I saw the Dave Matthews Band open for Phish at the Santa Monica Civic.
I do what Chip tells me. He'd told me I had to come see Phish at the Variety Arts Center and I'd watched them blow up. The DMB was his new band.
I didn't know that the Santa Monica Civic had a false floor, that it was suspended in such a way that when they started playing "Ants Marching" and the college-aged audience dressed in the same exact clothing as the band members themselves erupted and started moving up and down that the floor would too. I'd never heard the number before, I haven't forgotten it since.
During the break, before the headliner took the stage, I went with Chip to a side room, just east of the auditorium itself, that resembled nothing so much as an elementary school classroom, to hang out. It was there that I met Boyd, Carter and LeRoi. Maybe LeRoi, I can't remember exactly, it was fifteen years ago…
This was before Dave became not only a TV star, but a cultural icon, before his humor became widely known. They were just another band. Who kept getting bigger and bigger, whose fanbase kept growing. I followed them to the Palladium, all the way to Staples and the Hollywood Bowl. And got to know their manager, Coran Capshaw, along the way. Not incredibly well. Which is probably why he wanted to have lunch on Tuesday. To talk in an environment different from backstage.
On the way to the Peninsula, I heard "Where Are You Going" on No Shoes Radio, Kenny Chesney testified not only about Dave, but the band's drummer. I told Coran and Chip this when we sat down. Coran told me Kenny had a place on St. John too. They were buddies.
It was that kind of conversation. Catching up, filling in the little details. Telling me about the status of the band. How they'd mixed it up, how they were playing better than ever before, with Tim Reynolds on the road with them and two replacements for LeRoi.
LeRoi had been in an ATV accident. This I knew. But Coran told me the details. The four-wheeled vehicle flipped over backwards upon him. He broke ribs, had a collapsed lung, his shoulder was hurt, they had him in an induced coma for a week. And three days after he came to, LeRoi checked himself out. Against the will of the doctors.
And after being home, he got an infection. The nurse taking care of him had LeRoi readmitted to the hospital. Where he was on both heart and lung machines. But he pulled through.
The story was told with seriousness, but no drama. There was no question, LeRoi was coming back. Certainly by the first of the year. We started talking about other things. The challenges of maintaining a superstar act in these confusing times, ticketing, Music Today. And an hour later, the phone rang.
Coran carries both a BlackBerry and a Razr. He picked up the Razr. He was listening rather than talking. And after two minutes or so, he flipped the phone closed and became wistful, let us in on his mental soliloquy. That was LeRoi's assistant. They'd called 911. LeRoi's lips had turned blue. They were taking him to the hospital. He had a blood clot.
Coran traced it back to the infection that had put LeRoi back in the hospital weeks before. He'd had a hard time fighting back. And he hadn't gone into the process in the greatest shape, he had diabetes, other health problems.
LeRoi had flown to L.A. for rehab, he was staying at his house here, just miles away. Suddenly the story took on a different feel. Somewhere in the landscape visible from the Peninsula deck, this story was playing out.
Then ten minutes later, the phone rang again.
But this time, the call was longer. Chip and I engaged in conversation. For the better part of ten minutes. And when Coran flipped the phone closed again, he said:
A jolt just went through my body, writing this. I've never been in a situation like this before. I might have met this guy, but in a perfunctory way, I don't know him. But he's part of the lifeblood of Coran and Chip's world. And he's a human being, like the rest of us. And he's now gone.
Chip put his head in his hands. Coran stared into space. I was in shock. Trying to decide the best thing to do. Feeling that I needed to excuse myself, that they didn't need an intruder, I was just about to stand when Coran got up, said "I've got to deal.", and walked off.
Chip asked, WHAT NOW?
I realized that I needed to stay. As long as Chip needed to.
I figured this was L.A. LeRoi had probably gone to Cedars. The news would be on the wire, on the Internet, in a matter of minutes. I told Chip that Coran was probably trying to beat the press to the punch, in addition to alerting the rest of the band.
DO THEY PLAY?
I didn't know. It could go either way. Maybe they were too fucked up to play. Or maybe they'd say this is what LeRoi would do.
Chip called Dan, founder of the agency. Told him and asked him the question too. The gig scheduled for that night, in Staples Center, only hours away, did it happen? Dan said what I did. Maybe, maybe not.
And then it became that moment in "Almost Famous". The plane crash scene. When suddenly truth passes between human beings. Chip and I have a deep, honest relationship, but we touched on subjects we'd never delved into before.
Then, after about forty minutes, we left.
In the car to Felice's house, the shock truly set in. I realized why you needed the living around you when someone passed. If you were alone, you drifted away.
Felice was on her exercise bike, watching "Oprah". I could barely speak. She realized something was wrong. I ultimately got the story out. It barely registered. How could it? You go to lunch and a band member dies, DURING LUNCH? News like that bounces right off of you, it doesn't stick.
And it seemed that only Coran, Chip and I knew. I kept going online. The band's Website had not changed, there was nothing in the Google News. I was in the loop, but no one else was. This never happens in 2008, where everything is instant, where everybody knows everything all the time.
I spoke with my mother. But I basically listened. I called Chip two hours later, as we'd agreed. He still didn't know whether the band would play. He said he'd call me back. A little after six, he told me to come on down.
By time we got to Staples, the news had just broken. Maybe by going to Hollywood Presbyterian, the vultures had missed the story. Ambrosia had written a press release, the news was now out, Chip's BlackBerry was going berserk.
The halls were almost empty. Dave was talking to a gray-haired gentleman. There were no festivities, there was no buzz, but in less than an hour, the band would take the stage in front of thousands.
Coran's number two said the band had had a meeting, uttered "Back to the van.", their mantra, to remember where they'd come from, their brotherhood.
We went to catering. Coran nodded his head, but stayed glued to his phone. It was positively bizarre.
And twenty minutes after the time on the sheet, the Dave Matthews Band took the stage.
I don't know how you play under those circumstances.
And being in L.A., the roar of the crowd was muted to a degree. L.A.'s jaded, everybody plays L.A., a concert here isn't just enough of an event!
But the band is firing on all cylinders. Coran's checking the set list as we stand behind the lighting board, he tells me they're going to play my favorite, "The Dreaming Tree".
The ten minute number calmed my nerves. Music is a magic carpet loaded with oils and other soothing potions, it's just what you need when you don't know what you need, when you've got more questions than answers.
And they played "Ants Marching", with even more ferocity than they had fifteen years before. Their cover of "Sledgehammer" had more power than Peter Gabriel's. But the highlight of the evening was unexpected, a rendition of Talking Heads' "Burning Down The House".
Only played for the first time live two weeks before, the number is unmistakable. It starts with an ethereal guitar, the drum pounds and then…
You might get what you're after"
Whatever the audience expected, this exceeded it. I'd say the band was a freight train, but it was more like a 747, that had DRIVEN all the way from Charlottesville to Los Angeles and was burning rubber at the airport before finally coming to a rest… THE TIRES WERE SMOKING!
And just like a modern jet, EVERYTHING was working. It has to in order to move. And boy was the band moving. Musically. There were no dance steps, everybody was almost rigid in his place. But Carter's arms were churning, Dave was spitting into the mic like he was seventeen, and he needed to show the bullies, who he was, where he was coming from.
"I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house"
This was not the hair band eighties. The members of the DMB were wearing the same clothes that had covered them backstage. They were not stars, they were MUSICIANS!
There was nothing on tape, no loops, no hard drives. This night they'd had to conjure the fire from scratch. They'd had to reach down deep and do it one more time, knowing that their brother was not only gone, but was never coming back.
"Pick me up, love, from the bottom
Up on to the top, love, everyday
Pay no mind to taunts or advances
I'm gonna take my chances on everyday"
The video of the hugger played on the hi-def screens. The audience sang along, knowing every word. That's just what we've got, every day. Until we don't.
I don't know what happens when people die. Is this really the end? LeRoi had called his business manager just that morning, left a voice mail before the crisis, did he know this was going to be his last day on this mortal coil? And the recipient of this message, he didn't receive it until after LeRoi expired.
The audience was cascading in a virtual wave, going up and down in place, not the artificial arena exercise, but something inspired by the music. We were in unison.
"Jump in the mud, mud
Get your hands filthy, love
Give it up, love
Get up from that couch! Go out into the bright sunshine. Dial your crush and ask her for a date. It may be messy, but maybe not. Don't be somnambulant, get out of your own way, don't only embrace life, but eat it up. Everyday.