A Good Omen

Friday, June 21, 2002: Club Dada

Repeat after me: "All hail Damien!"

Now say it again: "All hail Damien!"

No, we're not auditioning for roles in Omen IV: The Return of (Sam) Neil. We're paying tribute to Damien, the otherworldly beast who took over the drum kit for us with two hours of rehearsal at Club Dada on June 21st. In a word, the man was spectacular. But I'm getting ahead of myself-please, allow me to start at the beginning . . .

Somehow, the United States had actually qualified for the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Two months ago, I would have thought that about as likely as Baylor winning the Big 12 Championship in football. But it really happened, and we were going to enjoy every moment of it. The quarterfinal match was scheduled for Friday June 21st at the ghastly time of 6:30 am (the game was in Korea for those of you who live in caves), but of course that was not going to stop us from gathering in a bar to watch it live anyways. To add to the fun, Simon's beloved Eng-uh-land was taking on the buck-toothed Brazilians earlier that morning. In other words, it was going to be a loooooooooooonnnnnngggggg night of soccer.

Being a wise man, I took a vacation day at work on Friday since I knew I'd be up all night watching soccer. And with a gig scheduled that night for Dada, I knew I had to get some sleep in at some point. Well, I'm sad to say that Eng-uh-land was soundly pounded by the Brazilians despite a one-man advantage through most of the second half. Simon was despondent. He probably looked like me after Texas lost to UCLA 66-3 back in 1997. It wasn't a pretty sight-and unfortunately, it was only 3:30 AM and we now had 3 hours to kill until the U.S.-Germany match. That could mean only one thing: IHOP. (Note: Some of you may ask, "What about Dennys? They're open all night too." Well yes they are. Unfortunately, Simon received a lifetime ban from all North American Denny's establishments after a late night outburst at the Plano location in 1988.)

When we arrived at the IHOP, Simon was simply unable to face the world and chose to remain in the car. In retrospect, Matt probably should have made the same choice. I'm not really sure how someone who drinks so much so often can get so drunk, but somehow Matt does it. After our nasty 4 am pseudo-breakfast, "Drunk Matt" announced that he was going to the car to take a nap since we still had about an hour to go until we went back to the Dubliner for the U.S.-Germany match. The rest of us stayed inside swilling as much coffee as possible, although for some reason our silly waitress kept trying to pawn off carafes of decaf on us. When we finally were ready to leave, we noticed that at least eight of Dallas' finest had gathered in the main IHOP dining room. Let me point out once again what a great decision Simon made when he decided to sleep in the car, as I doubt that the holding cells at Lew Sterrett would be carrying the soccer match live.

When we got outside, John Dietrich made a fun discovery: Matt was passed out inside of John's car with the doors locked and the alarm activated. Of course, Matt had the keys as well. For normal people, this would not be a problem. But you must remember that we are talking about "Drunk Matt," boys and girls. "Drunk Matt" does not wake up for anything-the only exception being the occasional sleepwalking experience in which he attempts to climb into baby cribs or use closets as bathroom substitutes. At this point, the whole gang tried to wake Matt up by yelling, banging, thumping, you name it-but nothing was going to wake up Drunk Matt. At one point, he did actually open his eyes and attempt to figure out both who and where he was. I think he was unsuccessful at both, so he flipped everyone off and went back to sleep. So the gang continued banging and yelling, Matt kept sleeping, and the eight police officers inside kept drinking their coffee without even looking up. I guess you had to be there, but I've never laughed so hard in my life.

When Matt was finally roused from his drunken slumber, we made our way back to the Dubliner for the much-anticipated quarterfinal match. The United States played brilliantly, but unfortunately couldn't squeak a goal past amazing German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Despite the 1-0 loss, the American squad did something many never thought would happen: they legitimized American soccer in the eyes of the world. We may have lost, but I was not sad. I was, however, pretty fucking tired. After all, it was now 9:00 am and I had been awake for over 26 straight hours. It was time for sleep.

When I got home, I knew I wanted some uninterrupted sleep. My phone only has two ringer settings: ear-splitting and silent. You can guess which setting I chose. I then proceeded upstairs and passed out cold. When I awoke about 6 hours later, I felt surprisingly refreshed-it was about 4 in the afternoon, and I still had over 6 hours until I had to be at Club Dada for the Diamondbag show that night. All was right in the world.until I got downstairs and saw that I had NINETEEN messages on my answering machine.


All of the messages were from Jon. It turns out that Diamondbag's wonderful drummer, the lovely and talented Mr. Michael Landino, was violently ill. He was also in Louisiana. Mike would not be playing with us that evening, and some big decisions had to be made. Do we cancel the show? Do we try to find a replacement? It was a tough call to make, especially when you're sound asleep at your apartment and have no idea that any of this is going on. After his 14th unanswered phone call to me, Jon realized that it was up to him to make the call. The easy choice would be to cancel the show-but this was a Friday night gig at Club Dada, and we had already cancelled a show at Dada once before due to a travel mishap. If we cancelled, Diamondbag would probably never play a show at Club Dada again.

"We have to play," Jon thought. But play what? Diamondbag Unplugged? Yeah, the drunken Friday crowd at Dada really wants to hear an hour of acoustic "Heartlight" and "Play Me." <ACK> Unplugged was not an option-we needed a drummer. Luckily, Jon knew a few. In fact, he even worked with one. Enter Damien.

So it's now 2:00 in the afternoon, and Diamondbag officially has a new drummer for the evening. And as you might expect, Damien was not that familiar with the Neil Diamond catalog. Jon scraped up a few CDs and Damien started listening. At about 4:00, I woke up from my peaceful slumber and listened to Jon's messages. Did I panic? Hell no-it was too late to do anything about it anyways. We were playing no matter what, and we'd just have to do the best we could. Was I worried about embarrassing myself? No, not really-after all, I am the singer for a Neil Diamond cover band. Clearly, the concept of public humiliation is not a new one to me.

About 6:00, we gathered at Jon's where I was introduced to Damien for the first time. We played him a copy of our one live recording from our very first gig at Club Dada in April of 2001- that in itself was painful enough. Let's just say that the band has improved greatly since then and we'll leave it at that, OK? We tried to show Damien all the starts and stops in the various songs, and then decided to actually plug in and try to play the tunes. We went through each song once-just enough for Damien to find the proper beat and tempo. Then it was on to the next tune. About 8:30, it was time to head down to Dada. Were we ready? No. Did it matter? Hell no.

Since it was a Friday, the place was packed. Hard Night's Day played their usual Beatles tribute from 6 till 10, and then Oliver's Army took over for a superb set of Elvis Costello tunes. If you haven't seen these guys, do yourself a favor and check them out. They are superb musicians, and damn fine guys too. While the Army were playing outside, we were setting our gear up on the main stage indoors. As our friends slowly trickled in, you could see the puzzled look on everyone's faces. I must have had had 20 conversations that went exactly like this:

Friend: "Who's that guy setting up the drums?"

Me: "Damien. He's playing drums tonight."

Friend: "Why? Where's Mike?"

Me: "Violently ill in Louisiana."

Friend: "How do you know this guy?"

Me: "I just met him at 6:00 tonight."

Friend: "Does he know the songs?"

Me: "Well, he's heard them all-once."

Friend: "Oh . . . well good luck."

And then in each instance, I got that look-you know, the look your friend gives you when you tell him that you're never going to get that drunk again, or when your Longhorns are losing 38-0 at halftime and you say, "We're still in this." It was that look of sheer pity, as in "you poor stupid bastard, you don't have a clue what you're in for." I didn't like the look. The look made me angry, and it made me want to not suck more than I have ever wanted to not suck in my life. And you know what?

We did not suck. In fact, we kicked some serious ass. From the opening chords of "America" to the last sing-along verse of "Sweet Caroline," we were rocking. Damien was simply unbelievable. Obviously he is a very talented drummer, but he didn't just simply play the tunes-he attacked them. We sounded like Green Day playing Neil Diamond, and somehow it worked beautifully. The club was packed, people were dancing, and we played one of our best shows ever despite the circumstances. You know, I never really think of myself as a real musician; after all, I can't really play anything, and my singing voice is average at best on a good day. But on that night, I think I felt like a real musician for the very first time in my life. The entire band took what could have been a horrible night, and instead made it one of the most memorable evenings I've ever had. I was really proud of the guys, and I was proud of myself. Special thanks to Jon for dealing with a big crisis and making all the right choices, and of course we can't thank Damien enough for a superb job. We hope to cross paths with him again someday!

After the show, the same friends who gave me those pitiful looks earlier now had much different expressions on their faces. The looks were a combination of surprise, happiness, and shock. The looks said, "I can't believe you guys just pulled that off." I liked those looks much better.

Set List
Kentucky Woman
Forever in Blue Jeans
Cherry Cherry
Cracklin' Rosie
I Am . . . I Said
Solitary Man
Girl You'll Be a Woman
Holly Holy
Love on the Rocks
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Sweet Caroline

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