Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ATP Part Two: The Only Parties I'll Ever Need...

Awake the next morning and before shoving off in Dublin Zack, Pat and I pay our respects at the Phil Lynott statue. Consider our ode, to this black man, delivered.

Arrival in Galway was marked with rain, as was every other thing we would do for the three days we were in Irish land. Club provided an apartment around the corner, we dropped off our bags there and caught our breath before heading back for soundcheck.

My main memory of this apartment will be having tracked dirty water onto the hardwood floor and not caring about cleaning it up, as there was no matt to wipe my heels on anyway.

Post check we sit around and bask in the glory of free internet at the club. Ventured across the street for a medium pepperoni pizza that was satisfying. Opening band Disconnect4 wasn't my cup of tea and for the 25 or so people there the Dirtbombs were only vaguely theirs.

Post-show rainy load-out and then back to the apartment where Zack, Pat, Ko and I watched a reality show about producing porn movies, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" and the VH1's "Supergroup" all while downing orange juice and Cadbury chocolate (me) or 3/4's of a big bag of Doritos (Pat).

Woke up early to shower and the joy of having my own room that night was that I also had my own shower. Turn on the faucet and let it run to get the hot water flowing…after twenty minutes it's apparent there's no hot water and the extremity of the cold water (read: biting) means I won't be showering this morn.

Breakfast at Subway, spicy Italian. Worldwide consistency must be admired in a franchise.

I saw approximately two blocks of Belfast. The club was a decent enough place and after soundcheck we checked into our hotel a block away. With absolutely no energy, we nap for the two hours before our set. We play swell enough to warrant an encore, but just barely.

Straight back to the hotel and watching Ewen McGregor's Long Way Down continent-spanning motorcycle trip through Africa that is truly inspiring and interesting and makes me feel that any complaining I have about touring is nothing compared to what these guys have gone through. See also Austin Vince's extraordinary (and earlier) documentaries Terra Circa and Terra Firma. In fact, I need copies of those too if you're looking to cross me off your Christmas list.

Early lobby call at 6:15 so we can make the ferry. All goes well and I space out on the boat while listening to the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz and I don't recall much else 'til we arrive at the Faversham after dark.

The club was a step above most other English spaces, with attached restaurant, free internet it was seemingly constructed to actually be a performance space. How uncommon. Backstage was ill-lit and crowded, but had a good talk with the Hipshakes (last-minute add-ons to the gig) before they did their high-energy, mid-Nineties Midwest-style garage punk rock. They're released more records I can keep track of and they will only get better with age.

I stayed backstage for thee Vicars, but was told they ended their set by all piling on top of each other, as if we needed to top it.

The first run of the set was not very good…there's been a weird drop-out on one of the strings on Zack's bass and it happens at the oddest and most infrequent times. Mick bungled the intro to "Underdog" and Zack's mic wasn't on for the intro to "Ode to a Black Man". I think there was a string broken somewhere.

At that point, we could've just as easily dialed it in and I'm sure the crowd would not have known any better. We trudged through and it got easier, but by no means a fantastic performance. We redeemed ourselves with a particularly spirited encore which found both drumsets on the dance floor, facing each other with bass drums abutting, rolling off the lilt of "Granny's Little Chicken" to a suddenly juvenated (there was nothing "re" about it) crowd. We'd salvaged it. Yipee.

Stayed that night at some guest house with Rockdentist crashing on the floor. Woke early for breakfast, was told I was too late. Couldn't find bath towels, only once the front desk handed me some did I see the ones in our room (and why they weren't located in the bathroom is beyond me). Password for the Internet didn't work. They made all of us breakfast late as we'd been misinformed as to the time…I rocked beans and toast and jam and orange juice.

Drive to Minehead would be punctuated by us dropping off former tour manager Louisa at the Sheffield train station, as she'd had tequila the night before and couldn't bring herself to make it to ATP with us like she'd planned. Conversation between Zack and I on the reasoning behind record collecting was spirited and civil.

We arrived at the festival after dark and due to my sleeping habits, I wouldn't see daylight at Minehead at all during my time there. We walked into the main room just in time to hear the 1983 version of the Melvins finish their set. Big Business followed them the inevitable momentum loss of blowing an amp, I enjoyed watching them.

We played next and our performance was, in my opinion, flawless. I think we managed to win over some metalheads, which is always an accomplishment.

After breakdown/load-out, we made way to our respective chalets. I don't know what image that conjures to the British, but for me it means a stand-alone cabin with a quaint fireplace, made of wood, somehow related to skiing. At ATP, your chalet resembles a Super 8 motel, one unit tacked next to another in a long line of ticky-tacky little boxes. Apartment, maybe, chalet…come on.

After a hearty beef stew meal at the artists' food compound, made way to check out the bands. The Locust was completely unlike anything I could ever see myself listening to…with costumes. Isis was equally as uninteresting. The two minutes I watched of White Noise looked not to have any qualities resembling intriguing.

Excited for the Meat Puppets, once they started playing I instantly reminded myself "oh yeah…they're like acid country or something." The highlights, not only of the night, but what I'd assume to be their entire catalog, were "Oh Me", "Plateau", "Backwater" and "Lake of Fire."

Discerning eyes will say "But Ben, those are the only Meat Puppets' songs you know." And to that, I cannot argue. But the reason I know them is because those seem to be only songs of theirs that do not have a 3-minute long, noodle-y guitar breakdown tucked smack dab in the middle of something enjoyable. Those four songs are perfect in their succinct, clear and digestible presentation and I didn't mind sifting through their other (read: long) songs to hear them.

I was encouraged by Coady from the Melvins to come and join Porn onstage for their big, noisy finale…to just grab a drum and just start banging sort of thing. He also passed on the hot tip that Thurston Moore would most likely be joining them as well. Hot shit.

Unluckily, my pass only granted me backstage access (or stage access, I guess) to the big room upstairs while Porn was playing the small room downstairs. I had no way to get ahold of anyone to sneak me in, so instead I watched enviously as Thurston jammed drum sticks underneath his bass strings. Sigh.

I was really geeked to catch Os Mutantes. Once I got upstairs to see them I was immediately smacked with the aura of a bad 1970's Las Vegas review. Lots of flashy costumes, bad sound, possible plastic surgery and music that was completely unfamiliar to me found me lasting no more than four songs. Had I the patience to wait another hour and twenty minutes to see "Bat Macumba" and/or the other hit (or if they just put them earlier in the set) I'm sure I'd have been satisfied. Why Sergio Dias' guitar was not the loudest thing in the mix was also befuddling…his fuzztone single-handedly shook the foundation of the Brazilian establishment in the 1960's. His guitar mixed so low was akin to asking Jimi Hendrix to play acoustic.

Skipped out to the cinema to catch Salo as had been recommended by some friends years ago. Let's just say it's not really a rah-rah party time movie. I watched no more than ten minutes before scooting out of there. Spent the rest of the night watching Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. and Schwartzman in Spun and didn't fall asleep until around 5:45am.

I woke up at 5pm and loved it.

Walked in just in time to catch the Melvins set. What a blistering, bad-ass statement as to who's the boss. They focused mainly on shit from the past two albums, save for a sludge-tastic version of "Eyes Flies", and it really warmed my heart. They owned that stage.

The most fun thing about their set was the rest of the Dirtbombs getting to watch them. Ko and Zack had never seen them before, Pat not in 15 years or so. I honestly wouldn't peg ANY of them to like the show, but when I met up with them it was such an uplift to hear ALL of them gush about how much they loved it. The Dirtbombs, as a band, love the Melvins as a band and unanimously agree that they were the best performance of the weekend.

I was really excited to see the Butthole Surfers. I think most people in the room were, but for anyone who never saw them live the first time around it was probably solely based on Michael Azzerad's genius chapter dedicated to them in "Our Band Could Be Your Life." If ever was a piece of writing that could instantly make one adore a band, that is it.

After reading I searched out their early work religiously and when telling a friend I'd recently gotten into them, received the reply "Are into acid now too?"

They were old and boring live and didn't play any songs I recognized. I was hoping for at "Sweet Loaf" at least, but instead just got bad 80's freak rock. The performance soiled my once-high opinion of them. I wish I had not watched them.

I was equally as unimpressed by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. I didn't think I would recognize any of their songs, but nothing about their performance had the smallest hint of captivation. It was more going-through-the-motions. Lydia Lunch, whom I had perceived to be this razor-sharp, effete queen of the No Wave scene instead came off as a surly, foul-mouthed Jersey housewife cursing out the referee at her son's soccer match.

Back at the Super 8 for dinner (Chinese beef and rice) and spinning records with Rockdentist. Was a good time just laying about not worried about the schedule as there was nothing else that eve I wanted to see, although felt a need to try and check out the Soul Savers with some of the Spiritualized band doing time there.

Instead, I fell asleep. Woke up and Zack, Rockdentist and I ventured to Crazy Horse. En route we were warned of a house gig by a group dubbing themselves Bad Guys, right down the block from our room. The badly British dance party at Crazy Horse was laughable. Points for dropping Saul Williams' "List of Demands" and was cool to chat with Manish from MOJO for a second.

We left quickly, poised to check out the house party. We ran into Jared from the Melvins and told him to follow. By the time we got to the room there were a good Pied Piper amount following. We walked into a solidly packed room where a drummer, guitarist and singer were playing for about twenty people. I was slowly able to get further and further in as people filed out.

I quite liked the music they were playing…the guitarist especially with wicked fuzz leads taking control of it all. After a bit people started to climb in through the window and someone stepped on the plug for the amplifier in doing so, rendering the guitar done for the night.

While dudes fruitlessly tried to fix the plug, someone plugged in an Ipod and started jamming AC/DC. Zack and Jared had climbed through the window at this point and raided the kitchen. Out of nowhere, I feel myself hit by chunks of bread, thrown by those two. More and more people begin to file in through the window and what had started as a full room had quickly turned into a room with absolutely not an extra square foot to move. In a spot that would compare to the size of most people's living room there were roughly thirty freaks, just waiting for something.

Zack and Jared then began throwing handfuls of corn flakes. It seemed to degenerate into complete mayhem at that point. The drummer from Torche had commandeered the kit and began pounding out a crowd-riling rhythm that, when coupled with the background noise of the Ipod, found the room erupt into full-fledged chaos.

People crowd surfing with their bodies mere inches from the ceiling, falling into the drums, any available liquid poured onto the drum skins for maximal mid-Eighties metal video effects, taking long swigs from bottles of booze handed to them by random strangers, immediately vomiting said booze…it was so retarded and exciting and foreign at the same time that all I could do was sit there wide-eyed, smiling, enjoying the absurdity of it all.

After a spell (was it twenty minutes? Forty-five?) it became apparent that this drum explosion would continue whether it actually should or not and our crew dispersed from the scene. I guess it would be another half-hour or so before security would finally show up and shut the thing down. Rumor was that the guys were even saying "Yeah, just come back in ten minutes, we'll have the party going again."

My time spent in the middle of that anarchy was the most fun I'd have the whole weekend and probably my entire year of touring.

With van call at 5am we didn't have much time after the house party to do much else. We packed our bags and said goodbye to Rockdentist as we filed down the long, confusing route to the van. Looking through the window of the party room as we passed by was a handful of the Bad Guys dudes surveying the damages to a table and trying to prop it up so as to hopefully momentarily fool someone into thinking everything was the norm.

Zack had apparently stopped to take photos through some windows and got separated from the rest of the group. Instead of searching us out he went back to our room and waited for us to grab him there. This took about 15 minutes in the 5am freeze. Once we'd gathered our stray little sheep, it was in the van for the interminable drive/ferry to Rotterdam.

Monday, December 15, 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties Part One: Nighting Irish...

The flights over to London were effortless. Despite the layover in Chicago (I hate indirect flights overseas) we were rewarded with a half-full flight and none of us had to sit next to each other, or anyone else for that matter. I watched most of "The Love Guru" and can't help but contemplate how much Mike Myers' star has fallen.

Baggage and customs went off almost too easily…as if someone was making everything particularly carefree in hopes of sneaking up on us and suddenly requiring us to do calculus equations before allowed entry into the country. Easily found Matthew, our new tour manager over here, and made way to the storage space in Finchley to pick up our equipment.

The dark, dank garage is just as I remembered it…dark and dank. We had trouble remembering what gear, particularly guitar amplifiers, we'd used back in June, but figured that out fairly easily. Of more concern and importance was availability of only one drum set. We'd distinctly left two sets of drums and two assortments of hardware and now there was merely one. We'd later find out the problem, so often the person I look to point a finger at when things go sour in my life: Ben Swank.

So despite Swank's having taken the drums we'd planned on using we sorted things out. Matthew offered up the use of a drum set that was just sitting at his house. Seeing as we had to go back to his home in Sheffield anyway to pick up our merch, this was a relatively quick and easy solve. On our way there, Matthew asks if we like Vitamin Water.

"Yeah, why do you ask?"

"Well, I've got about ten cases of it stacked up in my living room"

With the reality of not having to pay to pay for any V-dubs for the next two weeks it became apparent very early on that Matthew rules.

From his crib in Sheffield to the streets of Bangor and Royal Tandoori curry restaurant. I indulged in chicken korma and garlic nan bread and 'twas heavenly. Pat commented that his chicken tikka masala was the best he'd ever had. We all lay heavy, heavy praise at their doorstep.

We'd crash that night at the Travelodge in Holyhead. Zack and I inexplicably found ourselves watching Samuel L. Jackson's film "SWAT" and after a brief period were physically unable to change the channel. Upon the film's climactic end (SPOILER ALERT: the good guys win) I doze off into dreamland around 11pm.

I awake again at 3:30am and will not be able to fall back asleep before we leave at 7:30am. I lay and stare at the ceiling for an hour, spend another two writing and killing time on my laptop, then spend another hour hoping I may at least get some ounce of sleep before we shove off on the early morning ferry.

I would get no sleep and the ferry would be very anticlimactic, other than Pat's mild hallucinations from the motion of the waves. We arrived in Dublin about 11am with ample time to kill and I led Pat and Zack to the string of record shops I remember finding when in town with Stoltz back in 2006.

I dig Euro shops and their propensity for stocking bootlegs. I thought long and hard about a 2xLP Nirvana boot Seattle Sound Sounds Great (who's name had weirdly been in my heard during part of my two hours of staring at the ceiling the previous evening) but decided against it as I couldn't see myself listening to the thing more than once. But the idea of a vinyl bootleg, to me, seems so counter-intuitive and backwards that I couldn't help but feel like I NEEDED to have it.

I also passed on the bootleg pressing of the White Stripes "Jolene" 7" as I thought 15 euro was a lot to be handing over to out-and-out pirates.

We walked up the block and found ourselves eating at Gallagher's Boxty House. I'd commented that I'd wanted to have some traditional Irish food, Pat recommended the trad seven course meal (a six-pack of Guinness and a potato) but instead we mange on boxty's. I'd understood them to be sort of like a burrito or a crepe…I ordered the Gaelic boxty and that had steak and mushrooms in some rich gravy-type sauce.

The confusing part for me was that the "boxty" bread or pancake or whatever you want to call it, was merely folded over and placed on top of the meat. Nothing was stuffed inside, it wasn't cooked all at once and frankly, its taste didn't seem to match up with its 20 euro price tag.

Unsatisfied, I reluctantly asked for the dessert menu. The sticky toffee pudding was calling my name…not only does the acronym "STP" rule when used for anything other than in-hindsight shitty 1990's alternative bands, but each word individually is something I really enjoy, so coupled together, it was a no-brainer.

Served with a dollop of cream and a side of ice cream, this hot structure of some bread/toffee concoction with a wisp of sugary sauce zig-zagged over it was, by far, the richest and most delectable dessert that I have had in the past ten months of touring. It clearly made up for the lackluster boxty and I wished that I had just ordered three servings of STP as I would've been a much more satisfied customer.

Pat didn't like his boxty either, but his cheese plate dessert, like my STP, also remedied his insufficient main course. Zack got grilled onions/mushrooms and soda bread and enjoyed that just fine.

Feeling invigorated by the glorious end to my meal, I marched back to Borderline Records and ponied up the plastic to get that bootleg Stripes single. Good food can make one change their position on just about anything, don't you think?

Checked into the hotel at 2pm and because the official check-in time was 3pm, had to pay a 10 euro service charge which makes absolutely no sense. The room is sitting there, empty, ready for us to use, what is the reason for charging an extra fee for us to get in there? I call bullshit on you Travelodge of Dublin.

With only one room ready at that time, the four of us in the band who hadn't invented garage rock took to the two twin beds pushed together and crashed hardcore. I thought it was a pretty funny example of how beat we all were, all four of us in a row, konked out, no regard or care for how little room there was to be shared between the mattresses…we'd truly reached a state of extreme comfort (or ambivalence) towards/with each other.

Soundcheck at Whelan's was the most comfortable I've felt while playing drums in recent memory. The tension of the heads, the timbre of their strike, the resonance of their decay…it all sounded (and more importantly FELT) perfect.

Chilled upstairs for a spell before hanging with Sean Earley and crew and shooting the shit. Sean had so graciously designed and printed posters for the Dublin and Galway shows and seemed pretty excited about the gig. I didn't watch the Real Junk before us, but by the time we took the stage there was a sizeable, amped crowd ready for our jam.

We played a tad sloppy. Mick broke a string during the first song and we all seemed to be suffering from some slight disconnect. As if that insight even matters because the crowd loved the shit out of the show. There was a clear affinity for songs off Ultraglide and with the only other time we'd played town being in 2002 I guess it made sense.

Zack took a magnificent spill while standing on top of Pat's bass drum during the breakdown in "Candyass" and we all had a hearty laugh at him taking out a good portion of Pat's kit, but not before Pat moved out of the way to avoid injury and then quickly reassembled the mangled bits to come in right where he was supposed to. It was almost, dare I say, poetic.

Encored with "Can't Stop Thinking About It" and "Granny's Little Chicken" and once I brought my drums onto the main floor it seemed I could do no wrong with the crowd. They adored every last thing I could muster, whether hearty two-handed snare slams posturing as a drum solo or fumbly attempts at Bonham-sized tom flams those Irish freaks made me feel like I was Gene Krupa.

After show I felt no twinge of tiredness and instead cruised the internet for a couple of hours. An email from mom hipped me to some weird celestial happenings in regards to Venus and the gibbous moon and with nothing else better to do at 5:30am, I put my shoes on in hopes of finding those heavenly bodies amidst the orange glow of Dublin street lamps.

Up and down the street, foraying into an alley or too all proved fruitless. Back at the hotel and roof access was apparently restricted by "Emergency-Only" alarmed doors. I ventured to a section of our floor that was under renovation and snuck into an eerily empty open-doored room with hopes of scoping the moon from the window. I had to precariously climb over some boxes and tools to even get to the window, but had no luck in finding any special skyward occurances.

I guess the point of it all was that at least I'd tried. I've never really shown interest in eclipses or anything of that sort, but as I hope is clearly apparent by reading here, more often than not it's the journey, not the destination, that you remember.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

TVOTR Part Ten: Finale...

Arrival at Jupiter Hotel was late and through some possibly illegal methods, I discover that the Breeders are lodging there that evening as well.

The Ben Blackwell of 2002 in this situation would have shit his pants followed immediately by the cleaning of said shit pants and a surreptitious casing of the joint to find which room Kim Deal was staying in. Once I determined what room, I would nervously stare at its door for a half-hour before slipping a Dirtbombs CD accompanied by a hand-written note underneath. My heart rate would rise. I would feel like I'd accomplished something.

The Ben Blackwell of 2008 was tired and went to sleep.

Woke up early to enjoy as many of the Portland delights as possible. Voodoo Donuts delivered with its trusty, yummy morning goodness (a cruller and a bacon-covered maple log) and an exploratory visit into Powell's was nice and quick and left me prepared for later.

Would spend time walking dogs and waiting in the parking lot of BMW repair shop to finish the replacement of a broken headlight all while sitting on the concrete and discussing the individualistic perils and pet peeves of the touring musician. Grilled cheese lunch at the restaurant attached to the Jupiter was sufficient.

After lunch I was dropped off at Powell's. I picked up three books in the 33 1/3rd series…DAYDREAM NATION, KICK OUT THE JAMS and the self-titled Ramones record. I also got a book about the cultural history of blue jeans, another about the influx of amateur content creators and the supposed negative effect it's having on culture, vis a vis blogs and other new media (a text Mick dubbed "reactionary"), the thick, non-Stevie Chick Sonic Youth bio and a New York Times almanac-type tome called their "Guide to Essential Knowledge."

Was surprised they did not have a copy of Sugrue's ORIGIN OF THE URBAN CRISIS and still need to grab a copy for myself.

Walked to Berbati's for soundcheck and after that partook in a healthy debate about documentarians and their possible love/detachment from their subjects, in regards to people like Rodney King, Errol Morris, Michael Moore and others. After an entire month of relentless Ian Mackaye, vegan, straight-edge and "new guy in the band" barbs, it took my questioning of Zack's pronunciation of "Truman Capote" (which, to me, sounded like "Truman Compote") for him to finally go off.

It seems the hazing is finally complete.

Little Claw opened and was glad to see them. Wasn't expecting the violin and wish there were a tad more people to see them, but I enjoyed it and that's all that matters. Didn't watch as much of Eat Skull as I should've, but it seemed like the line-up was, barring one person, completely different from the one I'd seen in Detroit in September.

While not expecting much from the show I think all of us in the band were pleasantly surprised. It seemed the crowd in Portland had come to dance. Such is a beautiful sight from the stage. We'd forgotten that when headlining our own shows, as opposed to opening for other groups, people actually know what they're in for and have showed up (usually) expressly for your performance. It's a nice thing to be reminded of every once in awhile.

While loading out after the show made my second trip of the day to Voodoo Donuts and bought an Old Dirty Bastard…a chocolate donut with bits of Oreo cookie on top and some peanut butter (as a topping? Filling? I cannot remember) and it might be the best donut I've had there yet. Zack was excited about vegan donuts available at 2am.

Breakfast the next morn at the hotel restaurant was scrumptious and crowded and still left me with an overwhelming desire to play the Doug Fir lounge downstairs. Made a third visit to Powell's after that and bought 33 1/3's IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA.

Drove straight to the club, Chop Suey, in Seattle and enjoyed the fact that I could order Chinese food from a little kitchen situated inside the club. I thought the meal was tasty but my bowels seemed to disagree a little while later. Has anyone ever followed these "eat right for your blood type" recommendations? Just now in life I've begun to realize that particular foods have an adverse effect on my insides and that maybe I could prevent it.

Didn't watch the opening acts and instead spent time catching up with Henry from Chunklet who happened to be in town promoting his new book "The Rock Bible." We, as a band, bought four copies. Ko had apparently already received one for free. He also came up with the single best Zach joke yet.

Q: What's the difference between a straight-edge vegan and a bucket of shit?

A: You can at least party with a bucket of shit.

This after having met Zach for all of five minutes.

The show in Seattle was even more good-time-dancing-fun-vibes. For the encore I brought my drums onto the floor and riled up the crowd with pale (Dale) Crover imitations. To end it all, I grabbed my floor tom and threw it head-side down onto my ride cymbal, intending to puncture the drum skin with an exciting boom. While it failed to "boom" as much as I would've liked, I made a quick exit and went to catch my breath backstage.

While sitting backstage I heard pained moans coming from the hallway. Henry, standing halfway in the door showed signs of genuine revulsion on his face and then whispered, "There's a lot of blood" to me.

As it happened, one of the workers at Chop Suey was right there with me when I'd brought my drums into the crowd to make sure no one would fuck with my set. With split-second imprecision, he managed to slide his hand between my floor tom and ride cymbal as I was marrying the two in unholy bliss.

I ventured out into the hallway and there was an adequate amount of blood…way less than Henry'd led me to believe. The tip of his forefinger was just barely still attached. He was given a cup of ice to shove said digit into in preparation for reattaching it. I was freaked out but clearly not as much as the guy who was losing blood. I apologized and asked if there was anything I could do for him, but he seemed in genuine shock and other than telling me not to worry about it, didn't have anything else to say to me.

His bosses said the club would pay for the emergency room visit and his co-workers said if he played his cards right he could get workman's comp. After he was whisked away I got everyone in the band to autograph an LP for him and everyone wrote top-notch, witty and heartfelt inscriptions to the guy. We left him a t-shirt too. I didn't know what else we could do. I truly hope he's alright and I hope he doesn't mind that I don't plan on washing his blood off my bass drum.

Met Kim from the Dutchess and the Duke backstage and went totally fanboy gushing about how much I loved everything that band has done. She was humble and gracious and almost caught off-guard about how much I liked her "faggot-y folk band." When her and Dean from the Stoltz band were looking for beer after closing time, it was an honor for me to buy them a six-pack from the bar, as two finer people in Seattle you will not meet.

Stayed at the Crowne Plaza hotel and were charged $34 to park the van overnight.

Next morn was a requisite trip to the downtown Guitar Center (me: snare wires and floor tom head, Pat: crash cymbal, others: don't know) and then plunked down the big money for a meal from Whole Foods. I focused on dessert with cheese cake AND bread pudding. My main course was orange peel chicken on a bed of rice with some tofu thrown in for kicks. I ate both desserts and barely half of the rest and with a Odwalla I'd spent approximately $21 on lunch. Damn.

Showed up in Misssoula to find that the Badlander is the same room I knew as the Ritz where the infamous Jack White birthday riot went down back in 2001. Luckily, new ownership meant there would be no repeat of that night's shenanigans.

Local openers Rooster Sauce and Victory Smokes were exactly what I'd expected of bands from Missoula. The Sauce even premiered the video for their song "Snakeskin Monkey" this night and that too was everything I'd expected for a self-produced music video for a band from Missoula.

The stage was particularly small and coupled with not having played the town in over four years found us with an absolutely manic crowd completely up-front and in our faces. What upon booking felt like an unnecessary roadblock on our route home would prove to be the best of our headlining shows of this run…all the genuine excitement and dancing of Seattle and Portland increased tenfold and Missoula, despite what one may think, proved it can rock with the best of them. The encore was Zach's first-ever shot at "Granny's Little Chicken" and that devolved into Ko, Mick and I jiving in the crowd (Ko playing fuzz while I balanced her on my shoulders for a spell) and it ALL ended with me saying into the mic "Happy fucking birthday Jack."

The route back to Detroit would prove daunting. The first day of driving found us getting gas across the street from, I shit you not, a place with signage declaring it a used COW lot. Being the beginning of hunting season and Montana being kind-of a hunting state, it was fairly common to find ourselves driving behind a pick-up truck with 12 deer legs just sticking up in the air with the bodies completely obscured from sight. Most establishments had signs saying hunters were not allowed to bring their guns inside and I couldn't imagine why that even needed to be said.

We later stopped at a gas station that happened to be on an Indian reservation and it was one of the more depressing places we'd been in recent memory. The Kentucky Fried Chicken there carried only a bare-bones menu (scuttling my plans to rock a Famous Bowl) and the cash register sported a hand-written sign saying, in pen, "No credit cards…machine is messed up." The chicken strips were more breading than chicken and there were no fewer than three public service posters in view touting the dangers of methamphetamine use.

At the same time, Zach made a sullen declaration of not being able to dream in this establishment and after a suitable pause, pointed to the window of the gift shop completely filled with dream catchers and said "They just keep getting caught over there." There was a picturesque sunset and across the street was an advertisement for "Cuts-the-Hair." Weird, weird times.

That evening found us staying in Chamberlain, South Dakota. We'd GPS'd a Days Inn at the exit, but noticed the West River Inn and Suites offering 24-hour pool and spa. As frequent lodgers, this is not an everyday offer, and as night owls, it was an something we had to take them up on.

The hotel didn't appear to be a chain but it was clean and comfortable and very, very inviting. While making my way to the pool, Zach said the lady at the front desk said to let her know if we'd be swimming, as she would then turn the lights off for us. Having no idea what this meant I failed to notify her and instead just walked down to the pool by myself.

The indoor, heated pool and hot tub were accented not only by a stereo system that was playing light house music (and later, breezy classical) but by a second floor reminiscent of a projection booth with no less than three club-quality lighting systems in full-effect. We had managed to find the only 24-hour disco pool in all the world and it was in South Dakota.

After requisite hand-stands and underwater stretching I made way to the hot tub and marinated in there. There was no reason a place like this should exist, yet I was reveling in it. The thin, green laser lights coalescing into a circuit of geometric patterns was particularly spellbinding.

After ample time boiling in the tub I made back into the pool and stood in the middle, motionless, focusing on the colors and patterns the lights formed on the floor of the pool, benefiting from the unpredictable refraction caused by the still, chlorinated four feet of water. This is as close as I come to getting stoned, meditating or finding any other higher state of (un)consciousness.

(I later surmised that the only logical reason to have such a set up for a pool was that they probably host orgies there)

Having been away from home for so long, we'd planned to drive the remaining fifteen hours back to Detroit while only stopping for food, gas and pee breaks. And through the remainder of South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois this proved fine. It wasn't until we'd reached Indiana that shit got messy.

We reached a portion on I-94 where the road was just closed…all cars being forced to exit and most of them winding up at a Flying J Travel Plaza trying to plan alternate routes. Our GPS system helped us to get to the next open entrance ramp and once back on the freeway we were literally in a caravan on a road that was a sheet of ice with a flashing-lights police cruiser as the pace car.

While the icy conditions of the road became somewhat less daunting, the snow storm at that point had reached white-out conditions just around our crossing of the Michigan border. It was a nightmare…all of us had hopes of sleeping in our own beds that night and with home not even three hours away we could almost taste it. At the same time, we could not see more than a couple of feet ahead of our van in these conditions.

None of us wanted to stop, yet we all knew there was no other option.

We exited in Sawyer, Michigan and got rooms at the Super 8. Once checked in Zack (he of hole in his canvas shoe) and I trudged through the snow to eat at the 24-hour Country Pride restaurant at the truck stop across the street. At this point, the snow had ceased.

With nothing but time we had a long, languorous meal/conversation before heading back to grab some sleep. We'd all agreed to leave at 8am as getting home earlier was getting home better.

7:50 rolls around…Zack opens the curtains and coldly says "Fucking hell."

It seemed since we'd fallen asleep another four inches of snow had fallen. Thoughts of not making it home THAT day briefly entered my mind and I trembled. We loaded the van and Pat skillfully and cautiously maneuvered the van through more blizzard and icy road conditions until that spot where I-94 jags eastbound and we were free from the immobilizing grip of lake-effect snow. We would be home in no time and home ain't no time at all.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

TVOTR Part Nine: We Are Apparently Pimps and Prostitutes Too...

We stopped at some desert town on the Grapevine. Woke up in the morning and paid the one-armed man at Subway before hitting Starbucks for a milkshake that they besmirch by with the name Frappuccino.

The Warfield is a dignified place of performance and everything ran smoothly, bar Pat in a shouting match with some club worker about the guestlist. For our last show with TVOTR we played strong and floor-tom in-the-crowd/deconstructionist-stage-load-out seemed to really impress the crowd.

While cleaning out my bag in our dressing room between sets I happened upon a handful of "Fart Bombs" I'd bought at a corner store in Providence. Having not utilized any of the ammunition on the entire trip, I figured then was as good a time as any.

I cracked the bag of chemical as sealed in a gaudy mylar packaging. The two previously separated substances would soon join and commingle in an unholy pong. After starting the process, I blindly tossed the packet into the adjoining room. It landed at Mick's feet, he surveyed it curiously and it erupted with an inauspicious "pop" in his face.

While I would in any other circumstance consider myself a tomfooler of the utmost caliber, I can, with the joy of hindsight, offer that stinkbombing your own dressing room is a faux pas as gauche as recreating a silent film-era slapstick and having the protagonist slip on a plantain peel.

Everyone backstage from the TV on the Radio dudes, our guests, the security guards and the somewhat abrasive Jon Dwyer all found time to comment on the overpowering stench. It was clearly in bad form on my behalf, but, to be fair, I made sure to sit there throughout the tang's duration rather than escape to more fragrant pastures.

Joined TVOTR for their encore with the rest of the Dirtbombs and reveled in the massive percussive happening. Snuck out without saying goodbye to most and after-the-fact felt it was a tad impolite.

Ko would find herself on Danzig's tour bus later that evening. Clearly she wins.

The next day would prove to be a scheduling miracle…a day off in San Francisco, the likes of which we'd only dreamt of. Staying with Kelley Stoltz and he'd bought me half-a-dozen donuts as he revels in the fact that they're my breakfast food of choice. We met up with Mick and made time cruising the shops on Valencia.

After stocking up on postcards at the McSweeney's storefront, gawking at the taxidermy next door at Paxton's Gate and picking up a package containing a Kevin Ayers' solo record at Stoltz's PO box we made our way to the myriad of record shops in the Haight.

First to Rooky Ricardo's…I stocked up on pins of old record labels (Fortune, Palmer, others) and bought an LP that was visually reminiscent of the first Stripes' album cover. From there to some other record shop where I bought nothing, then onward to Amoeba, the temple.

Bought CD copy of the Dion album that was recommended as "sounds like Spiritualized" (produced by Phil Spector), the Cool Kids full-length, used copy of the Langley Schools CD, the Figures of Light CD (FINALLY!) and possibly other things that've since slipped my mind. Had good chats with all the requisite employees too…Tom Lynch, Shayde Sartin, Brock Whateverhislastnameis.

From there to Burma Superstar. Crowded as all get-out on a Monday night, this grub was the real deal. The tea leaf salad was enjoyed by vegan, vegetarian and real-people alike at our table. I personally delighted in my Nan Gyi Dok. Dining with Stoltz and his star-power found us enjoying complimentary dessert. The establishment gets utmost praise from all in our dining party.

Then down the street to Green Apple Books…I finally cross the LP copy of Beck's Mutations with bonus 7" and issue #6 of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern off my audio and literary want lists, respectively.

We spent downtime at a bar and caught up with various Stoltz band members while watching assorted sports highlights.

Stoltz drove us up to a hill overlooking the whole of San Francisco, a twinkling vista that made the burg seem smaller more than anything else. Zack and I soaked it in with Kel while Mick talked on the phone.

Back at Stoltz's to enjoy his "spatially inappropriate" Altec movie theater speakers and original pressings of Revolver and Black Monk Time.

The next morn we pick up Mick and him and Kel chow fish tacos while I'd early indulged in leftover donuts.

We then hit up Grooves, Kel's place of employment. I scored vinyl copies of the Flat Duo Jets' Go Go Harlem Baby and a mono copy of Mitch Ryder's Take a Ride LP. I also won some cool knick-knacks in the old-style crane-game in the shop…a slide whistle and a miniature cast of Nipper, the RCA Records logo dog.

From there back to the Haight to Groove Merchant Records that'd been closed on Monday. I got a Lorri Randolph 45 on Tri-Phi and a peculiar single by a band called Water Melon that's rambunctious weird '69-'70 rock with organ and the side "African Song" kills. After that we eat at a Pakistani (?) place in the Mission, on the same block as the Kil-o-Watt. Naan bread delicious, the rest of my meal not terribly so.

Big plan for the eve was a pizza party at Mike Gabriel's. Having attended one before, I knew what fun I was in for. Mike and his gal Jen prep with pre-portioned slabs of dough and assorted topping possibilities. Each person takes a turn assembling their own ideal pie and the rest of the party samples it with the requisite critique, ribbing and general good-hearted fun. The dough and I weren't getting along, but I still stand by my prime "How-To" example of a pepperoni pizza. Lots of stories told, records listened to and a general appreciation of life was shared by all.

Next morning Mick and I spent approximately 45 seconds inside Revolver (our distributor) to pick up copies of We Have You Surrounded on CD and LP. This is a new record as trips here usually become protracted bouts of scouring the racks for long-forgotten or mis-filed gems.

Slowly met up with the rest of the band and soon made our way out of the city.

After hours of driving and the lavatorial needs of one and the lodging needs of all was best squelched by a stop at a PETRO truck stop in Medvale, just inside the Oregon border. I made quick way to the bathroom, followed shortly thereafter by Pat who says "Ben…you should buy a "Greatest Hits" CD."

"Why?" I respond.

"Just do it," he says with a smile.

As I head back toward the register, I see a cardboard CD display case for the "Playlist: The Very Best of…" series of green-friendly repackaging of certain Sony-related artists' greatest hits. On top of the four-foot display was a mini billboard topper, listing the series title and its affordable $9.98 price. But neither the name nor the price could obscure the mind-boggling jaw-drop of seeing a picture of THE DIRTBOMBS on this advertisement.

Mick spotted it first. He was buying something at the register when his eyes caught the picture (one of our silhouette promo shots for...Surrounded) and he just stood there dumbfounded. When pressed by the cashier, Mick flipped the whole display around for the worker to see and said, "You'll never believe this…but that's ME!"

Zack nimbly negotiated the exchange of one CD copy of …Surrounded for the portion of the unit depicting his bandmates while we all just sat there kinda befuddled. No, they were not selling any Dirtbombs records at the stop. No, the records were not bootleg. No, no one in the band or at the label or even the photog had signed off on this.

We made a pledge to stop at any more PETRO's we saw the rest of the trip (with hopes of procuring more of the ads) and we saw not a one. A call to our record label and a call from him to friends in the photo licensing biz were encouraging, but apparently without the Sony logo anywhere on our visage, we've apparently been pimped without hope of retribution.

So here's a call to you faithful readers: If anyone can shed ANY light on this situation, if you know who does the layouts for the "Playlist" in-store advertising, if you find any more instances of this pic

at PETRO (or other) truckstop CD displays, if you steal/buy/barter for its possession or can just simply explain what-the-fuck is going on, please let us know and you will be rewarded HANDSOMELY by the band.

It's not that I don't like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash or Heart…it's just that I never in a million truckstops thought that the band's picture (and to a degree, my image) would be used to shill products without any regard for consent or permission. Does this mean we're big time? Once we start getting screwed over? Surreal does not even begin to describe the situation. Two weeks later and it's still completely flummoxing and aggravating all at the same time.

At the same stop, Ko was utilizing the free WiFi to try and book hotels for the night. With our sights set on Portland, we'd discussed just straight booking rooms at the Jupiter Hotel, but with their quoted price as $150 per room, per night, we decided to take our chances with Priceline.

When the $60 per room, per night option for a 2 1/2 star hotel near downtown and the convention center popped up, we were a bit skeptical. Two and a half stars? Really? The luxury of the stay would be not having to check out the first morning…oh what a deep, restful luxury it is. We threw caution to the wind, booked it and were elated to find out we'd been placed at none other than…the Jupiter Hotel.

You win this round Shatner.