As a musician, I’ve had my fair share of strange experiences over the years. But this for me was one of the most surreal. I decided to write about it here and share it with my fellow drummers.
Pinback recently toured up the West Coast, and on our final show we played a festival in our home town of San Diego. The place was an old theater and was not set up in the most secure manner. On arriving before our set, I sensed the confusion at the front door and decided to walk right in without going over the usual “I’m in the band. No, really.” No one stopped me or gave me a second look as I walked right past the security. Hmmm. Maybe a bad sign?
About halfway through our set, in the middle of the song “Syracuse,” I noticed someone at the side of the stage picking up a bass, casually turning, and walking away. There were five bands, so it very well could’ve been someone else’s equipment, so I kept playing. It did look like our bass player Zach’s bass, but I was in disbelief that someone would walk up to the stage and steal this. As the seconds passed, I started realizing that I may have actually witnessed a crime and not just one of the bands loading out their gear. It was hard to believe that with all these people, someone could pull this off so easily. The instrument was a rare Alembic bass that is very recognizable, expensive, and extremely hard to replace. Zach has had this instrument for about twenty years, and the thought of some dirt bag grabbing it was tough to take. As soon as the song stopped I confirmed that it actually had been his bass that was taken, and we rushed off the stage to follow the thief. I had gotten a good glimpse of the guy, but it was dark and I had little to go on.
In the back of the venue we climbed through the crack in the fence that the thief had broken down, and into the alley. Our singer, Rob, went one way and I went another. My first thought on seeing the empty alley was that this guy was gone for sure. I work in a music shop, and over the years people have stolen equipment. Typically there’s a car waiting in the alley and within seconds they’re gone. I assumed this was the same scenario. And to the thief’s advantage, we finished playing our song before running out, so he had nearly a two-minute head start. It was not looking good.
At the end of the alley I noticed further on across the street an older man messing around with a trashcan and figured it was a homeless man scavenging. A moment later I saw someone that looked like the thief heading away from where the trashcans had been. No bass in his hand, but maybe he had stashed the instrument to pick up later. There were tons of people on the streets due to the music festival, so carrying the bass would’ve made him an easy target. I headed over to the trashcans to investigate, and there it was. The bass had been neatly stashed in a large recycling bin.
I grabbed the bass and started following the guy from a distance. As soon as he got to a busy intersection I confronted him, telling him that I suspected him of being the thief. I asked for his ID in case he got away from me. He denied taking the instrument and started rushing away from me. I perused him, yelling for someone to help me catch the guy. It was hard running after while him carrying the bass, and I was going to need some help holding him. No instrument is worth getting stabbed over, and luckily he was staying in well-lit, populated areas as he ran. A few people helped me stop him for the third time, and I asked for someone to call the police. He ran off again, and one person from the group helped me go after him. Luckily, the thief headed back to the main street again, so I was able to call for help from one of the club bouncers.
We finally stopped him about a block later, and three of us surrounded him while someone called again for the police. He pleaded to be let go and said that since I got the bass back I should just drop it. No way. I was pretty angry that someone would take the instrument right from the stage and wanted to see the thing through. Just then he ran off again and ducked into another small club. I assumed he was going to sneak out the back, so I ran around the side of the building. While I was frantically running behind the club, I bumped into a bunch of friends from the band Ghetto Blaster, who had just finished playing their set. I quickly told them that I was chasing the guy who stole Zach’s bass and they rushed into the building to grab the thief.
The manager of the club had caught wind of what was going on and locked the back door so the suspect couldn’t sneak out. A few moments later they dragged the guy out and asked, “Is this the thief?” It was indeed! I was finally able to put the bass down and catch my breath. My hand was numb from running with the heavy instrument for twenty-five minutes. What a relief to have the man surrounded with people who I knew weren’t going to let him get away.
The police showed up and took statements. Zach wandered up a few minutes later to reclaim his bass. After questioning the thief for a few minutes, the officer came back over to us and said, “The guy is definitely one of weirdest individuals I’ve ever met, but he has no record or prior thefts.” They asked if Zach wanted to press charges, and he said, “No, I’m just grateful to have my bass back.” For his safety, the police put the thief into their car and drove him away from the angry mob that had gathered. We walked back over to the venue and were greeting with cheers from the audience, who knew what had gone on over the past forty minutes of our interrupted show. We played the second half of our set without a hitch. I slept well that night.
Several of the music blogs began posting about the incident, as it was a bit of an odd situation. Our local weekly paper had been the first to report, and a day later they received a mysterious package. Inside the envelope was an anonymous note asking that they forward a second sealed letter to the band. The editor contacted me and put it in the mail. A few days later it arrived at my house, and I was anxious to see if there was a note from the thief inside. The letter was typewritten and addressed to members of Pinback. It said simply, “Here’s something for each of you. You were wronged. You forgave, Zach.” Also enclosed were three gift cards to Guitar Center.
No one can know who the note is from, but I like to think it may be from the thief, who was grateful for not being prosecuted. A strange ending to a very strange occurrence.