Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dirtbombs Went to the West Coast for Four Shows...Part One

Flying to Atlanta to get to San Diego, from Nashville? Oh the beauty of airline hubs and the dregs of Hartfield International, a more-despised airport I cannot imagine. In my attempt to explain to Malissa how close the Casbah is to the San Diego airport, I was physically able to point out the window to the marquee of the club approximately 5 seconds before our plane landed. Yes dear, visible-from-the-airplane close.

We arrive to an oppressive, 94 degree heat. Pat’s hanging out with his sister, the rest of the band is running errands for/with Mick. They’ve rented a minivan. Mal’s cousin picks us up from the airport and we go to eat at the Yardhouse. I forgot what I ordered, but Malissa got an amazing mac’n’cheese dish while the rim of my lemonade glass was dusted in sugar. I appreciate the attention to detail.

Arrive at the Casbah just in time to sound check. The Sermon had offered up their gear in exchange for the opening spots on the shows and we couldn’t really say no to that. The day before their van started smoking and they too had to rent a minivan (coupled with a spare truck they were also traveling in) to make the tour possible. Together we felt like soccer moms-in-arms.

We hadn’t played together as the Dirtbombs in about five months. First song at sound check was “What You’ve Got” a song that the band had never played live and only two of us (Mick and I) played on the recording of. I felt comfortable with it but Ko and Zack clearly have trouble making sense of Mick’s complete lack of a follow-able guitar. We then did “Underdog” and leave the stage because the doors were about to open.

First band was the Death Eaters. They may spell that with one word, but if they do, I wonder if they ever improperly addressed as the Deat Heaters? Or kids I knew in St. Louis called the Overtones…did they ever get called the Overt Ones? Or ’76 Kansas City punk unknowns the Vomitones…could anyone have ever called them the Vomit Ones? Oh the needless way my brain chooses to reinterpret band names.

Deat Heaters were a three-piece with a black guy singing lead and playing guitar, an Asian guy on bass and a white dude drumming. Someone made the wise observation that if you added a Mexican and another white dude that they could give the Dirtbombs a run for their money. I sincerely liked how they sounded and I don’t say that often about local openers. I was vaguely reminded of the Reigning Sound. They didn’t have a record. I believe they said they were working on it. Eagerly I await.

The Sermon sounded better than they ever have before. This was peculiar because I only recognized one band member and knew that one of the guitar players was on-loan just for these shows. Nevertheless, it felt as if what before could get caught up in intensity without much intention, this show echoed with effort and exaction. The dirge-y, “Dirt”-like ending tune was a welcome departure as well.

We made the point to actually write out setlists but that action notwithstanding, there really is nothing like jumping onstage with no rehearsal behind you. No net, no take-backs…or as Tom Petty would say, free-ballin’.

The performance was surprisingly acceptable. Upon starting “Wreck My Flow” I felt that the disco boots-pants beat on the hi-hat didn’t seem right. I stared at Pants and for the life of me could not figure out what was wrong. Halfway through I finally realized that I don’t play this song on the hi-hat. I play it on the rim of the snare drum. This was my only “duh” moment of the night.

Encored with the borrowed blue Ludwig Vistalites on the floor in the middle of the crowd as Pants stood over me (on the stage) pouring water all over them for impressive water spouts upon impact. Hands got all wet and resulted in dropped sticks. That shit's funny when you're the only one playing.

Post-show I met up with pal Davey who played in Tall Birds and was in town drum tech-ing for Modest Mouse. Intro’d me to Joe Plummer (MM drummer) who said we’ve met before. I couldn’t specifically remember, but he reminded me that he was at the White Stripes show at Al’s Bar in LA back in 2000. He was with his then-girlfriend Janet Weiss. They bought “Hello Operator” picture discs, Sleater-Kinney asked Jack and Meg to open for them not two months later and it was all downhill for the White Stripes from there.

Nearby Mick was talking with someone and beckoned me over. He said “Ben, meet Alex Chilton.” I was supremely caught off-guard. Member of the Box Tops and Big Star, producer of the Cramps and the Gories(!) and all I could muster was some limp conversation about, shit, it wasn’t about ANYTHING! I was so flustered that I dragged Mal over and she proceeded to have a better conversation with him than I could. Smooth move Ben.

I manned the min-van for the nighttime drive back to San Diego. I was getting a bit sleepy but was too proud to say so. A stop in Orange County found us at one of the three best gas stations in the US (in my opinion). That stop also recharged my constitution and I was easily able to drop off Zack at his friend’s place (where a pack of raccoons were literally climbing 12-foot-tall chain link fences) before the rest of us set up camp at In the Red headquarters in Eagle Rock.

Larry Hardy’s residence on Avenue 45 is the vinyl Valhalla vision in the barren wasteland that is Los Angeles. Mal and I crash in the Dave Katznelson Memorial suite, making this one of only two times at the residence where I failed to sleep on the couch. After about a dozen visits, that couch is part of my DNA (or is my DNA part of that couch?) and to see Ko sleeping on it, I won’t lie, I felt slightly betrayed.

The ability to sleep in the next morning was delightful. Mick, Ko, Pat, Mal and I walked up the street to Auntie Em’s for delectable edibles from Terri Wahl, previously punk who spent time in the Red Aunts and the Screws. The special that day was a lasagna (I think) and me and two of my tablemates all ordered it. We enjoyed it.

Back to Casa de Hardy. Pat scooted off with Mick and they dropped Ko off at her hotel. They went to a gallery doing a show of Polaroid photos. They’d planned to go to the Third Man Records pop-up store too, but somehow got sidetracked and ended up at Amoeba.

Mal and I met up with Steve Macdonald and his son Alfie. We made way to a surf shop in Pasadena in search of rash guard for Alfie’s first-ever swimming excursion the next day. They had no guards. We walked to Urban Outfitters and realized THEY didn’t have rash guards either. From a freeway overpass we marveled at the smoke plume from the wildfires in the distance.

After our QT with Steve and Alfie we went back to Larry’s. Malissa went to hang out with her friend Alia while Larry and I cruised to Hollywood to hang out with Bob Matheu.

Bob has just written the authorized biography of the Stooges. He enlisted me to write a review of Funhouse for the book. I thought it would be just for him to quote from (as he said, he was sick of all the reviews of the album from the era and wanted new words) so imagine my surprise as he shows me the book with my review printed in its entirety.

If that were not enough, alongside my words are the most absolutely stunning photo outtakes from the Funhouse sessions where Steve Mackay looks so damn foxy I feel that my heterosexuality is now negotiable. Add to that a pristine label scan of an Armed Forces Radio and Television Services LP (proudly mentioned in my review) and the whole thing is quite possibly my most favorite thing I’ve ever written. Please do search out the book, officially titled “The Stooges Authorized and Illustrated Story” as it is truly a treasure trove. Pre-order on Amazon today and save!

And if THAT were not enough, he also hipped our ears to some sonic Stooge delight the likes of which have not been heard in 30+ years. That’s all I’m fit to spill here, but let’s just say that there’s still PLENTY of solid material languishing in the vaults that should (hopefully) see a release sometime soon.

I’ve never had the luxury of seeing Larry Hardy so giddy. The original plan was for Larry to drop me off at the Echo and then double-back to Hollywood where he had dinner plans. As we listened to more and more Larry’s eye was increasingly fixated on the time. In what was welcomed desperation, Larry gave me $60 and said “I’ll PAY for your carbide to the Echo if it means I get an extra 15 minutes of listening to this stuff.” I happily obliged and was gracious enough to give him $20 back as the ride was $30 and change and I tipped the driver up to $40.

Brief soundcheck at the Echo and then chill time with my buddy Josh. He has an apartment right around the corner from the club so we hung there a bit before returning to eat pizza slices next door to the club. Not sure if it’s always this way, but the 7” jukebox in there was offering free plays. Naturally I played the Stooges.

Downstairs that evening was Conor Oberest and His Mystic Valley Band. The confusing/interesting thing about it is that the entrance for that club (the Echoplex) is around the corner and down the street from the entrance for the Echo. So more than a few confused fans walked up to the door for our show only to be directed down the block, across the street, down some stairs and back across the street to see Conor. The VIP’s for that show were allowed into the entrance of the Echo and led down a secret set of stairs to the Echoplex. I saw Jenny Lewis and Chloe Sevigny (separate) and couldn’t help but think Chloe’s ensemble was terribly outrageous in the most uninteresting way. Then I wondered if people actually like Conor Oberest’s music.

(although Dungen was opening the show, I made no effort to see them…figured owning the record was good enough and for a band playing that kind of music, the only time I’d seen them live it seemed sterile and rehearsed. I was hoping for more…jamming? I can’t believe I’m actually typing those words. Watching them play felt like jazz to me and that’s not meant as a compliment)

I missed openers Jail Weddings and the Sermon too. Turned out that as de facto tour manager I made a pretty huge goof-up. After LA, we had a day off to drive to San Francisco. The following day, Saturday, we would be performing at the Outside Lands Festival in SF at 12:45pm.

At some point in organizing the tour, the Sermon asked if we wanted to play a show on that Friday and if not, would we be fine if they did themselves? We chose to relish in our day off and had no problem with them booking their own show. Turns out I failed to notify the Sermon that we would still need their gear with us in San Francisco for a 10am load-in at Golden Gate park. And that kind of thing just ain’t possible when they’ve got a late gig in Santa Barbara the night before.

I sat on the curb outside the Echo feeling pretty fucked. As is my usual first instinct on those feelings, I called Kelley Stoltz. He didn’t answer, but I left a detailed message. Before I could even seriously begin to worry, Kelley called back, said he had a drum set and guitar amp we could use. He’d already been in touch with James Kim (his drummer) who proffered up another drum kit and a quick call to Kevin Ink (Stoltz’s bassist/engineer) and we were sorted with another guitar amp and a bass amp. All told, it took maybe twenty-five minutes to sort all that out.

Not that I really needed the reminding, but it was at this moment when I realized how dear and irreplaceable true friends are. I know I would’ve done the same thing for those guys in a heartbeat, but just that feeling of people sincerely making the effort to help us out…there’s absolutely no beating that.

Our set at the Echo was alright. Mic stand started to slide far below Mick’s mouth-level early on and none-other than Har Mar Superstar jumps up and straightens it out mid-song. I scream “anything to get on stage!” while he does so. No one hears it. I still think it’s hilarious.

Crowd seemed a bit thin throughout the performance. It remotely peppered my thoughts and made me feel a bit down. As soon as we start “I Can’t Stop Thinking About It” in the encore Pantano up-and-leaves his drum assignment to bring his kit onto the floor to play in the middle of the crowd. Sonofabitch stole my line. To fight fire with metaphorical fire I pulled my drums onto the floor as well and we ended the entire thing in sloppy, fan-pleasing fashion.

I was exhausted after the show. It was officially Pat’s birthday by this point and he was officially drunk. It was funny, if only because it seems like no one drinks in the band anymore. Load out was slow and steady and we eventually ended up at the Cha-Cha and ate from the fantastic taco truck parked outside there.

We drop off Ko at her hotel, Zack at his buddy’s and the rest of us slumber soundly at In the Red HQ. As per Pat’s b-day request (and thankfully ignoring his bidet request) we awoke early Friday morn to get on the road to SF. I ate some Jack-in-the-Box. I don’t recommend it.

Upon arrival in the Bay Area we dropped off Mick “Where am I Staying?” Collins and Pantano in the Duboce Triangle and made way to the Fisherman’s Wharf Sheraton where the rest of us had paid for rooms that eve. We dropped off Ko and Malissa while Zack and I went to go procure our replacement gear.

First to Hotel Phoenix to meet up with sometime tour manager Dorien who was helping with the whole fiasco in exchange for a pass to Outside Lands. From there to Stoltz’s crib in the Mission. Kelley wasn’t around, so we helped ourselves to the gear he so lovingly laid out for us. I was stretching to find a reason in which we’d need an original German Polydor pressing of Black Monk Time as I know Kelley has one, but we decided against DJ Lethal’s proposition for a live collab.

From Stoltz’s to the Studio That Time Forgot where Kevin Ink calls home. Bass and guitar amps later we were on our way to within hearing distance of Pearl Jam at Golden Gate Park to pick up James Kim’s silver sparkle tubs. I won’t lie in saying that I was really tempted to load-up his Roland synth drums instead and have Pantano work with those, but I relented.

The process of gathering all this gear felt like it took forever. It was dark by the time we returned to the Sheraton. Zack hopped out and I took the minivan to the underground parking and following directions from the attendant, head towards the back where there were more available spaces.

I happened upon a completely empty row of parking spots and with even though it seemed to be a secure underground parking structure, I surmised it was always best to back in when given the chance. What I hadn’t noticed was that these spots were actually underneath a ledge. So as I slowly inch my way back, waiting for the tires to hit the parking block or the bumper to hit the wall, I’m totally fucked.

Because of the ledge, the parking block is placed underneath, somewhere my back tires will never touch but makes absolute sense when parking the sensible front-first way. The back window spider web shattered quietly with a "pop" and remained mostly intact, surprisingly so as what I’d backed into was solid concrete.

For once I had to call Zack without some smart-assed quip. He said he could tell instantly, by the tone of my voice, that I wasn’t joking. So instead of meeting up with Pantano for his birthday, we pulled most of the gear out of the van (the rental place had some clause about not using it for moving cargo) and then drove the 25 minutes to the rental car place at San Francisco International airport, switching spots with Zack before we arrived because naturally he was the only one who was supposed to be driving.

(I’m sure had we followed those rules in the first place we wouldn’t be in this situation)

I sat in the van while Zack dealt with paperwork and crap inside. Just when I thought busting the window out was the clever way to get out of having to refill the gas tank he hops back in and says we need to fill up or pay the $4/gallon charge for them to do it.

We make a wrong turn and soon remembered that they make rental car lots so that you can’t leave without having to pass a security guard. We found ourselves at the mechanic’s station and they stared at us like we had penises on our foreheads.

After doubling-back and finally getting to the security guard we somewhat easily found the gas station we were directed to and filled up. Once back to the rental agency, we carefully switched the gear left inside to our new, identical minivan. After once-overing and double-checking that everything was out, Zack smart-assedly slammed the trunk HARD so as to rain fragments of tempered glass on the black concrete of the parking lot. This was WAY more punk than him breaking that Coca-Cola bottle in Germany.

Finally back at the hotel and looking back I wish we’d have parked in the same spot we busted the window in. Anygay, it seemed like the whole window replacement excursion took us 2 hours start-to-finish on our day off. Ko and Malissa were at some bar and soon arrived back with Mexican food for Zack and I. Passed out watching Fox News. Had nightmares.