By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Gathering beneath a Patriotic statue in Philly
Photo by James Philip Cabeza Devaca
DAY TWO: PHOENIX
"People are always like, 'Oh, you sell-out. Oh, you sold out,'" says Jackie, tipped into a booth at a freeway Subway. "But they should try it. Selling out is hard."
It was the first thing I thought to deliberately remember of the tour. Significant, said a finger-snap somewhere, because this was going to be the last tour where dios surprised anyone. They had been a band for five years, five years Joel called "summer vacation" and five years loading in through the back of the coffeehouse and arguing with the bar over a few dirty 20s. A lot of bands will do that forever—bruise over their talent on sharp corners until something puts them out of their resignation. A lot of bands rot; it's why you can buy good guitars used. Somehow, someone in dios figured this out, and dios put on some legs and pushed themselves up and out. The things they'd waited for were happening.
We were the only van, trailing three bulging buses. Saves the Day was the tour dinosaur; they'd had a video on MTV. They were as selfless and helpful as monks, and they were a terrible band. Even their fans were turning on them. Grandaddy were the dads; they'd had a song ("A.M. 180") in the 28 Days Later soundtrack and some critical acclaim, and they'd helped their old buddies dios to open. The Fire Theft used to be Sunny Day Real Estate—their press release certainly claims they invented emo—and they were polite but reclusive, introspective headcases in all the nice ways, and they were so uncatchy that after two weeks, we couldn't even hum a song of theirs to make fun of it, though keyboardist Jimmy learned "A.M. 180" on accordion and we'd grunt the riff from Saves the Day's "In Reverie" every time van conversation took a breath.
And dios were the babies. They always played first, to kids too young to be smoking outside or so nerdy they actually showed up when the ticket told them to, which was sometimes before the sun even set. But dios didn't gripe: every little inconvenience came with a wink, a sense of dues being paid to bank out as something great next time around. Jimmy was our pilot, and we'd boom through the freeways, watching mountain ranges slip by and listening to his audio books: "Without realizing what power drew him on, he made his way mile by mile and step by step to Mordor!"
DAY THREE: DAY OFF (TRAVEL)
It was an arctic nighttime, and we were the only life on the road, punching through a thunderstorm that had been pissing and banging since El Paso. One vent blew sickly wet-dog-smell engine heat, and the rest were all frigid freeway wind; we twisted blankets over our laps and listened to prank phone-sex calls to stay up: a wary old man breathing heavy and sweaty, a fake girl cooing that "Satan controls my robotic vagina," a computer-modulated HAL 9000 voice croaking, "Hello? Hello? I love you. I am a very lonely individual. I believe you are lonely like me." Outside, starlit slashes of rain splattered into static on the roof. No lights, no moon, no exits until Pecos, Texas, and a motel called MOTEL. Every time a heavy diesel kicked over or a light swung across the curtains, J.P. would twist himself awake, out of a panic nightmare that someone was stealing the van. In the morning, the plaster walls were slick and cold and damp, and the sky was a pale algae green, and we saw that the motel pool was full to the brim with soft black mud, and past the dew in the knuckles of the chainlink fence were creases of empty, dirty grass that ran until you gave up looking. We decided to slide the merch prices around a bit to our advantage and drew a new sign: DIOS MAKES DEALS.
DAY FOUR: DALLAS
I pushed away a curtain and stood backstage center, watching a blurry wave of big-eyed kid faces wash back and forth, out in the red-blue-green stage-lit dimness between Jackie's twin cymbals. This was the first show I saw—usually, merch people build little forts in the lobby and hide inside, drinking whiskey and smoking, but tonight the venue would sell our T-shirts and I was free to go, so I stood backstage and looked out into the crowd. J.P. admits dios songs are easy to like, the same way you'd explain how your parents paid for you to go to college, but I thought that was something to be proud of. Dios' hit would be "Starting Five": Beach Boys falsetto in the chorus, stoner-faux-serious lyrics, a guitar splash like a handshake, a bass line you can ride like a playground slide, even a sample of laughing schoolchildren. And then they had "You Got Me All Wrong," which sits up and stretches into a languorous Abbey Road lift in the middle, and the c'est-la-vie regret in "Nobody's Perfect" ("It's my fault/I stayed too long") and "Love You Girl" (most infamously unrecorded, with Joel's laugh line: "I'll love you till the end/Psyche! I'm just kidding!"), and it all took about 25 minutes. They'd close with the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" which is a little too easy, but these were young crowds who rarely knew it, and dios did it well, J.P. and Jackie cracking in with cardiac precision. Then they'd retreat backstage to nurse Budweisers and call girlfriends and because to date dios had only ever stayed in two hotel rooms; after the show, I would have to go out in the crowd and make best friends, which is what merch people are really supposed to do.