I'm With the Midlevel Band 

Backstage at the Concord Pavilion.

Two weeks ago, due to an alignment of forces far beyond my control, I ended up with backstage passes to the Weezer aftershow party at the Concord Pavilion. This is not a normal thing for me. As much time as I spend trying to justify my noncareer by claiming close personal connections to rock stars, the trip to Concord was to be my first actual encounter with celebrity musicians in their natural habitat. I was pretty excited, and my Weezer-obsessed friend Jenn was very excited.

As always, though, there were a couple of catches. The first of which was the daunting task of discovering where, exactly, the city of Concord was located. The second, more mysterious, catch came from my friend Alex, who was working on the tour and had arranged my passes.

"You can't make eye contact with Rivers Cuomo while you're backstage," he warned.

Apparently, Weezer's singer had made the touring crew sign something to the effect that looking him in the eye at any time would be grounds for firing. Cuomo had also instituted a backstage "lockdown" from 9:25 to 9:30, during which all opening bands and personnel had to stay out of sight. Weezer went on at 9:30, and the band didn't want to have to see anyone on their way to the stage.

I'd heard of other bands doing the lockdown before, but the eye contact clause made me uncomfortable. Not because it seemed degrading and egomaniacal -- which it was -- but because I didn't know Rivers Cuomo from Mario Cuomo, and, given the opportunity, I feared I would end up mistaking the singer for a member of the catering staff, thus getting Alex banned from the tour forever.

I prepared for the concert by studying the cover of my lone Weezer CD. White guy with glasses. Do not make eye contact with a nerdy white guy with glasses.

As Jenn and I made our way along 680 (Concord, it turns out, is the strip mall next to Pleasant Hill), we were passed by honking waves of Weezer-bound teens. Uniformly hot, hip, and tan, they looked like escapees from some Orange County reform school for delinquent beach volleyball players.

We parked between preening tailgate parties of backwards baseball caps and wraparound sunglasses, and made it into the amphitheater in time for opening acts Sparta (featuring former members of At the Drive-In playing good Fugazi-meets-Jane's Addiction rock) and Dashboard Confessional (featuring a good-looking man whose earnest, acoustic songs reminded me of a dormwide talent-show winner).

Then, at precisely 9:30, Weezer arrived onstage. Cuomo, dressed in a suit, seemed either very drunk or deeply bored. He slurred his thanks to Sparta and Dashboard Confessional, then went on a confused monologue of gratitude that included the Stone Temple Pilots. The set was as sluggish as Cuomo's introductory remarks; the band really only broke a sweat on a handful of older sing-alongs like "Surf Wax America" and "El Scorcho." I was glad to hear the old songs, but most of my attention was focused on the bouncer-guarded passage to backstageland, where Alex soon appeared to escort us into paradise.

I had seen enough VH1 to know what to expect from the backstage area. Tented and vast, the space would be covered in thick oriental rugs, and tiers of opulent deli trays would strain under their heavy loads of exotic sweetmeats. Tubs of ice-cold beer would fill every nook, and the whole scene would be garlanded by ribbons of hookah smoke. But the world behind the curtains ended up having more in common with an airport tarmac than a Bedouin harem. The olfactory ambrosia of diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke hung in the air; the huge expanses of asphalt were broken only by idling tour buses and the semis that carried the sound and lighting gear from town to town.

Pavilion staff buzzed to and fro in golf carts, but rock stars were in short supply. Alex, perhaps sensing our disappointment, pulled us up into the Dashboard Confessional tour bus. The maroon bus was enormous, with crypt-like sleeping bunks for eight and a makeout room in the back that had mirrors on the ceiling. And hey! The handsome Dashboard singer we'd seen on the jumbotronic concert screen was there as well! He politely shook our hands after exchanging pleasantries with a fan who had recently had the band's name tattooed on herself.

As underwhelmed as both Jenn and I had been by the band's music, we couldn't help but feel kind of awed to be sitting across from them and drinking their bottled water. Thousands of die-hard fans would have given their entire savings from years of execrable summer jobs just to be in our shoes. We didn't know Dashboard Confessional from the Dixie Chicks, but somehow that just made our insider status all the sweeter. We sat in air-conditioning for about a half-hour and watched nervous clusters of fans trying to peek in through the bus' tinted windows. With each passing moment, I could feel myself relaxing, sinking into the joys of celebrity hobnobbing. Another bottle of water? Don't mind if I do! Crackers? Hey, why not! You guys sounded great tonight! I was finally on the right side of the velvet rope, and it was doing bad things to me.

My swollen head should have deflated a few minutes later when we tried to walk into the Weezer party and were told by security that, through some arbitrary decision of the band's, our passes were no longer valid. By that point I was completely converted to the exclusionary politics of VIP-dom. Being exclusionary was part of being cool, even if I was the one being excluded. "You're right," I wanted to reassure the mustachioed doorman at the entrance to the aftershow party. "We aren't cool enough to be here."

So instead of going to the Weezer party, we sat outside the Dashboard bus and shared a beer, relaxing as the cleanup staff headed into the amphitheater to stack cups and scrub down the seats. I felt admiration and pity for the workers: Despite the fact that they would probably never be able to eat fine crackers from a midlevel band's tour bus, or get turned away with such graciousness from important parties, they managed to soldier on.


Soon it was time to leave, and we reluctantly said goodbye to our new famous friends. The hike back to the car would have taken a half-hour, but I flagged down a staff member and, a few minutes later, we were cruising through the parking lot on the back of one of the golf carts. Our cart captain was a jovial seventysomething with a lead foot and an endless supply of jokes. We bumped along and bonded, yelling out a merry conversation over the whine of the cart's red-lining engine. He dropped us off deep in the H-lot with a final flourish. Scrambling out, I wondered if I should tip him, but I decided that would be weird, like tipping a friend. Besides, this was his job, and he seemed to love it.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized that he'd managed to give us a five-minute ride and keep us entertained the whole way without ever once making eye contact.


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