Thursday, August 30, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Wilmington, Philadelphia, and NYC
Chuck’s Daughter: “Wussy were here this morning.” (we had stopped by on the way out)
Chuck’s Son-In-Law: “Oh is that why the door is off.” (Lisa completely pulled the back screen door off)
“Alanis Morrisette has dope titties” – Can’t remember but not me because I didn’t know there was such a thing
“You lied, she’s only missing her front teeth” - We saw an old friend of Chucks at a gas station.
“It’s a gaping maw.” – Chuck’s response
“It’s either drug addled hillbillies or church goers” – Technically Bethel, Ohio but really that seems to needlessly narrow the range.
“Numbat and Scunch” – Ask Chuck
“ I want the American Dream burger – hold the hope.”
Fauna: Women in Philadelphia really favor leg tattoos. They were everywhere. One woman in nice workout clothes in the fitness center of the downtown Sheraton had tattooed on each upper back thigh respectively, “Remember the Struggle” and “Remember the Street.” Uh huh.
Women in NYC favor dark bras under see through T-shirts. Seems kind of played. I expect more from New York
Here’s a difference between the West and East. There’s not enough time in the van to write between cities in the east. So I’m just gonna cover all three in one post. Here’s a summary for those who don’t want to read the rest: The shows were completely wonderful but the actual travelling was snake bit from the get go.
We were renting a van from a guy we know. A big scraped up bright-yellow thing that we took out once before. Dude swore he’d fixed everything that had made us swear we’d never take it again. Joe picks up the van and Oh Hell yes, the A/C is not working. (“Really? It worked yesterday”) It wasn’t too bad as long as we were on the highway with the windows down. Of course that meant we got to have 10 hours of what my kids call a “hurricane ride.” On a personal note I hate having lots of wind blowing on me. Drives me fucking crazy, but since that position is already filled in this band I have to lump it. We flirted with a hail and lightning storm through the Appalachian Mountains, but to the hopeful surprise of us all by the time we were an hour away from Wilmington we were actually on time. Which is of course the point in the movie where the psycho turns out to have survived and hacks off the head of the teenager performing conciliatory cunnilingus on the other grief-stricken survivor, proving once again that sex is dirty and bad and should only be done after funerals and in cases where the act will cause grievous emotional damage to your ex. In our case it was the point where the mot^er-fu%^ing, co%k-suc$#ing, douche-licking, Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority shut down the entire east-bound Turnpike to do construction, thus diverting all the rush hour traffic to another much smaller highway. Now this next part was probably, by which I mean entirely, our fault. We were below E on the gas gauge. So an hour into sitting in traffic waiting for the van to sputter and fail while limping towards the exit is when John exclaims something about the brake pedal sinking to the floor. Something had clunked and from this point on stopping was more akin to throwing an anchor out the back than actual braking. This lovely development was accompanied by an equally lovely smell of smoky metallic death. We finally get off the highway and as John is flipping a U-Turn to get us to a gas station the thing in the center of the steering wheel that you press for the horn (I’m sure it has a name) pops off. Much swearing and grappling later we get to the gas station but now the horn doesn’t and never again works. As we’re doing our best roadside mechanic imitations Chuck for some random reason starts singing like Leon Redbone. This is almost as annoying as actually listening to Leon Redbone. But then what to my wondering eye should appear? A guy yelling at us from the next pump over, “Leon Redbone? He made the best Christmas album ever! (begins to sing, mercifully stops) Did you see him on Carson? He was in a sleigh and had confetti coming down and everything. My wife wont listen to it, but I tell ya it’s the best Christmas album ever recorded (begins to sing the same snippet, mercifully stops) This entire exchange takes place with his voice booming like he works in a home for the hard of hearing, but he was nice and gave us a “God Bless You,” on the way out.
We decided to take state roads the rest of the way. It was beautiful but slow going. We got there about 15 minutes before we could potentially have had to go on, but they were running a little behind. It had already been a long damn day so we’re looking forward to a little food at the club after we loaded in when John, who was parking the van, calls and says the driver’s side window wont go up. By the time Chuck and I get out there the window is completely off the track and flopping around in the door like a condom on Flacid the Clown. It’s safe to say the security of the van and our equipment is compromised by this development. However, with the art of an embittered middle-aged Fonzi Chuck pulls pounds and swears it back into place.
After eating (just because you call it Risotto doesn’t mean it’s not just rice from a box) we played a show without a set-list, making it up as we went. We were playing at the World Café Live and the stage sound was great, people were into it, and I thought we played well. After the show people were so sweet, buying a bunch of merch and just kind of overwhelming us with kindness. We drove to Phili that night and even got to bed at a reasonable time.
Damn we need our own van.
The club we were playing was only 1.7 miles from the hotel and the hotel is right downtown in the museum district. You know what this means? It means awesome, that’s what it means. Joe and I walked up 16th street, had some organic, locally sourced stir fry and then began walking towards the Museum of Art. We went into the St. Paul Cathedral, which was gorgeous and had great air conditioning. We walked up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Rodin museum, communed with some pretty great sculptures and then continued on to the Art Museum. There was a line of people waiting to get their picture taken with the Rocky statue, even though it isn’t even at the top of the stairs. I’m not going to go through the whole experience but museums are my happy place. They had a great modern wing with a whole room of cubist era Piccaso and one for Du Champ. A whole badass section of armor and a few J.F. Millets I’d never seen. I was as happy as a Mennonite in a Pizza Hut.
The club we were playing was called the Northstar Bar. This show and the next one were set up by the band Low Cut Connie, who are a Philly band and have a really good following. The thing is, we’ve tried to get into the Northstar before but they wouldn’t even answer our e-mails. So to have a band like LCC help us out is huge. A local guy was telling me how he saw John Cale twice at this place. Great stage, cool balcony, good sound. I was told that Philly gives bands love and it was true. We’ve never played to a packed house here but tonight was damn close. There was a kid who flew in from Montreal for Pete’s sake. Just to see us. Another guy came all the way from Seattle and would be at the next show too. For the first time ever people were singing along so loud we could hear it onstage above the din. Feels like we have some friends here. I really like this town. It feels the most like a European city of any I can think of. Looking forward to coming back.
Woke up and went out looking for a bagel. All there was downtown were Bruegger’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. I thought this was an east coast town. I can get shitty bagels in Cincinnati.
It seems like it takes forever for us to get going anywhere anymore. I don’t know why, it’s the same people. Drives me crazy but there it is. It’s like turning a barge around in a river I guess. We had to drive back to club for something we forgot, got caught in the traffic for a huge pro-union rally, which was actually kind of neat to witness, Lisa got sick in the stifling heat of the van. It took us twice as long to get to NYC as it should’ve. Just another one of those trips. Once we got into the city though it felt wonderful. I love being here. While waiting for soundcheck to start I got a sangria from a little cheese and wine place around the corner that was open to the sidewalk. Ended up talking with the bartender about old school funk, disco, Bootsy Collins etc. Awesome. We were to play at the Mercury Lounge for the first time, (another place that up ‘till now didn’t want to hear from us) and we were excited. However we and LCC were the early show and it was an 8:00 start time. After soundcheck Joe and I ran out to one of my favorite restaurants on earth. It’s a Taqueria/Tequilaria called Los Feliz, and as God is my witness the tacos combined with more Tequilla selections than virgins at ComicCon will make you weep with pleasure. Joe and I talked about how we hoped enough people would show up so that maybe the Mercury would consider having us back. Because when we left there was not one soul there. Same thing with Chuck and Lisa. They left to get some stuff out of the van and then went to the green room. No one there. We’re starting to learn about NYC though, that people there don’t fuck around standing about waiting for a show. When it’s time they show up. When we got back the place was packed. Lots of old friends and a whole bunch of new people. Amazing energy, people shouting out requests. This made three nights in a row I had a shit-eating grin on my face pretty much the whole show. And then after the show another first. The love at the merch table has been has been overwhelming the whole trip but tonight we were signing stuff and selling out pretty much everything we brought for well over an hour. When we got into the van after loading out and me running down the street to get a fresh large NY pizza pie, we were all kind of shocked by it. The door lady commented to Chuck, “Wow, you’ve got loyal fans.” And it’s true. We just really appreciate shows like this so much.
We’re playing Chicago, Cincinnati and Louisville before Chuck and Lisa head to England to make a nice hello to the Continent. After that, in October we’re opening for the Afghan Whigs for a handful of shows. That’s kind of a big deal and it also means we get to get back out there and see some more of you this year. So that’s cool.
If I post this you’ll know that the van made it back.
Bunbury, Iron Maiden, and Wilco
Here’s a big Lionel Ritchie “Hello” to all ten of you. We’re back in a different van heading to Wilmington Delaware and if everything goes perfectly we’ll still be late. Speaking of, “Hello,” in 10th grade I had a crush on a generously proportioned blond girl who took no notice of me until the week before she moved to Kansas. We exchanged notes before she left and embarked upon an utterly pointless long-distance relationship marked by letters so tedious in their shopping list length that even the memory of untouched tits and bee-stung lips (they really were puffy) could maintain my teen-aged tumescence for very long. And at that age anything from a gentle breeze to the Battle of the Network Stars (Oh Victoria Principal) could achieve the ache that launched a thousand tissues. But before she started writing about all the cute guys she was meeting and I realized I dreaded writing back, our song was, “Hello.” We both bought 45’s and listened to it as tragically as possible. My friends couldn’t even look me in the face and before my natural mortification could kick in I learned not discuss it around them. Regardless, 10 grade was actually a pretty good year. In that same class (geometry) I met my first love, a delightful woman who I still count among my dearest friends, primarily because she never brings up my fumblingly inept and eternally embarassing behavior. I also saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time. Oh and of course there was that time I accidentally hacked into the Pentagon’s computer by using a “back door” left by the programmer and ended up having to sneak in to NORAD to stop us from accidentally starting World War III. That Ally Sheedy is a good egg. I still get Christmas cards from her. She’s a Christian now, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising as she sure was into missionary work back then. *
I really did intend to not write any more tour blog after the west coast jaunt, but I missed writing and more importantly having a reason to write. Since I could find no convincing argument that my daily life was of any interest I hope you’ll continue to indulge me as it appears the year has thrown us a few more opportunities for adventure.
We only played one show since we got back and it was at the inaugural Bunburry Fest in Cincinnati. I tell you what, I was shocked (shocked I tell you) at how exhausted we all were when we got home. Even after a week I still felt tired, and every time we’d run into each other everyone said the same thing. I swear I felt fine at the end of the tour, but obviously it’s a much more taxing endeavor than we realized. Chuck said he’d been depressed a bunch and my moods were all over the place, though mostly south of suck. Oh well, if we ever do that again I’ll know that particular transition is a prickly thing.
Anyway, back to Bunbury. It was a three day, mostly rock festival down on the Ohio River. And in the interest of full disclosure I will say that the founder of the festival is the drummer in my band Messerly and Ewing. However I wouldn’t view the nice things I’m about to say as suspect, because if it had blown I just wouldn’t say anything about it at all. It’s amazing to me that a guy could decide to just up and start a festival and then go right ahead and do it. Obviously I hoped it would go well and lots of people would show up, but the cool thing was how pro everything was. I mean we had our own dressing room, they’d send golf carts to get you, we got meal tickets for the artist/crew dining tent. I’m sure that’s typical festival shit, but a treat for us. And every band got the same treatment too. We were on the same stage as GBV so their dressing room was next to ours. It was cool to get to hang and chat with some of them. Of course right before we were to set-up a huge storm blew through and the grounds had to be evacuated. After it was over and with the inevitable squeegying of the stage, of course the schedule was completely off. We were told our set needed to be cut short so we set-up as quickly as possible and got most of it in. It was hot as fuck out but we played to a good-sized crowd facing us on a steeply rising terraced cement wall with the river at our back.
I spent two days at the festival and came away with the nagging feeling that too many rock bands these days are kind of boring. Take Gaslight Anthem for example. They seem like nice guys and do all the right rock things on stage. When their set started it was great, but after awhile it was like they’d played the same song 14 times. Where’s the dynamics, the sense of a journey being taken together? The most fun I had at the whole thing was at two DJ sets. Dan Deacon and RJD2. Everyone was dancing and smiling, there was a sense of community, the music was varied and had hooks. (I fucking hated Neon Trees - a particularly nasty combination of contrived and cynical. Like an alt-rock Eagles) A rock show is a weird thing. It’s a conscious combination of spontaneous and contrived. A band might want it to be all about the art but if you step on a stage you are tacitly indicating that you intend to be entertaining. On the other hand rock was meant to destroy the old show biz bullshit and it’s great when you feel like a band is taking chances and might fall on their asses. Which brings me to two big ticket shows I went to in the last few weeks. I usually only see bands in bars so this was an unusual concentration of shows with beer in plastic cups. The first was Iron Maiden with Alice Cooper. Speaking of 10th grade, when I was in high school metal was pretty much all we listened to. (well and classic rock - it was northern Ohio after all) I saw Maiden three times, Dio twice, the Scorpions, and a bunch of lesser lights. The cool thing is my son is now way into Iron Maiden and so this was a big deal that they were coming reasonably close. I’m no fan of Alice Cooper but the show was all theater and pretty fun. I had a blast at Maiden. I think it’s been since high school since I saw a show with explosions, leering skeletons and extended twin guitar breaks. The band was having a blast you could tell, and I jumped up and down and danced like an idiot. My boys loved it and I got them a full-sized flag of Eddie as the Trooper. A few weeks later I went to see Wilco. I’ve seen them a ton of times but not for an album or two. The first half of the show was very pleasant, but I don’t know, too much of their stuff lately is beginning to approach indie easy listening and there was just no fire. Then they played a few songs off of Summerteeth, and by dint of playing some songs with actual emotional heft or maybe just being rock songs, the crowd woke up and then so did the band. From then on they acted like being there mattered (get it?) and by the end I was singing and dancing like a fanboy again. Well sort of, the post-Bennett years are kind of hit or miss. Damn, what an amazing bunch of musicians though, Glen Kotche, Nels Cline, and John Stirratt are so freaking good at their jobs.
So after thinking about it for the last 30 or so years, and in particular the last few weeks I think the things I want most out of a rock show is the feeling that the band realizes it’s the greatest job on earth to be up onstage playing, especially when you’re lucky enough to have people there who give a shit about your music. I want to feel like the band is trying to take us somewhere and not just promoting a record. Rock, even poignant or pissed off, is ultimately joyful, communal, cathartic, and fun. Writing songs with hooks, dynamics, and decent lyrics helps too.
*I have no idea if that’s true although it wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to fuck War Games Ally – too young. Nor Breakfast Club Ally – too much drama. No I’d want Short Circuit Ally – so vulnerable, needy, and caring.