There are many bizarre and hilarious moments in Detroit pop culture history. Few are aware, however, of the time pop-rock giants Maroon 5 opened for a local ska band.
The year was 2002, and ska music was no longer cool. Grand Rapids outfit Mustard Plug, who had enjoyed some commercial success with their cover of the Verve Pipe's "The Freshmen" and received airplay on Los Angeles radio station KROQ, were experiencing a corresponding dip in their popularity. Once a staple at Saint Andrew's Hall, Mustard Plug were now appearing downstairs at Saint Andrew Hall's smaller sister venue, the Shelter.
My friends and I had attended nearly every Mustard Plug show in Detroit throughout high school, but this one felt different. Many people at the time were eschewing ska concerts in favor of bands like Bright Eyes and the Blood Brothers, and the crowd seemed a little thin and muted that night. Then, something strange happened. A few hours after we arrived, one of the opening bands came onstage. They were well dressed and good-looking, and they had a keyboard.
At the time, keyboards were an unusual inclusion for any punk band, unless you were the Get Up Kids or the Anniversary. But this was not emo, and was definitely not punk. It was a rather generic-sounding brand of funk-rock or R&B, sort of like a less musical version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The lead guitar was incredibly loud, and as their set continued I heard at least one song I did not hate. After their set we saw the band in the parking lot, distributing 8-by-10 glossy photos of themselves. I spoke briefly with the lead singer, complimenting him on his guitar tone.
The song I did not hate, I would later learn, was off the album Songs About Jane. The band handing out slick promotional materials at a punk show in the parking lot of Saint Andrew's was Maroon 5. Years later I would learn that Adam Levine, who I spoke with that evening, had some less than fond memories of their experience opening for Mustard Plug. In an interview with MSN Entertainment, Levine accused Mustard Plug of breaking one of the fundamental rules of the road: "You don't talk shit about a band you're playing with, onstage, right after they just played."
I had no recollection of a hostile encounter between the two bands, but when I caught up with Mustard Plug frontman Dave Kirchgessner via email, he offered the following explanation. "What I do remember is that their management basically bullied them onto our show. There was a thriving ska and punk scene in Detroit at the time and I remember being resentful about not being able to put one of our local friends in the slot," he writes.
Kirchgessner is slightly apologetic about the episode, and acknowledges that the band themselves were a fairly affable group. "I honestly don't remember really going off on them, or spending much time onstage talking shit about them, but I think I did more or less apologize to the crowd for them being on the show, and probably made it clear that we didn't add them. Whatever I did say obviously left some pretty deep emotional scars on Adam's psyche," he writes.
But despite all of this, Kirchgessner seems hopeful that the two will be able to resolve their differences in the future.
"Maybe I should throw out an olive branch and invite them to open for us again," he says.