Ranking Cheese Doodle: Herr’s Old Bay Cheese Curls: We tried these a few years ago and they were horrible. Two great tastes that didn’t go together. We didn’t finish the bag and then when I left the remainders in my work lunchroom it took a full four months before they were gone. At our Baltimore show an audience member brought a small bag for the blog. Obviously the time had come to face the doodle of our darkest dreams. So with trepidation tempered by experience we dove in. And they were pretty good. Either we’ve changed or they’ve dialed in the cheese to Old Bay ratio. I lean towards the latter.
Texture: Excellent of course. It’s Herr’s.
Flavor: Well hell. Do you put cheddar cheese on your crab cake? Because that’s what we’re talking about here. Try them. There’s no other way to know.
Green Rooms and Restrooms: The Black Cat
Idiocy from the Van: We’ve run out of material so I’m going to excerpt some of the non-offensive parts of “The Sound of Wussy.”
“Whiskers on kittens and toenails on babies,
Big bloomin’ onions and raccoons with rabies,
Thick panty liners and Always with wings,
These are a few of my favorite things.”
To be continued…
There’s a concept indulgently referred* to as rock time. When I was doing live sound in my twenties there was also a thing called reggae time, because reggae bands would show up for soundcheck two hours late, if at all. These were bands made up of Cincinnati locals so a cultural inclination founded by an upbringing in Jamaica is not indicative. These were the same folks who during the aforementioned late soundcheck would ask for more vocals in the monitor with their native Westside Cincinnati accent, but when the show started were suddenly seized with an insistent Caribbean patois. I know it’s all show business but this irritated me to no end. The first time I remember hearing about this concept was with Indian time. The idea was that American Indians were always late to European appointments because they were used to operating in sync with more natural rhythms. Of course this was used as another example of their inferiority by some, and proof that the modern world was crushing our spirits by others. Rock time is definitely and probably deservingly disparaging. Those lay-a-bouts can not only not get a real job but can’t even manage the simple courtesy of punctuality. When I was a green lad in my twenties I was on time. I think I was at least. But after years of sitting around waiting in front of a locked studio, on the loading dock in front a rehearsal space, outside a club, etc. I started showing up later and later. And I still wasn’t late. Unfortunately it now means I’m late for everything that is not band related. I do feel bad about it but I think it’s important to not feel bad about it. Wussy is late all the time. It used to cause me ulcer levels of stress but now I’ve gotten better at letting it go. It’s not like fussing about it had an appreciable impact. It’s like yelling at the tides. Or more accurately yelling at the monkeys to finish writing Hamlet more quickly. In the end it just irritates the monkeys and you’re more likely to end up with Titus Andronicus.
In the case of us getting to Washington D.C. it really wasn’t our fault. Getting from Providence to D.C. should take 6.5 hours, but with NYC and D.C. to get through though you have to anticipate adding at least another hour for traffic. Then of course you always have to take into account the band math. This is fuzzy but I’ve pretty much figured out that for every four hours of travel required an hour of band stops will sneak in there. We’re supposed to load-in at 7:00 so leaving at 10:00 am we should be fine. At least fine in the context of rock time.** But like fascism and Birkenstocks reflect humanities darkest natures and thus can never be fully eradicated, I-95 will find a way to remind you that evil lives. Somewhere around Baltimore the entire highway was shut down. A spanner in the works they said. So we were re-routed and began slouching slowly towards Washington. In my biased opinion D.C. traffic is the worst in the country. I have so many bad experiences to draw upon. On our first tour we had to drive overnight from Chapel Hill to Brooklyn and hit D.C. during the morning rush. I had taken the first shift but it was Chuck who had to deal with hours of traffic after being up all night. And then I remember being in a rental car with two babies trying to get through D.C. after a plane ride, and it taking so long actual pieces of our souls began sloughing off like spiritual sootikins.
By the time we arrived at the Black Cat we had missed soundcheck and got loaded in just before the opening band started. Oh and it was so hot. The locals said it wasn’t so bad but they’re wrong. I asked where the bathroom was and was pointed up the back stairs to a mental and physical monstrosity I will call Big Pink. It was as hot as solitary confinement on Devil’s Island and painted a lurid, unnatural pink that made me feel as if I was somehow inside a bottle of Pepto Bismol that itself was inside a convection oven.
Everyone was super friendly though, we got to order food off the menu, and they stocked lots of water, beer, and soda. If you go back to the beginning of this tour’s blog (April) you’ll see I wrote a history of our experience trying to find success in D.C., which might give this some context. Up until now our desire to play the Black Cat was as probable as Duckie dribbling off Andie’s Bobbie Brooks, but in what has been a lovely trend of late we were surprised with an audience that was almost a sell-out, with people standing on chairs to see, and lined up to the back. It was so unexpected and lovely it shook us out of our heat and travel induced stupor. I’ve never sweated so much, but to know we have an audience in D.C. is so delightful we couldn’t stop talking about it the next day. There was a family in the front row who I’m guessing came so their daughter, probably around 12 years old, could see us. She had a hat pulled down over her eyes but kept them locked on Lisa as she sang along with every word. It’s incredibly gratifying to see how Lisa is inspiring young women. I’m not a young woman any more so I don’t know what she means to them, but I will say to be someone passionately pursuing their art and expressing themselves so uncompromisingly has got to be a wonderful legacy beyond some great songs and good to average performances.
There was a newlywed couple who had first kissed and then first danced at their wedding to “Little Paper Birds.” We publicly mocked them and then averted our eyes as we played the song. I think I saw a darting tongue in my peripheral vision but wish them the best nonetheless.
After the show we drove to the location of our house show. This was to be our fourth time playing at Club 603 as they call it when their house transforms into a performance space. They’ve become our dear friends and their home a respite. We got there, drank a tequila, and went to bed. I slept in my usual room and that’s all I did for a long time. I slept in until hunger forced me out of bed. I ate a bagel, and went back to bed. Slept some more, didn’t quite get out of bed and fell asleep for a third time. After 12 hours of sleep and lunch I spent the rest of the day writing. It was a good day.
The way it works is that there are about 50 tickets available online and if you get one you sit or stand in the living room or foyer while we play our full rock set. They rent a sound system and hire a sound guy, and the room honestly sounds really good and warm. We mixed up the set a bit, abused each other verbally, and had a wonderful time. If you can see a musician you love in this space do so. It’s the pinnacle of house shows.
Guess what we’re doing here?
Tomorrow will be our last official show on the Forever Sounds Tour in a town we’ve never played: Richmond, VA.
**See last paragraph
Green Rooms and Restrooms:
Idiocy from the Van: I wish they all could be California Nails…
We were camped out in the Providence area for the duration, so I did what I do and took the train into Boston while the band loafed about in their typical dull torpor.* I went to college in Boston and lived there for several years afterwards. My FFW’s** family lives there so for 15 years I regularly visited the town, even after moving to Cincinnati. I love Boston but I’ve spent enough time there that I don’t need to see or do anything specific to feel like it’s been a good trip. I went early because I wanted to go to my alma mater, Berklee College of Music, and do some research in their library for the concerts I’m putting on at my day job. The reason I bring it up is that I had another weird passage of time experience. My logic as a youngster when I tried to figure out where to go to college was this: I want to be a musician, specifically in rock bands, however my parents say I have to go to college, (I know, right?) so what if I go to school to learn how to become a recording engineer? Then I’ll still be making music. Pure freaking genius. At the time there were only two places to get a degree in that sort of engineering and the other was in Florida, so Boston it was. Come the fall after high school my Dad drove me to Boston with all my Springsteen and The Who posters, a boxful of cassettes***, one Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and a bottle of Drakkar Noir. Also, and not incidentally, I was terrified. I will never forget the feeling of my Dad driving away and leaving me on the sidewalk outside Berklee. I was gutted. Before that though we went to lunch and I remember saying to him that everyone looked so much older and sure of themselves. I remember him looking around and then very gently saying, “That’s just the way you’re feeling right now. They’re no different from you – believe me.” So as I went to three different buildings to get a new alumni pass (the school has exploded in size) I saw all these kids there for the 5-week summer program and I felt an almost physical sensation of a circle closing. They looked so young, unsure, and excited to just be there. I did the math and my Dad had to be pretty much the same age I am now when he dropped me off my first day of college. I’m not even sure how to process that. It’s a weird funny thing the journey to humanizing ones parents.
After a lovely afternoon I started walking towards the Middle East, our venue for the night, which is in Cambridge. I walked over the Mass Ave. Bridge****, delighted to see the Smoots are still marked all the way across. Past MIT and saddened to see the NECCO factory now seems to be a storage unit facility. The Middle East is a legendary club and I’ve wanted to play it forever. The Rat is closed, as is T.T. the Bears, the Paradise is still too big for us, so as far as clubs I’ve heard about for decades the Middle East was my great hope. And I loved it.
We were playing the upstairs room, which is the smaller of the two they operate, but still our biggest effort in Boston. Thalia Zedek was opening for us again, but with a different band this time called E. And they were amazing; playing a more brutal, intense form of rock than her Thalia Zedek Band set I heard at the Midway. I don’t know which I like better because they both feature really well written, wonderfully played songs by two compelling groups. Even with her storied history, Thalia is at the top of her game. Go see her and give her money.
And the room was packed. Like all the way to the back with people standing on chairs to see packed. I’m not bragging, I’m trying to express what this means to us. Once again I had a stupid grin on my face the whole night. The sound was great, as it usually is in these venues that have been in business for decades, and the audience danced and sang along. It would be hard to ask for more.
Tomorrow is D.C.
*Holy shit. The dull torpor phrase just jumped into my head and I knew it was from somewhere. So I looked it up ready to congratulate myself for effortlessly quoting James Joyce or Douglas Adams, but no, it’s from the 10,000 Maniacs. I feel dirty somehow, even though I actually own two of their records.
** Former Future Wife
*** And one brand new tape to tape boombox with which to play them.
**** Officially named the Harvard Bridge. Who knew? Kind of a slap in the MIT’s (Migraines, Insanity, and Twats) face considering the old Crimson Stain is a couple of miles up the road and is now basically the Disney World of the Ivy League.
Green Rooms and Restrooms:
Idiocy from the Van: That’s why I sing the blue.
This would be our first time playing Providence, though not for a lack of trying. When Lisa and I were doing the booking we tried repeatedly to get a show there but (insert sports metaphor for failure) every time. I have history in Providence and haven’t been back for a long, long time. Around 25 years ago I spent a lot of time around the area of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and Brown University courting my future former wife. I also played the first shows of my life as a solo singer-songwriter type fella in Providence. It’s an amazing thing to be so bad at something but get up in front of people and do it anyway. I love that about the arts. You can try and become awesome in private but eventually you have to test out your art’s worth in public. It’s not even about whether people like it or not because in general they lie, but something happens if you can lay down your ego a bit, where suddenly it’s obvious what your weak spots are and what your next steps should be. It’s a fascinating process. At least for someone like me who has always had to take the slow ladder to competence.
We went to Thayer Street near Brown University, had lunch at the Meeting Street Café, and everywhere I was surrounded by a weird, deep, intimate unfamiliarity. It felt a little like going to a high school reunion with people you haven’t seen in 20 years, where the echoes of a life you used to live are hidden within the softened shadows of their faces. Chuck asked me if it was a sad feeling and I said that it was for the most part. But not sad for the broken marriage oddly, because I still have a living relationship with her that has evolved, as we have raised our children, to the point of benign amicability. I think it was just a mild grain of sand in the oyster shell of sadness from jumping back to the age of 21 without proper decompression. That age of working a first job, little sleep and intense friendships, but mostly of being free to be drunk, silly, ignorant, and stupid. * In the end though, I have little tolerance for nostalgia in myself. To me nostalgia is a symptom that it’s time get doing something. Of course I’m only 48 and that could change as the world becomes more inexplicable. I’ll let you know.
We were to play the Columbus Theater located in East Providence, an area I thankfully didn’t know and one with a growing hipster population.** The theater was built in the 1920’s and was obviously once rather grand. It was reopened by a young gentleman we shall call Tom. Because his name is Tom. When you walk in straight ahead of you is a gorgeous big theater with balcony seating, a pit for the orchestras, and miracle of all miracles, a working Wurlitzer organ from the silent film era. The organ has special buttons for sound effects like trains and nice doorknockers. We were of course in the small theater up the stairs on the second floor. A little more dilapidated but still quite cool. This place has everything. Down another hallway they have converted a bunch of former dance and acting studios into a recording studio. Old wooden floors, a nice organic feel with lovely natural light, lots of instruments laying around, and sweaty, shirtless engineer named Bruce, who was quite frankly a tall drink of lemonade on a hot sticky day.
Before soundcheck John and I were admiring the projection booth in the small theater and our soundman asked if we would be interested in seeing the original projection booth from the 1920’s? Good Lord yes, thank you very much. To access it you open an unmarked door and have to enter a skinny closet with iron rungs leading up and out of it. It felt rather super hero-esque I must say. If I worked there I would hang several changes of clothes up there just so I could emerge changed and fabulous as often as possible. At the top of the ladder you flip yourself around and pop out into whatever you call an attic in a theater. Then walk across a catwalk, take a left and duck into a small room that looks frozen in time. Cigarettes still in ashtrays, tools and penciled notes laying on the workbench as if still waiting to be acted upon, signatures of the projectionists written or scratched into the ceiling going back to 1926. I felt like I was in Cinema Paradiso looking out a secret window and seeing the theater below. I truly love this building.
And then on to the show. Playing electrified music in a theater is a challenge. They’re designed for the human voice and the acoustics can get weird with loud sounds. Also, people sit in chairs that rise in front of you so you feel like you’re on an operating table in some old-timey surgical classroom. Regardless, the soundman, a sweet and funny guy named Bruce as well, did a great job and the small crowd was happy to finally have us in their town. Oh, and go see the Tall Teenagers. They put on a great rock show.
Tomorrow is Boston
- They’re different things. Especially when you’re young.
** Hipsters show up and poop out gentrification. Is it sanitary? I don’t know, but I sure do love all the brewpubs that seem to sprout up in their leavings.
Green Rooms and Restrooms: The Bowery Ballroom
Idiocy from the Van: Cooch Potato
Lisa has become a master of Priceline and she pulled off the equivalent of snatching the Hope diamond out of a sow’s ass. We got to the city in time to check into our hotel, which was a sweet boutique place on the Lower East Side with all kinds of art good art everywhere and the rooms quirky and unique from each other. The lobby was on the 14th floor (probably the 13th – stupid superstitious witch burning butt munches) and had a 270 degree view of the city, a rooftop bar slimily occupied by young bro-fessionals, and a sweet outside pool way up the air. The next day Lisa and John hung out in the pool with two delightful fellows already enjoying flowing wine at 1:00 in the afternoon, one of whom leapt into the pool in his Calvin Klein undies. They enjoyed slapping John on the ass, making fun of the people in the pool at the hotel across the street because their pool was only on the seventh floor, (“Bitch who are you? Who even are you? Look at them down there”) and telling Lisa that, “she is hilarious” when referring to John. It sounded awesome and I’m a bit jealous I missed it.
We were all excited to play the Bowery Ballroom because of its reputation. And in this singular case, our hopes didn’t even come close to the experience. It’s a beautiful space with a wrap-around balcony, great old windows, and a completely modern and clean stage. There was a dedicated sound person, monitor engineer, and lighting tech waiting for us. As Chuck put it later we never had to ask for anything. Everyone was just really good at their jobs. To give an example of their dedication, there was a moment during the show where my curly cable had wended its way between two full cups of beer. I don’t know what they were doing there. I don’t touch the stuff. Anyway, reinforcing a lesson you’d think I’d have learned a long time ago, i.e. attempting any moves made famous by Pete Townshend will end poorly, I jumped with the intent of both my feet leaving the ground. In a perplexing, unexpected, and frankly impossible to predict sequence of events my cable knocked over approximately 32 ounces of liquid. The monitor engineer sprung from his cave of engineering situated at least 10 feet above and beside the stage. He slid down the ladder like Mr. December in the firefighter’s calendar of beefcake and stanched the remarkably deep pool of liquid flowing towards all kinds of electricity. Heroic to say the least. And beyond that, the venue provided all kinds of hummus and delicious food in the green room. Just because I guess. It’s not like we’re at the requiring hummus to go onstage level of success. We’re more at the I hope what the audience throws doesn’t hurt too much level of success.
The Paranoid Style only hinted at what they’re capable of in Albany and took advantage of the big stage and sound of the Bowery to utterly destroy the place. There is nothing better than a band throwing down the gauntlet before you play. It’s not a competition at all; it’s just pure motivation. If you’re ok with getting blown off the stage then give up or join the Filk circuit.* Onstage I got to work with the monitor engineer in a way I never had** and it was revelatory how well I could not only hear specific drums and the bass, but in a way that made it possible to play more cohesively with everyone else. We were so worried that enough people wouldn’t show up so as to not get invited back to the club, but thanks be to the AMIDYC*** an audience filled up the place nicely. And I don’t know what it is about NYC crowds, because one would expect with the classic gruff no-nonsense reputation of the locals that they would stand there with arms folded and scowl, but they are arguably our most enthusiastic audiences anywhere. And it’s like that every time. So to sum up: gorgeous, super professional ballroom experience, artisanal hummus, a lovely generous audience, one of the best nights all around we’ve been lucky enough to have as a band.
And then boom – day off in the city. A teacher friend just happened to be in town so we met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had drinks on the rooftop garden, looked around and generally acted all swish and sophisticated. John and Lisa swam. Chuck left the hotel, decided it wasn’t to his liking, and went to Starbucks. Joe, from what I can gather, spent the day shooting craps in an alley off of Delancey trying once again to erase a 90 year old debt to the Sicilian mob his grandfather racked up one wild weekend in 1936 while attending a National Cash Register sales conference.
Even with a sweet deal, Manhattan is a damn expensive place to be, so we decamped to Providence that evening to begin our brief New England foray.
*It’s a real thing.
** I hope he calls. Do you think he’ll call?
*** All Mighty Invisible Deity of Your Choice – Pronounced: Ahmadick
Green Rooms and Restrooms:
Ranking Cheese Doodle: Herr’s Nacho Cheese Flavor – These were waiting for us in the green room in Albany and they were magnificent. Herr’s is an east coast company, or at least their product is available mostly there. They make some of the best potato chip flavors anywhere. They’re the only company that we could send to the Crisp Olympics if we wanted to have a chance against England.
Texture: Smaller and less dense than a Cheeto but not rough.
Flavor: Super salty and cheesy.
Idiocy from the Van: Dil-don’t
It’s been a rough couple of days in the brain department so I’m going to combine Cleveland and Albany into one post. I fear I’m not going to catch up at any rate, but I think it’s important to run out the clock with a modicum of decorum.
A wonderful thing happened overnight outside our hotel in Columbus. A classic car show sprang up and out. Since everyone in the band is a middle-aged man except one this was custom made to delight us. It was mostly American muscle cars with a few oddities thrown in. I saw a Model T covered in wicker, these tiny BMW Isetta’s that were just insane, more Mustangs and Corvettes than you could shake a withered stick at, and a hundred men with towels in their hands buffing their chrome like a 15-year old. It was a wonderful start to the day. Since Cleveland is only a two-hour drive we went for lunch at Katzinger’s Deli, which is I think the best eats in Columbus, before we took off. It’s right off the highway – go there.
The Beachland Tavern/Ballroom is another place we’ve played since the beginning and shares a similar problem as Columbus in that our fans are loyal, long-suffering, and supportive, but haven’t really grown beyond their core unit. Mark and Cindy, the owners, treat us like family and have known Chuck and John since the ‘90’s. Most of the clothes I wear come from This Way Out, the vintage store in the basement, and the owner of that knows us all by name. The sound is great and the shows there always have a little extra something to them. The green room is whatever part of the basement isn’t the vintage store, and this time it was filled with Bluegrass players (playing the Ballroom portion of the Beachland, whereas we were in the Tavern) who did things like unbuttoning their shirts all the way, kicking off their sandals and picking scales on their wooden instruments. I don’t know, Bluegrass seems to have solidified into an inert form of music. In order for it to be Bluegrass it has to follow certain codified rules or it is not Bluegrass. But then how is it different than those old men polishing their classic cars? It’s not like they’re slowly transforming the car into something else. Which is fine of course. If it makes you happy and it’s not hurting anyone? Cool, go get down with your mild self. If you’re interested, listen to the Columbia Classic Country two-disc set of early Bob Monroe. You can hear him and his band inventing Bluegrass right there in chronological fashion. And it’s thrilling. It’s a living thing* and full of energy and possibility. Now take James Brown when he’s creating Funk. All those same descriptors apply, but Funk exploded in lots of different directions. There are some musical hallmarks needed for it to be Funk, but for the most part the main requirement is that your booty has been affected in some sort of physically insistent rhythmic fashion. I’m not saying Funk is better than Bluegrass, but just that it has retained the openness to tinkering or wholesale reinvention that is to me the sign of a living art form.**
I titled this picture: “Sandals and a Banjo Case – Portraits in Virginity”
Anyway, the show was again a silly, sweaty, and sloppy affair. Good people those northern Ohioans. Then off to another city that doesn’t always get the best press, but is one of our favorite stops every time. The Low Beat in Albany is similar in size and feel to the Tavern in Cleveland. Their green room is also in the basement but is more a comfortable cubby-hole*** tucked in near the bottom of some old wooden stairs. When we got down there waiting for us were three different bags of cheese doodles and a ‘fridge full of good beer. There’s something about this place. The people who run it, and the audience are just so sweet. They take care of us like we’re family. Here’s an example. The first time we played there I wanted to buy a black Low Beat shirt but that color was reserved for staff. When we came back, a year or more later, the guy I had talked to excitedly says, “I’ve got something for you!” He comes out with a black shirt in the right size and tells me that there had been an extra one someone hadn’t claimed or something like that, so he hid it in the bar until we came back. I love that shirt.
We were happy to see that Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric, (“Whole Wide World”) who are married, were in the audience. Lisa opened up for them a few years back and we had a delightful time talking rock with them. I’m a big fan of Amy’s, in particular her “Diary of a Mod Housewife” album. It’s a brilliant record that’s not just a great breakup album but an adult view of the dissolution of a marriage, having kids, being in a band, and a shared, complicated history with someone combined with the first inklings of your heart coming back to life. Here’s a small sampling of some lyrics:
“Everyone’s cheering while you’re taking those vows,
They’re hard of hearing when you’re asking them how,
What to do now…”
“We’re stronger than the fairy tails, diaper pails
Lack of heat, urge to cheat
Shattered hopes, tired jokes
Doctors bills, urge to kill
And when we have another argument
You wonder where your feelings for me went”
After the show I was talking with Amy and she said they’re about to re-release that record on vinyl, and while looking through things from back then she found a letter from her child asking when she was going to be done touring. Chuck was talking to Eric as well and he paid us one of the nicest compliments a band could ask for. He said that everyone in the band plays unconventionally but that it all comes together to become a bigger thing. He said it’s like a train wreck that sounds brilliant. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing like a madman here.
Speaking of Eric and Amy, while we were playing, a couple next to them were behaving in a way that caused me some consternation. They were standing right behind the first row of people in the very crowded area right near the stage. One of them was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt, which may explain everything, but they kept breaking into couples dancing consisting primarily of holding their partners hands and spinning the other. From my vantage point I could see the irritation of those surrounding the couple as they smilingly and repeatedly spun into them. Now if it’s someone trying to mosh, or some other aggressive behavior not really appropriate at our shows it’s easy. You tell them to knock it off and move on. But was I really going to go all John Lithgow and ban dancing at a rock show? On the other hand there was plenty of room for ballroom moves in the back. These are the thoughts running around my head. Regardless Wreckless Eric took the matter in his own hands with a straight up palm to the dude’s forehead after he had run into Amy three times. The dancing king looked at me like, “Did you see that?!” I gave him the universal, “You must chill”**** hand gesture and with a look of aggrieved outrage he grabbed his tan cloth jacket and they stormed out. Obviously I don’t advocate violence but neither is obliviousness an entitlement either.
It was the first of two shows with our friends the amazing Paranoid Style and between us all and the warm folks of the Low Beat, we had a lovely evening.
- It’s a terrible thing to lose.
** Remember, this is just my opinion about an entirely subjective subject. Relax. Breathe.
*** Did you know that Cubby O’Brien played drums with Spike Jones Orchestra and Carol Burnett’s? It’s true. When he moved on they said he left a cubby-hole that could not be filled.
****I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that. 20
Ranking Cheese Doodle: Doodles will now be on a catch as catch can basis. For this leg I am going to launch Green Rooms and Rest Rooms. If one of the reasons for this blog is to show a little of what it’s like to be on the road then showing pictures of the green rooms when they exist or particularly entertaining restroom walls seems appropriate. I always want to know what’s behind a closed door so I’m guessing that’s a common inclination. I think this image from Seattle sums up this concept nicely.
Idiocy from the Van: Then Opie got into Goth and called himself Mopie.
I have to assume that when someone in their twenties gets home from a tour they take a nap and then go out and begin fornicating and consuming grain alcohol again. In your thirties I’m picturing something like sleeping in and taking it easy for a few days. Maybe a home cooked meal with summer squash and basil picked from the garden. Throw together a nice wine spritzer, regale the neighbors with tales of hijinks while sitting on patio furniture, and all is well. In your late forties and fifties it’s like you’re never ever going to feel rested again. Every time you sit down you fall asleep like grandpa after vigorous denture-free relations with grandma. After our return home for a week and a half break, we, in various incarnations, showed Olie around Cincinnati and then John and Lisa drove him to New York for his flight home. I spent time with the kids, tried to get adult stuff done, and celebrated our country’s birthday while watching it going through some fairly horrific growing pains. Everyone did what they could to make a little money,* a new batch of t-shirts came in and needed to be rolled, and then it was time to go again.
As the departure drew nearer my tiredness morphed neatly into a burgeoning anxiety/depression. I’ve got a theory that anxiety is just fast depression. Here is my single source observation: I’ve only begun drinking coffee in the last few years. A couple of times when I was depressed I thought that coffee might help, being a stimulant and all, but all that happened was the sluggish, leaden feeling of my personal version of depression began to speed up in my gut until it became my old boon companion anxiety. Anyway, this blog is not meant to be personal therapy, so whether this depression was situational, or just part of that internal cycle that is part of existence, is not relevant. The reason I bring it up is because it’s an interesting thing to do this job when it takes effort to even carry on a conversation. Because of course the job of a live performer is to forge a connection with the audience. That said, unless you work from home, everyone’s job entails making connections and trying to get shit done with people who are not your family. Some days it feels damn near heroic to go to work, do your job, and keep it together. Onstage it might feel like you’re moving through syrup, but the upside is that everyone there is pulling for you. They want what you have to offer and in exchange give back applause, smiles, energy, and sometimes money. There’s a list that made the rounds a while back on the internet called Thor’s Guide to Touring or Whatever. It’s spot on and profanely hilarious. Here are two bits of his wisdom that sum it up nicely I think, with a third thrown in about fast food.
- Touring makes everyone bi-polar. Ride the waves as best you can and remember, moods pass. So don’t make any snap decisions or declarations when you are drunk or insane.
Fast food is Poison.
Don’t evaluate your whole life while you’re sitting in a janitor closet waiting to go on. You think you’re above having shitty days at work? Shut up & do your goddamn job.
I think we’ve played Columbus more times than any city other than Cincinnati and with far less to show for it. Granted, a lot of the shows were back when we were consistently horrible, but we hit a ceiling for attendance five years ago and have not been able to break through it. We were playing yet another different venue, this time called the Double Happiness, and the crowd felt a little bigger so who knows. The evening started out worryingly when there were no bartenders and no one taking money at the door. But by the time I got back from my walk to The Book Loft of German Village, an excellent bookstore packed into 32 small rooms, (where I bought a book on the Lewis and Clark Expedition) the club was up and functioning and the Kyle Sowashes were playing their set. We’ve known Kyle forever and I think all of us have slept at his house after a show at least once. Affection doesn’t blind me to the fact that they’re a really good band. Even though it had only been a week and a half since our last show we spent the first half of the set fucking up Royal Gelatin as my sister used to say. I missed the entrance to “Dropping Houses,” Joe started a wrong song, John had to restart “Lightning,” Chuck forgot the words to “Hello, I’m a Ghost.” Lisa assured us she screwed up but I didn’t hear it. If we didn’t shit every day we’d forget how to wipe. Eventually we got our sea legs and hopefully put on a good show. Throughout the show there was an audience member who sat onstage with us leaning against one of the two monitors we had. An odd thing to do really. After the show they whipped up a quick ink and paper sketch and asked to exchange it for one our CDs. Without thinking Chuck handed them a CD that someone had given us out West and said it was one of our best. Afterwards in the van we debated on whether that was a dick move or not. Is a two-minute sketch we didn’t ask for equivalent to a CD? Maybe. They did get something out of the deal though. Oh the hell with it. We can’t be nice all the time.
Tomorrow is Cleveland.
*At our jobs. Good lord people.
Obviously this will have to be written a couple of weeks after the Louisville show. It’s nigh on impossible to write when I’m home. I finished Chicago after I got back but the thread gets broken. It’s two different worlds and they combine uneasily if at all. We woke up in our fancy Chicago hotel and by the time we got into the van everyone was disgruntled.* Chicago to Louisville is an unremarkable drive. At least if you’re from around here, although I suspect it would be to anyone except the recently sighted and perhaps merchant marines rescued after being lost at sea since 1942. We were to play Headliners. We knew going in that the venue was too big for our current draw, but it was the best fit we could find. We were late of course, so having missed soundcheck just pulled the van up close to the door and sat in the humid river valley heat, at a table and lawn chairs set up on the asphalt in a cordoned off area of the parking lot.
(view from a lawn chair)
Fortunately the line-up was amazing. The first band, Frederick the Younger, a group of youngsters with some really nice songs and an incredibly promising singer. After them our old friends the Fervor played. We go back almost to the beginning with these folks. They were the first band we toured with and I love them as people and as musicians. They’ve been laying low so it was a pleasure to hear them again. By the time they were done my wife had shown up after a spontaneous decision to make the two-hour drive down to Louisville. To have her next to me was like the silence that comes when a background sound you no longer notice goes away. There comes a peace that is surprising chiefly because you didn’t realize you had lost it. We still had a show to play and our bone-deep exhaustion lent a surreal air to everything. We thought the crowd that turned up was awesome, even with the promoter saying he wished there had been more people. I hate it when they say that. In England it sounds like an apology, but in the States it sounds like an accusation. Everyone, excepting perhaps the organizers of Woodstock and Altamont, always wishes there were more people at a show. It’s like going up to a bride and saying you wished her vows had not referenced clanging gongs. Pointless.
The show was fun and I think we played well. I felt like Herman Munster with enormous boots on, clunkily trying to force my body to move when all it wanted to do was sit quietly in an Adirondack chair with a cool breeze shifting the humidity away to coalesce around the willfully ignorant and unkind. I would sit still until vines and honeysuckle would grow up over me. Wildlife would return and I could feel as if I was a part of things and not apart from them after all. And then I’d come to and not know what verse of “Pizza King” we were playing.
I accidentally booked a hotel for the night in Lexington and thus was surprised when it was not waiting for me in Louisville. We just wanted to go to sleep but a few 2:30 am calls to Priceline corporate headquarters was just the fart in a rose garden this long day deserved.
And then we were home and this leg of the tour was over. We would have a week and a half to avoid each other and try to rest before we headed east.
Next show is Columbus.
*Gruntled means pleased, satisfied, contented.
“We’ve been told Chicago is a town you have to earn, and whether that’s really true for all, it certainly has been for us.”
“I don’t care if they use a BB gun and it takes two hours, it’ll still be better than a drum circle..”
“John slept in the van and the other six of us crammed in one room old school style. That’s the thing about nostalgia – it only exists if you never actually go back to the good old days..”
“It was Sunday, Father’s Day, heading away from big cities – what could go wrong? ..”
Ranking Cheese Doodle: Kroger Puffed Cheese Curls – Almost identical to the H-E-B store brand. I suspect collusion.
Texture: Excellent – Borderline tear your mouth up.
Flavor: Pretty damn good. These are an excellent value. Like a Robert Parker rated Beaujolais of 89 on sale for $12.99
Idiocy from the Van: Have you read the bio “Tom Jones’ Testicles by Emersom Bigguns?
Ranking Cheese Doodle: Smallwood’s Harvest Spicy Cheese Nuggets – Excellent for a spicy varietal. People have begun to bring me doodles. This is an excellent development. These are more like a bag of curds in puff form but legit.
Texture: Kind of chewy, like stale Pirate’s Booty.
Flavor: Spicy and salty. The best of the spicy ones.
Idiocy from the Van: Chile Kim Carne (courtesy of Chris Brokaw)
Ranking Cheese Doodle: No Doodles. I had really hung my hopes on artisanal doodles from the hub of the farm to doodle to table movement. The Spanish have long perfected the culinary science of puffing food with their vangaurdia movement, but as in so many things, we lag behind.
Idiocy from the Van: Well I’m off to birth King Kong’s finger.