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.”


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.


  1. Three broken strings!! Love it.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your tour up the coast seeing the guys. I hope you had a wonderful 10th anniversary. I was in the front row in between Rhett and Murry. Love it when the guys call out when things in the crowd are getting a little out of hand.

  3. 97 percent of my Old 97’s seein’ has been in San Francisco…always a great time, and I know the band (especially Rhett) have an affinity for the city. Rightfully so. I will be seeing them tonight for the second time in my new home of Portland, Ore. Not a bad city, either.

  4. Great reviews of all the shows…hope you guys enjoyed your trip. Please don’t think that The Fillmore is always like that – it’s not – whatever happened up there in front of Murry was a drunken anomaly (we were center, about halfway back, and couldn’t really tell either).

  5. Thanks for the great blogs of your tour/vacation here in the west. I was at the Fillmore show, so was totally looking forward to reading your experience. I was way in the back by the bar (convenient), and am tall, so NP for me (my shorter friend was suffering for sure). We didn’t know exactly what had happened up front when Murray stepped in, so thanks for the personal testimony. I didn’t hear Murray’s Dead Kennedy’s reference. All I heard was Rhett say “Too Drunk to F$%#@k”, a classic DK’s song. I was reminiscing with friends earlier that night about getting my car towed from the McDonalds parking lot near Kezar Pavillion in Golden Gate Park back in the 80’s while watching the Dead Kennedy’s. Drunk moshing musta been in the air.

  6. I appreciate your thesis about consideration, but remember it’s no more the fault of tall people that they’re tall than it’s your fault you’re short. And sometimes we don’t want to have to keep moving to the back because you weren’t genetically rewarded. Just sayin’ that it gets to us after years and years of the glares.

    Okay, I feel a little better now. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

    • Being tall myself, I always feel like the polite thing to do is to stake out my spot, and let people decide whether or not to stand behind me. But I’ve seen plenty of tall people snake their way through the crowd at the last minute, and stand directly in front of shorter people – that’s kind of uncool (actually, the whole snake your way though the crowd at the last minute thing is uncool whether you’re tall or short, but that’s another argument).

  7. Reading your exploits has been great fun, Sandra. Thanks for taking us all along for the ride.

  8. Thanks Sandra! I really enjoyed your reviews and love the way you write! Next time you are in Dallas, I’d love to meet you and your hubby! I always like meeting the real die-hard fans like myself!

  9. San Francisco loves the Old 97’s and we hope they keep coming back (just like Murry promised they would).

    • 01/26/2011
    • Reply

    Way to observe and report, Sandra! Loved your write-ups. Thanks for taking the time to share. I’m looking forward to future installments.

  10. Hey! I must have been standing right by you (hopefully not right in front of you!) The “mosh pit” of 3 was right in front of me. They were not Old 97s fans, they were there to see Langhorne Slim (they explained this to me as early on….I’m not sure why….they were a friendly lot! Drunk….but friendly). Anyway, it was fun to read your post. I had such a great time at the show!! I LOVE them!! You are living the life!

  11. I should clarify that I was not defending idiotic behavior from anyone of any height. I merely wished to note that if the tall guy is there first he shouldn’t have to be relegated to the back because he’s tall.

  12. i’ve seen a lotta shows at the Fillmore and the only fights I’ve ever seen break out have been at Old 97s shows. it happened the summer of ’09 too. but, the grrrls should take some of the blame–they were doing their fair share of obnoxious yelling, pushing and shoving. maybe some day we’ll live in a world where drunk dudes and drunk dykes can get their mosh on peacefully. hopefully I’ll be standing no where near them. great set by the band though! Please Hold on While the Train is Moving blew my mind–way better than on the record!

  13. Great writing. I was at the show and loved it. Tired of being the short girl always having THE tallest person stand in front of me, we finally sprung for “season” tickets at the Fillmore so I don’t have the same back of the shirt view – or even worse – the constant yammering of people during the songs. Saw the incident you talked about. And loved having Murry point it out. Keep on writing!

  14. For a gal I’m tall – 5′ 10″, but thanks Doug for defending us tall people. I’m a devout fan, I get there early, stake out my spot, usually between Ken and Rhett and I ain’t movin’. But I had a similar incident at the Beachland Show (Cleveland, OH) a few years ago. I believe Ha Ha Tonka was the opening act, and I was right up front as usual, maybe 3 “rows” back. These 2 gals came in almost to the end of HHT’s set and snaked their way up front, right behind me. Talked the whole time, and the one kept banging me in the back with her purse. (She had her back to the stage.) I didn’t say anything but was not going to let that go on during the Old 97’s. When it seemed pretty obvious that the boys were about to take the stage, the 2 gals stepped right up ahead of me, the one literally right in front of me! Now, you can tell the fans from the wannabe’s, we allow decent space between us so no one is stepping on anyones heals or toes, so this gal side steps into the comfort pocket between me and the person in front of me! I gently but firmly put my hands on her shoulders and guided back to the space behind me. She was miffed (and drunk, and was not a short person either, I just got the impression she felt she was entitled) but didn’t try to get back in front of me, and I enjoyed the show. If someone shorter than me asks, by all means, yes, you can get in front of me and I’ll still be able to see over you. But I felt what she did was just rude.
    And speaking of Cleveland, OH – guys – WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK?!?!?


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