The sun was setting over San Diego. It had been a sweltering day but at this point, the heat had finally given up -- a welcome reprieve to the day-long broil. Wispy cloud cover rolled across the pristine sky, and a subtle chill descended upon a city aching for relief.
When the opening guitar notes of “Do You Compute” rang out like gunshots -- a hush fell over the eager, waiting masses assembled at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. We held our breath, terrified that any movement -- any exhale -- could unravel the most unexpected of reunions in the most unlikeliest of places. And then it came: The four original members of Drive Like Jehu eyed each other, reached 19 years into the past, and blasted into the angular stomp of that song’s cataclysmic paean to alienation.
Over the next 45 minutes, guitarist John Reis, vocalist/guitarist Rick Froberg, bassist Mike Kennedy and drummer Mark Trombino thundered through selections off their two, now-classic albums: 1991’s self titled debut and their much-beloved 1994 full-length followup, “Yank Crime.” Joined by organist Dr. Carol Williams on the Spreckles Organ Pavilion’s massive, golden instrument -- the union was simply magnificent.
The band seemed nearly as anxious as we were – frequently looking at each other across the stage; their backs often turned to the crowd while facing the long-dormant Trombino (who literally had to purchase a set prior to the show).
But after launching into the raging chug of “Super Unison,” the guys began settling in with each other; their black-gloved drummer let loose on his gigantic Ludwig kit and Reis laid into his guitar with, well, a John Reis-like frenzy. By the time they seeped into the slow, deliberate crawl of “Sinews,” the group lunged and lurched with acerbic energy – perhaps feeding off our uncontainable anticipation, literally two decades in the making.
The unmistakable shards of electric guitar led off their fourth cut, “If It Kills You,” which erupted into as close of an anthem as the quartet was ever willing to make. Froberg’s battle-worn Harmony Bobkat wove between Reis’ Gibson Les Paul Custom attack for a crooked guitar duel, while Kennedy’s cavernous bass anchored the mid-tempo stride.
When it was over, a horn-rimmed bespectacled Froberg stepped to the microphone and joked, “Thank you for coming and watching our retarded music.”
On their last offering, Reis eased into the opening drone of “Luau,” before the song’s chainsaw wallop reached its apex. In yet another surprise move, Pinback frontman Rob Crow stepped onstage in a black suit; his pant legs rolled up to reveal his colorful argyle socks. He vigorously gripped the microphone and helped Froberg deliver the refrain he sang on the original recording: “Aloha, aloha, suit up/Luau luau/Luau luau.” He bowed, and walked off.
Minutes later, the song would be over -- the momentous reunion finished. The Drive Like Jehu bandmates embraced, waved and departed the stage as equally unassuming as they had walked onto it; perhaps for another 19 years ... maybe forever.
At the end of it all, we hugged, laughed, and communed with each other while basking in a post-show glow. None of us had expected this and even though it was altogether too brief, we rejoiced in as much glory as the band was willing to give. On a day where the smoldering heat had broke and given way to a pleasantly chilled, wind-caressed night -- it couldn’t have been more sublime.
Relive the entire show via the Spreckels Organ Pavilion's ustream feed here.
Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.