After 20 years of once-a-year togetherness, the Rock Bottom Remainders have called it a career, and played their last two shows this past weekend. The finale was a private performance for attendees at the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim on Saturday night, but they played for a full house at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles the night before.
You might know the Remainders better through their literary efforts than their musical ones. Although their membership has shifted a bit over two decades, their final lineup included original members Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., Matt Groening, Stephen King, Ridley Pearson, and Amy Tan, joined by Mitch Albom, Greg Iles, Mary Karr, and Scott Turow. Skewed toward vocals and guitars, they got additional musical support from Sam Barry (harmonica), Josh Kelly (drums), Erasmo Paolo (saxophone), and Janine Sabino (vocals).
The group was originally brought together by Bay Area musician/part-time literary escort Kathi Kamen Goldmark for a one-off performance at an American Booksellers Association meeting in 1992. Goldmark died of cancer last month, and her passing spurred the group to mount their final two-show tour.
Tall Paul and I saw the Remainders play at the LA Times Festival of Books in 2006. They were never the most musically-adept bunch–Bruce Springsteen described them as “almost as good as a lousy garage band,” and their repertoire was mostly familiar boomer-era covers mixed with some clever originals. But they clearly had a great time playing them serviceably well, which made it just as much fun for the audience. When we read about the plans for their final show, we knew we wanted to be there–and we were, right up in front!
The Hollywood Reporter described the El Rey show as “somewhat ridiculous but very fun,” and I think they nailed it. An excellent time was had by all, onstage and off. From their review, here’s a sampling from the set list:
Near the end of the show, the full band dedicated their rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart” to departed Remainders Goldmark, Frank McCourt, and frequent musical guest Zevon himself. But not wanting to end things on a down note, they roared back with Stephen King taking the lead on “Surfin’ Bird” and closed with Scott Turow (in multicolored clown wig) and Roy Blount Jr. on “Wild Thing.” But every rock show needs an encore, and the Remainders, in the fine tradition of lousy garage bands, made the garage-band classic “Gloria” theirs.
The Rock Bottom Remainders were author rockstars in a very unconventional way, and they’ll be missed. But at least we’ll still have their books.