It could've been San Diegans' notorious knack for laid-back indifference. Or maybe because the mid-'90s music scene was so strong that wheat got mistaken for chaff. Either way, the city lost one of its most revered sons a decade ago.
Now, like your 200-pound ex-girlfriend who shows up a year later looking like Heidi Klum, Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver-10 years disbanded-is coming back for one night.
"I'm definitely a sucker for my own nostalgia," says singer-guitarist Andrew McKeag of the Dec. 10 reunion gig at the Casbah. "We can't live those years again, but the fact that we made a couple of records, and that some people liked them, means we can play a show."
Just how iconic Uncle Joe's was back then can be seen in the fact that Steve Poltz, fluf and the Dragons-two of whom can sell out the Casbah on their own-are opening acts that night.
The Dragons are playing their first show since breaking up last year, and guitarist Kenny Mochikoshi is flying in for the evening. From Japan.
The Uncle Joe's story starts in the early '90s, when McKeag, singer-guitarist Dave Jass, bassist George Vidaurri and drummer Paul Brewin began playing around town and recorded a self-titled album for Cargo Records. The album failed to fully grab the attention of the major-label bigwigs who had begun their vulturous but ultimately ill-fated descent on San Diego.
The problem, McKeag says, is that "no one knew what to do with us. There were a lot of punk bands out, and we weren't a punk band-we were more of a straightforward rock band, sort of Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Soul Asylum-a weird cross between indie rock and Foghat."
But even stranger than the band's failure to win over L.A.'s finest A&R reps was the tepid reaction that Uncle Joe's began feeling from its hometown. While they drew enthusiastic crowds in places like Seattle and Portland, McKeag said the band started "to get a little bummed to come back to San Diego at the end of the tour and no one seemed to care."
Local apathy noted, the band picked up and moved on New Year's Day in 1995 to Seattle, where McKeag was born and was considering establishing permanent roots. Uncle Joe's recorded one more album, Chick Rock, but decided to split up before the year ended. Jass relocated to Minneapolis, and McKeag stayed in Seattle, ultimately forming a new band, Shuggie, which recorded an album in 1998 but disbanded without even touring to support it.
In the years since, McKeag has kept himself busy with other projects, most recently with the Presidents of the United States of America. And he has stayed in touch with Casbah owner Tim Mays, who once served as manager for Uncle Joe's and is known for orchestrating some of San Diego's most recent high-profile reunion shows. The rest of the band, however, had all but disappeared from the map.
After pitching the idea for a reunion to Jass via e-mail earlier this year, McKeag didn't even wait for a reply before proposing a one-off Casbah show to Mays. The solicitation "kind of came out of the blue," Mays said. "Andrew has come down and played before with other bands he's been involved in, but Dave Jass has pretty much been gone since he moved away. I haven't seen him, and I don't think anyone really has."
Now everyone will get a chance. Though the band doesn't plan to start rehearsing until a day or two before the show, McKeag doesn't expect much rust. And, if Saturday's show turns out to be a great time, he says he "would not be surprised at all" if Uncle Joe's decides to play a few more reunion gigs in a select few Northwest cities.
So San Diego may be setting the bar for an extended Uncle Joe's reunion-a scary thought, considering the city's lukewarm reaction a decade ago. But from the feedback Mays is getting, it seems local music fans have realized the error of their ways.
"People are really jazzed about [the show]," Mays said. "Tickets are selling well, and I'm still getting e-mails from people who are just finding out about it, saying, "Count me in!'"
Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver plays with fluf, The Dragons and Steve Poltz at the Casbah on Dec. 10. Doors open at 9 p.m. $12. 619-232-4355.