Just returned from two-week Great Lakes/East Coast/Mid-South tour with Lullaby for the Working Class. Featuring the trippy soft-rock songwriting of Ted Stevens and arranging of Mike Mogis. With many capable sidemen: Shane Aspegren of TV City (drums/vibes), Milwaukee's premier Gelfling lookalike Tiffany Kowalski (violin/vibes/percussion), Kevin "Wasteoid" Chasek of Chadron, Nebraska (bass/vocals), and myself (accordion/mandolin/vibes/glockenspiel/tour-only "emo beard"). Hooked up with Russ Waterhouse in NYC for about five minutes after gig and traded phat tapes. I wish we could've talked more, but the after-show bar and loadout scene was tugging in conflicting ways. Russ is one of those nice redheads. I'd like to plug a release on his White Tapes label: Pauline Oliveros in the Arms of Reynols. This is a hard drift ambient psych-rock meisterverk, all originating from massive solo accordion source tapes by Oliveros, reconstructed in Argentinian noise-rock circles. Packaged as a jewel-boxed CDR and a 10-minute cassette, all featuring a perfect psychedelic spray-paint job by Russ.
Many other amazing things happened on this two-week jaunt -- indie-rock touring can be some wild living. Played the black-owned blue-collar Safari Club in North Dayton Ohio. About 20 black folks in the other room, off-work, having beers, playing darts, and 30 young-hip rock'n'roll Daytonites, mostly white, in the stage room. Sorta 'segregated,' but in a very mild way, 'cause everyone's having a good time. Everybody orders beer the same, and that's where most of the integratin' goes on. The alterna-girls dressed up in tight socks and funky ass skirts look funny to the black folks, but sexy too. Lots of sexy kids there, all dressed funky. The underground rock scene in Dayton has a completely unconscious 'white pimp' thing goin' on, but there's no racial tension. It's so unconscious, it's like the black folks in the other room, almost entirely thirtysomething working-class, were the parents. Or at least the older siblings. More specifically, a truck-driver was hanging out at the bar while we ate an evening meal. Drinking some beer, shoring up for a "nineteen hour" run to Orlando he was scheduled to do the next day. He hung out at the bar until closing, and we all saw him several times while getting beers. He gave us several brotherly stories and bits of advice. He had gone on tour with Dayton's own Ohio Players for two weeks during their circa 1978 Top Ten heyday. His one-line summary: "Never saw so much money and cocaine in my life." Conscious of the Ohio Players' financial downfall due to expensive drug habits and egregious debts to the IRS, the truck-driver was skeptical of the music industry: "It's hard," he said several times with a sort of melancholy tone. His advice for us was that "all you need is a gimmick. Look at Kiss -- people didn't go for the music, they went for the makeup! 'Cause any mother-fuckers can play some hard rock." We might have exchanged names, but we forgot them. As we were loading the van, I saw him leaving with his wife. (He had mentioned her in conversation, but I didn't see her in the bar, leading me to think she had just arrived to give him a late-night ride home. Such a nice thing to do!) "Have a good trip to Orlando," I said to him. He repeated something he had said about the trip earlier, "Ain't goin' 'cause I want to, goin' 'cause I have to!"
One of the greatest bands I've ever seen, the Altered Statesmen, opened the Dayton show with super-mellow scratchy love-rock. Singer Steve crooned like the falsetto dude in Canned Heat on a mellow cry. Two guitars intertwining in a refreshingly pretty post-Beefheart blues mode. Smooth pulse-drumming, and a tasteful bed served up by a pedal-steel player. I hope I hear of/from them again. Next up, we played a weird set of the Stevens/Mogis existential soft-rock folk songs. It was weird for many reasons, not the least being that our promotor/host Ben (a real nice kid who has been going on tours as a "merch man/vibologist" since he was 16 with the likes of Royal Trux and Brainiac) offered us a joint a couple hours before the set, and some of us smoked it. This, along with the rare-for-Nebraska privilege of hanging out with lots of good black people, and the incredible intermission music on the PA (courtesy Ben: Zapp Troutman, Julie Ruin, tons of nameless IDM) all combined to make for a funky night. Funkiest of all, and closing off the show, were Swearing at Motorists, a duo featuring mustachioed Dayton indie-pimp "Dave." His soundcheck was incredible, taking the mike and the stage in a leather jacket, singing along with a funky techno record, declaring "Life ain't nothin' but bitches and 'caine," exhorting the audience to "Tip their drinks and get smoked out" and having all the folks in both rooms cheering back, all before strapping on his guitar. When the drummer took the stage and commenced their set, this excitement eased down a few notches into surprisingly normal rock songs. The grooves were pretty much right-on and there were cool lyrics about girls and being on the freeway. When it comes to two-man garage rock from Ohio, the Bassholes wipe the floor with 'em, but Swearing Dave's soundcheck and between-song raps are perhaps best of all.
Stayed four nights in a beautiful three-story house in Weehawken, New Jersey, a block from the Jersey Cliffs, the skyline of Manhattan towering and glowing just across the Hudson River. I thought you had to go out in at least a twenty-mile radius from the center of Manhattan to find people livin' this large, but there it is, just across the river. I won't reveal what music industry insider owns this spread with his wife, but I would like to say that they both have our utmost gratitude.
One of our four Weehawken nights was spent jetting up to Providence, Rhode Island and back to play a show. I never even saw the city in the daylight. Hooked up with Rhode Island School of Design student and Last Visible Dog recording artist Kris Furisubi and talked turkey. Played at the Met Cafe in their quasi-deserted narrow-streeted downtown. Before the show wandered these old urban corridors among sparse yo-boys and sparser student-types. Sat with coffee and long john among quiet older street people inside a dim-lit corner Dunkin' Donuts. Providence is both beautiful and spooky after dark. (Home of H.P. Lovecraft, psychedelic rock festivals, as well as the ranting street-man on the Godspeed You Black Emperor Slow Riot EP.) Left after an uneventful show and drove two hours back to the immense comforts of Weehawken.
New York City ruled as usual. Got Blade Runner vibes while driving through Avenue A peripheral streets, trying to park the van. All shapes, sizes, and colors of beautiful and ugly and in-between people, all the time, up and down the sidewalks, running across the streets. Stayed one night in Brooklyn, quieter and not as densely packed. In fact, compared to Manhattan, Brooklyn feels like Kearney, Nebraska. (Though if a separate city Brooklyn would be America's 3rd (or was it 5th?) largest.) Hung there at the two-story and backyarded rowhouse of P. Snaker, label namesake Chris Heine, and other expat Nebraskans. By 'hung there' I mean 'got a little (lot?) too drunk while jawing about old times.' Listened to records while the soundless television was channel-flipped between the 24-hour New York News channel ("Another Subway Stabbing" was one foreboding headline) and rather grody made-for-cable porn, weirdly censored. (All sex acts, no matter how explicit, photographed with Austin Powers trick whereby no genitalia are ever exposed).
Played the near-legendary Terrace Club on the campus of Princeton University. This is a sort of co-ed fraternity / study / dining house where students pay three or four thousand dollars a year to be able to hang out there. The Terrace Club has shows practically every week. It's a strange and fun place, with rec-rooms, and TV rooms, and kegs, and Princetonians wandering everywhere. The opening acts were two of the most enjoyable I've seen in a while, both from Baltimore. First was the Dogg and Pony Show, a hip-hop act consisting of M.C. Dogg, his sidekick the Unknown M.C. (he wore a ski-mask covering his face the whole entire night), and the turntable wizardry of D.J. Pony. Their 'gimmick' (see the above report on Dayton, Ohio) was that M.C. Dogg freestyles the whole night, and he's not that great at it. In fact, on the rare occasions when he 'accidentally' rhymes, 'The Judge' (another onstage character) rings a little receptionist bell. Sample lyric from Dogg: "Last Halloween / I put a scary costume on / It made me look weird! / Rrraaaahhhh!" and so on. The 'rhymes' were hilarious, the beats were phat, and they know how to rock a party.
Next up were The Oxes, and I do mean 'next': They had their drums and amps already set up, and went right into their first song as the Dogg and Pony Show was thanking the crowd! The Oxes are these three bratty cute Baltimore kids, two guitarists and a drummer, who all wear matching T-shirts. They play mad instrumental math-metal, sorta like Don Caballero. Their 'gimmick,' besides the matching T-shirts (and matching guitars and amps!), is that the guitarists use wireless units. This means that when the crowd moshes, they mosh too. They run around the room. They leave the room. They climb on stuff. They whisper stuff into audience-member's ears. One of their biggest tricks is blowing on people. All while playing these endless / nameless math-metal workouts. These two bands should definitely tour the world together -- I can't imagine a more winning way to represent Baltimore, other than the career of John Waters and the Super Bowl-era Colts.
Athens, Georgia ruled on the rural front. Incredible little town hidden in Georgia hills. Every road winds into a state of sleepy-town bliss, lined with houses that all seem to have huge and heavily forested backyards. Stayed with Omaha expatriate Alex McManus (sideman with Vic Chesnutt, Lambchop, the Olivia Tremor Control) and his sweet Scottish girlfriend Karen. Played at funky room Caledonia to a roused crowd. Repaired afterwards to The Winery for after-hours bar service courtesy ex-Linconite Fritz. Next night we had off, and after viewing Being John Malkovich in awe at an edge-of-Athens multiplex, repaired to Foxz [sic], a premiere Athens redneck bar. Indie-rocker and auto mechanic Clay Drip sang heartbreaking hard-country karaoke versions of George Jones songs. ("You're as smooth as Tennessee Whiskey/I get stoned on your love all the time.") Theodore Lullaby Stevens sang a melancholy weed-stoned version of "Wild Horses," which had two Athens couples slow-dancing in the suddenly romantic barroom haze. Lovely Jennie, who had been at our show the night before, rocked "Heart of Glass." Kevin Wasteoid freaked the crowd out with a version of "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, the worst pop/rock band of all time. (Their guitarist was from Fremont, Nebraska!) As for the daytime, downtown Athens in the sunny early-winter of November is a technicolor hang. Lots of music and funky underground vibes. Something like ten high-quality vegetarian restaurants. Wonderful hospitality from Alex and Karen. Coffee, good food, Pabst Blue Ribbon, backyards. New York City Who???