A Punk Outta Water 

Gilman Street's main man braces himself and accepts our free ticket to commercial teenybopper heaven.

Among the myriad other mesh-backed hats he wears, David Hall Reuter is perhaps the worst-paid babysitter in all of California. He's the head coordinator at 924 Gilman.

"I tell people I'm like the manager of a store, except I don't get paid, and it's a collective, so we vote on things every two weeks," he says. "We vote on literally everything, from how much toilet paper to buy to which bands should play here. But I'm the one who makes sure everything gets done."

While this is a very cool and extremely gratifying experience, Gilman's wide-ranging all-ages clientele -- "We get everyone from twelve to, well, there's people that are pretty old," he says -- can make security a hellish racket indeed, what with the occasional pack of underage kids sneaking in alcohol, or "busting up cars and throwing up all over the place," as he puts it.

Gilman is a splendid DIY facility with fine punk rock and astonishingly cheap root beer, and you should go immediately. But on this lovely Sunday night Dave has joined us at another all-ages venue entirely: the Oakland Coliseum, wherein the Scream III tour -- a traveling circus of teen pop acts headlined by the second-tier boy band B2K -- will soon transpire.

It is a social experiment, a chance for Dave to see how another side of youth culture lives, rocks, and pukes. He has no prior boy band experience: "Zero. None." He's 27 years old, and most of those have been spent worshipping at the altar of punk. In fact, his first concert ever was Green Day and Op Ivy at Gilman back in '89, which officially makes him ten thousand times cooler than you.

He's also a really good sport. He's up for this. "If I weren't here, I'd be sitting at home watching The Simpsons," he says. "I think it's a new one, but one of my housemates will probably tape it."

Still, Dave looks nervous as we mill about the Coliseum courtyard, whereupon scores of almost entirely female preteens are filing in, brandishing elaborate homemade posters and official Scream Tour III T-shirts.

"If they were at a punk show, everyone would make fun of them, because you don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see," Dave notes sagely.

"Oh, God," he adds, as a Random Running and Screaming Episode occurs. Every so often a group of girls will begin squealing and smashing into each other, leading outsiders to believe some boy-band celebrity has made an impromptu appearance in the center of this loud, violent pack. So more running and screaming girls sprint into the fray and pile on. A thirty-second tornado of adolescent sexual repression ensues, before everyone abruptly realizes no pop star is present, and in fact the entire phenomenon has occurred for entirely no reason. Wall Street works a lot like this.

Thoroughly unnerved, we slink inside. Dave has enjoyed a Coliseum show before -- he used to go the circus with his grandfather. But the angle of ascent to the nosebleed seats is steeper than he remembers it, and a far weirder circus awaits him as the lights dim and Aja -- the best unknown-singing-sisters teen pop group named after a Steely Dan album in history -- takes the stage.

Aja awkwardly bleats a couple of quasi-Britney tunes without incident. Far more noteworthy is the crowd itself, a glowstick-waving monstrosity that, in perfect unison, lets loose with an eardrum-pulverizing banshee wail on cue.

"I wanna hear you scream!"

(Earth-shattering pandemonium.)

"I can't hear you!"

(Soul-destroying pandemonium.)

The actual performers pale in comparison, including Jhené, a wayward young lass who weighs less than the average pair of socks, and wears less, too. Jhené immediately begins shouting into a headset mic that isn't turned on; she then stands there bewildered as a fatherly voice over the Coliseum PA system repeatedly says, "Jhené, they need you backstage to get a new mic."

"Interesting," Dave says as the lights go up for intermission. "It's a lot bigger scale than I'm used to."

He's not digging it yet. "So far the best thing's been the DJ," he notes, as 50 Cent blares in the background and the entire crowd bounces along, evidently agreeing with Dave.

The sex-crazed portion of the evening then begins, with back-to-back sets from two would-be R&B heartthrobs. Mario drops to his knees a lot in mock-female supplication. Marques Houston repeatedly sticks his hand down his pants and panders to the crowd: "There's some beautiful ladies in the house. Ladies, I need y'all to do one thing for me."

Right: Turn eighteen.

"Everyone's tryin' to put a lot of emphasis on love and sex -- it's kinda cheap," Dave gripes. He's no puritan, but preteens repeatedly taking off their pants to elate the crowd? Jesus. At that age, "I listened to Green Day," he says. "It was about breaking up with girls, but it wasn't focused on sex or anything."

But the economics at play are even more disturbing. "I can't believe all these people paid all this money to see these bands," he says from our treacherously high $32.25-a-pop seats. "People don't know any better -- they could do it themselves. They could rent out a warehouse and put on a show themselves. It doesn't take much effort."

Ah, but B2K's bombastic set took plenty of effort. Columns of fire! Banks of TVs! An elaborate, movable stage! With a fireman's pole! Violently gyrating backup dancers! Fireworks! Some dude named Lil' Fizz busting out of a phone booth! Repeated enthusiastic pants-doffing!

When the smoke clears an hour later, David is impressed. "That was good. That was entertaining. The whole show -- the fireworks and all that."

Observing his own rule, however, he does not buy a concert T-shirt. He likely will never run afoul of a Scream Tour event again. But he won't regret this one. "I wonder what these people would think of Gilman," he wonders as the crowd files out. "They probably wouldn't like it." But he's visited their turf and survived. The kids are alright, whether they're bouncing around the Gilman pit or screeching at the Coliseum.

Maybe David's lost some cred points. Oh well. "The way I see it, I've been running Gilman for a long time," he says. "I could use to lose a few points now and then."


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