Keanu's Excellent Adventure
by Clifford Pugh
Actor Applies Brakes to his Speeding Career so He Can Rock Out
In the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves portrays a young, dimwitted guy who lives to play in a rock band called the Wyld Stallyns.
In the real world, Reeves is a 30-year-old actor who, while commanding $7 million a picture, would rather play bass guitar in a rock band called Dogstar.
Funny how life imitates art.
"Keanu's Excellent Adventure" - the 1995 version - brought the sad-eyed superstar to Houston, where his band played for a capacity crowd of about 800 Saturday night at Numbers nightclub.
"I just do it because it's fun," said Reeves, who stood in the rain outside his tour bus and patiently signed autographs for star-struck fans.
Dressed in an oversize gray t-shirt, black jeans, black combat boots, and a black knit cap, the free-spirited actor slipped into Houston along with other band members in a 40-foot bus once leased by the rock group Pearl Jam. The four-man group had traveled from Dallas, where their 25-city "Dog Days of Summer" tour kicked off Friday. Immediately following the Houston concert, the bus left for New Orleans, where the group performed Sunday night.
Mindful of Reeves' starring role in last summer's hit Speed, the running gag among the band's crew was to tell onlookers, "This bus never goes below 50 miles per hour."
For Reeves, however, the tour seems to be a refreshing way to temporarily put the brakes on his acting career and just be one of the guys.
"I'm getting to see a lot of America and drink free beer. It's la dolce vita, " said Reeves, who did an impromptu cartwheel in the middle of the empty club while crew members set up the stage. "But more than seeing the sights, it's meeting people."
Yet, during his 12-hour stay in Houston, Reeves often seemed shy and ill at ease when meeting his adoring fans, who included teenyboppers and topless dancers.
"I'm a lovesick crazy fan," said Kim, a 25-year-old dancer who works in Houston and New York.
But onstage, Reeves seemed totally in bliss. He smiled with undisguised glee throughout the concert, in which he played bass guitar with a vengeance and periodically reached to touch the outstretched hands of fans.
"For us, it's right now," he explained. "we're getting to play the music."
About three years ago, Reeves and drummer Rob Mailhouse, a onetime regular on the television soap opera Days of Our Lives, got together in Los Angeles and started playing instrumental jazz and blues for fun.
They brought in guitarist Gregg Miller and fromed the band Dogstar. Mailhouse picked the name out of a book, after he noted it was another name for Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
Last year they added guitarist Bret Domrose, a veteran of the San Francisco punk band the Nuns, and got serious about touring. Before starting this national tour, they traveled to Japan for six soldout concerts and performed regularly in California.
Thus far, the band has fended off offers from major record companies. The group is interested in a record contract, said guitarist Miller, but only for the right reasons.
"We always have to worry about credibility," he said. "If we sell records, it's because we're good. Not just because Keanu's in the band. None of us want to be a part of a freak show."
Reeves, whose first name is pronounced KEY-ah-noo, is aware that many clubgoers are more interested in seeing him than hearing the band. But he hopes that once they arrive, their attention, "shifts from me and onto the music," which is mostly original tunes written by band members.
"It's folk music," Reeves said. "People find it toe-tapping and enjoyable."
Perhaps so, but folk music was never like this. In Houston, the band's music spurred a raucous practice known as "moshing," in which an audience member is passed over the heads of the standing crowd to the front of the stage.
Reeves sang vocals on only one song, an Elvis Costello-like tune called Isabel that he wrote. Judging from his singing effort, Reeves should not give up his acting career any time soon, according to some observers.
"He's a much better bass player than I thought he'd be, but the music all sounded the same," said Mary, a Numbers regular who liked the warm-up act, Did Lee Squat?, better than Dogstar.
And moviegoers shouldn't worry, as Reeves said, he has no plans to quit acting. His newest movie, a World War II romance titled A Walk in the Clouds, opens in theaters later this summer.
Much of the crowd couldn't have cared less about Reeves' singing skills. They screamed every time he spoke, and some threw bras onto the stage. One woman on the shoulders of her date kept pulling up her blouse in his direction. Reeves seemed mildly amused.
He did find some time for adventure during his brief stay in Houston. Kim, the club dancer, joined the band for dinner and drove them to a men's club before their 11pm performance.
Kim, who had kept a "good luck" candle burning at her house for three days in hopes of meeting the actor, was clearly impressed by his kind manner.
"He's a good person," she said. "He tries to please everybody. Sometimes he tries too hard."
Reeves, who had no entourage or publicity agents traveling with him, didn't wall himself off from hordes of admirers who wanted to catch a glimpse of him at Numbers.
Instead, he often eluded the security guards assigned to protect him in order to mingle with the crowd.
But after the concert, he got trapped by a wall of female admirers, many begging him to sign his name in lipstick on their arms, and bolted to the bus.
A few minutes later, at about 1:30 am, the bus pulled out, bound for New Orleans, where, surely, more excellent adventures awaited the quietly charismatic star.