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San Francisco, the city, was so incredible I can’t even talk about it. It was my first time there. From the lovely walkableness of the city (what can I say—I loved the hills) to the freedom of expression to the gorgeous weather we were blessed with that day to our super-cool host in the Castro who prepared us the best breakfast we had on the entire four-night trip, it was sublime. Of course, in our limited six-hour window we didn’t get a chance to do much more than walk around. And eat. And drink. But it was enough to know we will definitely be going back.

Best of all was meeting up for dinner with Katrina, a friend whose acquaintance I made entirely apart from the fact that she’s a 97’s fan. I love it when that happens. The three of us had a lovely, simple dinner at Chow and then she was nice enough to drive us all to the Fillmore. (San Francisco may be walkable, but unlike Boston, the city I’m most familiar with, it’s damn big.) Despite a former glut of Wreckers in the Bay Area, by now most of them have moved out of state, and the only one I was prepared to locate in the crowd was Becky. By way of recognition—we’d never met in person—she said her purse would have a 45 on it. Because I am an idiot, I looked for an actual number, not a record. That’s why she found me first. (Either that or she recognized Matt’s hair.)

I have hardly any photos of the Fillmore show. Out of all the security at all the shows, the Fillmore’s was the most rigid. I had to open my purse and I was told in no uncertain terms that I could NOT take pictures. Complete bullshit, because people were taking photos all over the place. (Except for videographer girl. We tried unsuccessfully to locate her, and decided San Francisco was likely too far for her and her cameras to trek.) Still, the warning stayed in my subconscious long enough that I didn’t think to reach for my camera at all, and I used my camera phone only a couple of times.

Like to take this picture:

Sandra's view in San Francisco

That’s the back of a guy’s shirt. For a good portion of the show, that was my view.

In the unspoken parameters of rock show etiquette, a behavior 97’s fans seem to universally adopt, height makes a difference. If you have someone short (like me) and someone tall (like everyone else), the polite thing for the tall person to do is to move aside so the short person at least has a view. That’s not to say I expect everyone who’s taller than me (which is pretty much anyone over sixth grade, possibly fifth) to move aside. It’s nice when they do and I appreciate it, but I usually don’t ask for it. Last night, though, I almost did.

When we arrived the Fillmore was nowhere near full and we got a great position in the second-ish row, Murryside. Halfway through Langhorne Slim three guys moved in front of me to join their friend, a girl, who was in the front row. All righty, fine. Except dude in front of me? Was about six five. I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup at gunpoint because the neck-crane to get a look at his face would have tumbled me backwards. But I could describe the back of his (striped, oxford) shirt in meticulous detail.

Not only was tall guy and his cohorts interrupting our party, but TG, at least, was swaying. Drunkenly swaying. He and his friends thought that was loads of fun. I got a lot of sympathetic looks and comments from people next to and in back of me but because I am a wuss, I just dealt with it best I could. TG was like a human vision test; every time he swayed I switched from right-eye vision to left-eye vision.

But my friend Becky? Not a wuss. Girl sees more rock shows in a year than I’ve seen in my life. When the three-man dance made its way towards her, she pushed back. Hard.

Now I can have a lot of patience for genuine, no-kidding fans. If you’re up front at the show and you love the band you’ve been waiting to see since you bought your ticket three months ago, I can get behind that. But I can’t get behind six-five dudes in the front row who don’t even know the band. I checked. Dude’s chin was not moving at all during any of the choruses. (What, you don’t suss out your fellow showgoers’ level of obsession by seeing how many songs they know the words to? Yeah. I thought so.) And even though at least two of the swaying guys, including TG, weren’t mean-spirited—I honestly think they were just drunk—I thought that they should at least take their party elsewhere. So did Becky. When one of the ruder guys suggested she move to the back if she was uncomfortable, well, you can guess where that went. But I was grateful to her, because it did seem to work, for a little while anyway. They asked her if she wanted to get in front of them and she said, yes, thank you, and bring her—pointing to me—too. So they placed us in front. Thus separating myself from my husband and Katrina, but at least I could see.

Except it wasn’t over. The guys decided that their new location was perfect for starting—I can’t believe I’m typing this—a mosh pit. Yep. At an Old 97’s show. As you can expect, the surrounding crowd didn’t take too well to this. Not Becky, not the guy with the girlfriend behind us, and certainly not the group of grrrls to the guys’ left. I kept having to turn around to make sure the “pit” wasn’t moving in my direction. But by this time, I was one of the lucky ones. It was everyone else that was furious. When the actual shoving began, it was enough to get Murry’s attention. He stopped everything. Pointed to the crowd. Mildly suggested that it might be a good time for security to step in. I didn’t see what actually caused the final ruckus but Becky summed it up for me: “You don’t f@#k with the lesbians.”

“That was very punk rock,” Murry said when they were gone. “Next up, the Dead Kennedys.”

Now onto the actual show. They played, be still my heart, “Old Familiar Steam.” As is his custom in the Bay Area, Rhett introduced “Indefinitely” with the story of how he wrote the song on the sidewalk at the Oakland airport. As someone posted in the forum on this site, Rhett dedicated “Doreen” to a fan who passed away a few months ago.

At one point, Rhett moseyed over to Murry’s side of the stage and fixed his collar, which had become all askew in the wake of guitar strap movement. It gets better. He then came back to smooth down his disheveled hair. I remember thinking–and was just reminded of this reading another review from a friend–that these guys were, for all intents and purposes, brothers.

Partway into the show Becky tapped my shoulder and pointed up to the box seats on the left, where we’d seen the band hanging out during Langhorne Slim. Their dressing room door was just behind them. “That’s Michael Chabon,” she said. I peered in the direction she was pointing. “And his wife.”

“AYELET WALDMAN IS HERE????”

I’m a writer, and a mom, and I’m on the Internet a lot. I know that Michael Chabon is this prolific writer and I know that he’s written a whole slew of both popular and critically acclaimed stuff, but I must admit I have not read any. Ayelet, though, is my girl. Sure enough, that was indeed them, sitting up there in their box seats, her curls unmistakable in silhouette. During “State of Texas” (which I love more and more and more every time I see it), Rhett got the crowd going with a clap-along—I don’t recall seeing him do that ever, so it seemed kind of cute—and there were Michael and Ayelet, clapping along in time with the rest of the commoners below them.

Their presence may or may not have inspired Rhett’s pre-encore play of “Our Love,” which he called something like “literary history all wrapped up in a pop song.”

The boys LOVED being in San Francisco and playing at the Fillmore. In case you couldn’t tell from the perpetual grins on their faces, they shared this sentiment with the audience multiple times. During one song in the encore (I think it was “Friday Night” ), Rhett was playing with three broken strings. Always a good sign.

If I ever have the chance to see them again in San Francisco, I’m doing it. Mosh pit weirdness notwithstanding, I loved the energy, and loved the vibe. Or maybe it’s just for another chance to be five inches from Ayelet out on the sidewalk as she and Michael leave the building. I watched them take off down the street, walking, and I was thinking that if I wasn’t such a wuss I’d yell “I love your writing!” And then Michael would think I was talking about him and I’d have to clarify and I’d embarrass myself and them and it would all be a total disaster.

Yeah, San Francisco’s pretty awesome.