By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
"Woo! Alex rocks! Woooooooo!" squeals a voice from somewhere to the left as members of Lit, OC's latest modern-rock success story, are ushered through a crowd gathered outside Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and into the tangle of legs and purses and whatnot stuffed into a rented limo parked outside.
This would be cool if there were an Alex in the band, but there's not. Instead, there is an Allen Shellenberger, the friendly, earnest drummer whose charming smile makes him an instant confidant; a Kevin Baldes, the impish bass player with a sentimental streak; and a Jeremy Popoff, the cell phone-carrying, multitasking, media-conscious guitar player whose ambition is certainly, after 11 long years, paying off. There's also supposed to be Jeremy's younger brother, A.Jay Popoff—the quiet, reserved, heartthrobby lead singer—but, alas, he flew back to Orange County this afternoon, so sick he couldn't talk much less play the show Lit was scheduled to play tonight with San Diego's Unwritten Law at the Joint, the Hard Rock's own midsize venue.
Jeremy raises a toast from somewhere across the limo's flesh mountain: "To platinum album sales in a few days!" As drinks are uncorked, another chorus of "Wooooooooooo!" drowns out your thoughts.
Don't let this scene—that of every bad rock-video cliché on wheels, barreling down the Las Vegas strip—mislead you. Sure, by the end of a dizzying Vegas jaunt with Lit, you will see excess the likes of which you'd only heard about before: debauchery, shenanigans, cheap thrills, loose women, expense accounts, drinking, gambling, hooting, hollering, a mysterious tinfoil-wrapped package, and oral sex in a public restroom. But, oddly, none of these crimes of judgment will be committed by the band members themselves. Which is not to say that the Vegas-loving Lit boys mind a good time. It's just that these days, being a rock star leaves little time for partying like one.
Ever since "My Own Worst Enemy" became this summer's Song That Just Won't Go Away, the boys have had their hands full signing posters, shaking hands and following a rigorous schedule. And so they must vicariously whoop it up via "The Family"—a catch-all term for the assortment of label people, crew, hangers-on and friends who comprise the entourage and who, like play dolls used in child therapy, get to express all the things that Lit, caught suddenly in the headlights of public scrutiny, no longer can.
Inside Mr. Lucky's 24/7, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino's coffee shop, the guys from Lit sit ogling the butts of foxy passersby and lamenting tonight's cancellation. To join them, you will first use a restroom playing Sugar Ray, take an elevator playing the Offspring, turn left at the display of Gwen Stefani's sequined T-shirt, and pass the handwritten lyrics to Sublime's "What I Got." Save for the persistent chiming of slot machines, you may as well still be in Orange County.
"Dude, I was just at the ticket counter," begins Jeremy, sliding into the booth. "I was trying to go see if the Unwritten Law guys were here yet, and somebody was buying tickets for her daughter and overheard me saying we were canceled. I feel like such a dick, man! The ticket girl gave her a refund right there on the spot, but it's just fucked. She's like, 'My daughter baby-sat just to earn money to buy these tickets.'"
"Oh, my God," Allen says with a sigh.
"Son of a bitch!" Kevin offers dramatically. "We have friends coming in we couldn't stop in time. There's just so much on this show, and it's crumbling in front of us right now. We've never canceled a show—not in 10 years! One time, we even played a jam show when Allen had a broken arm—and he played with a broken arm!"
Allen looks dispirited. "It's a weird feeling, like a nervous uneasy feeling. We don't know what to do with ourselves."
"Yeah, I mean, not only have we never canceled a show, but we also have always wanted to play the Joint," says a resigned Jeremy.
"It's Vegas!" Allen wistfully adds.
For their devoted, seeing the Rat Pack-loving, Cadillac-driving, fuzzy-dice-owning Lit in Las Vegas—"their spiritual home away from home," as you will read and hear repeatedly—is akin to seeing the Pope in Saint Peter's Square. So it's not without merit that Lit have registered at the Hard Rock under fake names (after much skullduggery, you find out the names have been taken from Reservoir Dogs) and are kinda sorta maybe trying to keep things on the down low.
For all of that, here they are: exposed. Mr. Lucky's 24/7 lies on the periphery of the Hard Rock's casino, in plain view of the concert venue's ticket counter, which has yet to announce that Lit isn't playing, and in plain view of the fans who have begun to gather to buy tickets for the night's show and, hope against hope, get a glimpse of their heroes. A nervous teen with a camera and her mom approach the table.
"Hi, I was wondering if I could get a picture with you both?" she asks.