“You’ll be headlining the show.”

In 1995 I was in a band called Streetcar. Nobody knew about us, and somehow we were going to headline one of the best clubs in Chicago. It was completely unexpected, extremely wonderful and also kind of terrifying. I found the video of the show a few weeks ago and I got stage fright just from watching it back, 26 years later.

We got the show because I asked. From my dorm room I’d been sending tapes out to clubs that we might be able to play when the four of us came back to the suburbs of Chicago for the summer. Most of them ignored my cold calls entirely; I think one club said we weren’t punk enough, which was true. But the head booker for Cabaret Metro, of all people, called back, said he’d liked our sound and would we like to play at the “New Band Night” in June? That was a yes, of course, and then he laid out the details: June 22nd, four bands, and also, “you’ll be headlining the show.”

I should say here that in some respects Streetcar was more an idea of a band than an actual one. We’d already shuffled the lineup several times, and would keep doing so afterward. Our one release was a home-recorded, accidentally lo-fi cassette that, for some reason, I decided we could sell without labels, because I am cheap. (We sold either zero or close to zero copies; most of them are still in boxes in my house.) The band’s entire live history was playing like three shows in people’s basements, plus one acoustic open mike night at Borders. Now we were headlining the Metro.

And also we were all like 18. My mom told me years later that before the show took place she took a call from one of the other guys’ parents asking which adult was going to chaperone our headliner spot at a famous rock club. That’s how unlikely all of this was.

If you look on YouTube for who headlined Metro in the early to mid-90s, you’ll find bands you’ve heard of – Nirvana played there just before Nevermind got huge. Foo Fighters played there a couple weeks before our show. Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Oasis, Radiohead, even Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses played there with his solo band. And they were going to turn that stage over to the four of us?


We took this the way you’d expect four college guys from the suburbs to take it: this was our big break! We started writing a bunch of new songs, practiced every chance we could, booked another recording session for late summer, by which time we would be the hot new Chicago band. At least one person in the group started asking whether we should start thinking about taking a semester or two away from college to focus on the band. We were like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in those old movies: let’s put on a show! 

And we were doing all of this while working our summer jobs, and seeing all the friends and relatives we hadn’t been able to see when we’d been away at college, and generally carrying on as if we had energy and time for everything, which meant we were spreading ourselves way too thin. We proved this at a “warm up” basement show a couple weeks before the big concert. In our best moments we were charmingly sloppy, but mostly we were just off – we had to stop one song in the middle because I’d dropped my guitar on my foot and I needed to walk around to get the feeling back. If the head booker had heard us that night he surely would’ve found somebody else to take our New Band Night slot.

Even after that big warning sign we pretty much stayed on course. It wasn’t that we were careless – we were practicing hard and practicing often – but we were just so confident that we could pull off this show that we didn’t worry hardly at all. I even went on a weeklong family vacation to Michigan the week before the show… which is where I caught a bad cold that turned my voice into a croak. Not ideal, since I was the guy who sang 90 percent of the songs – but even that didn’t totally slow us down! We decided the day before our biggest show ever to add two brand new songs to our set, while I drank barrels of hot tea, trying to loosen my throat up even a little bit.

We got to the club in the early afternoon, partly because as the headliners we got the only soundcheck but also because Metro is in a busy neighborhood (it’s actually down the street from Wrigley Field) and we would need a lot of time to park. I wasn’t on any cold medicine but I acted like I was; I brought a pair of jeans to change into onstage that belonged to my sister, I managed to snap off the top part of the wood frame of my amplifier as I put in on the back line of the stage, and when the head booker dropped by to say hi and introduce himself, I inadvertently kind of blew him off because I didn’t catch on that it was him. I thought he was some rando!

Fortunately the other guys were a little sharper. Christian, my fellow songwriter and guitar player, shared some of his orange slices with me for a pre-show Vitamin C boost; he and Dave, our bass player, had spread the word about the show, making sure as many of our friends were on hand as possible. Also on hand: my brother, who was backstage to handle any instrument changes or broken strings (and thank goodness, because I did break a string at one point). And our drummer, Jeff, had his dad and his uncle film the show from the balcony.

They put us in the “big” dressing room backstage, which wasn’t super fancy but did had a complement of bottled water and beer for the band to consume, even if the four of us were underage. More importantly it had plenty of chairs where we kept running through the words to our songs, some of which had been written earlier that day, as the other bands played their sets. Then it was time to walk down the corridor and headline the Metro.

Streetcar onstage at the Metro in 1995. Brady is on the far left of the image.

I’ve been told that if you’re in sync with your bandmates and tuned in to what you’re doing, a show can feel like a blur. That’s what I remember from being onstage – I remember my friend John jokingly shouting out for my high school band Dipole Moment, as a way to say hi, and I remember the sound guy telling the crowd (which had thinned out once the friends of the first three bands had left) that they were “about to be rewarded for staying up late, because it’s the amaaaaaaaazing STREETCAR!” But that was it. The next hour was, to me, just a giant roar coming from the four of us as we put everything we had into our set. And it was a pretty good set! We had a few little hiccups here and there, but no disasters, and at times we caught fire. Someone told me later that they’d overhead a person in the crowd call us the best band they’d ever heard on New Band Night. And my croaky voice managed to hold up until the very last word of the very last line of the very last song, literally just long enough to do what I needed to do.

By now you’ve already guessed that headlining the Metro did not kick open any doors for our band. We left the club with fifty bucks and a cassette of the soundboard mix of our performance and that’s as far as the evening took us. We went back into the studio one more time, played one more small-time show and then moved on to other things. There was some very brief talk in the fall that we might go back to Metro, as an extra opening band to play ahead of the band officially opening for Throwing Muses, but it didn’t pan out; I’ve only ever been back to the Metro as a member of the audience.

All of that seemed like a big disappointment at the time. How could we get so close to making it big and then come up short? How could we play our hearts out and still manage to swing and miss? Wasn’t lightning supposed to strike for us? Of course it wasn’t until many years later, thinking back at how unlikely and wonderful this whole adventure was, that I realized it already had.