by Jim Harrington
As far as popular music venues go, few--if any--carry as much prestige as The Fillmore. The posters tell the story: From The Who and the Grateful Dead to the Smashing Pumpkins and Blues Traveler, just about anybody who is anybody has played the late Bill Graham's historic ballroom. Major name acts--such as Eric Clapton and Tom Petty--who routinely fill 20,000 seat arenas, agree to perform at the comparatively dinky San Francisco venue. In return, these artists get a chance to wade in the history of rock's greatest stars.
But on this recent winter evening, the place is empty, except for a few workers scurrying around and the three members of Geggy Tah conducting a sound check on the raised stage. Lead singer Tommy Jordan, a 1981 graduate of Palo Alto High School, seems pretty nonchalant as he prepares for what, in a few hours, will be a rocking crowd of 1,250 filling the house.
Boy George, Johnny Cash, the Counting Crows and Hole look down on him from their poster perches in the balcony, but if Jordan is feeling the weight of rock history on his shoulders, he's not showing it.
"I guess, to tell you the truth, it hasn't hit me yet," he would later say during a interview split between The Fillmore's tiny dressing room, stocked with cheese and Anchor Steam beer, and the upstairs bar area where dinner was served.
If he's nervous about anything, it's his mom, Linda Jordan. Linda, a Palo Alto resident, made the trek up to San Francisco that evening to see her son perform. And Tommy really wanted to make sure that his mom, who suffers from osteoporosis and asthma, would get into show and secure a good seat.
"He's such a kind person," Linda later said.
Linda, moving with a walker, did get into the Fillmore and watched her first Geggy Tah performance.
"I thought it was fun," she said. "(But) I'm not a connoisseur of rock 'n' roll."
Even rock 'n' roll connoisseurs would have difficulty describing Geggy Tah's sound. Perhaps one Village Voice writer put it best: "If Dr. Seuss made albums they might sound like Geggy Tah." The writer was likely referring to the band's poetic, and often philosophical, take on the simple things in life, such as changing lanes on the freeway: "All I want to do is thank you/Even though I don't know who you are/You let me change lanes/While I was driving my car" (from the track "Whoever You Are").
The band's sophomore release, "Sacred Cow," combines dance beats, Eastern rhythms, rock guitar bits, sporadic punky energy, and hip-hop rhymes into a new world order of pop music.
"Geggy Tah are so postmodern they've come out the other side," said David Byrne, ex-Talking Head leader and chief of Geggy Tah's label, Luaka Bop. "They incorporate so many disparate elements into their sound that one senses a new sensibility afoot, an inclusionary wave . . . like nothing I've heard before."
Born in San Francisco, Tommy Jordan came to Palo Alto when he was in kindergarten. His music career began as a fourth-grader at Addison.
"A guy named Mr. Stocking came into the (class) and said, "Who wants to play music?' and I raised my hand," Jordan remembers.
But what to play? He wanted to blow the trombone, but was told that his arms where too short. His next choice was the trumpet, but was told that his hands were too small. He ended up with a mini trumpet--a coronet--like Louis Armstrong use to play.
His horn career took a beating, so to speak, in seventh grade, when he was walking by the school band room and heard someone playing the "Hawaii 5-0" theme.
"And I had to do that," he said with conviction. "I knew I had to play the drums."
He switched to drums and started a junior high band called Nothing Fancy. ("We played 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' a million times," he remembered.) The venue for their cover tune renditions was mostly dances, which could be quite profitable gigs for these young musicians.
"In fact, I made more money playing dances then I do sometimes playing clubs," he said.
Music was a big part of Jordan's formative years, but he was also an excellent student and something of an athlete.
"I was a hell of a badminton player in seventh grade," he recalled. "I wanted to be a ski racer, but my parents wouldn't let me move to Tahoe."
After graduating from Paly, Jordan attended college in Ohio, mainly because he thought it "would be a nice change of pace from California." An English and music major, he transferred to UCLA after two years in Ohio to pursue a world arts and culture degree with an emphasis in music.
It was in the City of Angels that Jordan began participating in jam sessions and met Greg Kurstin ("Geggy" to his "Tah"). The duo made a tape, which made its way to Byrne via a friend who worked in the office of Byrne's record label. It's the classic tale of the new American dream: Boy moves to Los Angeles, meets his musical soul mate, starts a band and gets a record deal. (The duo recently became a trio with the addition of drummer Daren Hahn.)
The band has enjoyed such choice gigs as opening slots with Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sting and Soul Coughing (the band that headlined the Fillmore show). They've garnered positive reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. The band also has had its videos played on MTV. They've even got a toll-free hot line for their fans. Just dial 1-888-GEGGY-TAH (seriously).
And they are cruising with a catchy hit single, "Whoever You Are," which, Jordan explains, is really popular south of the equator.
"It's the most requested song in Australia," he says with a straight face.
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