I was at St. Vitus, where “Nirvana” (or rather, one half of the Foo Fighters plus Krist Novoselic) played a “secret show” last night. I didn’t see that show. The bar staff told me, and everyone who had been there to see another band, Boyfrndz, to get out at 11:00. They told us they were shooting a music video, and we, all 20 or so of us, needed to leave, and quickly.
Standing outside, watching Boyfrndz load their donated gear into the trailer they rent for $20 a day (their original gear, and their van, was stolen in San Francisco last month), I didn’t think to question the urgency with which St. Vitus’s staff had ushered us out. I’ve never been on a music video shoot before. I guessed that whatever band they were filming wanted a closed set.
Almost immediately after the show ended, St. Vitus hustled the band and its merch table outside along with everyone else, so the bandmates were forced to take breaks from loading their gear to swap merch for cash on the street out front of the bar.
“The people who work at this bar are fucking dicks,” said one the bandmates as he popped open a plastic storage bin full of T-shirts.
“Why, what did they do?” I asked.
“They were just really rude and pushy about getting us out of there,” he replied. It did seem odd to me that even the band would be thrown out on the street. In my experience, one or two drinks on the house after a show is usually the norm, but, again, I didn’t know how these things work. I don’t even know for sure if the guys telling us to get out worked for St. Vitus. They might have been Nirvana’s guys.
In hindsight, it makes sense, obviously. They were clearing out the $8-paying hoi polloi to make room for the invite-only “secret Nirvana show.”
I’m not a music writer; I don’t get invited to secret shows. I’m OK with that. Others are more appreciative and deserving. Nor am I the world’s biggest Nirvana fan. How could I be? Their musical career and my lifespan overlapped for a mere seven years, my first seven (that makes me 27, no need to do the math).
If Nirvana is going to play a secret show, I don’t deserve to be there. But who does? What, in other words, is the “point” of secret shows? Why not just play a regular show? Why not just play at Barclay’s and charge $200 a ticket? At the very least, their roadies wouldn’t have had to lug all their stuff across town after the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The reason secret shows are cool, to my mind at least, is that anyone might luck in to seeing one. Not all of Dave Grohl’s fans (whoever they are) can afford to pay $300 for a ticket to a 3-day music festival to see him play. But secret shows represent a kind of unspoken contract between fans and artists: that, if you’re a good music fan, if you support small bands by going to their shows even when you’re broke, if you participate in your local music scene, and if you’re very lucky, you might be able to see a band that you’d never otherwise be able to see.
Or, if you’re in a band, and you’re touring, and playing small venues, and struggling to make it as a musician, you might be lucky enough to see one of your idols perform. Secret shows should be a way for huge bands to reward responsible music fans and less famous musicians, in other words. This wasn’t a secret show, not in that sense. This was a venue telling a band they booked (and their fans), a band that made sure their bar wasn’t totally empty on a Thursday, to take a hike because a bigger, more famous band came knocking.
“Thanks, but get your shit and get out. Nirvana wants to play a secret show. No, you can’t stay. Invite-only. Actually, forget about a secret show. There’s no show. We’re filming a music video. You still have to leave, though.”
And that’s why you shouldn’t be sad that you missed Nirvana’s secret show. It wasn’t really a secret show. It was a very exclusive concert. And they would have kicked you out anyway.