Nostalgia is a helluva drug: Creeper Lagoon reunite at Noisepop

Last night, San Francisco indie rock band Creeper Lagoon reunited their core lineup for the first time in 16 years for two shows at Bottom of the Hill as part of Noise Pop’s 25th anniversary. I flew in from LA for the shows, specifically because this is a band that holds a special place in my heart.

In December 2001, I was 13. The soundtrack to the Jack Black-Colin Hanks comedy Orange County was released, and I talked my grandmother into buying it for me. Though the movie sucked, the soundtrack was really strong, featuring Foo Fighters, Social Distortion, Offspring, Cake, Lit, and Pete Yorn. But there were also some unknown names (to me at least) that really caught my attention once I listened to it all the way through. One song was Creeper Lagoon’s “Under the Tracks,” which I played relentlessly over and over.

By the time I fully immersed myself in the band’s back catalog, I had found out that the group had disbanded – at least in that form – following 2001’s Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday. Founding member Sharky Laguana would carry on under the moniker, putting out a few other releases. I became a high-volume poster on their message board, where Laguana actually interacted with his fans. Being a kid in high school who lived in the suburbs with no car, I thought my dream of seeing this band ever perform had passed me by.

The closest I thought I would come was when I saw Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard at the Fillmore cover Creeper Lagoon’s “Wonderful Love,” noting that they played a Noisepop show with the band many years ago. A ticket to this Gibbard show was my birthday present from my sister and my brother-in-law, and it felt like it was just for me.

I started collecting vinyl recently, and I bought Creeper Lagoon’s I Become Small and Go off Discogs. The day it arrived, Creeper Lagoon announced they were playing a show at Bottom of the Hill as part of Noisepop. The timing couldn’t be more eerie. After that show sold out, a matinee show the same day was added, and I had no doubt I would be there to see them play.

I interviewed Sharky for San Francisco Magazine, talking for nearly an hour about how the band got back together. It was his wife Naomi who pulled the strings behind the scenes before bringing it to him that everyone else was on board, and that they should do it for their kids. You can read a fuller version of the interview here.

Yesterday was a marathon day. I was staying in the East Bay and had to get up about 7:30 in order to pack all my stuff so I could meet a friend for breakfast at 10 AM. I dropped my bags off at a random hotel in SF (tipping generously) so I could do things without lugging them around. I caught up with my friend and then headed over to the matinee show, getting in around 2 PM, during the second opening act.

I went and caught up with a friend working for Noisepop and checked out the merch table. There were some really old tour shirts from the band, as well as a vinyl single of “Wonderful Love” and a dope poster for the show for sale. I caught Sharky for a brief second and got to say hello, the first time we met in person after getting to know each other pretty well due to the band’s message board and later social media.

It was a beautiful thing seeing them take the stage for the first time in a decade and a half. Their kids, all pretty young, were front and center – many of them wearing the over-ear headphones to protect their hearing. Other people unrelated to the band brought their kids as well, and it was one of the more interesting crowds I’d ever been in.

The band took the stage and you could feel the nerves. They had played a warmup gig to a tiny crowd at a random bar in bumfuck California the night before just to get used to playing in front of people, but clearly it was nothing like the packed house of friends, family, and superfans – some who had traveled far distances for this opportunity.

The lineup of Ian Sefchick (vocals, guitar), Sharky Laguana (guitar, vocals, sometimes keys), Dave Kostiner (drums) and Dan Carr (bass, backup vocals) killed it. I had high expectations despite the long layoff and they blew me away. Ian flubbed a lyric here and there, but they also played a 20-song set, which is insanely impressive given they’d only been practicing for four months or so and all had moved on from being full-time musicians many years ago. Their self-deprecating humor about being old and rusty was hilarious, but also off the mark — they sounded fantastic.

They kicked into “Chance of a Lifetime” – the opening song from their 2001 record – and the crowd collectively lost it. This was the homecoming show of all homecoming shows, and Sefchick thanked the crowd, saying “there’s a lot of love in the room.” They geeked out at their kids being in the crowd, playing to the GoPro that one of the kids was waving at times.

Though Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday was definitely the band’s most commercial and produced record, you can’t deny how many epic hooks are in it. “Chance of a Lifetime,” “Dead Man Saloon,” “Hey Sister” were early in the set and full of memorable riffs and highs. It was the saccharine “Under the Tracks” – from the Orange County soundtrack – that hit me right in the feels.

Sefchick’s smoky falsetto remain surprisingly strong, especially when you consider he hasn’t put out any music in many years and now works as a mastering engineer for Capitol Records. “Afraid of love/Afraid you might get hurt/So good luck/Don’t get stuck/Turn around before you can’t go back” the song ends, and it gave me goosebumps.

The band threw in a cover of “Motor Away” by Guided by Voices, with Sefchick sharing the story on how Sharky introduced him to the band when they were younger. Sharky sang on a handful of songs, the strongest being “Roman Hearts,” a cover of The National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and during the encore “Tonight Was Fun” – a single he made in his tiny room in San Francisco that launched Creeper Lagoon as a real band.

During the encore, “Wonderful Love” hit hard and a scintillating cover of “Where is My Mind?” by Pixies was another high point. The band’s kids joined them on stage for the set-closing “Dear Deadly,” dancing along to the music as they were cheered on by the other parents.

I would go grab a bite to eat before returning for their evening set and it was even better. They threw in “Drop Your Head” from their self-titled EP, a simple track but one of my favorites of theirs. I got to meet Sharky’s wife – who couldn’t believe I knew all these songs considering how old I had to have been when they were new. It was fun watching her and her friends geek out and relive past glory – in a packed house, sold-out show no less. I asked her what the experience was like for her and she admitted that she was very emotional, which is understandable.

It was also really cool to meet about a half-dozen people that used to post on the Creeper Lagoon message board for the first time. Before social media made it really simple to become online pals with someone, message boards were one of the ways to do it. I cringe when I read some of the posts I made on that board when I was 14 but some of those people definitely helped shape my musical tastes at that important time in my life — for that I’ll never forget it.

I’m excited that I get to relive the magic one more time, this coming Friday, March 3 at The Echo. Tickets are still available.