Thursday, July 31, 2014

What To Do in Baltimore

Animal: Gopher – So Lisa pointed out a rather large groundhog and Chuck said, “No it’s a Gopher.” “That's the same thing.” “No it Goddamned well isn’t.” Lisa and I said he was full of shit, which made him really mad. Woodchucks were brought into it. Chuck’s pedigree as a mammalian expert was discussed. (Chuck and Tommy Gillis won the Ohio State mammal identification contest two years in a row in high school – beating out the college kids) So I’d say it was a successful conversation.

Quotes: Hillbilly Hit Parade – If we ever have a greatest hits.

SIARPC: Leo Crotch Cheese

It’s Sunday and pretty much a day off, as we only it's only a three-hour drive to Charlotte, where we were spending another night fouling the nest of a generous friend. We started out the day over-staying our welcome at what is frankly a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood somewhere around Baltimore. One of the benefits of house shows is that we usually get to stay at the house, eat real food, and have our own beds. Sitting in some comfy Adirondack chairs the night before we were informed that the neighborhood had been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, or at the very least someone in his firm. Olmsted is somewhat arguably considered the father of modern landscape architecture, with his most famous achievements being Central Park and Prospect Park, as well as Elm Park in Worcester MA ,and the Emerald Necklace parks in Boston. The coolest part was that all the houses, at least in this particular section of the neighborhood, all backed up against, and thus enclosed an oval shaped common area, almost like a miniature town green. Each house had it’s own small backyard with steps leading down to the common. I have no idea if Olmsted had anything to do with the houses but they were gorgeous, mostly a fine stucco in lots of muted browns. One house, at the far end of the common was actually curved. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if looking down upon the neighborhood from the air, that the streets were organized in a vaguely concentric circular pattern like a very easy maze. Either way, the streets feel like they were designed to somehow slow down time, giving it the feeling of quiet and peacefulness as opposed to most modern subdivisions where everything sucks.*

Anyway, my morning walk didn’t kill enough time for everybody, by which I mean Lisa, to be ready so I’d say it was around two before we left. Our destination was a band favorite. For Chuck, Lisa, and I, it was our third tour visit to the American Visionary Museum. It’s a place dedicated to outsider art and every time I go back it gets better and better. There’s a whole room devoted to repetitive pattern art by people with OCD. It’s mostly temporary exhibits with a small permanent collection. My clear favorite this time was a room that was completely converted into another world – a  weird Christmasy world with an enormous pink spaceship that had a constantly rotating turret with children’s plastic horses on top. The whole spaceship was sitting upon a row of pink skulls. On either side were bizarre snowmen, including one that was a Cyclops holding a deer leg with hoof intact. On the other side of the room was an enormous Santa with what looked like an exposed brain being pulled by all white reindeer with toilet bodies. There were weird nutcrackers with clear plastic skulls for heads, and some stockings where the artist had presumably taken latex gloves, filled them with resin and things like plastic eyeballs or cicadas.

The gift shop is not ridiculously expensive and has some decent, affordable art from lots of folk artists. I love pretty much all museums but I walk out of this one actually inspired and ready to get to work.

We ate a fancyish dinner in Little Italy where they wisely put us all by ourselves in a back room. After that we drove to Charlotte where we met Jessie, the black lab for whom immediate and true love is not only possible but inevitable. But more about him tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Chapel Hill.

* Also, there is a huge amount of silica in the soil and rocks. I don’t know if this is typical for the region, but it made the ground all sparkly. Like maybe in ancient times a huge armada of fairies were attacked, killed, their heads put on little toothpick sized pikes, and their wings ground into dust. Presumably by Republicans.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Animals: Osprey

Quotes: “I got gathered head.” – Chuck swears that this is what his mother called an ear infection. Lisa and I said he was full of shit, which made him mad. So I’d say it was a successful conversation.

SIARPC: The Blair Underwood Project

It’s about a 7-hour drive from Boston to Baltimore. We seem to have slipped back into the bad habit of not really getting on the road when we should. And even with it being a Saturday, travelling the eastern corridor is a halting process. So we were late again. We were revisiting another spot from the spring break leg, the house known as Club 603. While Chuck and I were napping, I with my head on his lap and he gently rubbing my lower back in that fatherly way he has, a plan was hatched. The predicted reactions to this plan were as follows: I would be thrilled and Chuck would be horrified. They were accurate. The plan was to place a bunch of songs in a bowl, and as long as three of us knew the song it was fair game, and let the audience pick our set. I have a short attention span and would prefer our set to change nightly. Also, I truly love the high wire act that comes from putting yourself out there a little ways, the place where success is not assured. I’m not going to say Chuck is the exact opposite because Chuck will take a risk with the best of them. He does not like doing a song he was not expecting though. Basically he’s afraid he’s going to forget it and doesn’t want to look like a schmuck. As far as sets go, he prefers to play the same set on a tour. He likes to hone it so it gets more powerful. I kind of think of his approach as being akin to the Japanese aesthetic approach to art.  And I do know that sounds like a freshman college boy at a coffee shop trying to get in the pants of the dark-haired, dusky-skinned junior semiotics major who’s got a mad crush on the poly-sci dude who says he’s going to drop out and work chopping down trees with an axe at a sustainable growth tree farming co-op that provides free writing paper to refugees so we don’t lose a generation of poets, but mostly feels like he could never have a job where he has to wear a shirt. Sometimes when he bends over to give individual raw sugar crystals to the ants congregating as equals to the human beings at the little creamery station in the coffee house, she can catch a glimpse of a butt cheek through the thready rips in his dirty chinos. So of course the freshman boy doesn’t stand a chance, going so far as to spurn the advances of the senior girl back at his old high school who thinks he’s so worldly, and if he’d only take her to the prom she would let him cup her breast.*

Anyway, back to the Japanese aesthetic. I read through as many of the different ideals of the aesthetic as I could on Wikipedia before I got bored and feel like the one called Iki, besides being a delightful homophone for our subject, gets pretty close to it. Well, actually I’ve changed my mind, but I didn’t want to lose the icky joke. Still, the Japanese thing was cool to read about. I liked the wabi-sabi ideal as well.**

No, I think what I am struggling to get at here is maybe closer to monochromatic painting. I’ll paraphrase the internet for what I’m going on about: “In the exploration of one color, the examination of values changing across a surface, the expressivity of texture, nuance, expressing a wide variety of emotions, intentions, and meanings.” You know the idea of getting a set of songs down to its purest form, where in theory it is most powerful. Keep in mind Chuck's favorite song to play is "Teenage Wasteland" because he plays one chord in one pattern the whole song. The downside of this approach in rock is of course boredom. As soon as you lose the ability to be present in a song you run the danger of going through the motions. And if you’ve played the same set a bunch you can go through the motions without fucking up. For myself I have to be reinventing the song in some way every night or my little spider monkey mind goes off in a million directions. Fortunately I’m still so perplexed by the notion of linking everything the band is doing rhythmically while still moving melodically that I have no problem most of the time trying to move towards some better version of our performance. Chuck is always present in the song, and I find that admirable. I wont speak for the rest of the band in this sense because I guess I don’t realty know what it is they’re pursuing. Everyone is restless and generally unsatisfied so I think we’re in good shape there.

Regardless, Chuck knows when he’s beaten so he agreed to the song in a bowl thing. It was simultaneously silly and intense. I know we should know our whole catalog, and of the rarities we played most of them sound just fine after a practice or two, but in this context, with no chance to even listen to them beforehand there was a real chance of things falling apart. I think “Tiny Spiders,” and “Motorcycle” went well, the rest were OK, and only “Crooked” died. Afterwards Chuck realized he’d had the capo on the wrong fret but I’m not sure that was entirely to blame. It also created a flow of songs no sane person would ever choose. I think at one point Lisa sang 8 songs in a row. Not everyone in the crowd loved it, but I kept thinking that if I could see a band I loved in someone’s living room playing a set which will never be repeated, then I would be pretty psyched. Also we figured there would be a fair number of repeat attendees from the last show there in April, and if we’re going to do these things we should really try to provide something unique.

It bears repeating that our hosts are two of the nicest people on the planet as well as having encyclopedic knowledge of current rock and Americana bands.

* Of course when he sees the error of his ways as a virginal senior and clumsily woos her with tickets to “Big – the Musical!” she’ll wonder what she ever saw in that pathetic weedy little man. He then ends up marrying a women he meets on a church mission to help rebuild neighborhoods in post-Katrina New Orleans and who, after only four childless years begins to despair at his complete lack of adventure, begins to poison him slowly so as to run off with her Salsa instructor and the insurance money.

** The whole reason I went down this rabbit hole was I was trying to find what it’s called, in what I think is Japanese art, where an artist will try to use the fewest strokes or colors to express some ideal. I find that a fascinating concept.

Tomorrow is a day off.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Boston You're My Home

Animals: Great Blue Heron

Quotes: “I heard LeBaron is coming back to Cleveland.”

“I always figured her butt smelled like a well bucket.”

SIARPC: Fat Folds Five

For the two days preceding our leaving, and continuing apparently forever, I have been getting hammered by the acid stomach and omnipresent anxiety. I don’t even know what to do. Nothing seems to be working, not even gobbling antacids like a stockbroker on September 18th, 1929. I woke up far earlier than I wanted to but couldn’t quiet my brain. So I went for a jog because sometimes that helps. On my travels I found a shop in a depressing little strip mall that sold all things British. They had prawn crisps, scampi flavored crackers, and all manner of chocolate with air bubbles in it. I got Marmite flavored potato chips that tasted like yeast, and a plastic foot that spouts Monty Python insults for my kids. 

And then off to Boston. Our first destination was the house of Darren, the co-owner of Shake It Records, our label. He was the guy who asked Chuck to bring in a three song demo we had made in one evening in order to be considered for the MidPoint Music Fest, and when he heard it said, "Do you want to make a record?" He is also a good and old friend. We spent a lovely couple of hours hanging out in what is apparently one of the few  backyards in Cambridge, eating cook-out food and relaxing with his brilliant wife and kids. We weren’t supposed to be at the club in Jamaica Plain until 8:00 because they had a Grateful Dead cover band playing an early show. The upside to what is basically a morally offensive gathering, that in a less free society would be banned on grounds of cancer causing tediousness, was the fact that there were several dogs in attendance. Including a particular pug who sat on his owner’s lap at the bar with a small glass of Guinness in front of him for a full five minutes until he was given the signal, and then ever so elegantly he put his cute little paws on the bar and lapped it up. My sister-in-law (former) got cornered by a guy who said he had done ‘shrooms with Jerry Garcia back in the ‘70’s. Great, and I pooped in the same stall that Jeff Tweedy once used back in 2010.

We haven’t been to Boston since I started the blog so I’ll briefly give some background as to why Boston shows are sweetly nostalgic for me. I feel like I might be repeating myself here but I’m sure as hell not going to go back and re-read all this stuff to find out. Anyway, I went to college there, which I credit as to being maybe the most important non-prison formative experience in making me the person I am now. Moving from a small suburb in Ohio to the heart of Boston was at first overwhelming, sort of frightening, and I hated it. By my second year I had learned to look pissed off so the Scientologists would leave me alone, and slowly my worldview expanded. Berklee is a small school but draws from all over the world, so I remember clearly reveling in the experience of sitting on a hard plastic purple chair in the lobby and being surrounded by conversations, none of which were in English. Anyway, one summer I stayed in Boston to do a crappy internship at a local recording studio. I met my future ex-wife at the bookstore where I found a job, and thus a deep and abiding connection to the region was born.

Jamaica Plain has changed a ton since I was here in the day back then, and the neighborhood where the Midway CafĂ© was located seemed cool. The show had sold out fairly quickly, which was awesome, even keeping in mind it’s a pretty small club. People were vying to get in just like for a real band. Getting a show in Boston is really hard. For some reason the clubs book way out in advance and we, even at our most business-like, never book early enough. And so it had been since 2009 when we had last played here. It was fun to debut Strawberry material as well as the Attica! songs. For the second night in a row we played as if our lives depended on it and the crowd gave it right back. It’s a great little club, I liked it a lot. Getting to hang out with family, dear friends from college, and transplanted Cincinnatians was pretty sweet as well.

Tomorrow is Baltimore.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Albany Again

Life turns on a dime. My earliest memories of anxiety stem from a burgeoning awareness of the capriciousness of life. Good parents give their children a sense of safety but slowly, or at least hopefully slowly, through a loss, an accident, or some sort of observation that stirs unease and uncertainty, we begin to put names to the shadows. I think it’s this knowledge that creates pre-tour anxiousness, because leaving the familiarity of our little dens feels as if it drastically increases your exposure to that drunk step-dad of the gods: Fortune* (it feels to pretentious in a post already skirting that to say Fortuna - so I won't)   There’s no point in talking about good fortune because it mostly goes unrecognized, and even attempts in earnest at practicing gratitude are shot through with the defects that come from how goddamned hard it is. Touring is an adventure because rootlessness is a kind of vulnerability. You are dependent upon the kindness of people who know the lay of the land better than you. You increase your exposure to the wind and weather. You speed up the process of entropy upon your vital resources. (i.e. miles on a shitty van) This isn’t a bad thing as long as you accept that experience carries with it no judgment. It has that impersonal quality of nature about it. All manner of things: good, bad, easy, and hard are fair game. The odds of experiencing a more even split of good and bad increase depending on certain behaviors. The chances of getting stabbed in the eye decreases if you never leave your house, but increases if you invite the local intravenous drug users knitting guild over for lunch. If you travel 10,000 miles on our nations highways you increase your odds of experiencing the full range of capriciousness they have to offer. Three hours into our next journey the slippery scale of our friend fortune tilted sharply towards equilibrium. For we have experienced our fair share of very good fortune.  I’m just going to say it was a brutal day and leave it at that. We had a show to get to and sometimes that necessity of action is the greatest gift. During the black heart of my divorce the fact that I had to get up every day and be a parent to my kids was at the time incredibly difficult, but upon reflection the very thing that kept me from going under.

We knew we were going to be very late to the show in Albany, and that is a horrible feeling. The Low Beat folks are so sweet, (and thankfully big fans) that they moved back the show and let everyone know what was going on. We are not a band that ever moves with any alacrity so making good time was a struggle. We got there a bit after 11:00 for a 9:30 show. And then the sweetest thing happened. When the crowd saw we were there they poured out onto the sidewalk and began carrying our gear into the club and onto the stage. They were smiling and clapping us on the back. We got set up and went straight to it. And this is a crowd that comes right up to the stage and gets right into it. It’s the kind of instant connection that makes the raising of roofs, the shedding of skins, the dancing on one’s grave possible. I still have no opinion about Albany the city as I’ve not seen anything beyond this one block, but I love the people. I mean there was more than person who still had a two plus hour ahead of them and had to work the next day.

We had been going since 7am and finally got settled in at the hotel around 3:00am. A long day deserving to be put to rest.

Tomorrow is Boston.

*Tyche according to Wiki

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Breaks

I’m not sure what everyone else did during our time off although this is what I’ve surmised from casual conversation. Joe constructed a trestle for the Turkish Roses he’s hoping to display at next years Home and Garden show, John was busy filming moodily lit tubes of toothpaste, Lisa unfortunately was called back to (successfully) defend a key point in her dissertation connecting altruism to vaccines, and Chuck played several rounds of skin tag or melanoma? (Skin tag by a nose! Whoo Hoo!) As for me, other than playing parental taxi cab every day I also found myself at several music festivals.

Please be advised that from here on is just a review of all the bands I saw at three different music festivals. Nothing about Wussy until the Albany post.

I got a ticket hook up around 5:00 on the last day of Bunbury – a really well run rock festival that skewed towards bands I’d never heard of. Sunday night’s headliner was the Flaming Lips, whom I had never seen. Now I like the FL’s as much as the next guy and somewhat less than the two guys behind him, but I was looking forward to the show. And in a nutshell it left me cold. I like spectacle quite a bit and still think confetti is neat. If I had been able to afford tickets I really wanted to take my future step-daughter to Katy Perry and I would’ve loved it I’m sure, with it’s big sets, costume changes, and huge tracts of land. Plus, the Lips played several of my favorite songs. So what went wrong for me? It felt like the Wayne Coyne show. There was no sense of it being a band.  Kind of like a cult of personality vibe with not enough humanity or real connection. The Flaming Lips are supposed to be a band. There were two dudes wearing wigs who looked miserable in them and none of the backing players seemed to be experiencing any observable joy. A band moves together and has distinct personalities that contribute to a greater than the sum situation. Also their keyboard heavy songs just sat there dynamically. I saw Yo La Tengo on the same stage last year and they played several of their long songs that never got boring because they were always growing, always going somewhere. That said, I know several people who had a blast and saw many kids whose eyes were wide with wonder.

The next weekend the same organizers put on an Americana/Country festival at the same location called Buckle Up. I played on Friday in the pouring rain to eight people in ponchos. I stuck around for Marty Stuart and it was delightful. His guitar playing was awesome and melodic with the sweetest tone. He was genial, entertaining, sang like a bird, a total pro.

The next day I ponied up the dough for a ticket because the line-up was epic. I started with Spirit Family Reunion who were energetic and pretty good. It’s been a week and I can’t remember much but have a generally positive feeling. I don’t know if they’re part of the Mumfording of music but over these festivals the energetically strummed, primarily acoustic, hyper-harmonized, somewhat overwrought songwriting of the Mumfordians became fairly ubiquitous. The Buckle Up version however was a bit more old-timey, which is a distinction I guess. Next was Emmylou Harris who is a goddess and for whom I will always be a little in love. Her voice sounds great even if she can’t maybe hold out the notes as long as before. Just like Marty she was a pro, and I stayed for the whole thing. That’s notable because I’m too hyper to stay for all of almost all shows.

Next I watched The Drive-Truckers, who I had missed during their glory days. It was a good rock show, probably improved if it was in a smoky club after dark rather than outside in the daylight. I can’t imagine what it was like when Jason Isbell was with them because Southeastern is my favorite album I heard in the last year. (better than Withered Hand) He’s a hell of a writer.

After them was Allison Kraus and Union Station. Obviously she sings like an angel. Wonderful clear tone and I love hearing her play fiddle too. Still, it was too toothless and suburb-grassy. Plus, her stage banter was so stultifying as to render me insensate. I’m sure she’s a fabulous conversationalist one on one, quite possibly qualified in neo-natal feline CPR, and regularly voluntarily offers skin grafts to burn victims, but damn I finally had to leave when one sequence of words went on so long I had time to travel inwards in my continuing journey to see whether one can actually feel their own fingernails growing. And yes I’m aware of the kettle black here seeing as Wussy is a fairly chatty band onstage, but we’re funny so just get off your high horse.

I wandered off and listened to the Sugarland guy do some solo stuff and then went to hear the Old Crow Medicine Show. It was so mobbed I never saw the whole band at once, just little slivers. It seemed cool and they sure can play and harmonize. High energy show and the crowd loved it. I wouldn’t mind seeing them for real.

Last but not least was Willie Nelson. His voice is timeless. The man is 81 years old and put on an hour and a half show. Which granted I only stayed for an hour of but he is one of those guys I wanted to make sure I saw. I’m not going to claim it’s a riveting show and his harmonica guy got on my nerves, but I really enjoyed his guitar playing and it was cool to hear him play around with his vocal phrasing like a jazz singer. I heard a ton of classics but was tired and went home. See what I meant though? That was a helluva line-up.

The next day I took my children to Forecastle in Louisville. Like Bunbury it’s a music festival on the Ohio River. The reason I spent a king’s ransom on tickets was so my kids could see the Replacements. I don’t make any great claims on my parenting but I am proud that the first big ticket shows my kids have ever seen in this order are: Devo, Iron Maiden (with Alice Cooper), They Might Be Giants, and now the ‘Mats. This will be the first time where they weren’t already in love with the band, but that’s OK, they will be. I’ll try to keep this brief because I feel like this post has veered into tedium more quickly than most.

Sharon Van Etten: I’ve seen her before and I always react the same way. Some songs are gorgeous and blow me away and then some songs are boring standard singer-songwriter affairs.

Brett Dennen: Never heard him before but his music made me angry. First off, he wasn’t wearing shoes. It sounded like he was polishing the rough edges off the Spin Doctors for a new generation.

Trampled By Turtles: I listened to a bit from a Bette Midler and they seemed all right. Mumfordy.

Sun Kil Moon: Came out and called the crowd a bunch of hillbillies and then used the classic douche-bag get out of jail card, “Aw I’m just fucking with ya!” I like his records, or at least the one I have, but having also seen him live before I was dubious. And yes he is the most aggressively boring performer on the planet. I’d rather watch a retirement home’s production of “A Chorus Line,” or a time-lapse movie of a healthy limb slowly turning gangrenous than ever hear him live again.

Jenny Lewis: I don’t know, it was pretty cool. I read an interview once where she came off as a jerk so I had to let that go. I liked her band, she brought out the Watson Twins which was a great idea. I think if you’re a fan she put on a great show. I just fall on the luke-warm side of the fence.

Reignwolf were awesome, ridiculous, and over the top. Heavy blues rock with tons of distortion. The lead dude gave an homage to Johnny Winters that had him singing and playing solo guitar where he would strum with the mic in his hand and eventually moved to the drums all the while still creating a squall with his guitar. It was a needed palette cleanser after all that middle class earnestness.

The Replacements: I know it’s only half of them but when I saw them on the “All Shook Down” tour it was already down to Tommy and Paul, so considering Chris Mars doesn’t play any more this is the best way to hear that wonderful catalog. The ‘Mats rank at number three on my all time favorite band list after Springsteen and the Who. (Superchunk is #4) It was almost a shock to be at a show where I loved every single song and where I jumped up and down and sang along. The fellas they have playing with them are swell and the drummer in particular is probably the best fit of any I’ve seen Paul with. They played a similar set to the other sets of late, which was just fine because it covered their whole career, even the early fast and loud ones. They argued, mocked each other, attempted songs that fell apart, and played most brilliantly. I don’t know if it’s shtick or not but the shoot yourself in the foot culture of the band seems to be entrenched. Part of it was awesome because no one doesn’t give a fuck like PW, but it’s also a little frustrating because I kind of want to see them come out and take everyone’s heads off and triumphantly claim their place as the best rock band out there.

Beck: A good friend of mine said she was having trouble relating to him onstage after reading a book on Scientology. I can see that. For my part he looked worryingly thin and moved like a veteran, much different than the kid feeling his oats on the Odelay tour, which is when I last saw him. Mostly I was just glad he wasn’t focusing on the clinically somnolent material from his last record. It was a big bright spectacle and he played the songs everyone wanted to hear. My kids were tired and wanted to go so I don’t know if I had gotten a few beers in me and snuck up close if it would have achieved booty-shaking levels. I'm thinking yes. I’d recommend seeing the show.

Ok. That was my break. Well my kids and I went to the National Corvette Museum and admired the sinkhole but that’s it.

Next post is Albany.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lexington, KY

Animals: Seriously? Back in the land of the Mourning Dove and Starling.

Quotes: “It’s like a corpse farted in my face.”  - Chuck has this compulsion where he has to stick his face into any bag of salty snacks and give a good sniff when he first opens it. In this case he was describing the new Blue Cheese Combos, which were frankly disappointing after its promising olfactory beginning. Historically, Fritos are considered to have the worst initial smell profile.

SIARPC: Bill Cosplay

Last show for about two and a-half weeks. I’m super proud of us on a couple of levels. Rene’ built in a few more days off than usual and I think it had a lot to do with some of the positive results. I remember being so spent at the Louisville show, which ended our first West coast tour two years ago, that everything had an unreal quality to it. I think we were situationally insane, like coming out of the jungle after a failed expedition to find the Lost City of George Lucas’ talent. All you’ve dreamed of during the hot nights of malarial fever is the comforting embrace of loved ones and the luxury of polite society with their bed sheets and private bathrooms, but when you emerge you find the world has changed and suddenly women are smoking and exposing their calves willy-nilly while youngsters are spouting incomprehensible nonsense like, “That cancelled stamp’s a choice bit of calico. I’d better iron my shoelaces and take a jorum of skee if I’m gonna eat some cake.” We were a mess.

This time though we felt ok. Tired of course but not unduly so. We're getting a little better at managing our stomachs and getting a little more sleep. Anyway, I think now might be a good time to cast maybe a more objective eye towards the tour. Yes, we’ve got another 10 day jaunt coming up so it’s not over, but this was the big push. As I mentioned, I feel like we were genuinely healthier this time around. The last time out west we had at least two screaming fights that I remember; Chuck and Joe in Portland and Lisa and me after Tucson. I do think it’s to our credit that we are invariably embarrassed after these events and the involved parties usually hug it out the next day. (Although in Chuck and Joe’s case it was more of a “I can’t quit you,” kind of thing) Sometimes it’s a necessary clearing of the air, but mostly it’s just the accumulation of exhaustion and frustration. This tour there were none of those. I mean it wasn’t all Brady Brunch repressed homosexual tensions and possibly illegal Oedipal ‘It’s a Sunshiny Day” shit, but then what is? 

The critical love for Wussy has always been akin to the Pravda's view of a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet on Victory Day. It’s deeply gratifying and we’re over the moon about how people have been responding to Attica, but the reality is that it’s expensive to keep 6 people alive on the road and reviews do not seem to have a huge correlation to butts in the seats. Let me throw some very general West coast numbers out and see where we land. I’d say we spent around $2,500 on merch to take with us. Of course we hopefully get that back so it’s a grey area. Gas on average out West is over $4 a gallon so if we fill up once that’s around $90. I’d say we averaged around $120 on gas daily. The way we run it is that everyone is responsible for their own survival during the day but the band pays for dinner. If it’s fast food poison that’s about $60 but if it’s sit down I’d say $100-$120. Let’s just average it out at $100 a day for food. We tend to sleep in one room unless the deals are super good and we can afford two rooms. Rene’ has all this info so I’m kind of guessing here but let's go with an average of about $80 a night. My gut say it might be higher but we had a few free nights as well so I’ll stick with $80. So let’s just say a bare minimum of $300 goes out every day. If we were out on the road 23 days that’s $6,900 with approximately 7 travel days built in. (A travel day being money out and none in.) We spent another 1,200 bucks to get some more cassette t-shirts printed and shipped out to us. After we paid Rene’ and Shake It for the CD’s we took with us we were still in the black at the end. So that’s awesome. We figured that every band member could be paid $200 to go home with. Of course we still need to have the van serviced so we only paid about half the band at this time.

Ok. Everything about this tour grew positively from the last one. We are on a good trajectory. Well, if we were all 25 years old it would be, but the question lingers as to how many more times can we go out and, for the most part, not make anything near as to what it takes to pay for our absence from the home front. This isn’t Cadillac money, this is the electric bill money. No one in this band is complaining, no one owes us anything, and we have some of the most generous fans imaginable. Dude, there are some wonderful, angelic benefactors for whom without their help we couldn’t tour like this at all. I’m just trying to give some sense of the numbers. No one’s talking about quitting and we are ever hopeful that something will develop that will allow us to pay the bills. I can speak only for myself when I say that there is a very strong possibility that the freedom afforded us by Shake It and the lack of pressure that comes with operating in the dark has allowed us to grow in an unfettered way that is pretty rare these days. Seriously, we make the record we want. Shake It pays the recording bills and we pay them back as the CDs sell. It’s a luxury. I mean we’re all lifers here, no one’s going to stop. I guess this whole little bit is just me trying to do what I said I would do, which is give some idea of the life of being in a band on the road.

Anyway, back to Lexington. I have been complaining the last few days about the scenery east of the Rockies, but I need to let it be said that driving the southerly route from St. Louis to Lexington is beautiful. Southern Indiana and most of Kentucky are densely forested with rolling hills and slow rivers and streams breaking up the green with overhung blue pathways to, well probably feces filled run off, natural gas wells, and discarded white sheets, but what looks like portals to a better place.

We were to play the Green Lantern, a club we’ve been playing since back in the Pete Best days. It has for most of its history been a room with a plywood stage, no air conditioning, and maybe two or three microphones. They’ve fixed it up a bit in that they seem to have some air conditioning now. They treat us well and we had a good-sized crowd. There was only one monitor for the whole band and without a mic for all us talkers it felt a little disconnected. Add into all that the closeness of home and I think it was an OK show. A little short, a little perfunctory, but we tried.
My dear fiance’ came down for the show and we stayed in Lexington that night. It was a perfect way to transition back to the real world. I asked her how we played and whether she could hear a difference between the Fountain Square show we played before we left and this one. She said before we had played the songs but now we seemed to be inside them. I'd say in lieu of words like transcendent, life-affirming, pre-moistening, that’s a pretty good review.

Tomorrow I get to see my kids.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

St. Louis

Animals: Kildeer

Quotes: “Drink that bottle like it’s got a vein in it.”

SIARPC: Spoon Weatherwax

I love being from the Midwest. I love being in a band that is so apparently identifiable as mid-western. So I don’t know if it’s the familiarity of my home region or it really is boring, but west of the Rockies watching the world go by is a continually enchanting activity. East of the Rockies is rather more spare in its physical enchantments, like Anne Ramsey making out with Ernest Borgnine.* Kansas to St. Louis I barely even looked up. Plus, the hotels in both KC and St. Louis were in fairly faceless, nondescript locations. It was like that in Oakland too, but there was major easy to use public transportation. Not so here. I’m not judging, Cincinnati’s the same way. Add to that the much shorter drive distances which have us arriving at the hotel around 4:00, and you’ve created the first real boredom of the tour for me. Nothing to walk to, no realistic way to get to a museum or some such, yet not enough time to swim or get in a good nap. I got caught up on the blog and that was about it.

It’s the 4th of July and we were playing a club called Plush. We flat out love Plush. Because the usual things that make for a great venue: great sound, stage, and staff, but also, and I think I wrote about this before so I’ll keep it brief, they feed us and let us hang in a huge, super cool apartment/green room upstairs. It’s like Wussy family time. We watched Dr. Steve Brule videos, ate delicious food, and wondered whether anyone would show up. Holiday shows can be sketchy. Especially summer holidays because it’s such a travel/family time. Add into it that St. Louis also puts on a big fireworks jobby over the river near the arch, and there you go, cricket city. As an aside I love fireworks. I grew up in a state where they are illegal so of course they were like ‘splodey gold. We tried to synchronize the launch of multiple bottle rockets so as to lift various payloads, but that never worked. We lit snakes off on people’s porches and then rang the doorbell and ran. I had one possibly sociopathic friend who one time put an M-80 under a can, thus creating a spray of shrapnel that should have sent us to the hospital.  He was the kind of kid who would chase you around with a lit Roman candle. On the plus side he frequently stole his stepdad’s Playboys and I think the first alcohol I ever had was in his basement. (Peppermints Schnapp’s – so gross) God we loved our fireworks. And then when I was older I had a job helping to run sound for the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s summer concerts, which took place in parks around the area during the 4th of July season. At the end of the ridiculously truncated 1812 Overture there would inevitably be a fireworks display. Some of the guys would try to wrap cables in the dark but I would lay on my back and let the charred bits sprinkle around me from the best seat in the house.

Of course we were completely blocked by buildings and could see nothing but smoke and the occasional flash from the St. Louis fireworks. I went for a walk seeking a vantage point but was thwarted. Still, surprisingly, we had a pretty good-sized crowd. And while I’m aware that I go on a bit about how wonderful and enthusiastic our crowds are it’s true. We got called back for a second encore for the first time of the tour. As in the crowd didn’t budge and kept on hollering. It was wonderful. After a bunch of unprofessional hem-hawing we decided to take a crack at Acetylene. I love playing that song and hopefully we can get to it more often. This was one of those evenings where I could’ve played for another hour.

I like St. Louis a lot. KDHX has supported us from way back when, and the Twangfest people are awesome. I like the town though too. Delmar is cool, I’ve only been once but I loved the public market. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, all seem to have a similar Midwestern, industrial, brick building vibe, but also great down to earth art scenes as well.

Tomorrow is Lexington, the last show of this the longest toe of the tour.

*with tongues

Monday, July 7, 2014

Kansas City

We apologize. The intro is closed today so the employees can spend time sharpening their saw.

I try to be cognizant of the fact that at any given show we only see a very small part of a given town, and that to make a sweeping judgement will only make me look like an asshole. Take for instance Denver. Our first show there was in a part of town that was not bad but a little rough, on a big street without a lot in the surrounding area to fix it in our memories. Then of course this last show was in the SOBO area and everyone fell in love with it. Similarly I don’t feel like I got much of a sense what kind of town Kansas City is, although to a one everybody we met was super nice. I think I need to look at maps more. It bothers me to not know where we are in the context of the larger city.

I should back up unless I want to write a “Time’s Arrow*” kind of post. The drive to Kansas City is kind of depressing. It’s like the country decided to just cut you off cold turkey after the beauty of the mountains, deserts, purple majesty etc. with a soul crushing homogeneity. I liken it to an experience such as this. Imagine you are sitting on a chair which is on a moving sidewalk. At the beginning of the sidewalk is a naked woman with chipped nail polish, tattoos of birds, quietly reading “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” while at the other end of the sidewalk is your Grandmother. Also naked. The sidewalk stops and you’re just sitting there staring at your Grandma until you say,
“Uh, Hi Grandma.”
“Are you OK?”
“I’m fine.”
“Not cold?”
“I’m fine thank you.”
“Good good. “
“So…. How’s Grandpa?” 
“He recently decided that colostomy bags had gotten too expensive so he switched to brown paper bags.”
“So I left him. It’s not the Great Depression anymore. And honestly, he’s been a pretty lousy lay for the last 40 years. There’s no point to Viagra if you don’t know what to do with it.”
“Grandma – please stop.”
“I mean you can’t just drop a worm in a lake and expect to catch a fish. You know what I mean.”

That’s what driving east out of Denver is like.

We were to play a club called the Record Bar, but before I comment I need to issue the caveat that I felt like shit this day. Woke up more tired than when I fell asleep. My stomach was a mess. Feeling like crap has seemed to jump from one person to the next on a given day. Which actually goes to show how much better we’ve done physically this tour. Things don’t really get ugly until feeling like shit reaches a critical mass among band members. Regardless, today was my day in the hopper. We went to a delightful smelling barbecue place called something starting with a "Z", because that’s what you do in Kansas City. I will give this to KC, it is one of the better smelling towns. Periodically, just driving down the road you get big whiffs of hickory smoke. Anyway, as a vegetarian it was a dinner of sides for me, and for whatever reason my body said, in the upper class English accent my intestines usually use to speak, "I say old boy, would you mind very much if I just rejected this meal out of hand? Right then, no whimpering. Sweaty stiff upper lip and all. Oh, and do you remember that dream you had of Margaret Thatcher riding a horse bareback in slow motion? This will be worse." I felt like I was going to die like either the guy in “Alien” or the guy from “The Meaning of Life.**”

The Record Bar is in a strip mall right next to a Dollar Store. When I walked in I immediately smelled natural gas or something like it. Joe smelled it too so I wasn’t being entirely fussy. He went up to the door guy and asked about it. The door guy took a big sniff and said he smelled nothing. I guess you get used to it. Lisa had family in town so the rest of us sat outside near some suspended wagon wheels and looked glum. I went in to the Dollar Store and bought a whoopee cushion for Chuck, a dart gun, and some Brim’s Brand cheese doodles. The cushion has been a delight, the gun never worked, and the doodles tasted like Styrofoam.

Opening up for us was a duo called Schwervon, whom Chuck and Lisa had opened for in Cincinnati. They had been telling us ever since how delightful they were as people and just as wonderful as musicians. Unfortunately I just couldn’t take the smell so I missed their set, which I regret because they really were sweet, funny folks. I mean, I kind of love them both. Regardless, I had to get out of there. I went for a walk, found the entertainment district where all the young people see how the social skills they learned in college will fair in the real world. I heard more than one person exclaim, “There’s nothing going on tonight.” I wanted to tell them there was a middle-aged band up the street singing songs about regret, but none of their eyes were haunted so I left them to their Coronas.

I ended up at the Westport Flea Market, which is a pretty great place. Apparently they make great burgers, but I love the combination of a flea market with a bar. Plus, they had some sweet vintage arcade machines. I sat on the patio and read until time to play. And it really was a great club to play. Some of the best onstage sound we’d had all tour. We had a crowd of about the size you’d expect for a town we’ve not really played in often before. I really enjoyed playing, proving that it is possible to find joy even amidst the very real possibility of expelling organic matter at high speeds in a rather sudden and unexpected manner. And the crowd was so sweet. One guy brought his 13 year old son who seemed appropriately, but not overly bored. Several people said they were going to drive to St. Louis to see us there too. I still think there’s a gas leak but no one died, so it’s all win.

Tomorrow is St. Louis.

* “Or the Nature of the Offence”
** I'm kind of exaggerating here because it's fun to write in the voice of an intestine. Really, I just felt gassy and uncomfortable.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Travel Day #7

Animals: Same as yesterday

Quotes: “No. Those are yours. You’re the garbage eater.” –  Lisa to Chuck while pointing at the slices of summer sausage segregated because they had touched the table. Chuck gave her a look, dropped a slice on the floor, let it sit there a few seconds then popped it in his mouth.

SIARPC: Dumpy Rutherford

Everyone really wanted to go back to the neighborhood where we had played because there was so much we wanted to check out during the day. Thankfully I was broke enough to remove the temptation presented in all the cool, slightly hipster-ish stores. Lots of vintage stores, a high-priced cooking implements store, tons of bars, (including two with skee ball) three independent bookstores, (!) and a wonderful ice cream store that had a line out the door the entire previous night. I had eaten a bag of trailmix so I guess the Black Walnut ice cream wasn’t breakfast, but it felt like it. Black Walnut ice cream is rare and this stuff was top shelf. I found my way to a great little coffee shop, worked on the blog and watched the regulars do their thing. Everyone was in a good mood as we piled in the van to head off into the heart of Kansas.

And in case you’re wondering about the great pot experiment going on in Colorado, I didn’t notice a damn thing different than most big cities. One guy rolling a joint on the sidewalk was about it.

We drove to a hotel in a town called Wenakee, but really it was just a place within site of the highway. Three crones, almost identical except for variations in the wispiness of their white hair ran the place with the exactitude of exiles enduring a long punishment for their supernatural misdeeds. We called them either the Three Witches* or the Witches of Eastwick.

*I had no idea that the Weird Sisters band in Harry Potter came from Macbeth. Oh JKR I love you so.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Animals: Long-billed Curlew, Western Kingbird, Eurasian Collared-Dove

Quotes: “Fuck you Summer Santa.” – Santa should not wear a Hawaiian shirt and we should never ever see his feet.

SIARPC: Pee-Pee Golberg

Today’s drive to Denver seemed to take forever. As we moved northward New Mexico became and interesting combination of desert colors with increasingly green trees and foothills. It’s quite pretty, and John told us that we were at the same general latitude as the Smokey Mountains, of which he is very familiar. There really doesn’t seem to be a lot of people out this way. When we stopped for gas it involved 3 mile drives to the only gas station in town. I saw more than a few shacks, although often with an adobe core, and mobile homes. In many ways the region bore a striking similarity to Kentucky Appalachia, although much less leafy. The people were largely Hispanic, but all had a weathered outdoor appearance with functional cowboy hats and dusty pick up trucks. Both times we stopped out here I felt very comfortable. Less taciturn than their Montana brethren we struck up casual conversations easily. We also tried something called a Peanut Patty, which was like a praline formed out of a pink urinal cake. No one could finish their broken off piece. Goodness.

We got to the Denver neighborhood of South Broadway (SOBO) after the stores had closed but still with a little light in the sky. The club was called 3 Kings and it was a rock club formed after the classic model. The green room was wallpapered in promo pictures from ‘90’s bands and then covered in nice patina of stickers from bands who never had a promo picture. The green room had a ramp on either side that led to a wide, comfortable stage. The men’s room had a pee trough that smelled like Calcutta in summer but the club had an admirable collection of pinball machines and even a vintage Tron game. Which was totally awesome. The DJ was dressed like a clothed Bettie Page and the beer selection was local. I liked it. The opening band never showed up. We have no idea what happened. So we went on a little early and played to a medium sized crowd. They were enthusiastic, but just like last time the energy is different here. I’ve tried to come up with some description but cannot. The exchange of energy between band and audience is a very real thing and ultimately unique every night. The best I can say is that it was kind of like having dinner with a family who doesn’t speak the same language but are kind and accommodating. Then there was the added factor of an ex-pat Cincinnati dude who said his band had opened up for us way back in the day (“I learned to play listening to you guys.”) who had applied alcohol to his memories and frequently did a dance that involved hurling his body to the ground and sliding across the floor. He also tried to start up a mosh pit which is ridiculous at our concerts or in any year that's not the 1990's. When he slammed into a women who wanted to get near the stage for the last song I had to go into teacher mode, give him the hand, and tell him to simmer down. He was a nice kid, just shit-faced.

The club was happy with the turn out for a Tuesday and asked us back, so I guess it went OK.

Tomorrow is Travel Day #7

Our Second Favorite Hole, or Travel Day #6

Animals: Mountain Bluebird, Scrub Jay, Nuthatch, Mule Deer

Quotes: “That’s like drinking bad breath”

“A plaque of grasshoppers.”

“I think we’ve zeroed in on heaven.”

SIARPC: Bloody Hatchett (the comedian not the band)

John got us a late check out time at the delightful Valley Ho so it was time to take our rest with the people whose voices sound like money, inexhaustibly charming and rising and falling like a cymbal song. I went to the fitness center and watched, “My Cousin Vinny” while coming to a decision. I was going to get a fancy-pants-less massage. That’s what credit cards are for and besides they were running a mid-week deal. I ran down and got in the pool for a few minutes because it looked like a mirage and found John, Lisa, and Rene’ already floating. I think all pools should be salt water. They’re delightful. After three weeks of sitting in a van, interspersed with lots of jumping up and down and carrying stuff, the massage was divine. I tell you what, I’m not really capable of doing the things that create fiscal wealth, nor do I have a particularly strong desire for stuff, but there appear to be some advantages to being rich. Besides the obvious advantage of having all worrisome moles monitored and air conditioning in ones car, their water tastes either like lemons or cucumbers, their robes are so heavy they feel like a compression vest, and day drinking is elevated to an eternal cocktail hour of the soul.

Regardless, I felt as relaxed as I had on the entire tour, excepting of course the warm and fuzzies following the taking of the waters outside of Butte.

No show tonight. We just have to be in Denver by tomorrow, and it just so happens the Grand Canyon is on the way. Of course in this part of the country “on the way” takes on a completely different meaning. We didn’t even make it to the actual park until about a half hour before sunset. The upside is that the canyon looked as if it was lit from within, the reds and oranges becoming indistinguishable from the rocks. We were on the south rim and I can’t remember what the north rim looked like from my youth, but it’s hard to imagine it can surpass the views here. Of course there were a lot of people there, but just as in San Francisco the English language was only one small part of the canyon’s polyglot. At first all the voices seemed jarring in such a place and I actually gave a thought to what it means if the Grand Canyon is incapable of moving you. Then I went to a little spot off the path and sat until the stillness of the place slowed down my heart enough to hear it. I walked along the edge until I got to a spot where I found Lisa and Rene’ and we stopped to watch the sun set. By the time we got back to everyone else the stillness had grown until it became like a physical thing that nothing could disrupt or destroy. Kind of like Wonder Woman’s plane. You know, technically invisible but kind of shimmery so you know it’s there. Chuck had been ready to go for an hour and we all began to realize that we had once again given ourselves a difficult black as late night drive. This time however we were a long ways from anywhere. We decided to make it to Albuquerque so we wouldn’t have to deal with the mountains at night. It was a long slow drive. We crossed into New Mexico and around Gallup were assaulted by a smell that was horrifying. Not a livestock smell, which is also punishing, but more of a gassy smell. Shortly after that faded we stopped at a gas station where I immediately noticed mostly mashed desert-brown grasshoppers littering the ground. Oh but then I looked up. They were everywhere. Flying around like their little hive mind had just gotten to the word “apocalypse” in the dictionary. The store had these 4-foot rag dolls that Chuck scared the shit out of Lisa by having one jump out at her from around a corner. John walked around announcing in a mechanical voice, “Driver 47 shower three is now available,” even though there were no showers. Lisa noticed that the audiobooks bore the slogan, “Like Movies for Your Mind!” which means I think that there is no hope for humanity.

We didn’t get in to Albuquerque until 5 in the morning because we lost an hour coming back into Mountain Time. Chuck walked into the room, dropped his bags and said, “There’s no way I’m sleeping here. It’s too damn small. I’m sleeping in the van.” Then left. We all settled into a twitchy silence when the fucking room starts vibrating like a giant had inserted a quarter into the roof of this janky hotel to start the world’s biggest 1,000 fingers machine. We all just started laughing because what else can you do? And it continued to happen periodically throughout the night. Turns out our room backed right up against the laundry room and our wall was next to the hotels huge laundry machine.

Tomorrow is Denver.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Animals: Great-Tailed Grackle

Quotes: “This pop is like it’s been sitting on the stove. I hate this place.”

SIARPC: Wayne Coyne Purse

Heading from San Clemente to Phoenix means it’s desert time.  We stopped at the exact same oasis we did last time. You know, the one with the General George S. Patton Museum. And as soon as we opened the doors the heat hit us like a wooden spoon at a school for wayward boys. I was thirsty for the next two days. The desert is beautiful for a little while and fortunately we didn’t have West Texas to dread forward to this time. We saw several accidents where people must have fallen asleep or just started staring at their phone because they were all single car crashes and there’s just nothing to run into out there.

Civilization, somewhat depressingly began to reassemble itself like scattered wood blocks. And then greater Phoenix was just there. It was so fucking hot and we hadn’t really eaten all day which lent a surreal air to the whole place that may or may not be present always. The light, the flatness, the low buildings made us feel as if we were in a foreign land. We pulled up to the club, which was really an art space called the Trunk Space, and all the people hanging around were wearing jeans and leather boots and not sweating at all. Acclimation is real.

I was feeling kind of shaky and Lisa had developed a thousand yard stare and started mumbling things like, “Oh look, I’m not hungry or thirsty any more. How wonderful.” We found a little place called Jobot, which was pretty damn good and we revived enough to play an OK show.

Except for a few old timers like ourselves who had driven from LA to see the show, most of the crowd were kids. I think this was our only all ages show of the tour. There were 4 or 5 bands and they were all arty or punk. The place had DIY books, 45’s etc. and everyone was obviously invested in building their scene. After we played a band of kids still in high school just set up on the floor in front of the stage and started playing. They played punk that sounded sometimes like early Meat Puppets and sometimes just shouty 40 second guitar songs. The drummer had cinder blocks in front of his kick drum to keep it from sliding and the lead singer played with his shirt off. So rocknroll is going to be just fine.

And now it gets awesome for us and not for you. John, as a treat for his own birthday had booked two rooms at a super cool, posh hotel called Valley Ho. It was built in 1956 and had a Hollywood cache’ for a time. After a bunch of boring history some company spent 80 million dollars to update the place while keeping all the great ‘50’s architecture. I mean every detail was a pleasure to look at.  Let’s see if I have the ability to describe it. Lots of burnt umber and green with white accents. When you walked in the room there was a low counter that ran along the length of the painted brick wall, and it was covered in that white speckled plastic stuff that used to cover every kitchen counter in the country. The bathroom had a bathtub and a light switch marked mood lighting. The soap was a super-ball sized ball and smelled like a French wet nurse. The pool was salt water, circular and ringed by misting tents with waitresses who were angelic and clothed in some sort of miracle, space-age diaphanous material. The place had the layout where there were no inside hallways. Every door opened to face the courtyard/pool. Each floor had it’s own pattern of colored square tiles and the balconies had these weird slightly Aztec looking molded concrete forms attached. Go in the off season it's actually affordable.

This day kind of kicked our asses but a good show and great accommodations mean we can’t complain.

Tomorrow is a travel day.