Monday, October 05, 2009

West Coast Part Two: All You've Ever Wanted to Know About Playing a Decent-Sized Rock Festival But Were Too Bored To Ask...

Woke up early Saturday morning to properly facilitate smooth sailing with all things Outside Lands.

I must make an aside to let everyone here know what an absolute task it is to set-up all the necessary crap for playing a festival of this magnitude. There's a reason bands have tour managers and it's shit like this. It's not any one particular person's fault or error, but there's just soo much shit that comes into play…emailing a stage plot, sending a guestlist a week beforehand, figuring out how many meal tickets we need, giving advance notice that we need to be paid day-of-show in cash, sorting out our load-in time and parking permits for our vehicles, signing off on permission for Internet broadcasts, coordinating to have our credentials dropped off at our hotel the day before we arrive…as the one taking care of all of it, I was startled by how thorough it all was. I can only imagine the added difficulty if we had merch, needed transport from our hotels, rented gear or any other possible headaches.

All band members met at the Hotel Phoenix and we made way to the fest in two vehicles. Z and I were in the minivan designated as the "equipment" vehicle with access to park directly behind the Twin Peaks stage where we'd be performing. Dorien's rental Prius with the rest of the band inside had "guest" parking which was basically just an unassigned spot on one of the public streets snaking thru the park. Confusingly though they'd failed to include a guest parking pass in our credential pack, so THAT vehicle had to phone the stage manager when they were approximately 5 minutes away from the entrance so that a runner could be summoned to meet them with a pass.

We waited ten minutes to get the minivan behind the stage because the doof manning the gate said the path was blocked. The stage manager finally waved us in and proved that said path was indeed not blocked. Loaders unloaded our shit, we set it up while the Mars Volta's gear was soundchecking (even thought ALL correspondence from the festival explicitly said NO band would receive a soundcheck, that was clearly false)

Once we'd all set-up our equipment a palpable serenity came over us. It was early and backstage was empty and we were just able to relax like a calm before the storm. We were permitted one "specialty" item on our rider and since I was the one doing the advancing that one item was a case of XXX Vitamin Water. I honestly wonder if anyone in the history of Vitamin Water has drank more than I did on that sunny San Franciscan day. I easily downed at least six full bottles and would not be surprised if the grand total was somewhere closer to eight or nine. I clearly achieved my goal of remaining hydrated.

Onstage doing a line-check and the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold on Me" came over the PA and at that moment, it felt like everyone in the band was instantly assured, by mere presence of Smokey and company, that everything was going to work out just fine.

And work out fine it did. Despite the intense scrutiny we placed upon ourselves in trying to stay within the confines of a fifty-minute slot, our set felt natural. Hell, we ended ten minutes early. I was hoping for some sort of finale, but we ended respectfully without anyone jumping into the crowd or carelessly throwing equipment. Ultimately, it feels a bit anticlimactic. At the same time, I was just completely overjoyed to be playing Kelley Stoltz's drums. To think how man of my favorite songs were recorded with those very drums just left an enormous smile on my face.

As soon as we'd finished I began breaking down gear and loading it into the minivan, much to the dismay of the stage manager who had to politely, yet firmly, tell me that he was paying stagehands to do that work. Me, I just don't have the patience to wait for those guys, so I grab shit and load it myself, saving EVERYONE some time.

I was quickly given a DVD of our performance and immediately asked to list what songs we wanted featured on the official Outside Lands YouTube channel. You can go search that out to see what songs I picked.

Following that I walked a half-mile to the payment trailer. I'd arranged for us to be paid in cash and all I had to do was cross out the band name off a schedule with a highlighter and sign a sheet of paper, all while Raphael Saadiq rocked a version of "Search and Destroy" on the mainstage.

As I walked out of the trailer with an envelope overstuffed with cash, I wondered if I could have just as easily walked up and said "Ah yes, I'm here for Dave Matthews Band…can I get paid now?" I mean really…they had no idea who the hell I was and the fact that they were handing me a large amount of cash made me think they would have done SOMETHING to check my shit.

From there I met the rest of the band in catering. The main attraction seemed to be a construct your own Philly cheesesteak station. I said "hi" to Cedric from the Mars Volta. Zack said "hi" to Tom Morello.

At that point, we ventured to the promo area of the festival. As it works, a bunch of different companies pay a fee to be able to set-up a tent and have the opportunity to give artists free shit. We were promised one Altec-Lansing digital iPod/iPhone boombox for the band and I had my hands on the little post card that entitled the bearer to it. So when I happen upon the Altec tent and watch Zack being pitched hard, not saying a word, I didn't think much of it. As the lady finished her spiel to Z with "So do you want one?" I was completely caught off-guard. Apparently my possession of the post card meant nothing as Zack exhausted our alotted iPod dock.

I wasn't really mad at Zack, because he doesn’t really know any better. He's still the new guy. And if I was in his position I would've done the same thing. I guess it just means he feels comfortable to scam an iPod dock without consulting with his bandmates, (who've invested far more time and effort into the whole endeavor of the Dirtbombs). I didn't even know if he had an iPod either…I seem to remember him always asking to borrow mine because he lost the charger to some old Sony mp3 player he had.

The whole situation only worked to bring feelings of awkwardness to the surface for me. Personally, I love free shit. And the idea of having an area at the festival where performers, of which I am legitimately one, can get a bunch of free shit…it seems like a no-brainer.

But what comes into play is the interaction with the people giving the free shit. You see, some shit is truly free and free to everyone…like ice cream from the Ice Cream Man. He does not scrutinize. Ice cream to the masses. Other things are merely free to all artists without discrimination. Given my "artist" wristband for the festival, this presents no inherent problem. Where issues arise is when there's a booth where shit is free to certain artists, but not all artists. Granted, it's not like these people state that as their policy, but it's clear.

I've encountered this before at Bonnaroo. If you had to specifically define the practice, it would be something like "if you're an artist big enough to be able to pay for whatever is being offered, we'll give it to you for free." It just makes the whole fucking thing slimy and gross and has absolutely nothing to do with music or art or performing in front of a crowd and has everything to do with elitism. I feel like I gots to do a song-and-dance to get the goods. You folks already got my song, that shit was on stage, you ain't getting the dance too.

I can't remember what the name of the sorry company was, but there was a booth at Outside Lands with an impressive display of sunglasses. I perused the stock with mild interest and was surprised, yet not really surprised, to see a sign that said "Special Festival Artist Pricing: $69" Yet I'd bet our entire payment from the festival that if Dave Matthews or Eddie Vedder walked over the reps from Lame-Ass Sunglasses Inc. would be tripping over themselves to give them whatever they wanted for free.

We, as a band, then made way to the Onitsuka Tiger tent. The folks from Onitsuka had seen our set and personally asked us to come over so that they could outfit us with shoes. I was ecstatic because, at this point, I do not even own a pair of sneakers and could legitimately use them (zipper boots, despite their badass quality, aren't terribly versatile with a pair of shorts).

The dude asked everyone their size and quickly came back offering boxes to everyone. Ko, Zack and Mick all received, by my estimation, shoes that looked totally badass. I remember liking the brown and blue of their specific kicks. My 10 1/2's were not so fortunate. They fit and were comfortable, but the overwhelmingly white sneakers with accents of black, silver and red were just not my style.

So here's another awkward situation. I want, no NEED, a pair of these shoes. They will clearly be free. I sat there, internally struggling with whether or not I should ask for a pair in blue or brown (I mean seriously, white shoes? Do I look like I work in a hospital?) In my eyes, if the company wants me to wear something because there's some sort of inherent prominence placed in the absolute non-ability to play drums on-stage, I want to at least be completely in love with the shoes I am supposed to be wearing. I don't think that's too much to ask for on my side of the agreement.

Zack egged me on, saying I should lie and ask for a different size in hopes of getting a better color. Instead, I told the rep, in earnest, how the shoes fit great but that I just wasn't crazy about the colors and really just wanted a pair that I was in LOVE with.

He looked at me like he was a kindergarten teacher trying to explain to a pupil why they have to sleep at naptime. To paraphrase, he said something like this, totally condescending, "We REALLY don't have a lot of pairs of shoes with us, so I can't really do much on different colors. I can SEE if there's anything else back there in a ten and a half, but I won't make any promises."

Which I responded to with a sincere thanks and mention that I would be content with whatever they had but extremely happy to have a different color. He returned shortly thereafter to say they didn't have anything else available in my size. I thanked him and said the red/white/black/silvers would work fine. We were all then given free earbud headphones and posed in group photos excitedly holding our schwag.

Fast-forward a couple days later, I'm in Nashville and wanting to get away from the zip-boot footwear and pull out my Onitsukas. Imagine my dismay to find two silver/black/red/white monstrosities that are not only different sizes (10 1/2 and 7) but are also both left feet! I can never be sure, but I want to think that because I had the temerity to ask for a specific color that the guy handing out the shoes decided to fuck with me and if he did, I must say, well-played.

But in a pending deal with Onitsuka customer service, I should have a pair of Onitsukas arrive via post any day now and not only will they be of the same size and for opposing feet, but they will be a color of my choosing. If so, then I win.

Ran into Alex Minoff in the gifting area. He was there playing with Extra Golden and I think I'd only seen him once since we played together in Weird War back in 2004. It's the unexpected people you run into like Alex that make festivals an extra-special bit of surprising and fun. We talked for all of sixty-seconds (about what, I cannot even recall) but I definitely felt that much better because of it.

We made our way back to the stage just before Mastodon went on. For my thoughts on Mastodon, please check out my All Tomorrow's Parties post. Anyway, as I waited in line for the porto-john, a little toe-headed kid, no older than 4-years-old, walks up to me and hold his arms up. I can gather that he either 1) has been watching to many episodes of "COPS" or 2) wants me to grab his arms and swing him around. Being the fun-loving guy that I am, I grab his arms and start twirling around in a circle. I feel dizzy merely typing about it. After a few rounds of twirls I was able to convince him to climb up my legs while I held his arms and do a flip. His mother, who'd apparently been pre-occupied up until this point, came and kindly grabbed him saying "You don't even know this man" to which I without thinking replied "It's okay, I don't know him either."

I would later find out the kid's dad was one of the guys from Mastodon.

Feeling a bit tired, I decided that I wanted to leave. This was just as Mastodon was starting their set. Ko, Zack and Pat all wanted to stay and I didn't really have the patience to find/ask Mick his opinion, so I took the minivan filled with all the equipment and left the fest. Since James Kim's place was right around the corner I dropped off his drums in his garage.

On the drive to drop off gear back at Kelley's and Ink's I found Zack's iPod. Hoping for something good to listen to, I put my thumb on the clickwheel and tried to spin it, but something felt wrong. It barely moved. I was nervous because I thought I had broken it. I clicked over to the info setting to see how many songs are on there to be smacked in the face with a grand total of 70. That's not an iPod…that's two mix-cds. And you need a fucking dock for that!

I took solace in sending Zack a text message that read: "Just because you have it listed as Randal Chabot and not Deastro does not make having 'Tree Frog' on your iPod any less gay."

His response was "You were not supposed to see that."

I checked into me/Mal's and Ko's rooms at the Phoenix and then dropped off the rest of the gear by myself. I nap a bit before heading to soundcheck where I enjoyed the blonde Oreos that had been laid out for us. Introduced myself to Ty Segal and told him I couldn't walk five feet without seeing his name lately. Was amazed to see how young he is. He looks like a baby.

Went back to the hotel after soundcheck. Mal and I walked a block to some decent Thai place around the corner and had a late dinner there.

Made it to the Rickshaw shop while the Sermon was playing. Was bummed to miss Ty Segal but I really did need dinner.

The club was packed and it translated to intensity on-stage. I think Mick got popped in the mouth by the mic by rowdy fans. A few dudes from TV on the Radio showed up. I felt like I played as hard as I could, coming off-stage completely out-of-breath. Ty, watching right beside my drums, said he'd never seen us play before but that he was very impressed. I felt happy hearing that. I guess I usually just assume the "kids" don't understand us, so kind words from Ty, the next great garage genius, were that much more powerful.

Back to the Phoenix and we walked up the street for some so-bad-it's-still-bad pizza, tasting like someone just ran the whole thing underneath a grease faucet. We ate it with impunity and slept like kings.

I didn't want to do shit the next day. As the one who'd booked the flights I'd arranged for a Monday evening flight whereas everyone was leaving Sunday. This gave Malissa and I some much-needed chance to relax. She felt strongly about going back to the festival and while I initially didn't agree, there wasn't much else going on. My arm = far from twisted.

Took a cab to Golden Gate Park and breezed through security with our wristbands. What I had not anticipated was how nipple-twistingly cold San Fran can get in late August. I showed up in a jeans and t-shirt (because I didn't even bring anything like a coat or sweater for the trip) and insanely cold. I held my bare arms across my chest and rubbed both of them looking shaken-up like someone who'd just been pulled from a burning house, saved from drowning or tenuously extricated from a hostage situation.

We slipped backstage, said a quick' "hello" to the Dead Weather and then took a spot side-stage to watch them play. At the start of their set I looked out at the crowd and, feeling completely honest, said "there's not that many more people to watch the Dead Weather than were here to watch the Dirtbombs." After another two minutes or so I had to admit that there were a SHIT-TON more people watching the Dead Weather than the Dirtbombs.

Their performance was superb and personally, I loved the fact that they played so many new songs.

Backstage after DW 's set I met DangerMouse. He just happened to be hanging out in San Francisco and was just checking out bands at the festival. When it came up that I was in the Dirtbombs, he perked up and said "I really wanted to see you guys, but you just played way too early."

Zack was the only other Dbomb who'd show up at the festival on Sunday and he relayed a funny story about being backstage. There was an "exclusive" area of trailers that was meant only for those with artist wristbands. As he had one it wasn't a big deal. But Ween was the next band onstage and their crew was trying to clear out the area of anyone who wasn't in their crew.

Zack said, to whom I'm not exactly sure (and possibly just me) "Jack White's back there chilling, not asking people to clear out and you think anyone is going to give a shit about what Ween says?"

Ran into Sunny Kay from GSL backstage and again another welcome surprise encounter. We tried to figure out where the master tapes to the Lost Kids album were located and we didn't have a solid answer. I also geeked out in telling him how, for a summer or two, I bought every 7" GSL released regardless of whether or not I knew anything about it. I was pleasantly surprised more often than not.

Zack and I ran into the dude from Onitsuka again and he said he wanted to give us some ear buds. Having received a set each already we were slightly confused, but I honestly thought they might have newer models than the day before. He hands them to us and asks us to pose for a photo and then makes reference to some friends/colleagues as us being the band Cage the Elephant. We bit our tongues hard. I guess to the reps from Onitsuka, we all look the same.

We walked the long walk toward the main stage. Had the bright idea to stop by the Alternative Apparel tent and see if they had any free clothes I could wear to warm my ass up. Being the final day of the fest their pickins were slim, but I was ecstatic to score a Mr. Rogers Eco-Vertigrain Cardigan.

It wasn't particularly thick. When buttoned it made me look like a sausage. The "ash" color wasn't ideal for absorbing heat, but god-damn if that last trip to the gifting tents didn't totally save the day. Thank you Alternative Apparel for the $45 cardigan you gave to me for free in a time of personal climate crisis.

MIA started soon thereafter on the main stage. Her sound was absolute shit. The bass was completely overpowering and her vocals were almost non-existent. Seemed like she could've benefited from a soundcheck, or at least an engineer who knew what her songs sounded like.

Nevertheless I enjoyed hearing "Bamboo Banga" live. Most of her performers were wearing Michael Jackson t-shirts. She had twin pale-skinned, red-head dudes dancing for her and it was strikingly odd. Highlight, for me, was her new song that sampled the synth part from Suicide's "Ghostrider."

At this point in the show we'd met up with James Kim, managing something like VIP concessions and he hooked us up with a plate of free calamari. Fuck yeah.

After "Paper Planes" we decided to leave. On our way out of the park we were stopped by two kids asking for passes to get in. Always looking to help out, we slid the cloth wristbands delicately off our wrists, told them they were all-access artist's passes and to enjoy themselves to the fullest. The look of excitement/bewilderment on their faces was priceless and I hope they lived it up for the brief time remaining for the festival.

Cabride back to the Phoenix found the driver blowing through an intersection as the light turned from yellow to red. I commented "I didn't see it turn red" to which he replied "Neither did I" and Malissa followed with "We're from Detroit, red lights don't apply to us."

The driver, Eddie, perked up. "I'm from Detroit too."

"Whereabouts?" I ask.

"East Side" he offers.

"Where on the East Side?" I say, really just wishing he'd give me his address already.

"Kercheval and Philip" he says.

I'm amazed. That intersection is approximately a mile and a half from 3424 Bishop where I spent the first twenty-six years of my life.

He went to high school at Finney and worked at Joe Muer's restaurant on Gratiot, a class establishment that I'd only ever heard spoken about wistfully. He told stories of running a flower cart downtown and ultimately of his leaving the city in 1969. Although we grew up both knowing markedly different versions of the city, the camaraderie was undeniable. It goes without saying, but it truly is a small world.

We rested at the hotel before an evening birthday party for our booking agent Dave Kaplan. The party was swell and yet I can't remember anything of note happening worth repeating here.

Our final day in San Fran was pretty chill. Saw Robin Pecknold as I was checking out of the hotel and wondered if he'd spent the previous day listening to the Dirtbombs as I'd spent the previous day listening to Fleet Foxes. I should've said "hi" but got scared that it might not have actually been him. But it totally was.

Time spent in the Haight had me cross paths with Brock Galland (current guitarist with Kelley Stoltz) and upon asking him for any recommendations (he was on lunch break from Amoeba, where usually dispenses this wisdom) he spit out with Ty Segal, Fresh and Onlys and Oh Sees. I felt good telling him I was already on the ball for all of 'em.

Actually met up with Ty (accompanied by the Jeff the Brotherhood bros…seriously, those guys are everywhere I turn) at Amoeba and had a good once around the store with him. Is it weird to say that he seems like a little brother to me? Like I just want to protect him and lead him safely down the path? Anyway, on his recommendation I bought 7"s by Nodzzz, Sic Alps and the Baths. On my own recognizance I bought the RAKS, RAKS, RAKS compilation of 1960's Iranian garage/pop/psychedelic jams, the 3rd installment of Bo Diddley's 2xCD collections from Hip-o-Select Ride On, a prime collection of NorCal 60's garage called Up From the Grave and a collection put together by DJ Shadow called Schoolhouse Funk that fails to list any of the bands playing on the compilation of vintage high school and college marching or concert bands.

Malissa bought an amazing pair of Frye boots at a vintage store and I was more than happy to pay $100+ for them. They look hot. I love her.

Rest of the day would lazily linger. Mexican food and prime record time with Stoltz was really the cherry on top of a sundae of a tour.