Tour 2018 – Brighton

Day 9

SoTD: Bugles – Nacho Cheese flavor. They may have these in the States but none of us have ever had them. We have the Dorito dust and we have Bugles. How have the endless product innovation meetings not come up with this like 50 years ago? Doritos? Corn chip. Bugles? Corn cornucopia. “Seriously Jerry, why are you so afraid to try this idea?”
“Well the way I see it, if it was such a good idea someone else would have done it a long time ago”

Britishism: Winder – The turny handle thing for raising and lowering car windows. I looked it up to make sure I had heard correctly and the term window winder came up. When I first looked at it I thought it said widow winder. Ah ha! Now that’s a term I can work with. Could it be a gigolo who seduces ancient rich widows? Or more along the lines of a tool so dangerous it makes widows of those who use it. And then of course you have to wonder what sort of tool that would be. In my mind I see a very large, unstable spring. Flat like those in a watch. It gets wound to an exciting degree, so that the series of razor blades attached to the whip-end tremble with potential energy. Its use? If you calibrate it just right, it can perfectly peel, core, and slice an apple in one go. Of course if the calibrations are off then noses and toeses are surgically cut right off. When three men were maimed making one apple pie the foreman was heard to say, “If there’s a better way to peel an apple I’d like to hear it.”

The hotel we were staying in was delightful if the word delightful meant, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Joe, John, and I walked into the room and Joe said, “It smells like someone puked in here.” And it really did. We looked around but didn’t find any pieces of corn or other damning evidence. I walked into the bathroom and there was a human pubic hair dangling off the soap dispenser. We asked nicely if we could move rooms but they were inevitably full. In lieu of that a very nice employee came into the room and sprayed so much orchid and passion flower scent I could barely see Joe though the fog. She then sprayed the carpet with a different bottle and said, “It’s safe to walk on.” I asked if she could leave the spray in case the smell came back. She gave me a look and then reluctantly agreed. John sat down on his bed, sniffed and said, “Now it smells like a woman’s armpit in here.” I looked at the can and sure enough, she had fumigated the room with deodorant spray. Chuck and Lisa, by sheer coincidence were being housed in a disabled room. This means the shower is in the main room and has no door, walls, or edge to the shower floor. The success of this is predicated entirely on the slope of the floor and the efficiency of the drain. Sadly, the mucous and hair eating drain troll had not yet returned from holiday and their room flooded. A lot. A hotel in a big city is not necessarily better than one in a small town.

We landed in Brighton with an hour to spare before load in. Brighton was one of our favorite places on the last tour and we were excited to get back there. It’s such a wonderful windy* beach town and appeared unchanged since our last visit. I came across a wonderful antique bookstore where you had to descend a spiral staircase to get to the idiosyncratic selection in the basement. Had a coffee, a chocolate, exchanged some money and wandered over to the club.

The Hope and Ruin is an amazing venue. Right up there with the Musician in Leicester. Run by sensationally nice people, vegetarian food on site, and one of the best sound people in the world. Leon makes every band sound like the way they wished they did on record. We soundchecked, bickered, and everyone went their separate ways.** And this next sentence will be henceforth known as the whole reason this blog exists. Go to Foodilic. It’s a small restaurant that serves buffet style some of the freshest, cleanest, yummiest food I’ve had. Perfect for someone whose body is tired of processed, too rich, road food diets. And for only seven pounds! We’re talking rocket salad, couscous, lentil salad, and citrusy green beans to die for. Joe made vaguely obscene noises while eating the meat, so I have to assume it was equally good. Oh and did you know that Brits go through buffet lines backwards? The correct way is left to right. Especially when the salads are on the left as they were here. Joe and I spawned our way against the current and were gently admonished by Shaun for this faux pas.***

Feeling physically better than I had in days I walked down to the beach to work on the mental side. The fog was so thick you could just see a fuzzy indication of where the end of the pier might be. I spent a happy hour looking for rocks that were trying just a little harder than the others, so that I might lift them from their obscurity and carry them around in my pocket for awhile. I watched the surf and tried to let the timelessness of the sea put all the petty and transient worries in their proper place.**** I was pleased to note that small clots of insular and surly teens squatted in the out of way corners of the beach. The spirit of Quadrophenia being kept alive.

I’m not going to complain about the difficulties that with clockwork precision disrupted our set. Instead I’m going to say that I am proud of us. We had technical issues, broken strings, and voice troubles. All serving to force us to shout out whatever song could be played at that moment with what was available. And we did it. And I think put on a fairly entertaining show. I always tell my students that the essence of live performing is dealing with the unexpected. The ability to roll with the nightly challenges is kind of a big deal for bands. The crowd was generous with their patience and enthusiasm. What a great, little, weird city. It feels like Austin in a way. I get the sense that it’s a very artist/freak friendly. We need more spaces like that.

Tomorrow we cross the Channel!!

  • windy not windy
    ** Air keyboard go!
    *** We said, “Whatever man.”
    **** It didn’t. Stupid shelfish sea.

Tour 2018 – London

Day 8

SoTD: Discos Cheese and Onion Crisps – These suck. I mean I wouldn’t kick ‘em out of bed for eating a woman, but I’m not going to pay money for them. Again. They’re of the reconstituted dried potatoes variety of chip. Like a Pringle, but thicker and faker tasting. Meh.

Britishism: Pulling Mussels from a Shell: Shaun says that the phrase from the classic Squeeze song is about the kissing with tongues. Who knew?

I’m so far behind I have to look at my pictures to reconstruct the events. Like “Memento” with more bowel issues. Lisa continues to struggle with the Dengue Fever.* Her characteristic rash eerily playing out the Stations of the Cross. When she had made it to where Jesus falls down for the second time it was decided she should experience the NHS and visit a doctor. The non-lead singers would do the laundry. As is our lot in life. Folding the lead singer’s underwear being the ritual act of submission for the rhythm section going back to Mesopotamian times**

Lisa got meds, and haphazardly folded clothes, (poorly folded clothes being the ritual act of passive aggression from the rhythm section going back to Mesopotamian times) and we lit out for London Town.***

Upon arrival Shaun decided to surprise us by driving by Abbey Roads. When we got to the iconic zebra stripes he said, “OK, you all jump out and I’ll pull up and snap a picture!” Chuck said, “No.” Shaun said, “C’mon!” Chuck said, “I’m not doing it.” Shaun said, genuine puzzlement rising from his voice, “You’re saying no?” “ I leaned in and said, “We don’t really do cute.” Still, it was cool to see the building and all that.

We got to The 100 Club, which I knew had been the site of a legendary early punk festival, but hadn’t looked into it much beyond that. We load in and start looking at the photos on the walls. The place has existed as a club since the 1940’s and in a different configuration had Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman hanging and/or playing. The current family owners bought it in the 1960’s and it hasn’t changed much since. Muddy Waters played there, every punk band you can name played on that stage. The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have played shows there. It’s pretty fucking cool. Also, and I think it’s because I’m dead inside, I wasn’t freaked out by it. I remember playing in Seattle where Nirvana had held a CD release and feeling overwhelmed by the ghosts, but I was mostly feeling like I was going to work. To a job I love granted, but even though there were pictures of Pete Townshend on that very stage I didn’t feel his spirit exhorting me to climb climb climb to those heady heights of “It’s hard. It’s very, very, very, very, hard. So very hard.”

Joe and I went and had a pint at The Blue Post, I went record shopping and scored a sweet Iron Maiden picture disc for my son, ate dinner and took a circuitous route back to the club. I was in the Carnaby Street area and alternated between being amused by the high fashion and ostentation I saw, and feeling cranky that all this wealth should be concentrated in one little area while entire regions are piss poor. I mean there’s nothing wrong with fashion; David Bowie and Paul Weller always looked fucking cool. And they aged in ways I barely dare dream of. But there was also a vibe that maybe the excesses mocked with the Capital City’s citizen’s in “The Hunger Games****” are dangerously close to reality. I’m not judging. The Trump administration has rendered satire moot. America was just ripped by the U.N. for having whole regions in abject poverty. Also, I can be moody.

Back to the club and the band before us, Hurtling, were fucking great. Keep an eye out for them. We had easily the biggest crowd we’ve had in the U.K. and were playing arguably the most historic venue we’ve ever played. So how did we do? Ok. Pretty good. I remember our first big New York shows feeling the same way. Everyone pushing so hard for the magic to happen that it never goes from five disparate elements into one cohesive whole. If we’re lucky enough to come back we’ll probably get closer to that say anything, play anything, ride the wave of whatever that particular night is bringing thing that is us when we’re at our best. I know some bands can achieve a Broadway***** levels of consistency, but the rock I love needs to feel like it could fall apart or catch fire at any moment. Please God don’t let rock get codified and safe.

So in the end, I can’t believe we got to play the 100 Club. I can’t believe that many people showed up to see us in a whole different country. And I’m just really grateful for it.

Tomorrow is Brighton

*Or a sinus infection.
** You think They Might Be Giants have lost it? Check that one out.
*** Some are calling “What Heaven Is Like” our “London Town”, but I’ve never heard it.
**** Fuck off – the first book was good.
***** I love Broadway. “Wicked” is the tits.

Tour 2018 – Leicester

Day 7

SoTD: Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Tea Cakes – Oh my God, I would kill kittens for one. I’d horde them with a vehemence that would make Mammon blush. Like a Keebler Pinwheel in the States but better in every way. Firstly, instead of marshmallow on top of the cookie it’s Italian meringue. And there’s actual non-waxy chocolate covering it. Or as we like to say in the van, enrobing it. Given to us by a fan at the Brighton show I did not have a chance to thank them. So a big thanks to you!!

Britishism: Trimming Both Sides of the Hedge – Shaun told me what it means but I feel you’ll have more fun making up your own!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The morning in Cardiff I went for a walk along a stream, and through a bridge under the motorway that looked just like the one in “Les Revenants” where Serge ate people’s livers. I noticed that everything in this part of Wales was either rusting or growing moss. It was of course raining so I decided to compare annual rainfalls. Mawsynram in India has the most with 11, 871 mm. In Britain, Swansea gets the most rain with 1,360.8 mm. Cardiff comes in 5th with 980.8 mm. For comparison, in the United States, Seattle gets 965 mm per year. So wetter than a group of spinsters at a Ewan McGregor convention.

Before leaving Wales Shaun took us to the transporter bridge in Newport. It was a little more downtrodden than the other one but still a delight. We have now ridden two out of the three transporter bridges in the UK. There are only eight of these still working throughout the world.

We were playing the Musician and were looking forward to it. It’s got to be one of the best small venues in the country. It’s a roomy stage, has an amazing sound person, good sightlines, awesome staff, and a weird little green room tucked behind the stage. It’s located in a grey corner of the city and I had learned last time not to judge the whole city by this part. Walking around looking for dinner I couldn’t help but feel like things in Leicester are maybe not going as well as when we were here last. There were few people out and about and more beggars. I hope I’m wrong and it was just gray mid-week evening. And please be assured I’m not slagging Leicester. We’ve had two of our best shows there and goodness are the fans lovely. We played our best show of the tour so far. When I say best show, I’m talking about how well we played, not the crowd reaction or how much fun we had. Some nights the parts all come together and we become a singular thing. Most nights we get close. Some nights we play like the empathy booth at an NRA convention. i.e. depressed and depressing. It’s a funny thing, living out of your comfort zone, spending way too much time in very close proximity with the same group of people and hoping that sleep deprivation, screwed up dietary schedules, barely contained resentments, and fussy equipment all slip away for an hour and a half of shared catharsis and noisy joy. It does often enough to keep us hoping and trying though.

The last two nights came together in a delightful, sustaining way. Thanks!!

Tomorrow is London.

Tour 2018 Cardiff

 

Day 6

SoTD: Cheesy Wiggles from ASDA – These are standard cheese doodles. Nothing notable once you put it in your mouth. The reason I’m reviewing at all is the smell. If someone made fists with their feet in a vat of blue cheese, put on thick wool socks and then walked a fortnight through the desert you’d be there. The flavor is so disappointing after the smell emanating from the bag. Shaun hated the stench and banned it from the van.
Britishism: It’s a bit blowy out there – i.e. windy

I don’t remember much from the drive into Cardiff. I saw a Vespa with Mod stickers. Honestly we were all in pretty pissy moods for one reason or another.

Well actually one of them was obvious. When we played Edinborough on the last tour the six of us were booked into a single room of a youth hostel across the street from the club. The useless lift, the communal bathrooms, the partying eurotrashpackers, bunk beds, a night of snoring soaring farting sleeplessness. We said never again. We are truly not a fussy band. Our rider is water and a few beers if you can spare them. But we’re also too damn old for that shit. It takes days to come back from a night like that. So when we pulled up to a place I think was called Nomads, with a picture of a backpack on the sign, we were dubious. When we walked in Lisa looked around, asked the desk clerk if the bathrooms were shared. He replied, “Yes.” Lisa shook her head and said, “Fuck this, I’m out.” We trudged back to the van and set about finding pretty much any place else to sleep.

So it was grey and pissing rain when we got there, but we were able to pull right up to the club. We were to be playing the Moon, where we played our previous visit. If you’ll recall there was an enormous rugby match happening at the nearby stadium last time, necessitating us to carry/drag our equipment for half a mile because they had closed all the surrounding roads. Not this time mister. Other things had changed as well. This time we went down stairs to a different room and stage. The Moon is a rock club, all stickers on the walls and a drawing of Lemmy behind the bar admonishing us all to not be dicks. The stage was contained by a wooden railing creating a bandfold as it were. The ceiling was maybe 6.5 ft high, which is why my guitar has several new dings in it. While the soundman was working Joe and I went in search of a nearby beer. The place next door, a blues/jazzy type whiskey bar was open and we climbed the stairs to realize that was where we had played last time. The owner took us on a tour, “Remember the bathrooms? (legendary for their piquancy) No more!” and flung the ladies door open. They smelled like Hera’s morning breathe. It was a miracle. Everything was different and practically posh.

Back at the Moon we loaded our gear onto the stage. It was clearly Whovian in that I didn’t see how we could fit us all on it, but somehow not only did we fit but it was quite comfortable. After soundcheck I had very little time to eat and explore. I ate a veggie burger with a disc of honey-glazed goat cheese, which needs to happen again in this life, and tried to find an area that was maybe a little more where people lived and less big fuck-off buildings. I walked by what seemed to be a university area, the theater district, and wound up back by the castle. I went into the park and spied the keeper of the keys standing resolutely by the gate, giving me a dispassionate glance as if to say, “Yar, I’ve locked you in once and I’ll do it again.” Each park bench contained a pair of entwined young people snogging as if life giving proteins could be extracted from each others uvulas. Tired and still somewhat dispirited I made my way back to the club. And then the tour miracle happened. The crowd was magnificent and we finally played in a way that felt like we were getting our legs back. It’s really important that that happens on a tour. If you feel like you’re never quite getting it then the frustrations grow and you don’t get that release of “Oh right, that’s why we do this!”

And the hotel we ended up in felt luxurious in its amenities. By which I mean it was the first hotel we’d been in with air conditioning. We’ll discuss air conditioning in the UK at a later date. Me may have to agree to disagree.

Tomorrow is LeicesterTour 2018

Tour 2018 Glasgow and the Lake District

Day 5
Travel Day

SotD: Sweet Chili and Sour Cream by Deluxe
Finally a winner! Deluxe appears to be the store brand for the Lidl supermarket chain. We were in Cardiff and they were quite inexpensive. Seriously, it’s about the perfect crisp. Tastes like real sour cream and is just a bit spicy. Chuck says it tastes like Play-D’oh but his palette leans more towards wagon train cuisine.
Britishism: tosser – jerk, idiot.
It just doesn’t work with the American accent. But to hear Shaun fling it at an incompetent driver is a thing of beauty. “You bloody tosser!”

The wonderful thing about bandmates who rouse themselves with the alacrity of a grizzly bear in January getting up to let the cat out, is the opportunity to explore. My disappointment at seeing so little of Glasgow disappeared when I realized I could squeeze in about 2.5 hours. We were staying practically under the highway across the River Clyde from the city proper. It feels anticlimactic to call such an important body of water Clyde. I read the history, I know why it’s named Clyde, but there is nothing that says it can’t be given a more noble designation. Would it be OK if the Mississippi was called Kevin? Or the Nile named Gary? No it would not. I will not presume to offer suggestions to such a deep and wonderful culture, but if one were to press me, I might think the River Gillan has a nice ring to it.

I crossed a footbridge on my way to Georges Square and picked up a greasy and gritty Glaswegian glazed gourmet doughnut and coffee. Coffee was good though. The square itself is typical of the form with statues scattered about, including an 80 ft high anatomically correct column erected in honor of Walter Scott, and a stubbier statue dedicated to Robert Burns. Proving there was a time when statues were being built for poets and authors. Fancy that. The City Chambers is gorgeous and the World War I monument appropriately large and touching. That said, there wasn’t much shaking and the people watching slow going, so I scampered off to the Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery resides in a neoclassical building built in 1778. Museums and libraries are my happy places and this one was a cracker. (to use the regional colloquialism) An aspect I would like to see all other museums adopt was a huge library open to the public for free, with 48,000 books on art and other less important things. I loved everything about it. The juxtaposition between the old architecture and the modern art did both a favor, the exhibits were top notch, and my mood was transformed. I was pleased to see the iconic statue called the Duke, (i.e. the Duke of Wellington) with his traffic cone hat. It’s a delightful bit of Glasgow pride that for over 30 years whenever the government removed the cone hat, within days a new one would appear. After an ill-advised plan to raise the plinth* in order to discourage the be-hatting, a worldwide movement rose up and finally forced the government to concede that it’s pretty fucking funny.

On the way out I saw a brochure for something called the Lighthouse that looked cool and was on the way. The Lighthouse is Scotland’s Center for Design and Architecture. And while I have an idea what that means for the average person I’m not quite interested enough to figure it out. However! The thing that was super cool was that the tower itself was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commision to be built, and one can climb a shit-ton of spiral stairs to end up at the top with a fresh air view of the city. Lovely.

I quite liked Glasgow although I really just dealt it a glancing blow. I love the massive, timeless architecture. I felt a humor and energy there that made me instantly feel like this was a place I could work and spend time. And of course the people of the north are God’s people.**

I got back to the hotel just in time for us to leave for Kendal in the Lake District. We were driving part of the way to Cardiff so this was a day off of sorts. Shaun and I were excited because of the sheepfolds. Sheepfolds were the pens shepherds used to minister to the sheep, trims hooves, etc. They harken back to an older time (or is it a younger time?) and have either disappeared or fallen into disrepair. In the Cumbria County they commissioned Andy Goldsworthy to celebrate “this perfect republic of shepherds.” Andy Goldsworthy is an artist I’ve loved for years but because of the natural nature of his art it’s not something you find in museums. (there is a really cool piece in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art – proving that everything I say is a lie) Goldsworthy produces, to quote the internet, “site-specific sculptures in natural and urban setting using natural materials and the passage of time.” He’s brilliant. His creativity, skill and what would appear to be the patience of Sisyphus, creates art that sometimes lasts only minutes, or melts as the sun rises. Or these revived sheepfolds could last a hundred years. Here’s a link to the project if you’re interested. http://www.edenbenchmarks.org.uk/sheepfolds.htm

These were the directions we had to follow to find just two of them.

near Kendal (SD 460 931 & SD 460 932)

DIRECTIONS:
The site has two folds each containing a large boulder into which a mountain ash tree has been planted. At Underbarrow, between Kendal and Crossthwaite, take the road toward Crook for about 1 mile. The folds are south of Mountjoy Farm through a gate on the opposite side of the road. Walking up the slope, one fold is diagonally to the left, one to the right. The original tree growing in a rock is on the fell above.

This lead us deep into some of the prettiest farm country I’ve ever seen. Everything the cliche of British countryside evokes in you exists right here. The beautiful stone walls spider-webbed over rolling hills, dividing up emerald green fields dotted with fuzzy, white, bleating, shit machines and their deceptively innocent looking offspring.*** The roads were windy and narrow for a large band van and we had to drive a mile down the road before finding a narrow space to tuck it away. We walked under tunnels of trees, passed a cat sitting on an ancient stone wall, staring at us balefully while waiting in vain to hear the words that would prove our worth and admit us entrance to the magical realm currently under siege from the soulless clan know cryptically as “The Developers.” Once admitted we would be tasked to battle them in many small local committee meetings held at inconvenient times in airless city hall basements. Oh, and we saw a pheasant!

We walked through fields assailed by the angry baa-ing of spoiled lambies and stumbled upon the folds. They don’t look like a piece of art any more than the walls that surround them do. Which is to say they do. These two were reconstructed in such a way as to seamlessly integrate into the landscape. When you look closer you notice the details that turn them into something new. What a delightful few hours.

We got back, after barely squeezing through the increasingly narrow labyrinthian country lanes to pick up everyone else, get some dinner, and to decide that we would try to race the sunset to Windermere lake, lying about a half an hour away. Dinner did not agree with me so I held on as we wound through the darkening landscape with what I’d like to think was the grim stoicism of say, Percy Fawcett?

Windemere is obviously a major vacation spot. It was bright, full of lakeside shops and hotels. Very charming. Like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” or a classy Myrtle Beach. It’s the largest natural lake in Britain and is home to the World of Beatrix Potter. I guess she lived or wrote around here. Did you know that when she died they found the bones of literally thousands of bunny rabbits in her basement? Apparently she dissected them in order to try to get to their essence and portray them more accurately. Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper became sadistic overlords and are still whispered about during story time at fuzzy baby bunny sleepovers. It’s true.

We enjoyed the sun setting over the mountains and called it a day. Tomorrow is Cardiff.

  • ”Raise the plinth” makes me giggle.
    ** I’m not religious. I spent ten minutes trying to come up with a better description and couldn’t. I love how no one seems to get overly fussed about anything, look as if they’re gauging exactly what level of idiot you are, but then everyone when you actually meet them is as open, kind, helpful, and inclined towards laughter as you could ever imagine.
    *** Don’t turn your back – they’ll cut a bitch.

2018 Tour – Durham

Day 4
Durham

SoTD: Captain Tiptoes presents Lapsnack Habas Picante – Described as Incredibly British Spicy & Crunchy Broad Beans. Before I discuss the foodstuffs let me relay the pithyness written on the back of the sack. “That snipped, clipped stiff upper lipped, erect and square to the front Captain Tiptoes (assisted by Monica Cheesewax, the strangely beautiful daughter of Mr. Heritage Parsnip) bring you these perfectly shock resistant little beanies…” I’m not British and maybe this is a culturally acceptable level of cuteness, but ye gods does it piss me off. These are not snacks for children, that being the only possible excuse. Children wouldn’t eat them because they have more sense than the unshaven pork pie hat wearing aging hipsters these are meant for. As a snack what they’ve got going for them is that they’re not too greasy and don’t upset my stomach. When you bite into them they dissolve into a chalkiness that is almost not unpleasant. Their spiciness is wildly overstated – like the health benefits of having your ductwork professionally vacuumed, or the sexiness of skin tags. I don’t know, they stave off peckishness I guess.

Britishism: Screw Face – Stink Eye

Shaun quite kindly offered to drive Joe back into York (we were half an hour away) so he could spend the morning with his family and then take a train to Durham. That left us an hour before we had to get back and pick up the slugabeds at the hotel. I, quite triumphantly decided to go to the National Train Museum, devoted entirely to the works of Pat Monahan. They fucking love him there. Kind of like the Germans and Hasselhoff. In the much smaller section though there were a number of magnificent steam engines. One shed contained several of the Royal Carriages, including Queen Victoria’s train. Apparently she was the first Queen to ride by train, the chugging rhythm tickling her nethers in a way that was morally acceptable. The other shed was just massive, akin to the hangars in the Dayton Air Force Museum. And it was glorious. Huge, shiny, intricate machines with lots of valves, huge levers, and innumerable important looking dials. There’s a working turntable, a bullet train, and ummm…. a nice green one and oh hell, I don’t know shit about trains. They were just beautiful machines. You should go.

We left for Durham and with Joe gone we were able to indulge in our favorite pastime – discussing how cute he is when he sleeps. It’s breathtaking.

The drive held some nice treats. We passed the White Horse of Thirsk. It was designed and financed by Thomas Taylor, around 1857. He had seen the chalk horses in the south of England and wanted one too. It’s a 314 ft long and 228 ft high horse carved into a hillside. The seemingly difficult obstacle of the rock in the north being limestone and not chalk was overcome by dumping six tons of limestone to change it from grey to white. It still needs the occasional touch up. I just read that during WWII it had to be covered because it made too good of a target for German bombers.

We stopped for lunch at Middlesbrough. We were introduced to a place called Union Jacks that sold Pieminister pies. These are savory, pretty much what we’d called pot pies, and we’re told an outstanding version of them they are. They were fantastic of course but the thing that made me happy was something you could buy called Parmo or Teesside Parmesan. I’ll just let the internet describe it: “Whereas Chicken Parmesan is a flattened slab of chicken, pan-fried while coated with breadcrumbs and then grilled with Parmesan cheese, a Parmo involves deep-frying the chicken in an egg and breadcrumb batter, then smothering it in Bechamel sauce, before finally grilling with cheese.” Chuck and Lisa had it and said it was, if not life changing, at least pretty damn good. The reason I was pleased even though I’m a vegetarian is I’m always thrilled to find local or regional customs that survive the globalization of culture. You don’t have to like Cincinnati chili to be pleased that there is something made and massively consumed in our region of southern Ohio that is almost unique to it.

The next bit was something Shaun was quite excited about. The food took longer than expected to come out and Shaun began driving with purpose whilst muttering under his breath. We were hurtling through an industrial type area and after going round a curve in the road saw a large blue structure traversing the River Tees. It was the Tees Transporter Bridge and a relatively rare type of bridge it is. Basically you drive onto a platform which is an open air gondola that can cross the river in 90 seconds. It was built in this manner because of a 1907 Parliament decree stating that river traffic must remain unaffected. We pulled up just as they were loading for the last crossing of the day. Mind you, it was only 3:00 in the afternoon and apparently closes for an hour at lunch as well, but Shaun said it’s volunteers run it so this relaxed approach to river crossings is better than none I guess. We crossed satisfyingly and then sat on the far bank and ate our pies, trying to ignore the discarded couches, refrigerators, and clothing.All the while hoping to avoid the bodies undoubtedly strewn about like eggs at a blind kids house on Easter morning.

On to Durham. I was quite excited because Durham possesses a world class cathedral and castle perched on the bluff above the River Tyne. If I lived there I would visit the Tyne daily.* We were playing the Old Cinema Launderette and as we pulled up I noticed we were nowhere near a river, stream, brook, creek or cathedral. Just a stretch of suburban looking street that could be anywhere. So be it. The Laundrette is a tiny space that functions as a small laundromat, bar, and music venue. It was super cute and hipstery. We had been told we would have to be very quiet and this turned about to be very true. There was no opener so Chuck and Lisa would do a duo set and then the band would try to create a set that didn’t rise above the level of a living room stereo. We set-up in front of the dryers, soundchecked, and busted out for the hour available to us for dinner. Shaun is Celiacs and he had been told there was a fish and chip shop in the city center that could make gluten free fish. This is where those of us with dietary restrictions come in handy. Because of this shop we were forced to leave the neighborhood and I got to at least see in passing the cathedral. We walked through narrow ancient streets and ended up eating in the town square, surrounded by awesome people watching. The women of the north in particular once again proving their imperviousness to the cold and their wizard-like ability to walk with startling rapidity on cobblestones wearing towering high heels. There was statue of Neptune that’s 270 years old, and a timeline tracing the history of the city back to AD 995 when it was founded by an instance of divine intervention.** Would love to visit again and do this lovely city justice.***

On the way to dinner we came up with a list of songs we thought could be played quiet enough to not incense the person living above the laundrette. Exciting and terrifying. I love playing a varied set but we had not played a bunch of these songs in years. We’re not the E Street Band. We can’t play a whole catalog at the drop of a hat. Well, we can, just not well. Like tonight! Here’s a sampling of some of the songs we attempted this cozy night: Motorcycle Song, Little Paper Birds, Don’t Leave Just Now, and Acetylene. I can’t remember what else, but it was definitely “A Very Special Needs Evening with Wussy.” It was fun though, the audience absolutely dear, and Joe even played the piano on “Beautiful.”

Tomorrow is Glasgow.

*Everytime I come upon the Tyne I’m struck by how moist and wet it is…
(Fuck – Durham is on the River Wear. Well that’s a pretty big thing to get wrong but I’m not ready to let go of my joke just yet.)(or ever it seems)
** Matthew Sweet’s best song? Perhaps.

*** Or Claire’s. Or Forever 21. Whichever.

The stuff of nightmares.

2018 Tour – York

Day 3

SoTD: Onion Rings by Sainsbury’s – Similar in flavor to Funyuns but described as onion flavored maize and wheat semolina snacks. I’m ambivalent. After a drink they’re better than a fevered wank,* but when you eat them you get a feeling as if your body is rejecting them. Not forcibly, but a gentle wave of sweet nausea passes through you similarly, if on a much smaller scale, to that first prick of morphine you recieve after a mortar attack on your trench has removed your shin. Or not. Salty, very slightly spicy, with a definite tear the roof off of your mouth texture.

Britishism: Absolute Cack – piece of shit. Kath apologized for the directions to the load-in at the BBC. “Oh you got the old directions didn’t you? Sorry, those are absolute cack. The new ones are superlative.”

Holiday weekend traffic sucked so we didn’t get into York until 3:00 with load-in being at 4:00. We bopped down to the Shambles, the open air market and twisty narrow road-ed shopping area in the old town center area. Think Diagon Alley, and with three shops devoted to Harry Potter within 100 feet of each other you’re clearly meant to, and you’ll have an idea.

We were playing at the Crescent, as we did last time here. The show was put on by, what one person with the necessary knowledge described as one of the only honest promoters in the business, the fabulous Joe Coates. He’s just a kind, endlessly amusing man. Both shows he promoted had full houses so obviously good at his job as well. We loaded in at 4:00 but due to a sound ordinance could make no noise until 6:00. By the time soundcheck was over we had maybe an hour and a half before showtime. Alas, exploration of the magical city of York would largely have to be relinquished. Shaun and I had an amazing meal at a place in the Shambles called El Piano. Everything is vegetarian and gluten free so we were set. We ate sitting on a bench facing the Minster Cathedral. We passed the birthplace of Guy Fawkes and tipped our hats to the failed hairy plotter. If you’re not familiar with Guy Fawkes look him and the gunpowder revolution up. The failure of the plot to blow up the King is now yearly celebrated with the burning of effigies and dispensing of fireworks. His goal was to restore Catholicism to England via blood and fire, which is rather hard to get behind. Let’s see, I’ll take “More Murder for God” Alex. We have in the states our own failed, possibly batshit revolutionary, by the name of John Brown. His suicidal attack on Harper’s Ferry is barely talked about much less celebrated with fireworks. His goal was to light the flame that would free the slaves. And some say in that at least he succeeded. Violence is abhorrent but I’d rather celebrate a bonkers man who thought he could systematically take down slavery rather than that mass-murdering fuckhead Christopher Columbus. Oh, and did you know that using the word guy to refer to a man comes directly from Guy Fawkes’ name. Initially it meant a poorly or oddly dressed man, but by the time it travelled across the ocean it just meant male. Now you know…..

Joe’s family, containing a grandmother, two babies, and three adults were travelling up from North Cumberbatch, or wherever, and got stuck in six hours of traffic. There was vomiting, crying, Ted Talks, and desperation. Joe was stressed and worried, Chuck was frustrated trying to play on a series of borrowed guitars, and I, while walking back to the venue had looked down into some medieval storm drain and heard the abyss yell, ”Tag!!” Great. I had hoped it would take longer to find me seeing as I had put an ocean between us, but now it was once again my turn to look back into it. So we were in tender shape considering it was only our second show. The audience was attentive but quiet enough to make us wonder if we were going over. When the show was done though they erupted into gleeful shouting and showered us with enough praise so as to make us feel like we had found a long lost family.

I love love love this city.
Tomorrow is Durham

*I’m in England. It’s fun. Leave me alone.

Prolapsed Bin

 

Tour 2018 – Manchester

Day Two
Manchester

All right, time to start this trifle properly. By request the daily reviews of snacks unavailable in the States will be continued, but will be by necessity not confined only to the salty. Also, Britishisms (or whatever geographical ism is pertinent) will continue as long as they fall easily into my lap with a minimum of effort.

Snack of the Day:(SoTD)
Rockys: There was an unopened bag of fun-size* candy bars called Rockys in the van. Chuck and I eagerly opened, and with the lie on the wrapper creating expectations of a Clark bar type experience, we bit into what at best guess was the damp leavings from a nest of termites bathed in the not quite chocolate elegance of carob. They are so bad neither of us finished the usually disappointingly portioned fun-size. After two full days in the van only one has been eaten. By me, with the level of regret usually associated with sleeping with your ex and having your children walk in.

Britishism: Gone for an Eartha – From Shaun. I was talking about a friend of mine who did the monitors for Barry White and Eartha Kitt among others. Shaun then taught us this lovely phrase. It’s a fine example of rhyming slang of which the British are the champions. It goes like this: Where’s Joe? He’s gone for a shit. Change shit to to the rhyming Kitt. Kitt to Eartha. Then end up with, “Gone for an Eartha.”

We slept the sleep of which corpses do not dare dream, and then went off to the BBC to record a session for Marc Riley’s show, and a song for Gideon Coe’s program as well. Typically the Marc Riley sessions are done live, but since he was at a festival we did a pre-tape. And thank all the Gods for that. We’ve played exactly once in the last year and our first performance of the tour is to be broadcast to the nation? Fuck. Thankfully, because it was a recording session we could start over when we fucked up. We started over a lot. Kath, who was tasked to mind us, is an angel and made frequent encouraging noises, fetched tea, and generally made us feel like we belonged there. It’s such an honor to get to dip our toes in this grand tradition. But it was also our second time so there was less open mouth gee willikers mom – look where we are going on. It’s a funny feeling; less rush of the new but more appreciative of the gifts of such rare experiences. Needless to say I went for a walk. I fucked up though. I hadn’t figured out how to use my phone in this international setting so my text to the band asking them to let me know when it was time to soundcheck went undelivered. I had been drawn siren-like to the World War Museum that is across a footbridge from the BBC and was gazing at dirigibles when the understandably put-out messages from the band reached me that they were starting. I felt like a shit heel but really enjoyed playing. Still, we felt rusty.

Went through miserable traffic to the same venue we played last time, the Castle Hotel. Postage stamp stage, ancient room and bar, beautifully British to its timbers. Had no time before soundcheck and about two hours after. I wanted to see Afflecks, the apparently hip indoor market all the internet was raving about. Shops seem to close much earlier than in the States and even though it was barely 6:00 it was shut down. This area, called the Northern Quarter, has a million cool record stores, vintage clothing shops etc. but none were open. There was a sign in front of Afflecks saying only people who had tickets to the play could enter, and when I looked at the smaller print saw the play was entitled “We Apologize For The Inconvenience – A Highly Improbable Play about Douglas Adams.”** For the tragic among you still unawares, Adams wrote ” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series amongst many others and is one of my heroes. He’s dead of course. Living heroes are too inconvenient, what with their still saying things and shaky later works. Neil Gaman is alive and renders the previous sentence moot. So far. Regardless, I saw Gaiman speak mere months ago in Cincinnati and he told the story of Adam’s publisher becoming so frustrated with his ignoring of deadlines that he locked him into the suite of a hotel, sat on the other side of the door and wouldn’t let him out until he had finished the book. So in an instance of serendipity almost beyond the Heart of Gold’s*** capabilities this one act play takes place entirely in that very hotel suite right where Adams, as played by the wonderful Adam Gardiner, after having taken another three hour bath, spends the next 50 minutes railing against forced creativity, doubts about his talent, and resenting beloved characters. All interspersed with many amusing discursions and fanboy references. I would be remiss however not to mention the personified rubber duck who appears part way through as a kind of sparring partner, scold, and creative goad. It was just wonderful and the beauty of travel, particularly of the vaguely planned sort, once again made me giddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better happenstance and you know how I do love legitimate theater.

Back to the venue, which tiny size notwithstanding, we had sold out! I went upstairs to the green room to wait and enjoy the penises. A grouping of penises is somewhat unexpectedly referred to as a plentitude of penises. Although I would suggest a murder of penises would be more accurate. The walls are covered in band posters and the posters are covered in penises. Only one vagina though, reasonably accurately portrayed, with knowledge undoubtably gleaned from the internet and not actual experience. My favorite sub-genre was the penis nose. I’ll post the best example later. And then of course the one we coined Rodin’s the Penis. The opening band, Good Grief, posited that the original could be found in the Vatican.

The show and crowd were amazing. The room was Finnish sauna hot. Even the walls were sweating. Then they were bleeding and everyone’s eyes went black. And just as suddenly it went back to normal. Except of course for the pale boy in the back of the room who hadn’t been there before and stared unblinking at me for the rest of the night.

After the show there had been an old boy of the grizzled alcoholic variety lurking in the hallway. Joe, carrying something heavy bade him to make way and he took offense. He then stood on the sidewalk for the whole load-out cursing us at the top of his lungs with the most wonderfully diverse colloquial English phrases. Our favorite was when he called us a bunch of fucking knobs.

Then back to the hotel where we watched a 1980’s Top of the Pops and puzzled as to how Jagger and Bowie were ever forgiven “Dancing in the Streets.”

Tomorrow is York

  • Fuck you size really. “Hello Oliver, here’s your fun-size dollop of gruel.” “Thank you sir – may I have another?” “ARE YOU NOT HAVING FUN?” “Oh yes sir, it’s just that the outmoded reliance on an economic system based upon profit over humanity has created such suffering that the boys and I are planning on smothering you in your sleep!”
    **I told you to wait for it
    *** I’m sorry – it’s an obvious and not clever reference, but indulge me will you? I’m quite excited.

Tour 2018 – Departure Day

Departure Day

I’ve been looking forward to this tour and getting back to writing the blog for months, but now it’s arrived and I’m just sitting at the Costa watching traffic whoosh by like a deadline* thinking I can wait another day before starting and I won’t be so far behind I can’t get caught up. But needs must so back to the beginning I guess.

Starting the day in Cincinnati going in to work of course, then getting a cup of coffee with a friend before the van comes to pick me up. Which sounds like a lovely euphemism for death if I’ve ever heard one. “Well, I sure would’ve liked to play tiddlywinks with the Queen once before the van comes to pick me up, but it’s been a good life.” Or something like that. As my friend and I were walking through the town square there was a local insane person laying (lying?) on a bench with her eyes closed and her top leg jerking back and forth. As we passed by she said, without opening her eyes, “Don’t ride on Air Force One today, I’m not fixing the engines.” I thought that was wonderful. The demented are truly the spice** of life. Then I realized I was flying quite a long way that day and maybe she was assuming Norwegian Air was Air Force One and maybe her insanity was brought on by her prophetic visions. Fuck. Omen #1. I go to the bank, receive the typical bad news because it’s been far too long since we’ve eaten the rich, glance at my watch, and it’s exactly 9:11 a.m. Fuck. Omen #2

Joe is already in England with family so it’s Lisa, John, and Chuck picking me up. We saw a truck carrying a recently dismembered tree and Chuck immediately launched into a story about a childhood friend who one night was also in a truck carrying logs. Something went amiss and the two log men ended up having an accident which left the truck half in a ditch. They had gotten out of the truck and begun the customary walk around the vehicle to check for damage, when the ropes gave way and the logs broke free crushing one of the men. Chuck’s friend watched the man die. Horrible. Good story though. Unexpectedly Chuck then went on. “You know, about 6 months before that (the he shall remain nameless man) was working in a grain silo when something went wrong there as well and the guy he was working with was suffocated by the falling grain. He was considered something of the town schleprock after that.” Indeed. The fact that this man is a fucking murderer seems to have been swept under the rug and I for one will not have it. Look for the in-depth investigation on the “Matlock presents the Wussy Murder Hour” program when we get back. Chuck then finished with, “I remember once the (aforementioned death merchant) and another guy were having a hock war on my back porch.*** The (then future killer) was leaning back to prepare the Big Bertha of loogies when the other guy spit one directly into his mouth.” Thoughtful pause. “I wonder if that’s when it all started to go wrong for him?”

We made it to Chicago and endured the typical air traveller indignities. When we got to the gate our plane was already parked or whatever it is planes do, and what to my wandering eye should appear but god-damned Ernest Shackleton’s face on the tail of the plane. Because I want to be reminded of a journey where the primary vessel ends up smashed to pieces and a year of deprivations is required to return home. Omen #3. Jesus, was Amelia Earhart too busy to model?

Our flight was delayed about 15 minutes due to the conveyor belt breaking down and forcing the porters to hand carry all the luggage to the plane.**** We arrived at Gatwick, entered England with our privates unmolested, and found Chuck’s guitar had been smashed enroute. It was split where the neck joins the body and the case looked like it had thrown itself on a grenade to save the platoon. It turns out on the Chicago end there had been an accident with the conveyor belt and somehow or other the inhabited spirit of Charles Cleaver had left the guitar and gummed up the entire mechanical system devoted to other people’s convenience. It was the only bright spot in an otherwise shitty situation. We met Shaun, our driver/tour manager/merch salesman for this tour, drove to London for gear, drove to RoyalLemonSqueasy or some such, to pick up Joe, drove to Manchester, went to the wrong hotel, and approximately 30 hours after leaving fell insensible into bed. Fuck.

*Douglas Adams – wait for it
**Logically then the insane control the universe
***Whereupon you hock (energetically spit) loogies (mucous laden saliva) at each other.
****wait for it

2018 Tour

Hi all,

We are very sorry to announce that we had to cancel our August and September dates in Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago due to a health issue in the band. We plan to reschedule once everyone is back up to full form. A more complete update is forthcoming..

Washington D.C./Baltimore – Days 26 & 27

Herrs Curls Baltimore-1 Herrs Curls Baltimore-2

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

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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.”

Ahem:

“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.

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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.

 

*It’s madness!

**See last paragraph

Boston – Day 25

Green Rooms and Restrooms:

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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.

IMG_3497

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.

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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.

Providence – Day 24

Green Rooms and Restrooms:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

NYC – Days 22 & 23

Green Rooms and Restrooms: The Bowery Ballroom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Cleveland/Albany – Days 20 and 21

 

 

Green Rooms and Restrooms:

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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.

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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.**

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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