Thursday, October 30, 2008

TVOTR Part Five: Voodoo and Animal Shit...

Somewhere driving down to New Orleans we got caught with a counterfeit $10 bill. Shit's kinda scary…cashier came out of the gas station and said "You paid me with a fake ten" and it was confusing because I paid for the gas with band money, but bought a Vitamin Water with my own dough. The lady politely told us that she didn't have any tens in her drawer before we showed up. She handed over the offending bill and it was laughable how flimsy, fake and off-color it was. We apologized profusely and after trading her a proper Hamilton for the phony, we laughed it off.

It must've come to us at the merch table in Chicago. I wish there was a "Where's George?" for counterfeit bills. In discussing how to get rid of it (as change at the merch table, at another gas station, etc) we collectively decided to end the devastating circle and instead the piece-de-resistance now resides in the lining of our three-ring tour binder (holder of all our important contracts and deal memos) reminiscent of a sixth-grade Trapper Keeper.

Arrive in New Orleans early at the site for the Voodoo Music Festival. Showing up for a show at noon is pretty surreal. We all should have been sleeping.

We drove through the winding back roads to the Playstation stage (which doubled as an oversized Blu-Ray disc player), set-up our equipment and then were whisked away on an ever-so-swift golf cart to our very own tent, not really "furnished" moreso than a couch and a table, but there was a piece of paper on the outside that had our name on it, so we felt special.

We did a photo shoot that every band at the festival was required to do…something to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to victims of Hurricane Katrina. While sitting on a couch with a generic gray background and seeming like the whole shoot was to be a bust, I made a bold move and started to tickle Ko. Thus set off a chain reaction of tickling, slowly degenerating into an all-out manpile. The photog, happy, declared she had got her shot. Mission: accomplished.

From there back on a golf cart and onstage to run through a line check. A more prepared and quick sound crew I have not met. These guys knew what they were doing and it made us as a band step up our game. The sound in my monitors was perfect and for an outdoor festival, where complete and utter audio cacophony is the norm, that is no small accomplishment.

We took the stage at 2:45pm, right as the skies cleared up and the sun unleashed it's beating rays down on us. It was damn hot up there, sweatier than Larry Bird's jockstrap, and perplexing looking at acres of grass with attendees experiencing a clear abundance of personal space.

We took the adversity in stride and rocked the place. At the opposing end of the field, flanking the other main stage for the festival, were two massive video screens, showing the feed of the cameras fixed on us. There was a slight video delay and to watch that while performing is funny…like continuous access to the most immediate instant replay system in the world, where you wonder "hmmm…what was I doing .75 seconds ago? OF COURSE! I moved my arm to the left just a hair so I could make sure that the video was really of me and not some holographic, animatronic spectre of myself conjured by the mere name Voodoo Music Festival."

Seriously, I can't be the only person in the world who, when finds themselves on a monitor for surveillance or closed-circuit camera, does a unnecessary half-turn of the leg, hair flip, glance to the side or raise the roof as a way to just check the system, you know, make sure it's all working alright. Please tell me I'm not, I could really use the reassurance right about now.

Ended the set on top of Pat's bass drum with my floor tom in hand. With no actual ceiling above me, just wispy cerulean sky, I tossed that 16" blue satin flame Slingerland into the matching heavens and caught it with the delicacy of a guy on his first day on the receiving end at the fish flinging market. Confident, I tossed it again and with the throw being a little off, I veered off the bass drum to keep it from biffing Pat in the head.

With adroit skill I saved Pat's life from certain carnage, the only-slightly less destructive consequence was that my body took him out instead. Wiped out his hi-hat stand, his crash cymbal and his rack tom too. As it was happening, he said he was thinking to himself "no broken bones, no broken bones, no broken bones". To me, the entire thing looked like the scene in Nirvana's "Lithium" video, taken from their performance at the 1991 Reading Festival, where Cobain, with a running start, jumps whole hog into Grohl's drums and in the process dislocates his shoulder.

Luckily, with the film crew up our nostrils the entire time, I figured I'd be able to at least see how it looked to anyone who was fortunate enough to witness my floor tomfoolery. Given a DVD of the performance immediately after the set's completion, at the hotel later that night I was horrified to see that not only did the edit completely miss BOTH of my magnificent drum tosses, but instead of me completely wiping out on Pat for the second and most triumphant manpile of the day, the shot they did have was of Ko laughing at what had just happened out of frame.


After breaking down gear and toweling off the gallons of sweat, we drove the van back to our tent only to discover that it now belonged to Joss Stone. BOOOOOOOOOO. I think even the trail mix and Pepsi they'd put in there for us was gone. Out with the old, in with the new, kicked to the curb…it don't feel too hot. With dinner not served until 5:30, we killed time.

Zack and I sidled up to a Playstation for a friendly game of NBA whateverthefucktheycallit. I chose Cleveland, wanting to fully utilize the skillz of Lebaron James and Zack grabbed LA so that he could gloat "KO-BAY!" every five seconds.

It'd been awhile since I'd partook in any Playstationing and I needed a bit to get re-acquainted with the controller. Even so, it seems I'd forgotten the Left/Right buttons for each respective forefinger and thus missed out on the advantage that is "turbo".

Zack blew me away. We played 7-minute quarters and I lost by no less than 40 points. His outside game was strong and my domination in the unintentional intentional fouls/missed shots from beyond half-court tandem notwithstanding, I had fun. Upon completion Z commended me on my sticking with it for the entire duration, even though having been statistically eliminated from actually winning around the start of the second quarter. He said it showed character and that he himself would have quit long ago. I felt proud for losing with dignity.

5:30 rolled around and the wait for catering was instantly long, the serpentine chow line overflowing with everyone from festival volunteers to security guards to the artists themselves. Out of nowhere, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 (who were shitty, but at least popular) and the lesser-cared-about (and playing Voodoo) Angels and Airwaves, is dropped off in one of them snazzy golf carts. Like it's no big thing, he cozies up to some friends/buddies/fellow douchebags toward the front of the line and slides in like it ain't no thing.

People in his position would usually just get someone else to grab their food for them, But no, this self-centered asshole saw nothing wrong with cutting in line in front of at least 70 people. WHAT-THE-FUCK? I wanted to go up to the idiot and ask him if he just didn't happen to notice everyone else waiting in line or if he thought it wasn't a big deal or what. Funnily enough, once I finally got my food, he'd already finished eating and was long gone.

Worst part about the wait was that the food was bad. The Italian sausage was barely passable and everything else was just slop. And having to stand in line for 30 minutes for it made it that much worse. I ate alone at an empty table before it filled up with college-aged volunteers excitedly discussing the minute details of a conversation one of them had with, you guessed it, Tom DeLonge. I quit.

I didn't watch any of the other bands play. This only hypothetically disappointed me if Stone Temple Pilots did "Big Bang Baby" or Wyclef Jean did ""We Trying to Stay Alive" as those are both my jams.

Before we left Joss Stone's drummer commented on how much he enjoyed our performance. That made me happy. There's hope for us yet.

Instead we trucked out early so we could make it to Atlanta in decent time. Ko was frazzled and when, in trying to ask the rest of the band a legitimate question I made some joke about "anal", she shutdown and would not say anything other than "just forget it."

I apologized for my admittedly awesome joke and tried to get her to come back to the rest of us, but she refused. It was awkward for a moment until Zack climbed on top of her and through either tickling, fear, fear of tickling or some Jedi shit, got her to laugh and open back up and all of us be a happy family again.

This will forever be known as the Zack Attack. You should be so lucky to find yourself on the receiving end of one at least once in your life.

Watched the DVD of the Voodoo performance in the hotel that night. I, among other band members, was not pleased with my appearance. Where'd that beard come from? Why didn't someone tell me I'm fat? Shit, I gots to get on that Nordic Trak soon.

Little Five Points in Atlanta was bumping, bumping…like someone forgot to turn the hipster faucet off. The new location of Criminal Records was nice, we manged some free pizza and I grabbed vols. 2 and 3 of the Mad Mike comp series on Norton as well as the Complete Motown Singles box Volume 9 (1969) with the lovely touring musician discount.

From there I walked around the corner and in trying to avoid what appeared to be some doctrine pusher along the lines of (but not) a Hare Krishna, I stepped in dog shit. Kindly enough, the fellow warned me about it AFTER I'd squashed my heel in it. I dragged my sole along the brick sidewalk and eliminated any sign/smell of the offense.

Not sixty seconds later, I'm standing outside a vintage clothing store with Zack when I am alarmed by the sudden appearance of black spots on my arm. Confused, I look at Zack and ask, "Did I just get shit on by a bird?" He replied in the affirmative and then told me to stand still as he would shake the fecal matter out of my hair. All that managed to do was get bird shit on him. I found the whole thing completely hilarious.

Off to the Tabernacle and we passed by Martin Luther King Jr's birthplace and the church where he served as pastor. Was bummed we didn't have time to check them out any moreso than from the van. Club used to be a House of Blues and still held all the requisite folk art and general good club amenities like big individual dressing rooms, private one-person bathrooms, catering, etc, etc. Before HOB it used to be an actual church and that's usually a good sign.

Did an interview before the show in my socks. Tried to grab some sleep during TvoTR but was unsuccessful. Saw Janelle Monae backstage, but didn't know who she was until I cracked open an old ish of GQ in the van a few days later and asked "Wasn't this girl at the Atlanta show?"

After the show we made it to the monthly dance party in the basement of the Highland Inn. What a fun, vibrant and completely impossible in Detroit gathering it was. We'd missed Greg Cartwright perform with a last minute Reigning Sound (including onetime Dirtbomb Adam Renshaw on drums) but instead enjoyed him spinning records. It was late but there were still kids on the dancefloor and the fact that they seemed into 60's psych records was encouraging for Atlanta, depressing for Detroit. I guess these are costume affairs and tonight's theme was Warhol characters and people seemed to take that shit seriously. Why would this never work in Detroit? Is funk night the only DJ'ing that gets hipsters dancing? Is ATL just experiencing the positive aftershocks of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim slowly taking over the city?

Talked with Jared from the Black Lips briefly. He said their new album is done, whereas when I saw him last, in July, he said they would be recording it themselves and "taking their time." Them boys are funny.

After slight confusion with street names involving the words "peach" and "tree" (in Atlanta? Really?) we checked into the Double Tree in Bucktown and had to share a mere three chocolate chip cookies we'd received on check-in.

Zack and I flipped the channels between "Knocked Up" and "Deal or No Deal" with Zack consistently criticizing EVERY decision the young pregnant contestant made on "Deal."

"She's too greedy"
"This is where everyone blows it"
"I can't believe she just did that"

It was hilarious to see how INVOLVED Zack got with the entire show. With two suitcases left, $1 million and $200k where the contestant is given the choice of switching briefcases, Z opened up

"Shit…that's fucked up they offer that."

And finally, when the contestant became the first to ever win $1 million, Zack admitted that, clearly, his critiques would be probably be best-leveled at another contestant.

Then out of nowhere, I spot something crawling up the wall out the corner of my eye. I exclaim dramatically (but not too loudly) "What the fuck is that?"

Upon closer inspection, we had a 2" long cockroach visiting our room at the 4-star Double Tree. Like a pair of 6-year-olds holding an old mayonnaise jar with a twig and some grass shoved inside, we deftly caught the offensive insect. Once imprisoned, I asked Zack what we should do. He excitedly replied "Let's get some free shit!"

Z hurried to the front desk and presented the bug to a startled clerk. With our rooms booked via Priceline he was not able to comp us. But he did give us five passes for free breakfast, a voucher for free parking and the code for free internet. Oh yeah, Zack was in his underwear when he negotiated this.

In hindsight we realized it naïve to take FOOD as compensation for discovering a cockroach in an establishment. Nevertheless, as Ko and Zack and I can attest, that Sunday breakfast buffet was tasty and worth our momentary stint as D-level Bindi Irwin's to get it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TVOTR Part Four: Amish Food, Switchblades and Stray Dogs...

Cincinnati, the area around Bogart's over the past couple of years has been suffering from the fallout of a ghetto bomb. When Sudsy's, a nightclub/laundromat combo can't stay open, you know something's clearly wrong. Mike's Music, next door to 'garts, is one of the best instrument stores in this nation. I was devilishly tempted by a $150 Sigma acoustic that sounded like heaven, but decided against it. I bought a bad-ass four pickup Conqueror there back in 2003 and it's still the instrument I own that I love the most.

Pat bought a hi-hat stand, which was fitting because mine broke later that night and I would re-appropriate his old one for myself.

Bogart's is a scummy, nigh-dilapidated club that seems suited for metal bands in their aging years. There wasn't a spot in the place that came remotely close to comfortable. Broken chairs and couches, no wireless internet and an overall grimy vibe that one couldn't escape anywhere in the building was decidedly depressing.

Walked up the street to a record store that didn't sell 45's and therefore didn't seem like it needed my business. Further up the street was an Urban Outfitters housed inside a building that clearly used to be a church. This is what is wrong with America.

I ate at the Subway located in a gas station across the street. We played. After the show all us Dirtbombs went to a Skyline Chili for late-night eats. Cincy is known for it's chili (the only place where there's at least TWO omnipresent chili franchises) so it seemed like a no-brainer. With an overall vibe like a Denny's, no one was pleased with their food.

I ordered the coney bowl, which is three hot dogs served in a bowl of chili topped off with a gluttonous mound of cheese. The chili and cheese were both equally bland and the dogs were very middle-of-the-road. Which is hilarious, because I love the hell out of almost all hot dogs, cheese AND chili. How did Skyline to manage to goof up three pretty easy classics? For shame.

Random Overheard Comment #2 of the tour: Walking into our Cincy hotel, another patron, speaking on a cell phone while exiting the hotel:

"Yeah man, you gotta just tear that pussy up"

It's contradictory moments like this, where one is desperate for context and direction of the conversation at the same time as not wanting to know an ounce more of info than they've already gleaned, that are comfortingly conflicting and grounding at the same time.

Next morn we breakfast at a Whole Foods with a lackluster fresh cooked food selection. My lasagna was weak and the herb-encrusted tofu slice was bland. From there to Shake It! Records, a fine establishment that I hadn't been to in about 8 years. Shake It is a solid record store…I bought some post cards and LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver as I'd been meaning to listen to it for the past year. And I hipped Zack to a rare-ish Hentchmen single on Front Porch that even impressed the guy working the counter. Score.

Drive to Indianapolis was quick. Once in the neighborhood of the Vogue the overwhelming flux of pedestrians clad in Colt's jerseys was oppressive. It seems that in Indianapolis people go to the bar to watch NFL games, even if they're start time is 1pm. Each and every bar was packed and bumping. The vintage store where I bought a pair of 517's…not so much.

We got some free pizza from the folks at Hot Box (next door to the theater) in exchange for signing an empty pizza box for them to display on their wall. The pizza was vegan (Zack ordered it…go figure) and not bad. We loafed around killing time around our van in the back parking lot, just plain bored.

Ko and Zack each gave away a half-case of beer from the stage during our set. Jaleel played keys and Tunde sang back-ups on our version of "Underdog" that night. We loaded out immediately after our set and made our way off towards Minneapolis.

Random Overheard Comment#3: Two men talking inside gas station

"You better get the Mexicans up here…I ain't doing that shit."

In Minneapolis the next day, our first time lucky enough to play the big room at First Avenue. Spent most all of my time backstage, not caring to venture outside. We played well and a portion of the audience seemed to "get" it and "it'" reflected in our merch sales.

Ko, Pat and Zack would go and hang with TVOTR after the show while Mick and I chilled back at the hotel. While there I got a text from Dave of TVOTR that said "Are you blogging about how sweaty my nutsack is?" to which I replied "Hell yizeah! I'll give you $100 if you get Zack to drink tonight."

The funny thing is, Zack doesn't drink and Dave didn't know this. And Zack didn't know that I'd offered Dave money to do this. It apparently found Zack having to respectfully decline the beer and whiskey being forced upon him by Dave. From there Dave questioned him "Name me one good straight-edge musician" to which Zack replied "Ian Mackaye" and Dave countered with "Ok, I'll give you Mackaye…name me one more" to which Zack had no reply.

Time down the next day would prove fruitful. Bought the new Vampire Hands and Little Claw singles at Treehouse where Mick contemplated $40 for a Rebel Records compilation LP (he decided against it). Further up the street at Tatters I got two pair of Levi's Sta-Prest…one off-white and another a green almost houndstooth pattern. The mac'n'cheese and salad combo at the French Meadow Bakery was simple, tasty and a treat.

All ages show for the second night at First Avenue and TV on the Radio were bestowed with the honor of having their name emblazoned on the exterior of the club, replacing a star formerly occupied by Limp Bizkit. Justice…served. While the underage kids seemed bored at moments during our set, when confronted with a stage right drummer imploring them to smile, they get all giggly and appear, on the surface at least, to be enjoying themselves.

We trek out of town that night because of the longish distance to Chicago. Hotel in the middle of nowhere, I wake early in the morning for the swimming pool and am slightly pissed when I see a sign that declares the pool open 24 hours a day. This is completely unprecedented and had we known, there surely would have been a 2am swimming party the night before. Instead, I swam alone, the maintenance man making awkward conversation with me about the weather. The hot tub was magnificent, what a relaxing, refreshing, revitalizing way to start the day.

We arrive in Chicago at Strange Cargo. I put off my Italy Records t-shirt a little longer and instead head across the street to the salon where my sister was getting her hair colored. Sat with her until all the dye was washed out and she was a newly brunette beauty. Walked up the street to her crib where she made microwave nachos and we watched the History Channel before heading back to the van and off to the Riviera Theater.

Waiting for sound check I did an interview with my sister for one of her college classes. She had to talk to someone in sales so her older brother and his bedroom record label were what she chose to focus on.

Soundcheck was a fucking nightmare. The sap running monitors had absolutely no clue on how to operate the board. I wish I was using some sort of hyperbole here, but sadly I am not. After hitting my kick drum for about 45 seconds I stop and ask if I'm checking for my monitor. When he says yes, I realize the futility and just tell him not to worry about it and go on to someone else.

During the set Mick's vocals were loud and shrill in the monitors and painfully so. It was LAUGHABLE how bad our onstage sound was coming from a supposedly professionally-run theater. Every other aspect of the club was top-notch…stupendous catering, attentive security guards, everyone else was great. But the monitor tech should be fired for his all-encompassing inability to operate a mixing board.

Got to meet a good chunk of Zack's family backstage and was told that when he was little he would point to Billy Idol on MTV and say "That's what I'm gonna do." It's weird, because I've shared a bed with Billy Idol too, so in that respect, Zack's achieved his dreams.

We have to leave Chicago after the show because of the long trek to New Orleans. We found ourselves in Arcola the next day and experienced the cornucopia of delights the small town had to offer. We wisely chose to eat at the Dutch Kitchen as opposed to the Mexican restaurant closer to the interstate exit.

The Dutch Kitchen was listed as an Amish restaurant. None of us having eaten Amish before, we had to try it. The place was packed and with only one waitress we were warned it'd be a while before our order would be taken/served but we had an open schedule. I ordered Amish rope sausage with mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans. It was, in a word, delicious. The Amish might be on to something.

For dessert, Shoe-Fly Pie, somewhat reminiscent of a coffee cake, but Entemann's ain't got nothing on this scrumptious little treat. The ingredients had the whole of the band trying to figure out just exactly what sorghum is.

Across the street was a pretty amazing antique store. I got some nice postcards (one a real photo that may or may not show a Ku Klux Klan gathering), a post-mortem photo and a plastic Sesame Street plate that I believe was present during my childhood. Stuff equally as cool but not purchased included an electric butter churn, a battery-powered cymbal-clanging monkey, sheet music for "The Tears of a Clown" and a plethora of quilts and other hand-made finery.

From there across the street to the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum. I know…how lucky are we? The creator of those red-haired scamps, Johnny Gruelle was born in Arcola and his granddaughter runs the museum/gift shop with ardent fervor. The one-room museum does an admirable job on a subject, for me at least, that seemed only remotely interesting.

The size of the museum and it's $1 entry fee notwithstanding, the whole operation was quite impressive, from murals Gruelle had painted in a basement in Vermont carefully transported back to Arcola, to the plethora of all kinds of Raggedy merchandise from over the years and it's curious popularity in Japan, I was left thinking that they must still pull in some serious dough for the licensing of it. Check it out at…

From there we had a serious 8 hours of driving through rain. It may not read like a lot, but I exaggerate not when I say it did not stop raining for 8 interminable hours. After a solid five of unrelenting downpour I began to keep my eyes peeled for an ark on the horizon. Somewhere outside of Illinois we chanced upon a gas station with switchblades for sale. I bought one, told Zack about it and he seemed almost TOO excited about the possibility of buying his own.

After being shown a model by the clerk, he attempted to hand it back to the woman who wouldn't touch it. "Can you put it back in the box please? I don't want my finger prints on it." Zack, because he's planning to personally stage a one-man rendition of West Side Story, then bought two switchblades.

Of all my years touring this would be first gas station I'd see with switchblades for sale. Sure enough, our next stop that very same day not an hour later would also have them availble for purchase. Ko then bought one for herself at this stop. At this point, the van has more knives than the Swiss Army? More knives than a Japanese chef? More knives than a redneck? More knives than the propsmaster for the 1970's gangsploitation flick "The Warriors"? Pleas feel free to create your own punchline in the comments section.

Outside the gas station was a lonely beagle, skittish and apprehensive about human contact. Zack bought some Slim Jims and fed 'em to the hound, increasingly receptive to interaction. Pup was just sitting there, no home, nowhere to go. I think every single one of us individually contemplated just scooping him up and having a new band mascot. Touring life just wasn't made for dogs, so we ventured back into the pouring rain, all a little bit sadder than before encountering the pooch, with our eyes set on an early arrival in New Orleans.

Friday, October 24, 2008

TVOTR Part Three: Biffed...

The Brooklyn Masonic Temple was dumpy. In the back of my mind I was expecting something that at least compared to Detroit's Masonic Temple but what we got was more along the lines of my high school cafeteria except with dirtier bathrooms.

The long banquet tables, plastic chairs, the low-cycle hum of fluorescent lights, linoleum floor tiles and 45rpm jukebox made me crave an order of cheese fries with pepper, want to play a game of intramural basketball, worry about copying someone's answers for geometry and generally just complain about how bored I am.

The surrounding neighborhood failed to provide much stimulation as well. My time in a deli proudly advertising their Boar's Head meats was punctuated by little school children arguing the redeeming qualities of 50 Cent, one of whom apparently had worked with Fiddy in a film. The only comment I remember hearing was said child, all of ten years old, describing 50 Cent as "mad nice" and a more brilliant juxtaposition of adjectives I could not create.

The show was decent. Ended the set by screaming "Brooklyn!" into the mic ad infinitum. Saw John Norris in the crowd.

Spent most of the next day sitting on my ass and not doing a damn thing. Took a car service from Brooklyn to Ground Zero then the PATH train to Hoboken followed by a cab ride to Maxwell's. The biggest news of note was that we got the parking spot right outside the door to the club and of all the times we've played there this has never happened. We were excited and certainly thought it'd be a sign of good things to come.

Unfortunately, this would be our third time playing Maxwell's in 2008 and our fourth time in the span of a year. Such circumstances do not bode well for a Wednesday night turnout on the same evening of a contested presidential debate. Suddenly our standard door deal at Maxwell's, (which usually proves quite lucrative) was not looking so hot.

The room wasn't empty, just a tad sparse. In hopes of changing things up we tried to open with "Sherlock Holmes" but Mick was in the wrong key and we actually had to abort the venture mid-song. There were other bummers too…specifically trying to NOT do the set in the order that we know it proved confusing. Thankfully, the crowd stuck with us and by the end of the set I feel we at least pulled out something "passable" (like brief riffing on Spacemen 3's "Take Me to The Other Side) to their liking while it was still one of our worst shows in quite some time.

Crashed on a pal's bed at the Bowery Hotel that night and rocked some awesome rigatoni at Gemma downstairs for breakfast the next morning. A quick trip up the street to John Varvatos' store in the old CBGB's space not only found criminally overpriced used Brook's leather jackets at $500 a pop, but a copy of one of the Seger Liberation Army 7"s and a framed, silk-screened poster for the Dirtbombs show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles from May of this year. I was confused but pleased by its presence.

Up to St. Mark's and into Rockit Scientist where I picked up the LP reissue of Rodriguez' Cold Fact (I merely needed the bonus 7" contained within), the Shim Sham Shimmy blues comp, volume one of the Mad Mike series on Norton and the latest LP from Your 33 Black Angels. God I love that record store.

Back to Hoboken to load out of Maxwell's, to Brooklyn in decent time, load-in and soundcheck painless. I play good Indiana Jones pinball and for once ignore the photo booth.

Walk up the street to a corner store to pick up a Skor bar where the shopkeep and a customer are in deep conversation on whether or not they like their jobs. One of them argued that a job, by definition, has to be unenjoyable. At that point, they both turn to me and ask what my job is.

I fumble for words and don't know what to say. After brief consideration, I offer up that I am a musician and that I'm currently traveling. The customer asks where I'm from and I say Detroit. She lights up and asks where and I reply East Side. Her eyes grow wider and as she asks for more specific coordinates I tell her Mack and Cadieux area. She smiles brightly and responds with Mack and Buckingham, locations no more than a half-mile from each other.

She was in Brooklyn as a professional dancer but had just started a dance company in Detroit called Come Back City Dance. We sat inside the store for about 5 minutes discussing all the challenges and heartbreaks of living in Detroit. It's moments like this, where the world genuinely feels a little bit smaller, that brighten the day.

Waited forever for friends to pick me up for dinner. By the time we arrived at Petite Crevette we had approximately thirty minutes before I needed to be back at the Southpaw and it would take at least 10 minutes to drive back.

While I don't like hurrying to eat and certainly don't like chowing too soon before we hit the stage, the small eating area (the entire place seats twelve), hand-written menu on butcher paper, pictures of Kennedys Edward and Caroline and numerous culinary awards lining the wall made me throw caution to the wind.

The ten dollar cheeseburger was tasty. I wish I would have had patience enough to order a soup as well, but I didn't want the rest of the band sitting on stage looking at their watches wondering where in the hell I was. Apparently their seafood is exquisite, I will just have to venture again.

Luckily, we got back to the club while the Nouvellas were still on and I had a moment to catch my breath, digest my food and just get generally situated. I was handed a bag of vintage t-shirts before we went on from good friend Richard of Metropolis Vintage in Manhattan. A Mark Fidrych t-shirt, one that says "Hamtramck" with the Polish eagle on it and individual iron-on letters spelling "Candy Ass" were three fitting (in both senses of the word) garments that will be welcome additions to the collection.

We played well, if a little fast for most of the set. I was told afterward that Maeby from "Arrested Development" was spotted in the crowd, so that was a bonus.

For your downloading enjoyment, here's our version of "Start the Party" from the Southpaw that evening.

Start the Party - Live in Brooklyn

The Beachland complex in Cleveland is like home. From the tavern that feels like every single post-softball dive my father dragged us to in the Eighties, to the faux-wood paneled basement that feels like every rec room I ever fought tooth and nail in heartbreaking competitions of Nintendo's "RBI Baseball", the whole place is quintessentially Midwest in the most comforting of ways. The old Ukranian social hall of a ballroom and the vintage store in the basement make it one of our favorite stops in the nation.

Did I mention the record store Music Saves next door? Record vendors near to the club are always a welcome way to spend time. I went through damn-near everything in the store and bought Dungen 4, Indian Jewelry's Free Gold and the latest 7" from Times New Viking on Matador, not oblivious to the fact that their previous 7" on Matador is still sitting in my "to listen-to" pile back in Detroit.

I didn't watch the openers. During our encore I grabbed the mic and started riffing. I decided to tell jokes the soundman at the Southpaw had told me. The first of which as follows:

Q: What's the difference between Sarah Palin's mouth and her vagina?
A: What comes out of her vagina is only SOMETIMES retarded.

Seemed like the joke got a mixed reaction, to which I replied "Too soon?"
Around this time I began to hear someone in the crowd yelling "FUCK YOU!" repeatedly, as in, not stopping, constant, without end. I would later be told by the soundman that said dude was yelling "FUCK YOU!" throughout our entire set.

I respond with a quick "Fuck you too, buddy" and when he failed to stop, I walked up to him and put the mic in his face where he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Fuck you! No politics, go play…" before I open-handedly shoved his face away from the mic.

I immediately regretted doing it, but got back on the mic and told him no one was making him stay and that if he didn't like what I was saying he was free to go and even told the club to give him his money back. I then went on to say that it was because of douchedicks (copyright pending) like that guy that Ohio ended up going to W in 2004. I said "Just because my last name is Blackwell, don't blame me…I'm not related to that Ken guy anyway."

Afterwards at the bar and one bartender, proud of what I'd done, said I could have whatever I wanted (and with no beer backstage, I just needed a Corona for Pantano at the merch table) where another wanted to get the story of what happened straight from me. I relayed to her what went down and she then said that some girl was claiming I punched her in the face. Where the fuck did that come from? She said the girl then changed her story and said that I had elbowed her in the face. As I remember it, NEITHER of these happened, but the bartendress later said she was able to get the girl to admit that, had anything actually occurred that it was most certainly an accident.

"Except, you know, when you biffed that guy" she ended. I'd never heard the word "biffed" before, know not its etymology, but deeply hope that it has something to do with Back to the Future.

In the future (and as I've done in the past) I need to remember that when confronted with an asshole the best response is to give the person a hug. So if Mr. "Fuck You" is reading this, please accept my apology and understand that I owe you a loving embrace.

Monday, October 20, 2008

TVOTR Part Two: Be Careful Where You Shit...

Sunday off in Providence was ripe with possibilities. We stopped at Whole Foods for lunch and not only did I revel in the serve yourself food bar with all kinds of tasty shit (macrobiotic pad thai?) but I was scared of the possibility that my biodegradable cardboard carry-out container would explode because I happened to mix vegan tofu and fried chicken together. Luckily no one was hurt. I took the opportunity to buy a box of chocolate chip peanut Clif Bars. I had my breakfast for the next twelve days.

From there, picked up some of the TVOTR crew and then made way to Armageddon Shop and spent a chunk of time going through the racks there. I bought a used Lee Ranaldo solo CD on SST that I imagine is out of print, along with a set of post cards and two 7"s I can't remember.

From there, we went to the more "collegiate" area of town and I bought a button-down plaid dress shirt from a vintage store. It seems I will forever be trying to buy up these shirts that remind me of what I wore to high school every day for four years. A brand that always seems to have good patterns is Wedgefield and I realize I may be bordering on compulsive with this quest.

After tramping around that hood for a bit we drove closer to the site of the previous night's show. Hungry, we found ourselves at Ta'Zaa, a "restaurant" apparently. We showed up just as open mic night was beginning and Tunde was trying to start a drinking game where any mention of the words "flying", "mountains" or "dreaming" warranted a slug of alcohol and needless to say, it would have made for a table of even more drunken fools.

Waitress informed us they were out of the crab cakes, my first choice, so I ordered the calamari, which Fritz had informed the night before is an exquisite delicacy in Rhode Island. Being informed that they too were out of that, I found myself standing on the bottom rung of the seafood ladder and threw my better sense of reason out the window and ordered the linguine vongole with baby clams.

Let me just say that if you like wet pasta with no sauce, then this is the dish for you. I found myself (and everyone else) eagerly grabbing at the leftover french fries Ko offered up to the table as our entire party seemed equally as unimpressed with their food. Dave and Mick did polish off the Scorpion Bowl (an impressive cauldron of Gosling’s dark rum, brandy, orange juice, fresh lime juice & orgeat syrup) in one fell sip, and despite his threats to do so, we did not get Sitek to freestyle rap as part of the open mic.

Back to the TVOTR bus to chill. Mick, anxious, enters the bathroom. When he's in there for a bit longer than the requisite 30 seconds one needs to take a leak, I begin to question everyone else "Is he taking a shit?" to which they replied "No, he wouldn't do that."

And now a brief explanation: toilets on a tour bus are, without exception, meant for urination and nothing else. Pat put it best when he said this was something he learned in kindergarten…it just seems so ingrained and general knowledge that it usually goes without saying. But apparently Mick was completely unaware.

If an absolute emergency, one can line the interior of the toilet bowl with a standard plastic shopping bag and once the bowel has been moved, tie up the bag and properly dispose of it at the next rest stop. This process, heading toward a garbage can with a CVS bag of your own fecal matter in hand, has been brilliantly dubbed "the walk of shame" by no less than No Doubt.

So upon his exit, Mick informs us that yes, he did shit in the bus. I went in after him and there was still toilet paper in the bowl, which is another no-no. He said it was an emergency and it couldn't wait, but this "emergency" could quite possibly cost TVOTR an additional $700 in charges from their bus driver. Egad. I merely write about it here in hopes to educate others from making the same mistake. In short, DON'T SHIT ON THE BUS.

Back to our hotel and we're all still a bit hungry so we find a gas station where I stock up on four 32oz bottles of Vitamin Water and then across the street to Rite Aid and get nine Nissin Cup of Noodles. My meals for the next few days were taken care of. Zack wanted his vegan fulfillment so we drive-thru some Taco Bell and him not content with Pat in the driver's seat to give his order instead climbs on top of Pat to stick his entire torso out the window to make sure that the order goes through smoothly.

Spend a good portion of the evening in gentlemanly debate with Zack about the intricacies of booking shows in the morass of the Detroit music scene. He made some good points about being a band working hard to make strides in their hometown (Lee Marvin Computer Arm) while I countered with the previously unseen (to him) circumstances that come into play for an out-of-town band relying on a solid hometown openers when on tour. I think we both left the conversation a little smarter and with more understanding for how the other side operates. Cue the instrumental track to "We Are the World."

With a brief drive the next day to Boston, we stopped at a nearby strip mall for an oil change. I tried to kill time at what felt like an awkwardly small Wal-Mart (aren't their ceilings all supposed to be 25 feet?) and after overcoming the complete boredom that comes with trying to remain conscious in a Kohl's, I made my way to Chuck E. Cheese.

I didn't imagine the establishment would even be open, but seeing as kids get Columbus Day off from school (and when did THAT start?) the place was respectably occupied by surly rugrats screaming at the top of their lungs. Upon entrance into said zoo I was met by an authoritative Cheese employee standing at a podium. There was, I shit you not, a velvet rope.

"Are you meeting a party here?" she asked.
I was confused but really wanted to play pinball. Contemplated saying "I'm here to start a party...YEA-UH!" but instead replied with a simple lie, "Yes"
She opened the velvet rope, I exchanged a dollar for four tokens, played Elvis pinball, felt a little creepy going to the bathroom and downright scared when exiting. I was for certain that the bouncer at the velvet rope would question why such a quick exit and then I'd have to quickly think of a clever line like "Wrong Chuck E. Cheese" or "The party was lame" but luckily I exited with none of the expected drama.

(And while I'm on topic…what the fuck happened to all the Major Magic's? Is there really only one left and it's in Ohio? And why don't these places have regulation size ski-ball lanes? Is this good riddance?)

Seriously, the oil change seemed like it took forever. Walking around the abandoned mall in Warwick was desperately challenging my will to live. Luckily the oil change finished before Wal-Mart would sell me a shot gun (I was reading a Ripley's Believe it or Not book).

In Boston with time to kill and I finally get to see the historic side of the city. While most of my time in town has been spent in Cambridge, the Wilbur Theater was smack-dab in the middle of history. I finally got to walk through Boston Common and loved breathing in the scenery that quartered British troops over two-hundred years ago. The fact that the Red Sox were playing a playoff game that eve and that all the kids were out of school provided an even more festive environ than I expected.

Further up the road is the Granary Burying Ground, so steeped in revolutionary history that I wish someone there was giving a pop quiz just so I could ace that shit. US History, along with English, was the subject that I totally ruled at in high school. Anyway, garage rock visionary Paul Revere, future beer magnate Sam Adams, oversized penmanship advocate John Hancock and ALL the victims of the Boston Massacre are buried here.

There was a guy standing at the entrance of the cemetery handing out binders with all kinds of info/facts/tidbits about the place and those interred there. All he asked was to return the binder upon exit, but inside the binder was a little pocket for donations if you felt so inclined. There's nothing that makes me want to tip someone more than having the air about them that tipping is not mandatory, so I happily left him $1. There were a lot of people walking around there and it makes me wonder how much he can pull in on a good day. Anyone?

I traipsed around even more…the site of Ben Franklin's birth, the first public schoolhouse in North America, Barnes and Noble, the Old South Meeting House, Designer Shoe Warehouse…all wonderful and stimulating in their own ways. I would later find out that I inadvertently was following a significant portion of Boston's Freedom Trail. Interesting, as I've always had a nose for freedom.

Hightlight of the day: in front of Old South Meeting House, two hipsters (a male and female) in their late twenties, the dude wearing some art-damaged neon t-shirt, both wearing sunglasses and emitting an overpowering sense of disenchantment. As they stood looking at OSMH with nary a wisp of respect detectable, the male said, bluntly

"Fuck electricity"

I loved it, but probably for none of the same reasons he said it.

Our show was solid, I pulled the drums down onto the main floor and then realized that I couldn't hear shit down there. I had to recalibrate my tempo a couple of times, but luckily the audience was forgiving.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Opening for TV on the Radio Part One: You're on the Pestlist +1

We left Detroit at 9pm the night before the Philly show…the 4pm load-in and 9 hour drive not really conducive to same-day departure. With Mick set on meeting us there, the van felt, dare I say, empty. We came to a Super 8 outside of Pittsburgh around 4am and crammed the four of us into one room.

Being giggly like a slumber party, Zack, Pat and I ventured down for free breakfast once we'd realized we'd stayed up long enough for the lodge to be serving it. I toasted a bagel on 5 (out of six) and when I dropped the blackened dough on my Styrofoam plate, Z quickly grabbed the offending roll and placed it on some napkins, stating "that shit will melt."

Sure enough, the little white bubbly part on my bagel was all I needed to see to give it a direct route into the garbage can. Instead I rocked some Corn Pops, a couple of donuts, a Danish and as much borderline-nasty orange juice I could stomach. It was fun eating breakfast with the truckers around. I again was in my shorts-zipper boots-no socks outfit and I love it more each time I bust it out. Upon meal completion we all went to sleep to aid our digestion.

Next day would be the pits. I would reel in an absolute soul-crushing head cold wreaking havoc on anything remotely close to my skull…sore throat, runny (and somehow, at the same time, stuffy) nose, that messed-up "my ears just popped" feeling, sinus pressure…it all reminded me of the first US tour we'd embarked on this year where I lived through the worst sickness of my life.

Needless to say, the entire day felt like I should be coming up with Mudhoney song titles.

Arrival in Philly, subsequent load-in and reacquainting with TV on the Radio dudes was par. Killed time in the "game room" at the Electric Factory and tied Zack in a match of Bubble Dome Hockey. He was red. I was blue. No sightings of the Broad Street Bullies.

Our set was a little of a disappointment, but only because I felt like shit and it began to effect my performance in little ways only noticeable to me. During the opening of "Leopardman" (the first time we'd play the tune as an support act), I found myself completely fixated on the specifics of my stick grip…I couldn't remember how I usually held the sticks in relation to my thumbs and forefingers and at a certain point that's all I could think about, slowly followed by my self-doubt as to whether or not I'd bought the wrong drumsticks (I hadn't) and leaving me unprepared for certain things like single-stroke rolls and general in-time execution.

Luckily, if you don't make a face when these little, half-second fuck-ups occur, no one's ever the wiser. Regardless, this leech begged us to be on the list, missed half our set, called it lackluster and then used her free ticket AND photo pass to heap praise upon TV on the Radio...

And thus is a conundrum I've felt encumbered by in this opening slot for a band whose latest album debuted at #12 on the Billboard Top 200...I feel like lesser-quality journalists may be taking advantage of the Dirtbombs' desire to be written about (and relatively empty guestlists) as a way to cover TV on the Radio without actually having to deal with them or their manager/publicist/record label directly.

I, almost to a fault, do not comment on negative reviews of the band. I think it is in bad form and merely justifies an errant opinion. But in this situation, where I feel that the Dirtbombs have been taken advantage of, the lone, stilted sentence dedicated to our "lackluster" effort fails to provide any description or rationalization for the sole adjective used to directly describe our performance. It is not a review…it's a cover-up for a writer who had no interest in the band and had no intention of reviewing us. THAT is where I take umbrage and feel it not only fair, but necessary, to call them out on it.

It's not bad reviews that I take issue with…it's lazy journalism that makes me livid. And I've surely been as guilty of it as the next person, but if I were to pitch a publicist for a live review, you best be sure I'd show up on time, take a picture of the band I'm reviewing and at least explain how I came to my conclusion/opinion of their performance.

With a quick stop in Brooklyn, our route to Providence would be crawl-like in pace. The dreams of arriving on time and getting a proper soundcheck. Instead, we found ourselves making monotonous, mic-checking noise as the first-in-line trickled into Lupo's. The defeated feeling notwithstanding, I headed cross the street to a used bookstore, delved into the Life magazines sorted by year, hoping to find the August 4, 1967 issue with a cover story on the Detroit Riot. No such luck, but I did find an issue from that year with a cover story about the burgeoning psychedelic poster scene…a steal a $3.

Our set was tighter than the previous night's…with extra time at the end of our 45-minute allotment, Pat mouthed to me "Theme" and I mouthed back "Noise" and it seems noise won out. I climbed atop his bass drum to rile the crowd and tossed my rack tom high up in the air for the same affect. Caught it the first time no problem…the second one got lost in the lights (or something) and it thudded onto the stage, not before striking my right index finger with enough force for me to think it sprained. Pat played as the rest of the band members took his drums offstage piece-by-piece. Not only does it make for a good ending but you endear yourself to the loaders by clearing the stage quickly and without their help.

After show would talk to Fritz, a Detroit-area ex-pat who played basketball under my father's tutelage back in the late '80s. He remembers me as a buzz-cut ball of energy running circles around Grosse Pointe South freshman cager practices and I merely remember being amazed that the school had three gyms.

Fritz is always quick to lambaste Grosse Pointe and all the requisite social constructs, expectations and mores that come with it and as one who likes a GP-bashing as much as the next guy it was good to experience it in Rhode Island. Plus, his Mumford Phys Ed t-shirt is off-the-chart in terms of cool points.

Ventured three blocks from the club to experience the gathering around WaterFire. As an art-installation that's been going for almost 15 years, it is simply put, a bunch of bonfires set in the middle of the rivers that dissect downtown Providence. While not necessarily overflowing with artistic panache or concept, the project does draw huge crowds and is, in this outsider's opinion, an event that every city needs more of…a reason for it's citizen's to join together outdoors for something that is not a sporting event and intends to further the populace's appreciation (or possibly even critique) of the art.

Check it out

The place had an almost carnival-ish feel. I learned that "doughboys" on the East Coast are what we Midwesterners call elephant ears…fried dough usually drizzled with some kind of sugary topping. I cherish discovering new regional culinary colloquialisms.

After some time spent watching old episodes of "The Muppet Show" on TVOTR's bus, (the Steve Martin episode, in particular) we trekked over to the Extended Stay we'd Pricelined earlier that night. With the front desk "closed" from 11pm to 6am we were checked in by the laundry attendant. While I initially thought it shitty that SHE be saddled with this task, almost certainly with no extra pay, I soon found my mind elsewhere when I was told that each of our two rooms contained only one bed and that there were no available rooms with two beds.

Curse you Pricline…arbiter of "acceptable" prices, concealer of lodging location until confirmation of purchase, employer of questionable company spokesperson/jingle, bane of my existence for the 5 seconds before I realized there was nothing I could do to rectify the situation before retreating to my room to spend the next couple of hours online. Yeah, curse you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Four Shows with New Bass Player Zack Attack...

Is it even worth writing about a 4-day trip? I guess so when there's a new bass player. Practices were at Zack's house and the Woodbridge rental's basement would be the third such environ I've rehearsed at in my relatively boring musical career.

Drive to Morgantown was spent absorbing every last quip in the latest (lastest?) issue of Chunklet. As a contributor to a publication with no set schedule that also employs the donated efforts of dozens of others means combing through the pages and trying to remember exactly what the fuck it was I wrote for the issue. It's a fun little game and it makes the belly laughs all the more memorable.

Morgantown has nothing around. After soundcheck I kill most of my time on free WiFi reading the Free Press. Opening band Treasure Cat have a bass player who's fucking awesome. Head shaved except for symmetrical hammer-shaped tufts of hair positioned over each ear. Tantalizing virtuoso vocal-less metal to adore.

The show, all of these shows actually, are just to road-test Zach before the big dates with TV on the Radio. I know what you're thinking, "Ben, the Dirtbombs weren't playing West Virginia on a Wednesday night for all of the dozens of dollars you'd be paid, all the free water you could drink or the stage that was entirely carpeted?" And I would tell you no, we were not. Shock. Horror. Sarcasm.

The show went smoothly. Highlight was the Liars-like jam we ended with…having only learned enough songs for our set and one for the encore.

Someone at the show said his buddy from A.R.E. Weapons tried really hard to get on the bill and that the guy (Greg?) was friends with us. No idea what in the fuck that was about. With our attempt to rock some Priceline hotels a failure, we instead tried the blind draw that found us visiting three chain hotel establishments we settled on a local family run facility situated on a hill with actual metal keys for the doors and an interior that was only mildly depressing.

Zack and I share a bed on his first night in the band and it was only vaguely gay.

Wake up at ten for the longish ride to Nashville. The ribbing of Zack on being vegan was by now in full-swing and was not expected to end until mid-December.

Arrival at the end and we're surprised to see the Turbo Fruits kids pull up right behind us. They would be opening the show and that was an unexpected treat. After told by the egregious sound man there would be no sound check, I hoof on over to Café Coco.

It need not be stressed here that I dig a restaurant in a building clearly meant as a single family home. Coco follows in this re-appropriative approach and catering to all types while attracting a specifically hipster quotient, the end result has varied on my multiple trips there.

This visit would be stellar. My ham and cheese served hot on a croissant instantly melted in my mouth. Their bottled sodas (crème soda and orange crème) were refreshing and while their grasp of poutine was misguided – the dish is meant to be served with cheese curds, not shredded cheese, which thus made their offering "disco fries" – the overall sensation of a meal well-eaten was extremely welcomed by this lone diner. Add to that the free WiFi to kill the time and the overly friendly attitude of everyone (I was even given a copy of a free print zine based on feminism in Nashville) and I strongly urge you eat there if given the chance.

Kintaro was a surprisingly good band for the first of three slot, a spot usually occupied by something a pinch above dogshit. If they had/have recordings, I would listen to them.

Turbo Fruits were stellar. While no longer stuck with the "Be Your Own Pet side project" tag, they've grown in scary good ways. Songs like the absurdly catchy "Mom's Mad 'Cause I Fried My Brains" and "Broadzilla" showcase Jonas Stein's ever-building guitar arsenal. Rumor is he's playing Junior Brown's Fender Bullet and that kind of mojo can only help the cause.

I'd long said about Be Your Own Pet that I really wanted to see what they'd be doing in five years…it was THAT record I thought would really kick-ass. With BYOP no longer around, I'm looking towards Turbo Fruits to make that album and I don't feel I'll be disappointed.

The show was decent. We played no encore. Highlight would be Artemis Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd coming backstage afterwards to tell us how much he loved the show. Mick was particularly excited about this.

Night and early next day spent away from the band was refreshing…made me forget I was on tour and that's a priceless feeling. Met up at Grimey's and bought the new Modey Lemon full-length and the Melvins' Bullhead and Lysol on CD as I'd tired of the limited use I'd received out of their LP counterparts.

On our way out of town Pat noticed us driving past United Record Pressing. With no discernible schedule guiding us, we thought it worthy to try and scam a factory tour. We mumbled some white lies about being from Archer in Detroit (thinking we'd need an "in") and were easily granted entrée into vinyl Valhalla.

What impressed me most about United's operation was the sheer size of it all. They had upwards of twenty 12" presses and around eight 7" presses. Seeing them all at work, feeling the heat peel off the machine and onto your skin…it's an intensely physical experience.

United still keeps up the apartments they furnished for visiting black labels/artists who had troubles with lodging in Nashville in the 1960's. Apparently all the top artists at Motown, along with Berry Gordy, spent much time in these quarters, still with its original furniture from the era. There's even little museum-quality displays with important records they've pressed prominently featured. We appreciated their effort.

Our tour guide, a Detroit ex-pat, seemed truly delighted on taking us through the multiple floors and buildings of the entire complex. In the warehouse he relayed us a story about a label with dead stock (ie, unused LP jackets) and then the label going out of business. The records are then picked up by another label, but they don't own the jackets and they have the wrong logo on them anyways. So it just becomes a big confusing mess of red tape and ownership that usually ends up with the dead stock sent off to be recycled.

He then cracks open a box, one of many, to reveal TONS of unused V2 LP jackets for White Blood Cells. There were easily hundreds if not THOUSANDS of them there and it spanned all of the Stripes first four albums. It was weird and totally unexpected.

After spending about an hour around the complex, we said our goodbyes and thank-you's. It was truly a fascinating tour and it's a definite "must-do" if you ever find yourself in Nashville.

Drive to Knoxville got rainy and boring. Pulled into the Pilot Light and the Obama v. McCain debate was rear-projected on the wall. Walked next door to Woodward books and tried to convince Zack to spend some of his new-found Dbombs dough on Salinger's first appearance in hardback, The Kit Book. While I bought nothing, I did find Woodward's discretion in used books offered as very, very impressive. They didn't meddle in bullshit or junk. Only the finest and it showed.

Next door to the book store was the Knoxville Pearl, a fanciful cereal bar that resembled a basement rec room. I ponied up for a bowl of Cookie Crisp with skim and sat and watched the debate on an ancient television the size of a large game cat and housed in wood…the kind of television found in the middle of every vacant lot in Detroit.

I was quite impressed with what Knox had to offer. The cereal bar seemed like a simple, easy idea worked to fruition and enjoying its quirky, off-the-wall style. There seemed to be culture going on and that's not what you'd be able to say about most cities in the American South.

Dan Melchior opened the show and that was a welcome surprise. The crowd for us was receptive and ably earned the encore we foisted upon them.

Zack proved his worth by scoring us rooms at the Crowne Plaza on Priceline at a rock-bottom rate. We enjoyed the views from the 9th floor.

Charlotte would be pretty damn fun. Lunchbox Records across the street from the club, the swank vintage store right next door (and the Toledo-bred owners who opened specifically for us to shop), the Boris/Natasha store with their deceptively cool Ben Sherman wares and the historic Penguin Drive-In ("it was on the Food Network" we were told by many) with it's deep-fried tasty treats.

The show was sponsored by Camel cigarettes and their inflated payout for our performance was really the impetus behind the entire run of shows that week. So when I found myself onstage with the microphone, I took the opportunity to comment that their new Camel Crush brand, by which squeezing the cigarette filter turns your fag into a menthol.

After describing said product, I commented, "If that isn't crack, I don't know what is" Then, an excited fan kept yelling "menthols! menthols!" and I replied "Yes, Mick prefers a menthol" to some discernible laughter. I also found myself almost destroying a metal chandelier as I beat my sticks against it, sending it into a spin that caused the entire fixture to drop about three feet from its perch while still remaining loosely attached to the ceiling.

After the show each and every band member was summarily accosted by members of the audience telling us how much they enjoyed and appreciated the show. But I think I got the best moment with this particularly heady exchange:

Fan: So, do you guys party?
Me: (blank stare, pause about 15 seconds)
Fan: You know, like party party?

I wish everyone else had been in on the conversation rather than just rely on my retelling of it. The owner of the club told us about how the place had an attempted robbery, that there's bulletholes in the floor, that the patrons at the bar were more armed than the robbers. He then pointed out the pool hustler, Chico, who once beat Minnesota Fats and apparently knows a hooker who'll fellate him for $5.

Charlotte, a town none of us had ever been to before, was a great town and has certainly afforded itself inclusion on future tour routings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Spiritualized Finale: With Picture!

Show in Boston was originally set for the Wilbur Theater, but word had been relayed that that establishment had been shut down or closed the night before. Luckily and apparently with no troubles, the gig was moved across the street to the Roxy. Simple enough…don't even have to change the address in the GPS.

Arrival at the Roxy was late and soundcheck was hurried. The room itself was gaudy and regal, I seem to recall being momentarily blinded by the overabundance of gilt. Our set time was for a half-hour after doors opened and when that 7:30 hit the room was vacant. We were given an additional 15-minute reprieve.

We decide to enjoy ourselves on this night. Our set consisted of

Ever Lovin' Man
Sun is Shining
Sherlock Holmes
Kung Fu

Once we got onstage, there were slightly more people watching us. There were some requests for something, Mick looked back as if we should consider it and I yelled earnestly "Stick to the Plan!" We played the set as we plotted it, focusing mainly on the twenty-plus minute version of "Kung Fu."

Halfway through I grabbed the mic and as we romped through "Dance This Mess Around" I talked to the crowd about Pudge Fisk and the Green Monster and realized the crowd were not baseball fans. Remembering the unnecessary three cases of beer sitting in our dressing room backstage, I tell the crowd if anyone is truly broke, to come to the merch table to buy a shirt and I will give them a free beer.

We finished, I grabbed four beers, made my way to sell merch and was pleasantly surprised with how many concertgoers came over to compliment the band on the good show, but also, to buy t-shirts. When they realized I was not bullshitting about the free beer, they seemed all the more intrigued. I say with pride that we sold more merchandise than Spiritualized that night.

After the show we got out of town early and ate at a late night rest stop McDonald's. Got to the Best Western near the Albany Airport late (we farted around trying to find a hotel with rooms for what felt like an eternity) and I stayed up the relatively short time until they started to serve breakfast, at (I believe) 5am.

Being an airport hotel, the others awake at this time were mainly pilots and flight attendants…and Troy. The two of us looked hilarious…him in his ripped-leg sweat-pants and serial killer stubble, me in the soccer shorts and zipper boots and manicured beard. Times like these kind of transcend description and instead enter the pantheon of moments that resonate in your mind as neither important nor crucial nor groundbreaking. They are brief and unforgettable and have an unimpeachable dose of being the peculiar moments you focus on when thinking back on time spent on tour.

They had one of those timer waffle irons and I think they're heaven-sent. And orange juice. Breakfast divine.

Drive to Cleveland and I spent the entire time polishing off a biography on Robert Rauschenberg. It was good, but I was more pleased at the fact of how many books I'd finished on the tour…Marcus' Like a Rolling Stone, the Chick Sonic Youth bio, the Nick Drake bio and probably a couple more I'm forgetting. It seems like going on tour is the only time I can ever get any reading done. That bums me out usually, but we've been touring so much that I've actually finished quite a few recently.

Got into Cleveland with just enough time to check into the Days Inn and then drive a couple blocks to the fine dining of Mallorca. Spiritualized wanted to take us out for a proper meal and it was grand, the only downer being that such a meal was a great way to meet everyone…on the second-to-last day of tour. That and my food gave me diarrhea.

After the meal everyone else wanted to go grab a drink somewhere else and I wisely slipped out unnoticed. I casually walked back to the hotel. What I had figured was a straight walk on one street turned out to be not the case.

The neighborhood began to look more and more like Detroit and I realized it was not the route we had taken to the restaurant. I made a quick right turn and chanced upon a cop car pulling out of a police station. I asked the man which direction to Euclid Street. He pointed randomly and said it was two blocks. I asked again to clarify if it was two blocks forward or two blocks to my left.

He let out a sigh.
He asked if I had any guns on me.
I said no.
He told me to get in the car.
He said I was not in the best neighborhood to be walking around alone.
I told him it was alright, I'm from Detroit.
Good, he replied. Had I been wearing a Steelers shirt, I may not have been so lucky.
He then proceeded to ask me about the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal, rattling off Tamara Greene and Manoogian Mansion as if he were a grizzled Detroiter.
I was impressed.
He dropped me off at the hotel and told me to be safe.
I thanked him.

Most of down time on show day in Clevo was spent in bed. The faucets in the bathroom sink were weird in that if you twisted them just right, you'd get a weird subsonic bellow reminiscent of whale's sonar. I sat and fooled around with the handles for at least ten minutes before Pat interjected with a "Seriously…stop it."

Time at the House of Blues was nice. Decent food, good stage managing, a jolly assortment of friends and family from Detroit ventured out for the gig and only one of them cornered Spaceman awkwardly.

Highlight of our set, and possibly the tour, was Jason Pierce joining us onstage with acoustic guitar accompaniment for "Sun is Shining." I felt very humbled.

Buffalo next day was rainy and melancholy, Spirits preparing for their undoubtedly difficult sojourn across the US/CAN border and the Dirtbombs weigh the pros/cons of taking the shorter route (mileage-wise) through Canada and risk possible customs detention. We took massive group photos of both bands and the crew in front of Spiritualized's tour bus. We played…decent. I left after we had loaded the van.

Two day's later Troy quit and we were back at square one.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Spiritualized Part Four: Hair Cut...

With only a short drive between DC and Baltimore, we had some free time to explore the Charm City. Ko would shout every thirty seconds that some street corner was used in filming "The Wire" and the rest of us would all feign excitement.

We'd somehow found info for a random mall that we figured would be an easy way to kill time. As we drove from neighborhood to blighted-out neighborhood, it became clear we were headed to, as Chris Rock would put it, "the mall white people USED to go to."

Seriously, the degree of decrepitude witnessed in the depths of Baltimore make Detroit look like a resort.

We didn't even bother venture inside, instead we made our way completely out of the city to Arundel Mills mall. Big and bright and new and teeming with the overall feeling that makes you equally hate and love capitalism, we all found it suitable to our needs. Pat and Troy and I peeped The Dark Knight in a capacity theater, Ko bought clothes and Mick spent every moment at the chaotic Build-A-Bear workshop (it was Panda-monium!)

From there to headline our own show at the Ottobar…record store next door offered nothing worth note and instead Ko and I made way to Paper Moon Diner down the street. The food was forgettable, but the zany décor covered every square inch of this converted home and the atmosphere was fun.

I slept through opening bands. We played and all the fun and excitement and good times filling the room when we'd played town not three months ago was completely lost. It was a weird, hostile, borderline violent air in the room. As we ended with me on the microphone imploring them all to dance, said request was met with some fool wildly moshing the place to bits.

I instantly grabbed the guy and tried to squeeze him into submission, eventually ending up pinning him to the ground to get my point across. He apologized after the show, so that felt nice. Otherwise, the weird vibes in Balti were plenty enough for the entire tour.

NYC the next day. I hate guestlists. We had ten spots on ours and it was like a UN Security Council Meeting trying to properly divvy those up. Funnily enough, the club, Terminal 5, was nowhere near sold out. If people REALLY wanted to see us, they could just pay the cash at the door. But what fun is that?

We played decent. None better nor worse. But for all the effort, in getting there on time, the guestlist rigamarole, the excitement of playing such a huge place (3800 capacity) by the time we'd finished I just felt deflated and like I'd wasted my time.

Nevermind the debacle of figuring out where to stay/park the van afterwards. A headache to end all headaches, after about two hours of deliberating and driving and numerous changes of plan, I ended up in Brooklyn sleeping on our publicist's couch while the van took its familiar slumber in Jersey City.

Next morn Pat and Mick and I gathered for a little bit of a press junket. We began with a video interview (with a wonderful girl from West Bloomfield) for Uncensored TV. They encouraged us to be raw, vulgar, to curse…as the name says, completely uncensored. Yet if you want to drink a bottle of Poland Spring water on camera, they firmly request that you remove the label. Hilarious. View the shenanigans here:

From there we waltzed down the street to WNYU's basement studios to spin some tunes and chat with Kayla Cohen on the (so I'm told) legendary New Afternoon show. They had a picture of Nirvana in the studio back in '89. I was impressed. We played:

4:57 PM Death "Rock and Roll Victim"
4:59 PM Viva La American Death Ray Music "Tabloids"
5:00 PM Tyvek "Air Conditioner"
5:08 PM The Tammys "Egyptian Shumba"
5:10 PM Big Star "O My Soul" Radio City (Ardent Records)
5:16 PM The Slits "Earthbeat" Return of the Giant Slits
5:23 PM Music Convention "Belly Board Beat" CD
5:27 PM Arctic Monkeys "If You Found This, It's Probably Too Late"
5:28 PM Mick Bassett & the Marthas "The Keepers"
5:35 PM The Fire Engines "Get Up And Use Me"
5:39 PM X-ray Spex "Warrior In Woolworths"
5:41 PM Margot Benitez and the Mellotones "Winos on Parade"
5:46 PM The Dirtbombs "Kick Me"

"Kick Me" being the song's world premier, originally intended for release as a New Zealand tour single.

From there I searched for sneakers, spent much time and money at Rockit Scientist (Chubby Checker's psychedelic album a highlight), the same with St. Mark's Books, caught up with my buddy Nick for lunch and tramped around the neighborhood with impunity.

My cuisine for the night would be perfect. I started with a medium cup of frozen vanilla yogurt topped with Captain Crunch at Pinkberry and immediately followed it up with a mac'n'cheese croquet at the automat down the block. From there, tasty fresh poutine made right in front of me. How could I ever complain? Late night was a Blue 9 cheeseburger that was scrumptious.

I slept on a loveseat and had a slice from Artichoke Pizzeria for breakfast. Apparently the current hot pizza joint among NYC foodies and usually commanding a 35 minute wait for a slice, we slipped in and out in less than five and enjoyed their unique take on pie. Not usually a fan of spinach and artichoke, I was easily won over with their smooth, creamy concoction. Do search it out.

I pretty much hate Philadelphia with all my heart. I don't remember soundchecking, but I do remember hitting a record store on South Street where the girl behind the counter was really enthusiastically foisting the Dirtbombs on a customer. She even pulled out If You Don't Already... in hopes of getting him to the show that evening. I stood there bemused, waiting for a brilliant dis of the band that (un)fortunately never came.

From there I munched a cheese steak at Ishkabibbles. Not bad, but I'm told there are better in the city.

With a family wedding fast approaching the day I was set to arrive back in Detroit, I was in desperate need in figuring out how to tame my wild mane and homeless beard. I couldn't arrive to the nuptials looking like I'd just starred in "Bumfights 15" and it's not like I knew any barbers anywhere. I was feeling, to put it bluntly, screwed.

Luckily, South Street offers just about anything you could hope for. I saw what I could only describe as a traditional black barbershop. You know, the kind that Ice Cube makes movies about? Yes, that kind…the kind that I really have no reason going to. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Upon first pass the shop was full, two barbers both working fastidiously on customers. All of them were black and this was slightly intimidating. I decided to come back later.

Second pass found both barbers on the front steps and I sheepishly asked one "I know this may sound weird, but can you cut my hair?"

What I was secretly hoping for was a burst of laughter. Or the look of fire in his eyes. Or a shove to the chest. Instead, all I got was a "sure, he can take care of you."

(let it be known that the one I asked to cut my hair had directed me to his partner and I'm assuming this meant that he himself was not capable to cut my hair or had graduated from the Malcom X School of Follicle Fervor)

The man who did cut my hair and shave my beard was courteous and professional. He washed my hair before anything and I realized he was only the second man (after my father and not including myself) to ever wash my hair. He put some chemical on my head that slightly burned my scalp and Jay-Z blared over the soundsystem the entire time, but other than his every snip being extremely calculated and decisive, it was no different from any other haircut I'd ever received.

And I guess that was my problem. I was hoping for a great story to tell and all I left with was a decent haircut. I pretty much walked directly onstage after my trim and after we played, Spiritualized's tour manager looked at me perplexed and asked "Did you get your hair cut onstage?"

Now THAT would've been a story to tell

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spiritualized Part Three: Tales from the Chili Bowl...

Atlanta was cool. Henry from Chunklet showed up with the lone extant copy of the Rock Bible and it provided much backstage hilarity before taking the stage.

After we played I ventured with Henry and his wife to the burrito place next door as we were all starving. The waiter came and asked if any of us had anything to do with the Dirtbombs. Confused, I said yes, I play drums in the band. He then said someone wanted to buy me a drink. I was flattered and later realized it was Ria.

Ria is arguably the biggest Dirtbombs fan in all of Atlanta. She also happens to run her own restaurant, Ria's Bluebird. On two consecutive band visits to town, she cheerily invited us to her restaurant to eat the day after our show and, in her words, enjoy a "free meal."

The first visit was utterly amazing. I ordered a creamy mushroom soup that is still among one of the top five best things I've ever tasted in my life. I gave a spoonful to Ko, she shuddered and immediately ordered a bowl for herself. Next I gave a spoonful to Potter and he did the same. The soup was delightful to the nth degree.

When it came time for the bill, it turned out Ria wasn't there and had left no instructions about feeding a roving band of ruffians from Detroit for free. A simple misunderstanding, we figured, and graciously paid the bill.

Next time in Atlanta, we specifically woke up early on a drive day and all the dudes in the band off to Ria's, again invited and severely wanting to cash in our free meal offer. Delectably succulent, the meal again failed to disappoint. Yet again, Ria was nowhere to be found and we begrudgingly paid our bill.

"What a great way to get people to your restaurant," we hypothesized, "offer them a free meal, then don't be there for them to cash it in." We were only kidding (slightly) but still found it weird that the same thing could happen to us on two occasions.

Anyway, with the drink Ria sent over I hereby declare all meals paid for by the Dirtbombs detached from any resentful feelings and here's hoping for another delicious meal on our next trip to Atlanta.

Spiritualized had some time to kill before their bus call and with help from the Black Lips boys we'd been assured chill space at the Drunken Unicorn. We crammed all the Spiritualized band dudes in our van (making it snug, slightly) and after waiting forever for Jason to stop talking to a fan, motored on down to the club.

The Jacuzzi Boys had just finished their set and I bought a 7" off them even though I hadn't heard them. This is a rule of thumb. If you see a 7" and you have the $5 in your pocket, buy it…ESPECIALLY if you didn’t see them play. This is a common professional courtesy that extends to all touring bands cool enough to be selling vinyl. If you have paid to see the band and were not impressed, you are not obligated to buy anything. But if you have not paid to see them and they are selling 7"s, you have no excuse not to purchase. This rule does not extend to 12"s.

(In furthering the code of the road, when I returned home the Jacuzzi Boys had, without my knowledge, mailed me a copy of another one of their 7"s. I still haven't listened to either yet, but they are already tops in my book)

Catching up with Jared and Cole from the Lips was time well spent. I miss those boys like brothers. I asked Jared if he'd heard any good bands lately and he wisely replied "Whatever In the Red is putting out" followed by the insightful comment "It's cool that us (the Black Lips) and you (the Dirtbombs) and Jay (Reatard) are doing so well that Larry can put out all these other great bands that people haven't heard of yet."

I'd never really considered it that way and suddenly felt an even more-immeasurable amount of pride on being included on the greatest rock and roll record label in America. Granted, the Bombs/Reatard/Lips sales are piddly compared to majors, but it does afford Larry Hardy the flow to be able to foist bands like Cheap Time, Vivian Girls, Devila 666 and AH Kraken on a receptive public that may otherwise be unawares of their existence. Then, if everything goes right, those bands become sellers in their own right and it all becomes a punk rock mobius strip of sustenance benefiting bands that haven't even formed yet (or, in the worst case scenario, holding up the sagging star of bands on their way back down…and this could very well be the Dirtbombs in the near future)

Day off spent driving. I found a publication at a gas station that was nothing but people's mug shots. What a fucking brilliant idea…all your content is public domain, you organize by area, crime, release date, celebrity, bust it out on some cheap newsprint and make a killing at $2 an ish. I'm amazed this has not already become a nationwide phenomenon. If you marketed all the major metropolitan areas in the US alone I think you'd have a goldmine.

Highlights of the mag were a particular criminal named, I shit you not, Marquis Moon and in the "Celebrity" section, a mug of George Clinton that made no mention of his actual name and instead, merely listed him as "Dr. Funkenstein." We laughed like we hadn't a care in the world.

We stopped in Durham, NC and ate at a place called Honey's. Free Wifi notwithstanding, I would not recommend eating there. Meal wasn't particularly bad, it just left us all unimpressed and unsatisfied. Lodging for the night was in Hendersonville, NC and as a night off Pat and I were hoping to finally go catch The Dark Knight.

We checked in around 9pm and I was ecstatic to find that there was a theater just over a mile away where The Dark Knight was showing. And then I was bummed when I found that the final showing of the evening started at 8:45. If that weren't bad enough, the WiFi at whatever mid-level America lodging chain we'd chanced upon that evening (I believe it Super 8, yet don't quote me) easily had the worst wireless signal strength I'd ever encountered.

There was a tiny 4'x4' slab of concrete on the balcony overlooking the front entrance carport where I was able to maintain the slowest 3-bar connection known to man. Move anywhere outside the concrete coffin, including INSIDE the lobby, and the signal was completely unresponsive, like a hooker beat far past her death. The countless number of mosquito bites I endured in order to fully understand the issues in the Kwame scandal was ultimately not worth it.

We arrived well early in DC and the route to the 9:30 Club took us through neighborhoods and sites I'd never seen in town. Of all the big cities in the country, DC is the one I feel like I have the least grasp on. I don't remember neighborhoods or where to hang out or anything that can brighten up time on tour. As it stands, we've never played the same club in the DC area more than once and that hinders one's ability to get a feel for the place.

A surprising percentage of the crowd seemed as if they were there to see us. Body movement was detected, quite possibly even to the extent of dancing. The band was flying so I took the opportunity to pull my drums down onto the main floor for "I Can't Stop Thinking About It."

It was a risky move as we were openers. It could be viewed as in bad form to possibly upstage the headliners. It went over with the crowd amazingly and while it was initially met with a "How are we supposed to go on after that?" from Spiritualized, I think they genuinely enjoyed watching it themselves. Everyone happy? Good.

Post show was a leisurely stroll down to Ben's Chili Bowl. Is there anything that compares to a classic hot dog joint? Overflowing with post-night life hungries? With a sign behind the counter declaring Bill Cosby as the only person entitled to free food there? In short, these are the places I prefer to make my time. While maybe short on the delicacies and gourmet ratings, they abound with ambiance, history and people not breaking the bank to enjoy a meal and the company they're keeping.

Ben's is a place with the utmost of everything I love in an eatery.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Spiritualized Part Two: Grill'd to Pefection...

Arriving at the Vogue in Indianapolis was comfy. Polite loaders from the club grabbed our gear and brought it inside, I set up my drums quickly on the floor and then made way to Indy CD's just up the road.

Ran into Jason Pierce on the way there and we kinda shopped together, holding up records, asking if the other had heard them, recommending other records, talking at length about the MC5 and the Stooges and discussing the merits of portable turntables, USB turntables, and LP flight cases.

Spiritualized and their protracted sound check prevented us from doing much to prepare onstage (and found both bands scuttling plans to film spots for My Old Kentucky Blog), but it mattered not. Openers Thunders were relatively decent and with room for 45 minutes of us onstage, we undershot ourselves and were out in under 35. It all felt good though, while our first time in ages playing such a short set and subsequently cutting much material, it all went reasonably well.

Immediately upon the conclusion of our set our gear was kindly but quickly loaded out of the building and we were left to break down outside. This is vaguely demoralizing, but the endorphins from the performance helped mask the feeling.

Spiritualized was fantastic.

We decided to drive a bit and ended up in a crazy-scary storm. The rain was impenetrable and if that was all it wouldn't warrant a mention. But it was accompanied by the most consistent and bright lightning any of us had ever seen, with surprisingly little thunder. I dubbed it "strobe lightning" because it was frequent enough to simulate a strobe effect.

We crawled along the highway until a worthy rest exit beckoned safe harbor. We piled into the Steak and Shake and had one of the best band meals of all time.

First off, our waitress, Caroline, had to be the happiest, most cheerful waitress to ever be stuck with the midnight-to-six shift. The smile never left her face and she was vibrant the entire length of our stay.

I started with one of their Sides-By-Side™ Milk Shakes, vanilla and orange and it tasted like a creamsicle. Man it was heavenly and properly separated like a custom colored vinyl pressing (think the White Stripes "Party of Special Things to Do") and Caroline even told me the company secret of how they keep the flavors apart.

We laughed endless at the "Chili 5-way" and "Chili Mac" on the menu, even made up a 6th grade level parody song about the perils of diarrhea to the tune of "Jimmy Mack" by the Marvellettes. The only lyric I remember is "Chili Mac, don't want you coming back"

The paper placemats were a source of infinite amusement. With one proclaiming "A calculator amount of combinations" for an order where one could pick any two of ten sides, Pat said in his cocksure tone "You don't need a calculator for that." So I replied, "Then how many combinations are there?" and he stumbled for a second before offering "Well…I'm not that good with math, so…" and I finished his sentence "…YOU'LL NEED A CALCULATOR!" to which the rest of the band laughed uproariously.

(as an aside, I did come up with the number of combos while we were seated there. I think it was 42. What's the calculator function one would use to determine this tally? My first thought was factorial, but I'm almost certain that's wrong. Any budding math majors here?)

My placemat said "So bacon, we meet again" and I loved it so much that I refused to eat on it and instead cut out the phrase and kept it in my back pocket for inspiration.

I ate a cup of soup (probably chicken noodle), an order of cheese fries and the pepperjack burger. It may read like a lot, but besides the gas station hot dog earlier in the day and some tortilla chips backstage, I hadn't eaten anything substantial since the night before. I was overdue and Steak and Shake won my heart.

We drove not much further and decamped at a Super 8 Motel. Having stayed almost exclusively at Best Western's in the US for the past few months, this opening tour and its more restrictive budget would find us experimenting with some of the less-frequented (to us) lodging chains available to the American consumer.

The Super 8 seemed fine. All the hotels seem to blur together though. I killed 5 ants somewhere down South, one room emanated a stench fairly described as death in the air and another had a Wifi signal so weak (and I was so desperate) that it was only accessible in 4 foot by 4 foot square of concrete on the second level overlooking the front desk and I sat outside being eaten alive by skeeters while the signal operated at the speed of a lone kayaker crossing the Atlantic on one of those soul-searching journeys.

The next day (or possibly even the next next day) found us eating lunch at Macaroni Grill. Having never been there before, I envisioned nothing but grilled macaroni and was DELIGHTED to no end about this. Turns out to be just another middling Italian chain restaurant (what is an Italian chain anyway? Does it smell like garlic?)

They called their olive oil "Italian water" and the tablecloth was actually two pieces of butcher paper overlapping each other. We were given crayons to decorate the paper as we saw fit. Ko wrote everyone's names with arrows pointing at them and I wrote "gay" with an arrow pointing at her. Troy sketched sad looking faces while I interpreted the restaurant's name literally and drew a hydrocephalic cartoon character with macaroni noodles for teeth wearing a t-shirt that said "Grill'd to Perfection"

All of this was infinitely more memorable that whatever meddling meta-Mediterranean muck they served us at exorbitant "lunchtime" prices.

Nashville found us in the cavernous City Hall. After check we made it next door to Ru-San's, a sushi place we've eaten at twice before on previous tours. I'd been told the original owner had sold the place and that it'd suffered ever since.

The host came up to us and told us he couldn't seat us for at least twenty minutes because a server hadn't shown up. We asked if we could just sit and order at the bar…he said we could sit, but that no one would be able to take our order for twenty minutes. At that point, a waitress walked past and asked him "What are you doing?" and said that he should just put us at a table. Awkward to be caught in the middle, we chaired it at the bar and he poured (what I believe was) complimentary sake.

When asked what happened, he replied "The state liquor board was outside and the managers split." Now even if that was the case…is that the kind of information one should be sharing with customers who've yet to even get a table? Was it some sort of warning for us to get out?

Once seated an additional server showed up and my mom and her best friend joined us. It was interesting trying to turn these two women in their fifties on to new food. I guess the older you get, the more set in your ways you're likely to become. But Pat and Mick were awesome, explaining the intricacies of yakisoba, nigiri and sashimi with dedicated patience on-par with special-ed teachers.

Mom and Susie dug their food (I was excited for them) and although the service, décor and overall crowdedness of the restaurant was nowhere near what it was under the previous owner, the food was still as delicious as ever. And really, in the end, that's all I should really judge by.

Our set was solid…as we'd ended short in Indy we added "Sharpest Claws" and "Candyass" to even us out at a proper 45 minutes. During "Can't Stop Thinking About It" I wrapped my arms around the beam directly over my drums and climbed my way over to Pat, landed (almost) on his bass drum and began beating away at his rack tom. When trying to win over a crowd, most of whom did not know you existed prior to that day, it was necessary to pull out all the stops, I figured.

Mom and Susie watched two songs by Spiritualized then split. They apparently were apparently won over enough with our set that they needed no more rock.

Harmony Korine was on the guest list plus fifteen. That may be the biggest plus I've ever seen. He was backstage after the show. Ko may or may not have met him. We piled into our van and made a couple miles outside of town to our hotel.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Spiritualized Part One: Free Time in Chicago...

We ride to Chicago four-deep, Mick drivin' his damn self cause he needed to be back in Detroit on Sunday for the Concert of Colors.

Craving them inexplicably for the past week, I indulge in Chicken McNuggets at an Illinois toll road oasis filled with a typically large Amish family. The ten-piece order satiated at first, but would knot my stomach later.

It was our first time at the Abbey Pub and I wasn't terribly impressed. It's slightly off the beaten path, which meant there was nothing to do nearby. And too much of the basement (ie, band room) was ravaged by rain.

After soundcheck and an inconsequential meal (Caesar salad) Mick and I called for a cab and made our way to the Experimental Garage sale, touting circuit-bent, home-made and hi-jacked electronics. I was tempted by the 8-bit Nintendo system retro-fit with sound chips from a toy ray-gun and equipped with wave modulators, but instead spent scrilla on a similar device with some knobs and switches, makes weird noise rock noises and has the ability to create loops. My brilliant description notwithstanding, it's pretty damn cool.

As we left the garage sale fans that were actually coming to that evening's performance identified us. They offered us a ride back to the club, not before dropping off a pal, and Mick and I were happy not to pay another cab fee.

The trek to drop of this friend, Caz as it were, would be roughly an hour blindly searching the curiously named streets of the Windy City. Our kind driver and his lady friend were a great audience though…they laughed at every stupid joke I made and that is the quickest way for me to like someone.

Once back at the club I gave my little sister a big bear hug and caught up with her, ignoring the opening bands. As we set the stage for our set, Troy's bass head began to emit smoke. He borrowed an amp from one of the opening bands, but the set never seemed to connect. Jay Reatard, King Khan, Dutchess and the Duke and Cheap Time were playing the "official" Pitchfork afterparty across town and clearly most of the crowd we should've drawn was there. Throughout our entire set, I wished I was too.

But the members of the crowd who felt the need to speak to me after the show seemed to enjoy it, which was nice. Was surprised to see Dave McCann, fellow stock-boy at Yorkshire Market while we were both still teenagers. He looked exactly the same and that felt very reassuring for some hard-to-describe reason.

The skies opened up and poured a pisser of a storm on the Chicago streets. Loading out through the rain was a fiasco. Me, my sister and her roommates were able to convince Mick to drop us off at their Wrigleyville apartment on his way back to Detroit. We crammed in and after not too long, I remembered, "Wait a minute, Mick is a TERRIBLE driver." Add to that his questionable vision, the pummeling rainstorm and the delay his defrost system was operating on and I was almost certain something would go wrong. And as the cab ALMOST hit us on the intersection of Clark and something I've since forgotten, that was close enough prophesy fulfillment for me. We thanked him profusely and directed him to his hotel in South Bend.

Rest of the night was spent eating ramen noodles, sipping a Slurpee and nibbling an oven-fresh pizza, falling asleep watching DVD's of The Boondocks.

A day off in Chicago with my sister was what I'd been looking forward to for some time. Late wake-up found us eating decent Thai food for lunch, me contemplating making my very own Italy Records t-shirt (utilizing the iron-on of Michelangelo's David) at Strange Cargo and stupidly deciding to be frugal and try and lay off the unnecessary purchases.

We took the bus to the Levis store where my sister works. I'd not ridden a bus since the summer of 2005 in London with assorted Datsuns to go see Black Mountain open for the Ponys (what a damn fine show to boot). She makes the 40-minute ride regularly and I peppered her with questions about how she utilizes the mindless time. She responded by saying I needed to let her have my iPod.

Levis was intriguing, but ultimately nothing suited me. Squeezing into a pair of 34x34 was funny, and while tempted to make a joke referencing Cadbury Cream Eggs and Butterfingers, let's just say shit was tight.

From Levis to Nike Town, the three-story temple of Swoosh that was amazing in it's ability to accurately recreate the stink of a locker room throughout the entire complex.

We checked The Dark Knight show times down the block and everything but only the 10:30 or later show times were already sold out.

We cabbed it to Dusty Grooves and I finally got my needy hands on the Coasters 4xCD box set. I'd been craving it far too long and the just-below $100 total did not go against my early vow of frugality, as this was the fucking Coasters and you cannot deny "Idol with the Golden Head" or ANYTHING Leiber and Stoller wrote.

I utilized new text-message sensation ChaCha to try and find the nearest batting cages to her haunt. The service works as follows: type out a question on your mobile phone, send it to ChaCha (or 242242 for those who don't know how to spell on a phone) and they will send you an answer.

Best of all, this service (supposedly only in its beta phase) is completely free. How cool is that?

We found ourselves upstairs at Sluggers' bar on Clark, glad to pay the $5 charge for Sunday's "all you can hit buffet." Icing on the cake was skee-ball, some pinball machines and even arcade basketball, complete with leathery, kidney-like balls coping through various stages of deflation.

The pitching machines in the cages criss-crossed like a version of cat's cradle gone awry. It would prove difficult at first to discern where exactly your pitch was coming from. The whole time the machines are being fed, by hand, by some schmoe whose demeanor seemed to say that having his scrotum continuously punctured by lava-hot needles could possibly be more rewarding than his current occupation.

The problem is, I could not disagree more. I think batting cage attendant would be an almost Zen-like profession. Sure, it probably doesn't pay the bills, but with $4-a-gallon gas, what does? He simply correlates the softballs and the hardballs together, loads them in the machines and gets to listen to classic rock radio while doing so.

This, I confess, would be an amazing job. Not only do I think he's got some good stories to lay on you, but I bet his swing is wicked awesome.

My sister is usually slow to bring up the fact that she was All-State first base softball her senior year of high school, but under the aegis of a few rounds at Sluggers, she relishes in lording said accolade over me. And after her failure to make contact with a single ball in the fast-pitch cage, I tell her "The only All-State you're worthy of is car insurance."


Surly cage monkey politely asks all swingers to take a moratorium so he can gather the stray balls that'd found chinks in the netting where they had failed to roll down the steep downgrade back into the pitching machine nerve center. He calmly walks around popping the yellow and orange rubber beacons out of their gnarled spiderwebbing until some dipshit 11-year-old fires up one of the machines and connects a solid line drive that comes damn near close to the dude's head.

He yells and walks back to the ball return HQ and hilariously shuts off the little prick's machine. The batting cages are clearly ruled by laws that are swift but just.

Half the arcade machines in the joint were in such disarming states of disrepair that you were actually surprised by the first machine that confusingly stole your quarter. By the time you'd encountered your FOURTH machine (seemingly in working order) to do so, it became apparent this was more of a business strategy than anything. Have half your machines work, half of them not and what on the surface appears to be an arcade now turns into a veritable casino, each machine its own game of chance.

Angie beat me two games to one (with one draw) in arcade basketball. I was slightly pissed, but now have all the more reason to come back and bond with her some more. I never really appreciated what a wonderful person she was until we no longer lived under the same roof and lately even the most miniscule email, phone conversation or face time is a wonderful treat. I'm equally enamored and proud with how she survives in the city. Now if she could stock Levis in my size, clear a Dark Knight screening at an appropriate time, make my Italy Records t-shirt and be just a tad shittier at basketball, she could just be the best sister ever.