When news broke last month that ex-Skid Row howler Sebastian Bach would be offering fans an opportunity to attend his San Jose wedding to model Suzanne Le for the shocking price of $300 a head, the press had a field day. How could they not? Aside from the fact that it's generally fun to kick an aging hair metal guy around, the event danced on the knife's edge between kinda sad (fluffing the attendance of a traditionally friends-and-family event with paying rubes) and wildly egotistical (expecting those seat-fillers to pay handsomely for the honor). The whole thing had an air of "pay $250 to go to Corey Feldman's birthday party."
To be fair, the initial coverage was misleading. The couple wasn't selling tickets to their wedding, but to the reception party, which seems marginally less gauche. Tickets didn't actually cost $300; that was the rate for couples, a bargain compared to $175 for a single admission. And maybe it wasn't a money-grab after all—when a woman on Twitter criticized Suzanne Le, Bach's bride-to-be, for charging fans to attend a wedding reception, Le responded with this odd justification:
Though national interest in the event petered out after the initial round of chuckles, I had to know more. The venue's website contained only a vague outline of the event:
Rockbar will be hosting the wedding of Sebastian Bach to Suzanne Le and would like to cordially invite you to attend the reception of this exciting event. Sebastian will be bringing friends along from the film and music world.
Stay tuned for more details as they unravel.
Tickets for Reception Party ONLY!
Dress Code: Rockstar Chic
What would this extravaganza actually entail? Who were these famous friends? What kind of entertainment does $175 buy at a celebrity wedding reception? My attempts to get free press tickets from the venue fizzled. On the night before the event—miraculously, still not sold out—I decided to spring for the cover price.
Paying out of pocket was the right call. I'm not a monster; I'd never waltz into a couple's wedding reception as an invited guest and start reviewing the joint. But as a guy who bought a ticket for a night of entertainment, I think I'm entitled to an opinion.
And my opinion is this: Sebastian Bach's $175 wedding reception certainly did not rise to the level of "extravaganza." At best, it was an adequaganza, until it veered sharply into the territory of "beautiful shitshow-aganza."
Rockbar Theater seems like an inauspicious venue for a celebration of romance. It's nestled in the crook of Saratoga Avenue and Stevens Creek Boulevard, which could charitably be called the armpit of San Jose. The building used to house the legendarily seedy Garden City Casino; I'd popped in once in those days and immediately Grandpa Simpsoned the hell outta there, since it was clearly not for dilettantes. (From the Garden City Yelp reviews, which have been preserved for posterity: "This is a place for addicts and professional gamblers, not for someone looking to have a good time." "One time I saw a customer peeing in their pants while they are playing card games.")
Luckily, the place was much improved from its Garden City days, the interior finely dolled up in that red-and-black Dave Navarro's Ink Master style that's come to signify, uh, "Rockstar Chic." The most striking bit of decoration was the long red carpet leading into the venue, which was actually the long train of a dress. It was worn by a model standing on a footstool with her face to the wall. After all, nothing captures the metal aesthetic better than a woman used as a prop.
The woman at the reception desk asked whose guest list I was on. When I told her I'd bought a ticket, I was sure I picked up a hint of surprise. Maybe I didn't fit the paying Sebastian Bach customer demographic, or maybe paying customers were just in the small minority of guests. For a moment, I wondered if I was the only one.
My first stop was the bar. As I ordered, I overheard two women lamenting the plight of the Human Red Carpet: "It sucks to be pretty. She's gonna be stuck to the floor all night."
The beer was $6—reasonable in a vacuum, but sort of frustrating given the fact that I'd paid $175 to get in. I'd have to look for the value of my extravaganza dollar elsewhere.
I headed to the stage area, but was stopped by a bouncer who asked to see my wristband. Figuring he'd misspoken, I showed him my wrist stamp. Nope: the area near the stage was for invited guests only, not the lowly steerage classes. I was directed to a large area abutting the stage section, blocked off with velvet rope and metal cattle-corral barriers. The view was blocked by a few large pillars.
Ignominy and shitty view aside, the Rube Corral was nicely appointed, with leather couches and its own little bar. Maybe 20 people were lounging around, with plenty of couch seating to spare. The general turnout was comfortably sparse, mixed in age and style but defaulting toward approximately what you'd expect: metal dudes, rocker chicks, central casting roadie types, and well-groomed normals.
I scanned the room for the advertised "friends from the world of film and music," but no familiar faces stuck out. Some of the rocker types looked so rocker-y that they must have been famous to someone, and I got the sense that maybe I'd know who they were if I was really into hair metal. One guy was a true Rockstar Chic specimen: huge blonde mane, shirtless, snakeskin jacket. He ordered a Heineken at the bar; I immediately ordered a Heineken too, and I don't even like Heineken. Heineken should hire that guy.
There were TVs everywhere, alternating between ads for appetizing foodstuffs ("wild boar jalapeño cheddar dog") and upcoming live acts: George Lynch; Europe; Kamelot with Dragonforce; Alien Ant Farm; the revered axe mercenary Michael Angelo Batio, posing with his horrid double guitar that looks like a man flayed at the groin.
Most troublesome was an event called Rock-a-Roke, which left me in a lingering huff over the gruesome torture of the word "karaoke." I labored over my Heineken and waited for something to happen.
And then He spoke. Sebastian Bach was on the distant stage with his bride, beckoning the women for a bouquet toss with an impromptu rendition of "All the Single Ladies." Even from some distance back, behind pillars and metal barriers, I could see that his hair was amazing. This isn't some Bret Michaels horseshit, stuck together with bandanas and bubblegum: this was some hair-ass hair.
The new Ms. Bach tossed the bouquet, which was caught by a woman who introduced herself as the guest of someone named "Black Label Dave." Sebastian, highly amused that ol' Black Label Dave might settle down, offered some relationship advice: "You ready to put some peanut butter on that jam? Just don't leave any on the knife!" I felt like I knew what he meant at the time, though in retrospect it occurs to me that it didn't make sense.
A picture of the night began to emerge: on the main stage, Sebastian told us, a Kiss tribute band called Destroyer would be rock-and rolling all night. Back in the Rockbar's side-lounge, a duo called Jeff Young & Sherri would be playing a gentler set. A Google search revealed that Jeff Young & Sherri consists of Jeff Young (one of Megadeth's ten former non-Dave-Mustaine guitarists) and Sherri (Sherri).
Destroyer looked the part, at least. I'm not discerning a Kiss fan, so seeing a reasonably done-up Kiss facsimile should be more than good enough for me. But at the start, Destroyer couldn't quite get in the pocket. Maybe Fake Gene was having an off night on the bass, but they somehow created the aural illusion of constantly slowing down. A few tracks in, Sebastian Bach took the stage to handle vocals on "I Was Made for Lovin' You." Suddenly, the group found whatever the Kiss cover band equivalent of a groove is and surged into competence.
Bach continued to handle vocal duties off and on, occasionally stepping into the corral to snap selfies with the taxpayers. A helpful, perhaps slightly confused bartender nudged me as I was hanging in the back: "You wanna take a picture with Mister Botch?" (I was OK, thanks).
Whenever Destroyer started flagging, Sebastian would return to the stage for another number, bringing them back into line. "I got something to say," Fake Paul Stanley told Bach between songs. "My Ace Frehley's been married to his wife 28 years tonight. You gotta lot of catching up to do!"
Sebastian was having a hell of a time, regardless of whether or not Destroyer was operating at Peak Kiss. His one frustration was his inability to lure his friend Brent Woods to the stage. Throughout the night, about 60 percent of Bach's total dialogue consisted of pleas for his friend Brent Woods—always called by his full name—to get the hell up there. "Can we get Brent Woods up here? Brent Woods, get up here! Where's Brent Woods? Has anyone seen Brent Woods? Brent Woods is at the bar? Brent Woods, you piece of crap, get up here!" A reluctant Brent Woods eventually took the stage for a very brief, incredibly grumpy Kiss impression.
As Destroyer played seemingly for-god-damn-ever, acute awareness of the cover price began to nag me. Does $175 add up to the going rate for an adequate Kiss cover band, a Mister Botch meet-and-greet, and admission to a San Jose rock club on an off Saturday night? I'm not sure, but I'll tell you what it does get you: a front row ticket to history, from behind the metal cattle barriers that divide the fun part of history from the kinda shitty part.
I decided to check out Vodka Bar, Rockbar's side-lounge.
Light soundproofing muffled Destroyer, and Jeff & Sherri were midway through a fine acoustic Ziggy Stardust. They moved to an original, which they were attempting acoustically for the first time; Jeff prefaced the song with a paraphrase by Paul Stanley (the real one), who maybe once said that if you can't strip away the electric guitars and play coherent song with just vocals and acoustic instruments, you don't have a song. In this case, Paul Stanley was right.
Back in the main room, Destroyer was wrapping up. The doting couple headed to the far side of the room, where photographers had set up a backdrop for fan photo ops. Guests and rubes crowded around for pics, and Bach gamely indulged all comers for nearly an hour.
I figured it was a treat for the fans, but not everyone was into it. In the corral, a couple sat on a couch chatting, ignoring the meet-and-greet. The man—who told me he attends shows at Rockbar regularly, and asked to remain nameless—expressed buyer's remorse.
Like many other payers, he was a live rock die-hard. He wasn't there for a souvenir photo; he'd sprung for the tickets on the promise of one-of-a-kind night of celebrity entertainment. Instead, he watched Sebastian Bach occasionally front a cover band at 50 paces. The barricade was especially galling: "Why are we secluded from him? We should've been entitled to be right up there against the stage. He's a great frontman. He rocks. What are you gonna do?"
He said he'd talked to some pretty annoyed ticket holders. "Nobody knew what they were getting. No dinner, no drinks. People flew out for this. People paid $800, $1,000. What did we really get for our money? It's upsetting when you don't get what you pay for."
They left a short time later. It was past midnight, and the crowd, such as it was, had thinned to a few dozen. On the stage, a few Marshall stacks were getting fiddled with, so I figured I'd stick around to watch things peter out.
That's when things got pretty good.
OUT ALL DAY, SLEEP ALL NIGHT
At around 1 AM, a new band took the stage, which included Sherri on vocals, Jeff Young on guitar and Chip Z'Nuff (of Enuff Z'Nuff, in case you hadn't pieced that together) on bass. They initially kicked things off with "Whole Lotta Love," and I got the sense that a Zeppelin cover set was planned. Sebastian Bach, always the rebel, hit the stage with other ideas.
The bouncers ushered the half-dozen remaining rubes past the metal barricades. At last, the promised land.
Things deteriorated into a semi-impromptu jam—practiced numbers alternating with Sebastian Bach's demands for songs he wanted to sing at the moment—and it was, if I'm being totally honest, amazing.
Jeff Young, having switched from the acoustic that bogged him down in the Vodka Lounge to a Gibson Flying V, suddenly became a lot more fun to watch. Sebastian Bach, in his high spirits, was a hilarious frontman. Things began to collapse in the best possible way. Sebastian demanded Cheap Trick's "Surrender." Jeff Young didn't know it well; while the second guitarist quietly gave him a rundown of the chords, Sebastian Bach gleefully stalked the stage, goading the band through their false starts and joking that this was the final straw. "I swear, I'm going it end it all. I've had a good run." Within a few minutes, Jeff had it down, and "Surrender" was a glorious mess.
Sebastian requested "TNT" by AC/DC. The band ripped into it, but Sebastian ground it to a halt: "Stop! Stop! You're playing 'Dirty Deeds!' 'TNT' is a different song!" Huge respect to Bach: it takes a finely honed musical mind to tell AC/DC songs apart at 1 AM. Jeff Young was temporarily booted, and Sebastian Bach demanded that—surprise—Brent Woods take the stage to play "TNT" instead. Amazingly, Brent "Brent Woods" Woods got through the song without complaint.
At some point between songs, Sebastian Bach said to his bride, "Let's leave, right now. Let's get out of here and have sex right now." Fortunately, they were having too much fun to follow through on Sea Bass's threat of immediate coitus.
As the staff cleared empty bottles from the tables, the band ended the set with "Funk 49" by the James Gang, which descended into utter chaos. Sherri kicked off the vocals, opting for a tamer set of lyrics than usual: "out all day, sleep all night." Bach grabbed the mic and finished the track, despite the fact that the only words he knew were, "I know what you're doing." But that's really all the song needs, right?
I felt a pang of sorrow for the disappointed couple that had left earlier. They were missing exactly what they paid for.
Follow David on Twitter.