Hauled ass to get to Kansas City on time. The show would take place in an atrium-like space in the Power and Light District. Nothing within a half-mile of this complex looked like it was built before 2005. All new, shiny, soulless and unfailingly gross.
There was a bit of confusion as to what the running order of bands would be. TVOTR would obviously be headlining and our contract said we were to go on immediately before them. But Shiny Toy Guns, a new wave band signed to Universal and most definitely destined for failure was possibly going in the direct support slot because, you know, they're on Universal.
After loading and being assured we would get nothing remotely resembling a sound check, I took off walking down the street. KC has an arts district, supposedly, but everything seemed to be closed early for Halloween. The building for the local newspaper, the Kansas City Star, seemed to take up a remarkable city block and serve as a prime example of engaging modern architecture that the Power and Light District should be taking cues from.
With an exorbitant amount of time to kill, Zack and I took the van to some record store that we spent approximately 45 seconds in. Up the street was a high-end vintage store that, while having prime selection only slightly overpriced (operating as an establishment where all merchandise is perpetually "on sale"), failed to offer anything compelling enough to purchase.
Got back to the venue before Shiny Toy Guns played. I did not watch them, but what I heard through the walls was enough to tell me I would not like them. The fact that they went ten minutes over their set time was not cool either.
We slung some hop in our step and got our shit up mad quick. By the time we got onstage we were only five minutes behind schedule. The whole food-court style space was completely fucking packed, a free radio station-sponsored show on Halloween apparently being a big draw in this town. There were at least three thousand people there and I'd bet 2936 of them had never heard of us.
Nevertheless, we pulled out all the stops to rock them. Somewhere in the middle I lost the stick in my right hand while playing my floor tom. I grabbed another and then saw a hole in my drum skin and the stick slowly sliding inside it, like the drum survived solely on the corpses of drumsticks and was yelling "FEED ME BENNY, FEED ME!"
Luckily, TVOTR has a spare tom on stage right so I ran back and grabbed up, clamped the mic down on the rim and smoothly pretended like nothing ever happened.
Not sure if the crowd was wowed or not, by the time we were wrapping up I decided to pull out all the stops. Grabbed my snare drum, climbed a speaker stack and then started playing it on top of there. Threw the snare at the rest of my kit and knocked down a bunch of shit. Then grabbed my floor tom and slammed it on top of a cymbal stand.
From there, requisite bass drum standing rock out ending.
I think we won them over.
TVOTR were highly into the Halloween spirit (Mick and I made no effort at costumes, Pat, Ko and Zack all wore Zorro-style masks and Z also gave himself fake facial hair) and between Sexy Santa, Gingerbread Man, undead zombie, some kind of monk and more, they looked it.
They'd even convinced the singer of that night's openers Beautiful Bodies to hop onstage during "Wolf Like Me" and pour fake blood all over herself. We hid toward the back of the stage to watch this. Suddenly, guitar tech Sean handed me a water bottle filled with fake blood and gestured toward the stage. Not wanting to anger the headliners, I got up there and poured they syrupy slop over her already-drenched head. I hope it looked cool.
Good costumes were: Jackie Starr from Semi-Pro, the Ralph Macchio shower curtain from Karate Kid and a blackface Mr. T.
After the show to the hotel, some kind of fraternity ballroom party in the Hyatt and it looked like Freaknik in there. I'm just glad the room had an iPod dock and a king-size bed.
Next morning we cruise over to Arthur Bryant's barbeque. After spending so much time the previous day in what amounted to a mall food court, it was nice to frequent an establishment with a little bit of flavor.
The building is no-frills, other than the requisite legendary restaurant fare (laudatory press clippings, photos of Presidents eating there). The line on this day would almost snake out the door. The half-hour wait in line was worth it. The barbeque at Bryant's maintains an almost cult-like following and once you taste it it's easy to see why.
I ordered the standard, can't-go-wrong classic of the beef sandwich, fries and lemonade. Once coupled with the original sauce it was sheer gastronomical heaven. I hate to belabor the point, but this is what America is all about. Restaurants started by minorities with inauspicious beginnings, serving gut-busting, artery clogging fare, servicing a community with quality and reliability year after year…you DO NOT find this anywhere else in the world. People do not lionize kebab shops in England, they don't worship the automats in the Netherlands. No one talks about a sausage place "you just have to go to" in Germany. No, it's quite clear that glory applied to long-standing greasy spoons is strictly an American construct. And this is why I love America.
We make a quick pit stop in Lawrence, KS and I spend all of our allotted one hour at Love Garden Sounds. What a great record store. I remember loving it the first time I was there back in 2000 and even moreso each subsequent visit. I got LP's by the Treniers, Art Phag, the Plaster Caster Blues Band and some 7"s by Sex Vid, Gary Numan, Fag Cop, etc.
Our stop for the night would be the Holiday Inn in Hays, KS. Main attraction: indoor waterslide. I've already espoused my newfound love for these amusements, but when coupled with screaming Grain Belt white trash, I've got a little less love for them than I had in an empty Edmonton pool.
While originally intending to eat at the Chili's up the road, when I realized that "Saturday Night Live" would be on in 45 minutes I switched it up. I've been a fan of "SNL" for as long as I can remember and not being hip to Hula or any other online viewing platform, I just wanted to watch the shit live as it happened.
So instead Pat and I went to eat at the sports bar inside the hotel. The Stadium Club was criminally understaffed and a long look at the menu had me instantly regret our foregoing of Chili's. I ordered a French dip and steak soup. Pat got a salad (borderline rotten tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese) and chicken wings. After twenty minutes and not having even received my soup, I told Pat I just wanted to throw a twenty on the table and just walk away.
He told me to go back to my room, that he would tell them to put my food in a carry-out container and all would be fine. This put me back in my room to catch the opening sketch and having had a crush on Tina Fey since high school I was happy to see her. Pat brought me my food, I thanked him, ate it and then soon thereafter suffered a headache and diarrhea.
Denver was alright. Record store next door and I bought the Cobain: Unseen book and some import Black Lips singles. Started with a dull crowd and by the last third of the set they'd really gotten into it. I jumped into the crowd with my floor tom and beat away like some primal savage, pouring beer on it for premium Stomp-like theatrics. They liked it.
It was TVOTR's tour manager Zoe's birthday, so that somehow translated into a bunch of folks going to a strip club. One unnamed member of the party actually received kisses from a stripper and upon leaving the establishment for a (possibly) gay bar would not stop talking about how much more fun the strip club was and how they should all go back there. I did not go to the strip club. I hate those places. I'm operating on second-hand knowledge here.
In the middle of the night, completely asleep and unaware, Zack says "I'm gonna slit your fucking throat." Did I mention we share a bed? It was equally creepy and hilarious.
That morning while on the phone with someone back in Detroit, Zack was notified that Allen Iverson had just been traded to the Detroit Pistons. He was instantly in a panic, said he had to get off the phone, pulled up the Freep website, read the news and literally jumped up hooting and hollering and running around the room like he'd just seen his first ever pair of boobs.
We would leave Denver on the 3rd with that day and the following one off for driving. We'd end up in Cedar City, Utah on the evening of the 3rd, TVOTR offering us their daytime shower rooms as they had to head off to LA around midnight. Their generosity in saving us around $160 for the night was immensely appreciated and it's small gestures like that that show you a connection has been made between bands on tour.
Next morning at Starbucks and when Pat is standing next to me as I order my venti chai tea frappacino and marshmallow square the lady asks me "Will you two be together?" I reply with "This guy's creepy. I don't even know him." And as she guffaws heartily I tip her $5 for laughing at my joke.
Pat then says "I've got a $5 tip if you tell Ben he shouldn't be so mean" and so as she tells me that Pat drops Lincoln in the jar.
I counter with "There's another $5 if you tell Pat that he's been getting on everyone's nerves lately" and as she does I'd then officially tipped $10 on a $7 purchase.
Pat was fresh outta fives and asked "When have I been getting on everyone's nerves?"
"You haven't," I said. "I just wanted to have a reason to tip her again."
The middle-aged women working the counter were all aflutter and we began to talk about being on tour in a rock band and sure enough one of the ladies had grown-up in Detroit at 8 Mile and Schaefer. What a small world.
Zack later told me he was really impressed by my tip. I told him that's just how I roll.
The 3rd and 4th of November would prove to be two long driving days spent almost entirely in the van listening to satellite radio coverage of the election, switching between NPR and CNN, the entire van excited with every babble of a pro-Obama outlook and awash with profanity with any mention of the words McCain, Palin or anything rhyming with them.
These two days will always stand-out for me, first off, because we had both of them off. It'd be the first time this entire tour we'd have two days off in a row. Second, There was a palpable heft to everything happening in the world. Our jokes and goofing around aside, there was a seriousness we could not shake, everyone's heads clearly eager for the best and deeply hoping they would not have to utilize the "Disaster Plan" if the election turned unfavorable.
Most of all it felt like we were living in a strange vacuum. A little over five years ago I felt this same when we tore ass through the Midwest after ending a tour in Lawrence, KS and in some unspoken pact trying to return to Detroit before the US invasion of Iraq would begin. We made it with a couple of hours to spare and although I had a feeling the world had become a worse place that night, at least I was at home while it was happening.
So cruising into LA with election results pouring in positively was electrifying in an oddly similar way, like a race against a completely arbitrary imaginary line. Your mind starts inventing strange games when you're spending upwards of 8 hours a day in a van and trying to get to Los Angeles before the election was officially called seemed to be the one I'd invented.
Each subsequent electoral vote tallied in the Obama column had our excitement kicking up a notch. As we dropped off Ko at her hotel in Hollywood around 8pm PST, Obama was projected as winning and I felt like a heavy weight that'd been unspokenly on all of our shoulders the entire tour had been lifted. Not only had "we" won the election, but "we" had also managed to defeat that imaginary line I'd dreamed up in some moment of completely vacuous van time. Whereas years ago it felt good to be home for what seemed like the dawn of a very crucial and foreboding time, now it felt conversely great to be somewhere other than home to celebrate what is clearly the pinnacle of hope, motivation and positivity in the United States in my lifetime and most likely my parents' lifetimes too.
We celebrated with our friend Dale and his wife and 3-year-old daughter. We went to the Cha Cha Lounge, were whisked past the velvet rope straight into the club and reveled in the percentage of Seattle ex-pats occupying the room. We munched at an impossibly delicious taco truck next to a Vons supermarket parking lot. It was late at night and everything felt like it was going in the right direction.
To think that only one of us in the band failed to vote...