I pay forty-five dollars to park at Little Caesar’s Arena. Fourth floor. The five minute walk to the Masonic is freezing and grey. I’m nervous. I want to make a good impression.
Several hours later I’m drunk on Maynard’s wine, watching him sing from a darkened platform at center stage. Surrounding him is the supergroup known as A Perfect Circle, and they all look like a bunch of middle aged dudes at their day job.
The first thing I do upon arriving at the Masonic is sign-in at the Riff table. 101.1 WRIF The Riff is Detroit’s preeminent rock station. I’m acquainted with a DJ at the Riff. We were baggers together at Farmer Jack during high school. I recently had her on my podcast. She invited me to this shindig. It sounds like a bigger deal than it turns out to be, but I’m still jittery because, like all Millennials, I want to quit my day job and start working in an industry or profession that is both impressive and sexy. If I meet the right people tonight, I could find an in. One more step climbed.
The people at the Riff table shake my hand and introduce themselves. My acquaintance seems to have told them about me. One of these guys is the promotions coordinator. I go up several flights of stairs past a few other interns directing traffic and find my DJ friend sitting in a room with long tables set up against the windows.
This part of the Masonic feels like a James Bond scene where he seduces a female assassin at a cocktail party. I say a brief hello to my acquaintance and a thanks for hooking me up. I can tell she’s busy socializing with her work friends so I continue on through a hallway to the gathering room.
Maynard’s wine company is called Caduceus. There’s banners advertising the logo in the gathering room. This room feels like it’s from Eyes Wide Shut, like a pagan church or something. I forget this place is called the Masonic Temple, as in the Freemasons and all their black magic fuckery. Oak pews with leather padding line the walls. Tall thrones are set up at either end. You could easily see them sacrificing a virgin in here.
There’s already a bunch of Riff listeners and contest-winners milling about, looking sincerely out of place. Some sit in the pews and thrones. Some stand at the tall bar tables they’ve got set up in the open virgin-sacrificing space in the room’s center.
I sit in one of the king chairs and mind my business. There’s PA set up playing the string quartet tribute to A Perfect Circle. Everyone looks at their phones.
I don’t sit in the king chair long. I go back outside to the James Bond room and say a more formal hello to my DJ acquaintance, thank her again for getting me in, try to make small talk. She’s cordial.
I go back in to the Virgin Sacrifice Room. Someone’s taken my throne. I pick a spot on a pew, sit and wait.
Time passes. The String Quartet Tribute CD plays all the way through and starts over.
Finally, Meltdown, the evening DJ for the Riff, comes in and starts talking on a mic. To my surprise, he introduces Billy Howerdel from the band.
Billy comes in out of nowhere. He carries with him an instant scent of weed. Security guards guide him through the Riff listeners like a naked woman through a male prison cafeteria.
Billy’s vibe is peevish. He very clearly doesn’t want to be here. He talks a bit about the tour.
“We’re starting to get sick now,” he says. “Can I say that?”
He turns to a manager guy next to him, one of his guides, who stands at his shoulder the whole time. The guy pretends to be having a great time, slaps Billy’s shoulder and chuckles showily. The Riff listeners stand and stare and I stare with them. I wonder how much extra this event cost all the people in this room. They can’t all be contest winners. There are at least forty of them.
Billy makes eyes at a short-haired goth girl of about 24 about ten feet in front of him. She’s standing at a table with her fat, ponytailed neckbeard boyfriend (or more likely just orbiter, based on their behavior) in a Psychostick hoodie. I can feel the hypergamy radiate off her from where I sit as the two eye-fuck each other.
“But uh, yeah, no, we’re all uh, well rested, and uh, yeah… best show ever tonight,” says Billy, giving goth girl a coy hey-there-sweet-thang half-smile. She returns it, hand on her purse. I can’t see her companion’s face but I’m willing to bet he looks uncomfortable as hell.
Billy says a few more inconsequential words, looks back at his manager guy (“Can I go now?”) and then he’s gone again, security ushering him out of the room as though one of us is going to knife him.
A bald guy who looks an awful lot like Billy in a tuxedo takes the mic with Meltdown. He turns out to be a Caduceus salesman. He explains how to pronounce the name — Cadooseeus — and his name is Kevin.
Everyone in the audience is overweight and drab and uncomfortable-looking, insecure; the peasantry of modern America draped with the burdens of ordinary life. We listen to Kevin talk about what we’ll be tasting and how great it is to work for Maynard. No one looks happy.
After Kevin pitches us some exciting new promotions, we shuffle out for our tasting. Finally, it’s time for wine.
Back in the James Bond Seduction room, there’s tables set up with plastic wedding party cups half-full of Caduceus’s latest crop.
I get red. It’s dry, kind of sweet. I’m no connoisseur, but I sip away and yep, that’s definitely wine.
I go back for a couple tastings. I try the white, then the red, then the red again, alternating between the James Bond Seduction Room and the Virgin Sacrifice Room, always trying to look like I have somewhere to be. I get myself warm enough to approach the woman I see talking to Meltdown. I think she’s Anne Carlini, the legendary afternoon DJ at the Riff. She looks just like her.
The resulting conversation is awkward and probably hilarious to anyone watching. The woman turns out to not be Anne, but in fact the mother of the current Riff Rock Girl Hailey, who is also present. There is no eye contact as I walk over and introduce myself. As soon as I realize my mistake, which is within the first few sentences, I excuse myself and get the fuck out of there.
I head back out through the James Bond Seduction Room to the stair room. I go over to a circle of black t-shirted interns who are bullshitting with the promotions coordinator. I ask about getting involved. They point to one of the interns who was posted at the top of the stairs earlier.
“You gotta talk to him.”
The kid looks at me. He’s skinny, glasses, wavy brown hair. Looks like a computer science major who posts guitar tutorials on YouTube in his spare time.
“Yeah, I can already tell I don’t like you,” he tells me. He’s not kidding.
I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Oh, so that’s why you were standing over there when I came in,” I say, pointing to the top of the stairs. “You’re evaluating people as they come up the stairs.”
The promotions coordinator tells me to send him an email. Sure thing.
This isn’t going well, but it’s always better to fuck up than not try. Maybe they all heard the podcast interview I did with my DJ acquaintance and hated it.
It was dumb of me to think this was anything, but it doesn’t matter now. I’ve had a good four or five tastings of wine and none of the crackers and cheese they’re serving. I’m good and tipsy — tipsy on one of favorite singer’s many capitalist endeavors. I got in for free. I’ll see one of my favorite bands perform in a matter of hours. There’s nothing to complain about.
I finally get to have a nice bantery chat with my DJ acquaintance. The event ends and people clear out, the wine staff making sure everyone finishes their cups before leaving the James Bond Seduction Room. We walk down the stairs to the main floor where people are already crowding in for the night’s show. I bid my DJ acquaintance farewell, thank her again. She says she’ll talk to her boss for me. I haven’t heard from her since.
With a few hours to kill before the curtain rises, I brave the icy wind and walk back over to a restaurant at Little Caesar’s Arena where I order a burger and watch the beginning of a Wings game. I buy a guy a drink in exchange for letting me use his phone charger. He buys me a shot of some kind. My bartender is cute as fuck and named Autumn. She’s got a huge engagement ring on her finger and lives in Allen Park.
A few hours later and I’m back at the Masonic in my seat, earplugs in and waiting for the lights to dim.
I check my phone. They’ve played the same setlist at every show.
There’s a message playing over the intercom every fifteen minutes or so, a comically-deep Darth Vader voice announcing a zero tolerance policy on photography. I snap a quick photo of the roadies doing changeover so I have something to post at the top of this article.
The seats are tiny and I am crammed in. Fortunately I’m on the aisle.
The lights go down. The reaction from the crowd isn’t as spicy as you’d think it should be. They appear one by one, playing Eat the Elephant, the first track off their latest and probably last album, released last April. They’re surprisingly quiet, though they get louder over the course of the show.
Maynard sings for us, barely speaks at all, not addressing us until three songs in.
“De-fucking-troit,” he says, then they play The Hollow.
“We caught a bit of snow on the way in,” he intones a few songs later. “Reminded me of home… it also reminded me why I left…”
The crowd cackles.
“Crazy shit going on in the world…insanity… fucking insanity…”
“At least we have each other.”
The stage makes it look like the band is performing in the gullet of some sort of digital maw — giant slanted screens blinding us with color and light, like the huge fangs of giant neon demon. The mismatched crescents of the band’s logo are displayed on a banner behind Maynard. The bass player looks like Demetrius Martin from where I’m sitting.
The people in front of me are even drunker than I am. They put up their hands like people worshiping at megachurches, rocking out, blocking my view. It gets irritating.
The lights from the stage are blinding.
James Iha plays more keyboard than guitar.
Before the last songs, Maynard introduces the band — the drummer, the bassist, Billy. He doesn’t mention Iha or himself.
“None of these fuckers are from Michigan except for me,” he says.
Whoo! cheers the crowd. The people in front of me stick their hands in my face and scream.
“Michigan… fuckin’ Michigan,” Maynard says, like he’s talking about a termite infestation or an annoying recurring weather pattern.
The first time I saw these guys was at the Palace in 2004. It was a dope show. Maybe I thought that because I was 18. They had a midget KISS cover band open for them. Mini-KISS, they were called. They played to a backing track and the crowd hated them, booing mercilessly. Maynard chastised us later, saying, “We went out of our way to bring you KISS — well, half of KISS — and how do you repay us?”
Last year they played the Fox. Now a year later here they are at the Masonic. Venues are shrinking. This is their last tour, for sure. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Maynard wants to get back to his desert vineyards. The band’s whole vibe is obligatory routine. They are tired and want their damn paychecks.
This is a shame, because their songwriting is stellar. To me, they always seemed to exist in that timeless goth rock world where everyone’s young and the biggest problems are crushing existential angst and who’s fucking who. They pal around with Queens of the Stone Age and Rage Against the Machine and other A-listers from the 2000s, doing interesting things and living lives most of us only wish for. So much for that illusion.
Despite their palpable lack of enthusiasm, the sound is good — big and crunchy and powerful and tight.
Maynard’s 54 year old voice is losing its elasticity and he sings lower than he used to, but it’s still got that classical instrument resonance to it, clear and true. His screams are well placed and full. When he reaches down and lets loose, it’s majestic. His voice has a stateliness and elegance to it that contrasts with the heavy assault of the music behind him. It floats, like a ribbon caught on a stormwind. It sounds like an 1800’s Victorian Lord gone mad. I’d love to hear Maynard do the singing voice for a Disney villain. Imagine him singing Hellfire.
During Counting Bodies Like Sheep To the Rhythm of the War Drums I go get a hot dog and a water to soak up/dilute some of the wine so I can drive home.
They play Judith while I eat my hot dog. I stand in the center aisle. I’m harassed by usher who stalks up and down the center aisle like a gorilla. I take my time getting my phone out to show him where I’m sitting. I tell him I’m lost.
Maynard does his twisted geezer dance, that staggering shuffle stoop with that long wig he wears, hands clutching out in front of him like a blind person. He looks like Riff Raff in Rocky Horror or a morgue attendant in a cheap horror movie.
I get back to my seat. The hand-wavers aren’t here anymore.
The last song they play is Delicious, off Eat the Elephant.
“Look out for each other on the way home,” Maynard says.
Then they’re gone. The lights come on and the sea of names dissipates, me among them.