Let me preface this piece by saying it’s really two very separate reflections about one night I swear I will never forget. You’ll understand as you read the following why I say that. |
I’d been dispatched by Your Music Magazine to cover Days of the New, or, rather, Travis Meeks doing one of a number of solo shows. I was pleased to find out that San Jose’s own Cherry Nova was opening the evening. They rocked in all their chick-grunge glory. This band is the bastard child of Veruca Salt, L7, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, The Breeders and maybe a little of Hole’s new song, “Skinny Little Bitch.” Watching them makes me feel like I was put in a time machine to see original grunge crawl out of the bay of Seattle. They did their staples, like “Spiderman,” (I was lucky to grab a video of that) entrancing me with a weird mix of lethargy and kinetic energy (if that makes any sense). I’m a sucker for grunge, in any form, and this stuff definitely recalls that. I have to say that if it had been just about any other city, there might have been a frothing mosh pit, but as usual, the Silicon Valley crowd sat at their tables and cheered, applauding at the right times. It was a great performance, though. I can’t wait to hear their album when it’s done. I snapped some pictures that would have been great on a better camera, save for the rampant red-eye (cherry eye?) that dogged most of the shots. My photographer had to bail last-minute due to a number of valid reasons, so I was flying solo.
Next up was Famous Taxi, actually a solo performer who worked the crowd with his stage presence. He was fun to watch, with his tongue-in-cheek tortured love songs. He had a great voice and a fantastic stage mix, which enabled people to appreciate the blending of his guitar and voice. He was like a higher-energy and more whimsical Damien Rice via Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional. His song “Control” was a high point. Fortunately, I got a video of a great song. Unfortunately, my camera crapped out on me while trying to record a second clip. I’m glad I had the forethought to bring a separate voice recorder, and landed interviews with the first two acts using that.
Camera-less, I was enthralled by Red Sun and musically pummeled by Nova (a separate band unrelated to Cherry Nova). Both of these were extremely tight, demonstrating that modern rock isn’t dead yet in Northern California, despite popular opinion to the contrary. Red Sun featured a full band augmented by a DJ, peppered with hardcore vocals and thrashing guitars. Nova took it a step farther, absolutely dominating the audience, which had peaked at this point. I can’t overstate how great these guys are. They just did a song for the Iron Man 2 videogame soundtrack and will be playing with Taproot, which should give them some more exposure. At times, they recalled Deftones, Shinedown, Sevendust and Edgewater, and the vocalist completely owned the stage with a range approaching Chris Cornell’s banshee yells. Amazing. They were asked to extend the set and no one complained. It was while wandering around after that I learned the reason why.
I overheard some guys from the venue saying that Travis Meeks was pretty much out of his mind on drugs. I knew something was up when the guy running the show told me that there was no chance of an interview, because he said, “Travis is in no condition to be doing interviews – he’s completely out of it.” This is apparently still a problem, even after the filming of the A&E substance abuse and recovery show, “Intervention,” which featured Meeks in 2005. This is where the evening took a real turn.
Alice in Chains was blasting from the house’s sound system, and the ghostly voice of Layne Staley was singing stories of drug addiction, pain, and death. It was a true foreshadowing. An hour after his scheduled time, a security guy escorted Meeks out. Some people, I included, gasped audibly. He was cadaverous. Absolutely emaciated, like someone with advanced cancer or some other wasting disease. After all the hale, hearty, high-energy performers, Meeks was shockingly thin, moving his body in strange ways, with odd twitches and facial expressions. (At this point, I was relieved that I couldn’t shoot pictures, and I could hear people near me making comments about drugs). His roadies set up an array of acoustic guitars (his hallmark) and after tuning and whispering things to one of the sound guys, he began to play.
He started with a long, rambling instrumental piece, looking like a stick figure behind his large dreadnaught acoustics, hunched over his guitar while crouching on a stool. The music was haunting, and he weaved various melodies together with bits of dissonance, throwing in down-tuned elements, actually using his tuning pegs to alter the pitch and tones while playing. It wasn’t until around twenty minutes in, with people whispering to each other questions about whether he would sing or not, that he finally did. The first song, appropriately enough, was about wasting away and dying. His voice, while still recognizable, was hollow and missing the depth of what he had done on the first Days of the New album. He went through one of his principal hits, “Shelf in the Room,” and then through other songs from the various previous albums and his upcoming release, “Days of the New Presents Tree Colors” (a play on the series of self-titled albums with the cover picture being a large tree in various colors, depending on the album).
It should be noted that the crowd had really dwindled at this point, to perhaps less than a fifth than were present for Nova. Between songs, one guy yelled out, “We’re your inner circle, Travis!” while other people called out “Maestro!” which he has also been going by. It smacked of pity. I honestly believe many had left because it was hard to watch this still-young man with so much talent so visibly wasted and stripped, and I could hear them saying so as they left. The music was interesting and intricate, but the sight of him so frail and with wild, disheveled hair was hard to watch, compared to how he looked in the video for his first hit, “Touch, Peel and Stand,” back in ’97. I couldn’t help but think he’s younger than me…
He didn’t stick around at the end for the few who’d stayed. For me, the personal tragedy will always cut through the talent. Perhaps the torment drives the talent, but there is no talent without the person. Just ask Layne Staley, whose songs preceded Meeks. Someone has to reach out to him, or he’ll just be another name on a too-long list. Let’s just hope and pray it’s not too late. Sometimes, “we die young,” when we don’t have to.