THE NIGHT OF MY LIFE!!!
As I sit down to write this blog entry, it is 1am. I just came home from what will easily go down in history as one of the greatest nights of my entire life. And it's all thanks to one man: KARL KOCH.
(WARNING: this is going to be one of those really long WEEZER blog posts, just deal with it!)
By this point, you should all know that I am a HUGE Weezer fan. My first Weezer album was given to me by my sister Galen in 1994, when she was getting rid of some CDs before going to college (she later rebought the album). I cannot overstate the impact The Blue Album had on my life. It completely changed who I was. I went to my first Weezer show in in 1996, just weeks after Pinkerton debuted (another great night of my life). And since that first concert, I have never missed an opportunity to see Weezer when they played in my area.
I saw them at a small club in Cleveland in 2000 with my friend Charlotte, then again in Cleveland at a massive stadium in 2002 (with Tenacious D and Jimmy Eat World!). I saw them at a medium sized venue in New York in 2005, and then again at Madison Square Garden with Liz Baillie in 2008.
When it was announced that Weezer was playing at the Champlain County Fair in Essex Junction, Vermont on September 2nd, I was a little hesitant at first. I knew it would be the day after I got back from a massive trip out of town and I would be going bonkers trying to catch up on everything. Luckily Jon and Beth talked me into getting tickets for the three of us.
They ALSO talked me into shooting an email to Karl, before the show, to tell him that I would be going. I was reluctant to do this, even though I have been corresponding with Karl sporadically for the last 15 years. I sent him some stamps when I was still in high school, to trade for back issues of the old WeeZine, we have emailed about various Weezer goings on over the years, and he has name checked me and my comics on the Weezer site a few times. ALSO, his neice is Falynn Koch, who told me that Karl is an avid comics reader. So a few years ago, I added Karl to the Phase 7 comp list.
You see, Karl is a MAJOR part of why it's so fun to be a Weezer fan. His daily blog posts, photographs and other documentation of the band create this amazing bridge between the band and all of the fans. It makes us feel SO connected to the band. The MINUTE one of the band members does an interview, or there is some news about upcoming albums or whatever, Karl relays it to the rest of us. I'm really not kidding when I say that his work with Weezer has enriched my life so much. So sending him my comics was like the very smallest way that I could say thank you for everything he has done for me as a Weezer fan.
So ANYWAY, last night at about midnight, I sent Karl a very short email that basically said, "I'm going to the show tomorrow! Maybe I'll see you there!"
30 minutes later, I got an email from Karl saying that he would put a BACKSTAGE PASS for me at the show.
I asked about getting passes for Jon and Beth, but it wasn't really possible because "there are already a lot of other guests who are coming to the show." I told Karl that I totally understood and thanked him profusely for my pass. That night I could only get about 3 hours of sleep, I was SO EXCITED that I might actually get to go backstage...
So this afternoon at 3pm, Jon and Beth and I drove up to Essex Junction (Jon's hometown!) and parked at the fairgrounds. Once inside the gate, I set out to find my backstage pass.
I had my beard down, which might not have been the best idea, because every security guard that saw me suddenly went into DISTRUST mode. We went to one gate and were told to go to the box office. We went to the box office and they told us to go to ANOTHER gate. That gate told us to go back to the box office. Then, finally, one guard knew where we actually needed to go and pointed us in the right direction. I walked up to the "WILL CALL" booth, and told the lady that there should be a backstage pass waiting for me. She looked through her box of envelopes and was like, "Nope, sorry. You're not in here." At this point, I was starting to get pretty nervous! I politely asked if she could look again, and I reassured her that even though I looked SUPER CRAZY, I was actually supposed to be on "the list." She radioed the box office, which confirmed that I was, in fact, on "the list" so she looked through the box of envelopes again and VOILA! She magically found the "Alec Longstreth" envelope and I had my pass!!!
Our ticket price included admission to the fair, so we killed a few hours walking around looking at the massive vegtables, livestock, rides and novelty foods (pictures coming soon, it's too late to deal with Flickr tonight!). Then at about 7pm we headed over to the concert area.
Initially I sat down with Jon and Beth, out with everyone else, but AGAIN (bless their hearts) Jon and Beth encouraged me to get backstage as soon as possible, because it was not an opportunity to be missed! Thank god they did!
I got up and went over to the "VIP" area that was at the base of stage right. As I approached the opening, the security guard took one look at me and started to say "This is a restricted area" but when I lifted my beard to one side, thus revealing my VIP sticker, he quickly changed course, and finished with "You're good, chief."
I immediately saw Karl, and headed his way. I had warned him about my massive beard, so he saw me coming and gave me a big smile. I was totally shaking, I couldn't believe I was actually back stage! I kind of interrupted his conversation and it took me a moment to realize that Karl had been standing there talking to PAT WILSON (the sometimes drummer and current lead guitarist of Weezer) and MIKEY WELSH (???!?!?!?!) It turns out that the "other guests" who were coming to the show were Mikey (the bass player of Weezer from 2000-2001) his wife, his son, his stepson and two of the stepson's friends plus one of their Mom's, and also a friend of Mikey's named Dennis.
We all talked for a bit and internally I was completely freaking out. Karl was being so cool, and I kept thanking him and asking him some of the millions of questions about Weezer that I've always wanted to ask him. Conversationally I was not doing a great job of NOT being a total spaz with Pat and Mikey. Luckily, Karl had to go run off to do A MILLION THINGS, Pat left to hang in the tour bus, and Mikey got wrapped up with family stuff. I started talking with Dennis, who was SUPER friendly and laid back and cool, while the opening band played.
After they finished their set, Karl reappeared and told Mikey and his group that they should head to stage left, where they would be allowed to go up on stage in a few minutes, to watch the show from up there. Then he looked at me, with a sort of "I'm sorry" face, and told me he didn't really know if I would be able to go up on stage. I asked if I could just hang with Mikey's group, and he told me I should definitely try!
I walked over to the area behind stage left, through all kinds of crazy lighting gear and tech boxes and tour busses and stuff, and I was SUPER nervous, worried that this was as far as I would get, and that I'd have to go back out to the front of the house, to watch the show with Jon and Beth (which still would have been totally amazing! don't get me wrong!) Dennis and Mikey were standing in the entrance to this catering tent and I just kind of looked at them apologetically and said, "Is it cool if I just hang with you guys?" They both said "of course" and waived away any worries I had. This calmed me down considerably.
I fell into a comfortable conversation with Mikey, who I knew was now doing a lot of painting, and I also knew, lived in Vermont (knowledge I only had, OF COURSE, because of Karl's thorough blogging of all Weezer goings-on!) He reminisced a bit about his days of being in Weezer and about the rock and roll lifestyle. He seemed very content with his current life and was just an all around nice, chill guy.
Karl appeared again and informed us that it was TIME! Mikey led our group over to the stairs that went up to the stage, flashed his very-high-level security badge at the guard, and said "these folks are with me." The guard quipped "All of them?" and let us pass. The stairs spit us out onto the upper left corner of the stage. As we walked to our position on middle stage left, I spotted Jon and Beth in the crowd, waving frantically at me. I shot them a quick wave and kept moving to our final resting spot, next to the sound board. No cameras were allowed in the concert area, but I had my phone, so I snapped a million blurry dark photos (as seen here - again, I'll put them up on Flickr tomorrow, regardless of quality).
YOU GUYS, I WAS ON STAGE, LIKE 20 FEET AWAY FROM WHERE THE BAND WOULD BE PLAYING!!!!
Weezer came out, with Josh Freese on drums, Pat on lead guitar, Scott on bass, Brian on rhythm guitar and keys, and Rivers JUST singing. They played this epic instrumental intro while Rivers sat at the back of the stage, juggling a soccer ball and kicking it around. Then suddenly, Scott came over and said to Mikey "Hey, you wanna play bass on Hash Pipe? It's our first song!" Mikey sort of nodded and Scott literally just handed Mikey his bass. With no rehearsal or anything, Mikey just went out there and killed it! There was this great moment about half way through the first verse when Rivers looked over and suddenly realized that MIKEY was playing bass instead of Scott! I feel like this instantly kicked up the energy level on stage.
After the song, Mikey gave Scott back his bass and then gave him a giant hug. I couldn't believe my luck. The one time I get to see Weezer backstage and MIKEY was there too! If Matt Sharp and Jason Cropper had been there, I could have met EVERY member of Weezer that there has ever been!
Anyway, I watched the rest of the show, which was hands-down the most amazing rock concert I have ever seen, AND the best Weezer show I have ever seen. In the last couple of years, Rivers has really come out of his shell as a performer. No longer does he just stand center stage and play through the songs. He was going completely NUTS for the entirety of this show. He jumped down into the pit and freely walked through the throngs of people. At one point he walked all the way to the BACK of the concert space, up into the bleachers (ALL WHILE STILL SINGING) just high-fiving people and hugging them and being surrounded by his fans. On stage, I could see the band's every movement. I was so close that I could actually hear the physical sound of the drums and cymbals being struck, not just the amplified reproduction of that sound. And let me tell you this: Weezer has got to be the tightest live band on earth. Their musicianship was jaw-droppingly incredible.
In a way, it was really hard for me to watch the show backstage. I am used to being the guy at the Weezer show who is jumping up and down for the whole show, screaming every word to every song. It took every ounce of self-control that I had, to "keep it cool" up there, so I wouldn't be asked to leave for being too loud or distracting.
Okay, so HANDS DOWN, best show ever. They played nothing but hits (from EVERY album). The crowd was going totally nuts. It was the first time Weezer had EVER played in Vermont! Even if the night had just ended there, it would have been one of the best nights of my life. But there's MORE. SO MUCH MORE YOU GUYS.
After the last song, we were quickly ushered off the stage (breakdown began IMMEDIATELY, as the whole set up had to be on the road later that night to get to Montreal, to get a flight to Edmonton). I follow the group back over to the area behind stage right, and a group of 20 or so people were mingling and talking. I got to say hello to Brian and congratulate him on a great show, and then I talked to Pat for a while, with some other super-fans that had watched the show from out front, but used their similar VIP passes to come backstage after the show.
Karl kept telling us super-fans to hang out, as Rivers might be out in a bit (after a well-earned shower). Mikey and his entourage took off, and the number of people started to dwindle. Brian and Pat and Scott took off to shower or eat or just relax and suddenly it was pretty much just me and three other Weezer super fans, standing there, saying "that show was so AMAZING!" over and over again.
Karl magically appeared again, and told us that if we promised to be SUPER MELLOW, we could go over and meet Rivers by his family's tour bus. I told Karl I could be the mellowest person ever alive, and we all walked over to the bus.
There was a ring of security guards by the bus, creating a perimeter that was keeping a few dozen people at bay, who were obviously hanging out by the bus, with the hopes of seeing Rivers. Karl said to the guards "These four people are okay" and with his blessing, we passed into the inner sanctum, by the door to the bus. Karl went inside for a moment and then he came back out with Rivers, who was freshly showered and wearing a yellow t-shirt and sweatpants. I was standing directly in front of him, three feet away. My heart was beating so fast, I was totally shaking.
"Rivers, this is Alec Longstreth" Karl said, "He draws a comic book called PHASE 7, which is really cool."
"What's it called?" Rivers asked.
"PHASE 7. It's awesome. I'll show it to you some time."
I shook Rivers Cuomo's hand and stammered something like "T...that show was so amazing!" Rivers sort of smiled a bit and nodded. He must hear that a dozen times every night! Ugh...
Karl introduced Rivers to the other three super-fans, by first and last name. One was a girl who had helped Rivers do some sort of streaming video thing online? Weezer had comped her a ticket and Rivers thanked her for her technical help. I kind of missed who the next guy was because I was standing there thinking "ALEC, THIS IS IT! YOUR CHANCE TO REALLY SAY SOMETHING TO RIVERS CUOMO, AN ARTIST WHO'S WORK MEANS SO MUCH TO YOU. DON'T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY TO LET HIM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT WEEZER!!!"
The last guy was just a friend of the third guy. There was a bit of a pause and then Rivers said, "Well, I need to go help put my daughter to sleep. Thanks very much for coming to the show!" People were murmuring "Yeah" and "Sure thing man" or whatever but I was just in a total panic. This was my opportunity and it was slipping away from me!
In the split INSTANT before Rivers turned to go I said, "Rivers!" and he swiveled his head to look me in the eye. Then I said (something like) "I've been a Weezer fan from the beginning, and I have always been with you guys, and I will ALWAYS be with you guys. Your music has been so important to me, and has really helped me get through some hard times. It is so great to see how much fun you guys are having onstage these days and it just seems like the band has never been tighter. I hope you will continue making music for a long time. Don't listen to the haters! There are plenty of us super-fans out there and we always have your back."
Rivers pumped his fist in the air and said "Yeah! Thanks man." We shook hands again, I patted him on the arm, then he turned and got back in the bus.
My head was completely spinning. I couldn't believe what had just happened. Karl and the three others started walking back to the stage right area. I trailed along with them in a daze. Then (jokingly) I said, "Well, I'M ready to die! Life can't possibly get any better than this."
The other three super fans started chatting Karl up, and I suddenly felt like I had overstayed my welcome. It was their turn to pick his brain about all things Weezer. I patted Karl on the back and said "Hey man, I'm going to get out of here, thank you SOOOOOOOO MUCH for everything tonight. This has been like the night of my life." Then Karl, COOL AS ICE, went to shake my hand and said, "Oh, Alec, here's that thing I was telling you about" and palmed me something sort of moist and squishy. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I followed his lead and said, "Oh cool, thanks man!" and slipped it into my pocket without looking at it.
I said my good-byes to the other super fans, thanked Karl again and then turned to leave the VIP area. As soon as I was past the gate, I looked in my pocket, to find the wadded up SET LIST from tonight's show, plus a PICK, which, for the rest of my life, I'm going to assume, was used by Rivers.
UPDATE: Here are my photos from this night!