Released in 1991, Drive Like Jehu’s self-titled debut album helped kickstart the then-burgeoning post-hardcore movement. Whereas Fugazi broke free from the hardcore template with dub-inspired basslines, Drive Like Jehu embraced the noisier aspects of Stooges songs such as “Fun House” and “L.A. Blues,” playing spastic guitar lines over unusual time signatures. Four years later, the group issued Yank Crime, their math-rock masterpiece, and soon after that, they parted ways.
“This whole thing is just a giant ruse to get him to deliver some donuts to me,” Jehu guitarist John Reis says of his band’s one-off Sunday performance at San Diego’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion, their first gig since 1995. Since the break-up, Reis has played with bands like Night Marchers, Rocket From the Crypt and the Sultans, while drummer Mark Trombino – the “him” here – has produced records like Blink-182’s Dude Ranch and Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. He now owns the Los Angeles-based Donut Friend, a pastry shop known for flavors like “Fudgegazi” and (in honor of his former bandmate) “Chocolate From the Crypt.”
Besides breakfast treats, this weekend’s show was motivated not by money or notoriety but the chance to play with Dr. Carol Williams, the Civic Organist for San Diego, and the massive, one-of-a-kind instrument that she operates. The idea came when Dang Nguyen, an employee at Reis’ local Bar Pink, joined the Spreckels Organ Society board of trustees. Though the pairing of Jehu and pipe organ might seem odd, the guitarist says it “just feels right.” “Compared to my other groups, Jehu has quieter dynamics and more instrumental space,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I didn’t really think about it that much, though. I always wanted to collaborate with this instrument in some capacity, and when I saw there was a foot in the door, I approached everyone.”
Although Reis and Nguyen began planning the show months ago, the band didn’t receive final confirmation until about two weeks before the big day. This not only meant that many of their fans weren’t able to make the trek to San Diego, it meant that the group itself had little time to practice as a unit: Reis and bassist Mike Kennedy live in San Diego, Trombino’s in L.A. and singer-guitarist Rick Froberg has settled in Brooklyn. Still, Reis isn’t worried: “I am confident everyone is going to kill it, and this is going to slay.”
“When we decided to do this, I knew I would need more practice than anyone,” says Trombino, who has been commuting south as much as possible. “I bought a kit right away. I sold my old one when I moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago. I’d always planned on buying another one, but it never happened because I was too busy recording. I think all of us have been playing along to Yank Crime to remember how the songs go.”
Reis, meanwhile, likens his preparation for Sunday’s show to “the musical equivalent of moving back in with your parents” and says the past two weeks of re-learning Jehu songs have reminded him how skilled he was in his early twenties.
“I really am trying to nail all of the subtlety of the original recordings,” he says, attempting to describe what the years have took from him. “The feel and comfort is very important to my ability to find the musical space that I was in when these songs were made. After a couple days I found myself finding the stylistic approach that had gradually dissolved over time. I miss the noise, and I’m really looking forward to hearing it again.”