still the same acidic wail you remember (from the last Hot Snakes record) and Mark Trombino still wears those black gloves. The organ was most prominent during "Sinews." Unfortunately at many points the band overpowered the organ but it soared out from under the most dynamic and angular song of the night like it was written for it.
Skeptics who didn’t make the trip given the news that only five songs would be performed would have been sorely disappointed. The band had jammed three songs out across thirty minutes and took another half hour to finish things up with “If It Kills You” (the only song performed from their self-titled record) and the closing experience that was “Luau”. A “suited up” Rob Crow of Pinback performed his original vocal part recorded twenty years ago as the sun went down and the band finished up.
The entire experience was completely anti-reunion. Half parts volunteered civic duty to a cherished landmark/instrument, a little bit of recital, and a tiny bit of chaos. The band least likely to reunite, did so in a public park for as many passing children, elderly and dogs as there were aging punk dads and less millennial fans. No vendors. No glamour. No portable shitters. No eight dollar waters. Just good music and pure class.
A defining moment of the evening happened when organist Carol Williams was accidentally ignored at the end of the set as she walked up to the front of the stage. Expecting a group bow, the band walked off. Froburg noticed, gathered everyone back to the front and through a smile, said into her ear, “we don’t really bow”.