Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm a Little Country - He's a Little Rock


“Rene must have decided to drop the kids off at the pool.” - Chuck after Rene had been gone awhile at a pit stop

“When you sleep on a bus you have to make sure your feet are facing forward or you could snap your neck if the bus brakes hard.” The Connells to Chuck back in the day.

“I love the smell of my hat” Me, when I was covering my face in mortification.
“Smells like a Halloween mask” Chuck (both sung Broadway style)

“Is he driving the bus when you get one?” - Maestro mocking Joe when we ran into a little confusion parking the van at the club

“Snap Snappy!” - Turtle (one of the Gator Boys on a very late night reality show featuring idiots who run an animal removal company I guess) He was explaining why he prefers to use his hands when capturing skunks as opposed to the more conventional humane traps. (they’re undependable and they break) They also took a bath in bleach water and got a cow out of a hole using a backhoe.

Fauna: Not a damn thing

Our next show was to be in Little Rock. Lisa played a selection of Texas songs as we drove north from Dallas. Joe sang a lovely version of Texarkana by REM, (20,000 miles to an oasis) which upon reflection seems to have been a non-fiction account, as we drove on through to the Arkansas border. And just like that our time in Texas was done.

This show had a little extra weight attached to it. Little Rock was the site of the only time Wussy ever left the stage in anger and protest. After a whopping two songs last March. Not a good night, so we were hoping to make up for that and get right with Little Rock.  We were playing Stickyz Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicken Shack and as we pulled in to the back parking lot an energetic middle-aged man was waiting there for us. He immediately began giving Joe directions as to where he should park. For the next five minutes a comedy of miscommunication and errors resulted in the man now known as Maestro declaiming, “You gonna let him drive the bus when you get one? “ (Joe’s an excellent driver btw.)

Almost all of our memories of this evening are tied up with Maestro. I feel inadequate to express the force of nature that was his energy and personality. I’m just going to start by bringing up the cliché of how anyone doing pretty much any work really really well is indistinguishable from art. Now I used to do live sound for my job when I was younger. I started out in bars and after I realized it sucked I moved to corporate type gigs. For instance I used to do a lot of management seminars by the Seven Habits guy and that other one, you know the One Minute to Manage To Move Your Cheese guy. Anyway, in the corporate sounds gigs it was always quite obvious that the person on stage was our client. In rock clubs most of the time if there is any perceived client at all it is usually the club, not the band. Rock sound people have a reputation for being churlish and I understand why. When I was doing sound I would try to be pleasant and I realized that a lot of bands looked at that with suspicion. As if being chipper somehow meant you were weak or trying to cover up inadequacies in your sound skills. Plus, bands are a pain in the ass, this one included. Deal with three or four bands a night and after awhile you just want them to turn their damn amps down, (they wont) get on and off stage with some alacrity, (maybe) and stop expecting miracles from the monitors. Add in the fact that most bands suck, think they don’t and use their gig nights to regress back to 9th grade then I get the surliness. Now Maestro (that’s what he goes by) is a veteran of several decades in the trenches, came from Cleveland and broke into the business up there. Stickyz is a great club with pro sound and good lighting. They get national acts and have their shit together. Everyone was nice without being overly friendly. (except the bartender who wouldn’t serve me – damn douche lick) Like I said about the previous night, it’s easy to be good when everything is going well. So we had no excuse and we played a really good show I think. But Maestro was among the best I’ve ever seen. Yeah he was good with mixing; he’s supposed to be and he was. We had absolutely anything we wanted in the monitors. But he also told hilarious stories with lots of swearing, drank Jagermeister while swearing he wasn’t a drunk, and in general acted like a character. At all times he made it clear that we were his main priority and without being obsequious made sure we were in the best place and position to play a good show. And this was after he had worked for nine nights straight. (“eh, it’s what I do.”) How did he do this? Little things like saying, “ You just sit there and we’ll sound check after you eat. I don’t want us to get started and have your food come and then you got to eat cold food.” Or just observing Lisa’s body language and two songs in saying over the monitors, “Are you sure you have enough vocals in the monitors?” Running up to the stage to make sure I was good after I asked for more bass but forgot to give the OK sign. We were in a good mood, comfortable and confident it was going to be a good show. That’s what this overlong paragraph comes down to. It was a pleasure to watch a master at work.

And for the only two funny things I can recall Maestro saying. (they came so fast and furious I couldn’t keep up) He walked by us as we were eating and says dumping a bag of Skittles in his mouth, “This is what they give a black man to eat in Arkansas.” (He sat down to a full meal a few minutes later) He told a five minute story about the bass player from the Stray Cats. It went something like this: “ Well now you remember that dude had that big bass with the cat on it? The one he would stand on? Well it’s got gold all around at the edge on the top too, and you know what? That bass flies to every show. Hell yes, we had to go to the airport and pick it up. It got here before he did. Well I put it up onstage and placed bouncers around it because everyone wanted to open the case and look at it. No way was I gonna let that bass get fucked up. Anyway, when the guy finally gets here I figure I’ll play a little Brian Seltzer (that's how he said it) Orchestra to be nice and some guy comes running up telling me to turn that shit off because the bass guy was turning green he was so pissed. Turns out he’s not really happy with getting left behind for the orchestra shit. Anyway, I was like Maestro you fucked up now. I knew I was gonna have to be on point mixing that night. So when he got onstage I was all like see how good it is? And after awhile he was all right. ‘Course then we had to take that damn bass back to the airport the next day.” There are more stories and if they occur to me in coherent form I’ll post them.

Anyway, it was hot as fuck, as apparently was the rest of the country, but I went on my walkabout as per usual. I’m very aware that I’ve been judging towns on merely a tiny slice, but who cares, it’s just a blog. So the slice of Little Rock I saw was great. Nice, neat little town. I came across a miniature White House that was the original some fucking important thing that I can’t remember because it’s been a long tour and I drink, but regardless it was cool.  I walked back to the club along a wonderful river walk trail that now makes every city but Cincinnati one that realizes what a resource a major river is and dedicates it to the citizens, as opposed to the pathetic local major sports franchises. Along the river behind the convention center was an amazing sculpture garden. In the way that one does not get enough fresh fruit and vegetables on tour there is a similar lack of edifying art. I’m not going to get into it, let’s just say I felt a lightening of my spirit to walk at twilight in view of the Arkansas River, by myself looking at some wicked cool sculpture. (I’ll include a picture so you don’t think I’ve gone soft) After that I came across the Little Rock equivalent of the Purple People Bridge. (a bridge converted for pedestrian use over a major river) Even though I was sweating bullets in my wicked cool skinny jeans ironic moustache rock star duds I went out to the middle of the river, and found out where Little Rock puts its homeless people. They were all there, but it was a wonderful, slightly homesick view as the Arkansas bares more than a passing resemblance to the Ohio. (According to Joe this because they’re both RIVERS – to which I replied with the weight and gravity of Churchill addressing the British population after a particularly brutal blitz, “Oh fuck off.”)

I guess that’s it. The opening band, other than the egregious foul of wearing flip-flops onstage, was the first band of the tour that I sat and listened to the whole set. They were called Swampbird and played Drive By Truckers style alt. country in a way that few do well any more. Good guys too.

It’s funny how life works. In the small unimportant world of a small unimportant Midwestern rock band, this night was exactly what we needed to revive ourselves  after our collapse in Dallas.

Tomorrow is Nashville.

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