Feed Us A Live Insect
Friday, January 19, 2007
I was very much looking forward to Olympia. I'd seen the exit for Sleater-Kinney road off of I-5 the last time we drove through on the way to Seattle and I thought "cool." I knew about Kill Rock Stars and everything, so our first visit to Washington's capitol city was much anticipated.
It was cold that night. It was cold everywhere on the tour, really (except, strangely, for Seattle) but I think I felt coldest in Olympia. We played at this place called Le Voyeur. It's a bar/restaurant with a cinderblock room in the back where bands play. No stage, nobody runs sound: you borrow a mic from the bartender and run it yourself. Well, no problem, we've done that before...no heat, either, and we couldn't really get the door that opens onto the alleyway to close properly, so it was cold in there. Mary played wearing her coat and my nose was running into my mouth while I played guitar, so whenever I sang I kept spitting out little clouds of snot, which I'm sure was charming.
There were some good things about the evening and some bad. The bad things were that although there were only three bands that night, and the first started at 10:30, we didn't get to play until 1:30 AM (shades of The Mustang) and had to blast through our set at top speed and indifferent precision before the whole place closed. There was also--and I know this is going to sound catty, but seriousy, I swear I'm being generous here--there was also an aggressive and extremely messed-up young woman who clearly hadn't brushed her teeth in a long time, decades, possibly, who kept asking Mary if she wanted to make out, which CLEARLY MARY DID NOT WANT TO DO. In fact she asked PRETTY MUCH EVERYBODY in the club if they wanted to make out, and had she been a guy would have been a sleazy and repulsive creep. It was really, really, really hard not to want to pop her in the mouth, except of course for the possibility of coming in contact with the horrendous teeth.
The good was that there was a young woman (a different one, not the teeth one) who stuck it out for the whole night to hear us play, and although I never found out who she was, she was extremely game and enthusiastic and she made our night. If you're there, mystery girl with the knit cap, please contact us, we want to say thanks. Also a very nice and friendly guy named Ian stuck around and bought some merch, which we vastly appreciated, and the folks running the place, Pete and Jackie, let us stay after the place closed to have another drink and chat about baby names for girls. I think we agreed that Josephine is a really great name. That was a very nice way to end the evening, thanks Pete and Jackie!
On a sad note, as I'm writing this I just learned that the great and mighty Mormons, with whom we've played many a show, have lost their drummer and rhythm guitarist and appear to be calling it quits. They had their last show on the 19th, which I'm very sorry to have missed as we were in Seattle that night. I hope that they can put things back together with a new drummer and guitarist, but if that doesn't happen, then godspeed you, gentlemen. You will be missed.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
The Towne Lounge (a love note)
I do not mind telling you that I was pretty scared before we went on for our set at The Towne Lounge on Wednesday night. I would even say I was nearly terrified; but everything turned out all right, and in fact we had a lovely night.
After a day of cruising around snowy Portland in our increasingly filthy tour van, we started the evening by meeting some more creotians for beer and popcorn at The Marathon on Burnside: Alex was there, along with George and Lynnae, who were once the keytarist and drummer respectively for hiphop band Lil' Pocketknife in San Francisco. We were going to eat at The Marathon but couldn't: we wanted to play well that night and were too nervous to be hungry (I notice, on looking back at my blog entries, that I spend a lot of time describing the food we eat on this trip. I think this is because there is an unspoken agreement that our normal dietary habits and restrictions are suspended while on tour, and so we get to eat a lot of cool and probably unhealthy food that we wouldn't get otherwise).
So we decided to head on over to the club and set up. The Towne Lounge is a small room built into the side of what I think might be a church or a community center or something like that: it's just a little stage, a bar, and a couple of booths and tables. Still, I gather that it's got a good reputation and there are bands of considerable bigness that play there (I saw a poster for Great Northern and Division Day, among others). Things started getting interesting when we realized that all of the other bands playing that night with us were actually noise bands: completely nontraditional, electronic, experimental, ambient performance groups. Most of the audience (except, I think, for Alex, George, and Lynnae) were there to see the noise bands. And then there was us. This could have been a disaster...imagine, say, a traditional polka band playing in the middle of a free jazz festival. But it wasn't a disaster: we really did get into the other bands, and they were extremely open-minded and accepting of our set, and it ended up being our best show of the tour so far.
There appears to be a small scene of noise bands and audience members around the country, and they all know each other, and participate in each others' performances. The first band of the night, which was actually one guy with a mixer and some electronics, was called Acre. I'm not really smart enough to figure out how he did this, but he played a single piece, which was an electronic tone generated somehow by creating a feedback loop within a series of EQ pedals all hooked together. Then, over the course of the piece, which lasted maybe ten minutes or so, he'd slowly change the settings on his mixer and pedals to add different overtones and harmonies to the original tone. As Mary says, he created a very interesting soundscape and it was physically very nice to listen to: it sort of vibrated in my chest. I liked it.
Then we went on and played what was certainly our best set of the tour yet...thank god we'd practiced the night before, we got to that crucial point where even though we were sometimes confused as to what to do our bodies took over (no thinking, no thinking!) and we could get through without choking. In fact I'd even say that Mary was possessed, she pulverized her drums, completely ferocious. I think I did fine...it was pretty clear I was nervous as my inter-song banter was, as I recall, almost totally incoherent. I was prepared for the possibility that we were going to majorly piss off the noise audience with our very non-noise songs, but no, they seemed completely happy to listen. Clearly they liked "We Fell Dead" the best, and I made sure the fuzz bass was extra fuzzy and spikey. It was vey cute and funny: although it never occured to me to describe ourselves as a 'pop' band, more than one of the members of the other groups came up to us afterwards and said something along the lines of "I haven't listened to much pop music in years but I liked you guys." So we were very happy.
Then after us (thank god we didn't have to follow them) was two bands, Argumentrix and Your Drugs, My Money, who combined their sets and played a single piece together. I would go so far as to say they were unfollowable. I kind of lack the vocabulary to describe what I saw, but, roughly: there were four people kneeling or sitting onstage, and two standing off: all had either microphones or heavily-modified electronic instruments running through complex chains of guitar effects. I saw, among other things, a Barbie doll with some kind of voice chip plugged into the PA system; a violin entirely covered in stickers; what I think was an empty case for blank cd-r's filled with resistors and electronics; a set of cracked cymbals; and little microcassette recorders used with built-in microphones. The various performers either sat quietly, or swayed back and forth on their haunches, or screamed and thrashed about manically while yelling, singing, talking into their microphones, or fiddling with their electronics, and they created a dense wall of clashing noise. But: it was not chaos. There was a structure, and it was clear that the different members were listening to each other and playing off of each other. There were movements (a dense part, a quiet part, a part where a bunch of guys wrestled each other and smashed things), and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that the performance was really like an orchestral piece, just without a conductor. It was pretty much unlike anything I'd seen before and now I'm interested in seeing more. Hilariously, it turned out that Justin, one of the guys in Your Drugs, My Money, actually lives in Northridge and attends CSUN in Mary's department, so it looks like we'll be seeing more of Justin soon.
So it turned out to be a very nice night. Plus the weather warmed up enough in Portland that, thank goodness: the chains could come off. We drove the next day to Olympia on almost dry pavement.
One last thing: on Thursday morning, before we left the city, we went looking for some breakfast. Originally we wanted to go to a French place called Le Pigeon, directly next to our hotel, but it was closed, so we went downtown. And we couldn't find a single sit-down cafe; it was just Thai (which we didn't really want for breakfast) or coffee shops with muffins, but nothing with hot food. After wandering around fruitlessly for a half an hour we broke down and asked the doorman of a swanky hotel for advice, and he directed us to The Bijou on 3rd and Pine, where they had an oyster hash with peppers and lemon that is To. Die. For. Seriously, I was in heaven, if slightly gassy, afterwards. It was worth it! Highly highly recommended.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It’s A Snow Day Today Here in Portland
Eugene to Portland is only 105 or so miles and should have taken one and a half, two hours, tops, but instead took more like four. Those last ten miles were just…grindingly…slow. More on that later.
So, following our Oakland show, we had a family day in San Francisco and went to The Exploratorium, which was great but a bit overwhelming for some of the parties involved. The Exploratorium, if you haven’t been, is a huge hangar/warehouse structure in an absurdly expensive neighborhood next to The Palace Of Fine Arts, which I gather was an early 20th Century attempt to build some faux-Romanesque ruins to make the city a bit artsy, or something. It's got a dome. Big one. And some columns, and a pond with some ducks: you know, just like the ancients had. And then there's the long, squat Exploratorium, which is a hands-on science museum designed to make kids get interested in science by showing them that if you turn a crank really fast you can make little teensy light bulbs glow. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a great place, and I loved it dearly as a child, it's just that if you do happen to find an interesting exhibit (maybe a motorized pump demonstrating, say, a fountain of human bile) you only get to fool around with it for a few seconds before a herd of fifty small children descend and it's all over.
We headed over to the Castro for lunch at the very tasty Chow, where we met Dan again and our friend (and fellow ex-Calarts refugee) Mark, who nowadays is a very successful graphic designer: in fact, he helped design this bonkers and amazing website, which is up for an award that you must vote for! We spent our final night in San Francisco in Chinatown, which was mostly closed except, forutnately, for a few restaurants, one of which (whose name completely escapes me...I think we basically chose it at random) fed us on walnut shrimp, huge, fabulous potstickers, peppery beef, and a salted chicken and tofu dish, all excellent. Yum.
It seems as if there's more homeless in San Francisco than Los Angeles, although perhaps it's just that they're in more parts of the city here than in LA, where they're mostly confined to skid row. I find myself in situations where I say, well, should I give my last two bucks to this pregnant lady in Oakland or this legless Vietnam vet on Market? There was this one guy, I’m sorry I didn’t have anything to give him, tall older guy: “I’m freezing here…” Had to tell him no, and he was thanking us all the while…I’m really, really sorry about him…crap.
A travel day, from San Francisco to Eugene. This was pretty uneventful, and long, and mostly boring, except for the going-over-the-mountains part, and although there was some snow on the ground the roads were dry, so the driving was easy. I can’t say the same, though, for:
We woke up this morning in Eugene to wet, slushy snow. It looked as if it was going to switch from snow to rain but by the time we got our Dutch Brothers coffee and got back on the freeway it was coming down heavy with big, gloppy flakes. Things cleared up a few miles north of Eugene, and although the roads were wet they were mostly clear, and we thought we were going to luck out: until we were about ten miles outside of Portland, and everything went to the pooper.
The highway department had big signs posted: "Portland Metro Area, chains required for ALL VEHICLES." Now we have chains for the van, which we had never had occasion to use, and suddenly it seemed like a very very good idea to put them on. We sashayed off the freeway into a Target parking lot, bought some gloves, and then I spent the next hour and a half struggling with the chains, which are basically medieval torture devices, employing every profanity I could think of at a very high volume. I admit there was a moment when I did not actually believe the chains would in fact go onto our van's wheels: and one jovially unhelpful passer-by observed something along the lines of "those don't come from 'round here, do they, dude?" (joke's on you, bastard: it says MADE IN OREGON right on the box. Ha ha!) But eventually I got everything fastened on and did a little victory strut just in time for a pair of guys to pass by and point out that I'd put the chains on the rear tires of our van, which was almost certainly front-wheel drive, and therefore accomplished pretty much nothing. I will say on my behalf that it was vastly easier to put the damn things on the second time around than the first.
Driving with chains, though, that kind of limits you to going about 25 miles per hour or so, and those last ten miles into Portland took FOR EVER. But the chains worked: we crawled on by past dozens and dozens of abandoned cars on the side of the road. These didn't seem to be cars that had gotten stuck in the snow, or rendered inoperable: we later learned that when Portland got hit with a very unusual three whole inches of snow that morning, people kind of flipped out and just abandoned their cars on the spot and...fled, I guess? Pa-thetic. We were undaunted, we had CHAINS, dammit.
Portland is strangely quiet this evening. I learned that the whole metro area has just 55 snow plows, and most of those are busy with trying to clear the highways (not very successfully). The roads in town aren't salted or cleared, the city operates on the principle that the sun will come out in a day or so and melt all of the snow away: except that the weather report says this will not happen for quite a while now, and so all of the roads are turning into sheets of packed-down ice. As a result nobody is going to school or work and a lot of businesses are closed down. It was kinda eery and depressing. I think even the strip club down the street from our hotel was closed down.
Fortunately we were lucky enough to be able to practice at a friend's place: this would be Alex, another creotian. He very very generously gave us some desperately-needed practice space and we later met up with him, his girlfriend Theresa, and their friends Rachel and Jeremy at a local watering hole (Bimp's, I think? Something like that) for some equally desperately-needed beer and filled us in on the local housing market and the oddball weather patterns. It was great fun and I'm very glad we're here, even if we are in the midst of the great blizzard of '07.
(Theme song of the moment: "Chains Of Love.")
When The Lights Go Down In The City, Whoa whoa whoaaa.
I’m sitting in…not a railway station, with a ticket for my destination, but rather a hotel in Eugene, Oregon, with a few hours to spare before heading up to Portland, where we have a show tomorrow (Wednesday) night at the Towne Lounge. So, chronologically speaking, we’re about halfway through our January tour.
Last week I thought the trip might be over before it began: soon after coming back from Michigan, probably via a bug picked up on an airplane, I found myself huddled on the bathroom floor with a nice bout of the vomits and the trots. Truly, a bathroom is the kindest, most luxurious place to pass the time when so afflicted, and I was extremely reluctant to crawl back to bed when I heard Mary say “um…I need to go to the bathroom.” But fortunately I perked up by the time we left on Thursday and we began the tour as planned.
It was 70 degrees out in Los Angeles when we left. I think we knew, vaguely, that it would be colder the further north we headed, but only in the most abstract sense. Theory became reality, though, when we stopped for gas at the Flying J on the Grapevine and stepped out of the nice warm van into a freezing cloud that had descended onto the mountain. No, none of us owned winter coats, hats, or gloves. Clearly some shopping was in order…I believe that the watchword for this tour is “not prepared.”
The rest of the (stupefyingly dull) trip to San Francisco passed without incident, except that I made the mistake of eating three enormous peanut butter cookies in one go and felt vile for the rest of the day.
It now costs $4.00 to cross the Bay Bridge. We stayed at our favorite place in the Tenderloin, the Andrews Hotel (originally opened in 1905 as the”Sultan Turkish Baths”) on Post Street, where there is an abundance on tranny hookers (I missed this one, but heard tell of a young man in long purple braids and insanely short-short shorts, with the weather at about fifty degrees or so). We met Mary’s old highschool friend Dan for dinner at a diner in the old converted Port of San Francisco building (you can see the sign from the Bridge) and then went to bed at some absurdly early hour…9 pm? I’m still fighting off the trots and I’m tired. Waaahhhhh!
Our first show is actually a daytime show, an in-store at Rasptuin’s Records in Berkeley. I don’t believe I’ve been in downtown Berkeley since probably 1990 or so. It looks almost exactly like downtown Ann Arbor, which I wasn’t prepared for; I don’t know why, but I felt a little let down by this. But anyway: we double-parked in front of Rasputin’s and hauled our gear (which is embarrassingly abundant for a two-piece) over the turnstyle into the store. The staff (Bobby and David) were very nice and were kind enough to listen to us play. I think we played well, and now you can buy our cd and a few of our records at Rasputin’s.
Matt, of Master/Slave fame, very kindly helped us set up our two Bay-Area shows, and he arrived to play his own set after us on the Rasputin’s stage. I was a little surpised to see Matt show up alone, with an acoustic guitar, as I’m used to seeing him with a drummer, an electric guitar, and a fleet of keyboards, but fortunately he has a VERY expressive voice (Mary says “I hear Journey in there”) and the songs came across fine. A burnout dude with a busted guitar wandered in and listened with approval to Matt’s lyrics about scoring hookers and drugs in The Tenderloin for a few minutes before wandering back out again.
We spent the rest of Friday looking for decently warm clothes (surprisingly difficult, as apparently all of the department stores have switched their inventory to their “spring” lines…despite that it’s not going to be spring for months…which strikes me as bizarre and stupid).
Saturday was our gig at The Stork Club in Oakland with Master/Slave, The Red Voice Choir, and, also from Los Angeles, Shiloe.
The day started off well at the Army/Navy surplus store on Market where I got a lovely and warm Navy peacoat, and then down the road at Marshall’s where I found an almost certainly useless (but fantastic) red velvet tuxedo jacket. Now we’re prepared!
The Stork Club is your average bar…reminds me a bit of Mr. T’s, kinda ratty, although I will say that the speakers on the PA system light up when you sing through them! That’s nice. We got to meet Brian, the new drummer for Master/Slave, and it was his first gig with the band: so their full lineup (drums, electric guitar, two keyboards, sequencer, and drum machine) was in force.
The Red Voice Choir, with their fantastically-expensive looking Gretsch guitars, went first, and they were a moody, dark, and very tight band that played (much to our delight) a cover of “This Is Hardcore” by Pulp. Then we went on and played…wellll…not quite as well as the other bands, but not horrendously. And then Shiloe came on and were also moody, dark, a bit gothy, and very very tight, and I certainly wish we could’ve played as well as they did. Ah well, next time then.
Sadly Master/Slave suffered from technical difficulties through their set, as the Stork Club’s PA apparently couldn’t handle all of Matt’s various synths and drum machines, and you couldn’t hear all of their music at any given time, which was too bad. Still: a highlight of the night was definitely meeting Jeremy from creot, who was kind enough to come out to the show and share some of Milwaukee’s Finest. Hi Jeremy!
More of this later…we have to pack up. The weather, which was holding out just fine these past few days (fortunately letting us cross the mountains between California and Oregon with dry roads) has suddenly gone against us, and there’s a steady, slushy snow coming down this morning. It looks like it’ll take a bitg longer to get to Portland…
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
We are on tour again!
Oh my goodness, so much happened in December that I didn't really get a chance to write about. The highlight was certainly visiting back home in the creepily-snowless Michigan, and going caroling with a large herd of half-British, half-Michigander children whose father repeatedly urged us to sing in a "not so dirge-like" manner. And then after Christmas we went to Detroit to rehearse at The Modern Exchange,
courtesy of our dear and awesome friends The Friends Of Dennis Wilson
, who will be joining us later in the month for some dates in Las Vegas and at Mr. T's Bowl.
But the more immediate news is that we're going to be taking a little micro-mini tour ourselves up the West Coast this month! Yes indeedy, we're returning to some...er...okay, one familiar haunt from last July (Seattle) and poking our noses into a few places hiterto untouched by Monolator hands. The dates are as follows:
Fri. Jan. 12: In-store at Rasputins, Berkeley (with Master/Slave)
Sat. Jan. 13: Stork Club, Oakland (with Master/Slave)
Wed. Jan. 17: Towne Lounge, Portland
Thu. Jan. 18: Le Voyeur, Olympia
Fri. Jan. 19: Lobo Saloon, Seattle
Sat. Jan. 27: Bunkhouse Saloon, Las Vegas (with Friends of Dennis Wilson)
That's all...short and (I hope) sweet. It's just the two of us again, Mary and I, and we'd dearly love to see you all at one or the other of the shows. It looks as if we're arriving in the Pacific Northwest just in time for...snow. Great. Well, we've got the chains for the van, I hope we don't have to use 'em.