Warp + Weft: ‘On Being Cool’

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My favorite Steve Cohen shot from the show

Shortly before I moved to Minneapolis four years ago, my brother mentioned that he and some of the other member of his band Heiruspecs were playing with “this girl Jessy Greene.” I thought he was talking about someone his own age (23 at the time), perhaps a friend from high school who had some semi-folky, semi-funky songs of her own to play. When I actually met Jessy in January of 2004, I was surprised to learn that she had played with The Jayhawks and appeared on albums by Wilco and The Afghan Whigs, among others. When I went to her rehearsal space for the first time for what I thought was some kind of audition for her band, I found out that she shared a studio space with Soul Asylum. Instead of giving me an audition, she gave me headphones and I immediately laid down guitar for a song that would eventually appear on her 2007 album, A Demon and Her Lovers.

I joined her band, and over the next couple years, played shows everywhere from the tiny Kitty Cat Klub to First Avenue. At First Ave, we shared the stage with Dan Wilson, Golden Smog, and others, and Dave Pirner even jumped up onstage once to do backup vocals on her song “Sad Paradise.” When she got me into the Karl Mueller benefit show in the fall of ’04, I ended up hanging out backstage with Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould, Dan Murphy, Dave Pirner, and Michael Bland. In short, I came to expect the unexpected when it came to hanging out with Jessy, a woman who was casual friends with people I’d watched on MTV when I was in high school.

But all this time spent backstage with the veterans and founders of the Minneapolis music scene of the ’80s and ’90s also taught me to kind of brush it off. After all, I respected and admired Soul Asylum, and had gone to see them play in Springfield, Mass., when I was a junior in high school, but they had never been my favorite band or anything. Having grown up in Massachusetts instead on Minnesota, neither The Replacements nor Hüsker Dü held quite the same fascination for me as I think they did for others my age who were from here. And besides, it’s just not cool to act all starry-eyed around anyone, and the more famous they are, the less blown away you have to act.

When Jessy joined the Foo Fighters, I wasn’t surprised. She had hung out with them when they came to open for Dylan because of her connection to their touring keyboardist (and former Wallflower), Rami Jaffee. Over the course of her trips to L.A. and phone calls and text messages about moving, it became natural. She, of course, fit the bill perfectly; self-possessed, dynamic, sexy rock violinists with raven tresses and nothing in the way of attitude can’t be easy to find. Over the next six months, I saw her on Saturday Night Live, Letterman, and playing to a sold-out Madison Square Garden on Fuse. When I saw her last, she told me I and the rest of the band would be on the list for the show when the Foos came through next, which was pretty much what we all expected. I saw her on the Grammies when the Foo Fighters won two awards, and shortly after, they rolled into town to play the Target Center.

The day of the show, I got a text from Jessy that read, “Hey babe i got 2 tix and after show passes for u at will call. excited to see you. xoxo jess.” A bunch of us planned to car pool, and honestly, we were all a little excited, even if we were mostly joking about being excited. Josh Peterson (guitarist for Heiruspecs) faux-fretted about what we were going to wear, but when it came time to get ready, I really thought about it. I’m not afraid to admit it: I tried to figure out what would be the best thing to wear for hanging out backstage with the Foo Fighters. Black seemed right. Black jeans, black T-shirt, black argyle sweater, and a black hoodie. I flip-flopped on my shoes. I have black velcro shoes, but they didn’t look right with the black jeans. I’ve been rocking the black, white, and brown Asics recently, but they didn’t feel right either. I settled on black Tsubos. Yes, I own a lot of shoes.

And I’m not even the world’s biggest Foo Fighters fan. I loved The Colour and the Shape and I’d liked a whole lot of their songs, but again, I never considered them an influential band for me personally. As we parked downtown and started walking, we got out first whiff of trouble: Josh had picked up his tickets, and there had been no after-show passes. When we arrived at the Target Center, we found the same: Floor tickets and no passes. It was disappointing, especially since a couple of our other friends had gotten passes. We filed onto the floor and stood near the back, semi-moping and bitching to each other.

But what were we really complaining about? We’d gotten in for free, after all. Maybe it just becomes difficult after you’ve gotten used to breezing backstage with Jessy to not get the treatment. Standing there, though, my disappointment began to warp into something different: annoyance with myself for being disappointed. I’d spent so much time trying mightily to stay unimpressed with things like vegetable plates and beer backstage that that cool part of me was rebelling against my disappointment. There I was in my black jeans and my carefully chosen shoes, and all of it was for naught.  I felt suckered, thinking that if I’d know all we were going to get were general admission floor tickets I would have stayed home and watched “Lost” on DVD with my wife. I was disappointed, and disappointed at being disappointed, and trying not to act too disappointed, all at the same time.

The Foo Fighters were killing it right off the bat. I was struck, as I was when I saw Death Cab for Cutie at First Avenue, by how much better the Foo Fighters are than I usually think of them. They’ve written a hefty-sized batch of truly quality songs, from “Big Me” to “Monkey Wrench” to “Breakout” to “All My Life” and on and on. At this point in their career, their set is almost all hits, and that’s a pretty staggering point for a band to get to. They also sound fantastic, which is not easy to do in an arena the size of Target. I mean, it still sounded like an arena show, but given that, they were crisp and precise, but not bloodless. Dave Grohl in particular always looks like he’s having a blast, and make no mistake, there’s a big difference between having a blast and making sure that it comes across. It all adds up to a satisfyingly larger-than-life-size rock concert.

Part way through the show, after Grohl has donned an acoustic guitar, a circular stage descends dramatically into the middle of the crowd on the floor and suddenly, the whole band is right out in the center of the arena. It’s a great little bit of showmanship, because it changes the dynamic of the show, moving the whole band closer to the fans and the people in the back. Jessy’s been up and down a couple times over the show so far, but when it comes to the introductions, Grohl is effusive with his praise, crediting her with everything from their Grammy wins this year to helping him quit smoking. Jessy’s visibly embarrassed by the attention, but I can’t help smiling, in spite of my desire to stay bitter. It’s just flat-out exciting to see someone you know on a stage like that, with thousands of people applauding her violin solos and screaming and carrying on for the band she’s joined.

I look over and my brother’s beaming, too. We’re caught up in it, and that’s when I stop feeling sorry for myself. For that moment, I’ve seen what I really came to see, and I know then that there’s nothing wrong with being a little wowed by the size of a rock and roll life. If we can’t keep a little bit of that innocence, that thing that played a part in making us fall in love with music in the first place, then we’ve really lost something. It’s something that makes us vulnerable, and so our reluctance to let that side show is natural. Maybe that’s why it was easy at that moment, with everyone focused on Jessy’s triumphant homecoming, to forget about not going backstage, and to forgive myself for wanting to, and to fall in love with music and the trappings of the rock life again, for the millionth time, in the middle of a big-ass rock show.’

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