It almost seemed like a prank, the Facebook announcement that Drive Like Jehu planned to reunite, at least long enough to play one free show on the big concrete stage at the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion. But it’s no joke, says Jehu guitarist/cofounder John Reis. He checks in with the Reader by phone from his South Park home to explain that for him and the band, it’s all about the big pipe organ: “When Dang called and said he was on the board of trustees of the Spreckels Organ Society, the next words out of my mouth were, ‘Dude, we gotta do a Jehu show with the organ.’”
Dang Nguyen manages Bar Pink in North Park, of which Reis is a co-owner. Reis says the massive instrument is one of the reasons he’s proud to be a San Diegan. “I’m completely blown away by the sound of that organ,” says Reis. “It has amazing power. It’ll be like jamming with Godzilla.”
But Drive Like Jehu in the open air, in the park, on a Sunday afternoon? “They want to try to attract a younger crowd. That’s the way they’re looking at it.” Drive Like Jehu was a post-hardcore alt-rock band that was started here in 1990 by Reis, Rick Froberg, Mark Trombino, and Mike Kennedy. They generated two albums and a seven-inch single before disbanding five years later. The Balboa Park show marks not only the 20th anniversary of the band’s disappearance, but the 20th anniversary of the release of Yank Crime. Is this a one-off affair, or is Jehu gearing up for something else? “No, this is just the one thing. All four original members agreed to do it because it seemed like a cool thing to us.”
“Civic Organist” Dr. Carol Williams is slated to accompany Drive Like Jehu. As a classically trained keyboard artist, had Williams ever heard the band? “Up until recently, no, she hadn’t. They agreed to do this without hearing us. She and her husband and I met and we talked. I tried to prepare them for what was coming.” Reis left her with selections from Jehu’s two albums. “I braced her for the dissonance — the way the notes rub against each other in our songs. We want to get that out of the organ, too.” Otherwise, Reis can’t say what the set list for their 30-minute segment will be. “I won’t know until we hear what works and what doesn’t. We’ll have to see where the organ fits in. But it’d be cool to have some burners in there, too.”
Williams and the band plan to schedule a few rehearsals at the organ pavilion in the weeks to come. “There are logistics to work out. The band’s quite loud. The organ’s loud, too, but it’s acoustic. And there’s noise-abatement stuff. San Diego’s so tight-assed about that sort of thing. Imagine Balboa Park on a Sunday,” he says. “There’s got to be six or seven couples there, getting married. The sound of guitar destruction in the background might be too crazy.”
Drive Like Jehu reunites under the organ pipes at the pavilion in Balboa Park on Sunday, August 31, at 7 p.m. It’s an all-ages event and it’s free.