On May 22, 2001, I left work around 1pm to venture solo from Madison, WI, to Minneapolis, MN to see David Byrne at the First Avenue club (made famous by Prince in the film “Purple Rain”).
I figured the drive would take about 3 or so hours, and I wanted to make sure I got there in time to get a good spot, since it would be standing room only. Unfortunately, the weather turned pretty horrible, and it took just over 4 hours to get there. But I was still pretty early.
After I finally got parked and fed, I headed over to First Avenue where I was met with a sign on the door that said the start time of the show would be pushed back two hours. There were a lot of roadies and tour people around, so I asked a few of them to see what I could learn.
It turned out that due to the weather, they were really late getting in, too. The doors were now going to open at 8:30. There would still be an opening band, and David Byrne wouldn’t go on until around 10:30. This change meant the show wouldn’t be done until 12:30, and I wouldn’t get back to Madison until 4am, at the earliest, with an expectation to be at work the next morning.
The delay was complicated by the fact that, on this tour, Byrne was hiring members of the local symphony in each city to play the strings – which were a heavy part of the “Look Into The Eyeball” album that he was promoting on this tour. What I learned from asking around was that he had to play the entire show with the local string players, in each city, before he would then do the concert to the public. He wanted to make sure they knew their parts, so he would rehearse the entire show.
Faced with either getting home at 4am or just leaving and missing the show, I got creative and opted for the third option. Not being one to ever give up or settle for the obvious options, I started chatting up the staff at the club. After building a rapport, I started to tell my story. I had traveled 4 hours in the wind and rain to see this show, and I just couldn’t stay.
Was there any way I could go in and watch the rehearsal?
After a few false starts, I found someone who said yes, so long as I don’t stand out or make any noise – two very easy asks for the trade off.
So I walked in and tried to stay in the shadows. Turned out I got in just to see the beginning of the rehearsal. At this point in my life, I was recording every show I would go to, but I was so conspicuous that I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get my equipment sorted.
But it was a great trade off. Not only did I get to see the entire show, but I also got to see him train the new players on the nuances of each song and how he wanted them performed. The amount of detail he was sharing on where their part fit in, the cues they could pick up from his choreography and the explanations of the songs themselves were priceless. Plus, I got to see it without a crowd full of people talking and spilling drinks on me.
It was just me, David Byrne, and his band. And they were playing for me.
When the finished the rehearsal, I snuck out the back, hopped in my car and headed off. I would see him again later on that tour, so I was able to experience the show in two very different ways. It was a great tour, with a great setlist:
(setlist courtesy of setlist.fm)
Taking “no” for an answer has never really been in my nature. Whenever I can, I seek to make opportunities for myself – especially unusual ones. I recently wrote about Pamela Alexander and her influence on me when it comes to making things happen, and that definitely applied, in this case. While everyone else was content to wait for the late show, I was able to create one of my most memorable concert experiences.
And I couldn’t have done it alone. Again, people want to help. And fortunately, there was someone at First Avenue who didn’t want me to have to drive back to Madison empty-handed.
The show was amazing, and while this isn’t footage from my experience, here’s a clip of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” from that tour…