Electric Balloon Tour, the re-electrifying
Posted on March 5, 2014 | By ebassford
The best thing that happens in Olympia besides making a friend at the thrift store is eating this banh mi.
We have to get the oil changed, and I notice that across the street is a pho restaurant. We have seen a lot of Vietnamese things around Washington, so I figure it is probably legit. I am not in the mood for pho, as it is a terrible travel food, but I figure they would have a banh mi, and they do. It is small, but just filling enough, and every ingredient is perfectly balanced. While I am waiting I notice they also have steamed pork buns, and get three of those too. They even have a special pork bun that is larger and includes egg and sausage as well as pork. I and various others eat them for the next day or two. Total cost: around six dollars. Olympia Vietnamese gets a thumbs up.
The show itself is disorganized to a degree I have almost never experienced in my career. We show up several hours early to drop off our stuff, and are told that doors are at 8. I happen to stop by around 7:30 to use the bathroom, and am informed by a kid who looks like he is about 12 years old that the music is actually starting at 8. Immediately when doors open. And that the touring bands are going first, because none of the local bands are there; effectively punishing us for showing up on time. And that there are five bands, and we have to be done by 11. Three major faux pas and logistical fuckups, and this kid is just the soundman relaying this information to me; no one actually in charge is anywhere to be found. You never expect people to actually show up for doors, you are just telling them the time when they can show up. It is generally presumed if not explicitly stated that the show starts about an hour after doors. You never put touring bands first. Ideally they will be sandwiched between local bands, so that even if no one comes to see you specifically, you get all the local bands’ friends and fans in the room during your set and maybe expand your base a little bit. We always do this for touring bands back home. And it is really not possible to have five bands in three hours without cutting everyone’s set short and making the whole thing extremely stressful. Even if everyone only plays for a half hour, you have to allow time for changeovers between bands. The way this is set up, it effectively guarantees that no one will see the first band. Krill graciously takes one for the team and goes first, playing for maybe three to six people. We owe them one. On the plus side, we had been on a great streak with shows, and it is kind of a relief when the other shoe drops.
After the show we get to stay with some more friends of friends, Evergreen State kids with a big, comfy house. The living room is full of instruments, including an extremely weird 7-string acoustic bass guitar (B-E-A-D-G-C-F) that is clearly some sort of misguided custom job. The action is so high as to cause pain, and the intonation is fucked because of the great difference in the thickness of the strings. It is such a strange beast that various people keep picking it up and trying to get sounds out of it, so it functions as a conversation piece more than an instrument. A rotating cast of characters come in and out over the course of the night. This seems to be kind of a party house. I indulge, because I work from the road and for me weekends still mean something. I know the following night I will have to take it easy. They have gin and tonic, and I have several. Q tonic, the good kind, the really dry kind that is sort of expensive but totally worth it. The host and I stay up to the wee hours shooting the shit and pounding gin and tonics. We bro out. It is a blast. Everyone else has long ago gone to sleep. I arrange my sleeping bag in the living room such that this is the first thing I see when I wake up:
What the photo does not convey is the sheer size of this adorable bunny. He is roughly the size of a Christmas turkey. Our host says we can take him out in the morning, but we know we will likely have to leave before he awakes, and say our goodbyes at night. Then it’s off to Portland.
I have a close family friend in Portland, Patrice. Patrice and my mom are best friends and she is one of the adults who helped raise me. She has kids about my age and we grew up together. She lets us crash in her attic, which has beds for everyone. It is good to see her. I also see her youngest daughter, Nuala, for the first time since she was about six months old. She is now a full-sized nearly-adult human and it is bizarre. Patrice is rather a bit of a hippie, and has all these herbs and tinctures and teas for the singers, who are getting sick. It is an extremely warm and welcoming setting, and she even has a driveway we can pull into so we don’t have to load out our gear at night. Just generally the ideal place to be at this point in our journey.
Before the show, we head out to Grain and Gristle for a big meal with Krill. This is my mom’s favorite restaurant, and as a birthday present she has given me some money to take everyone out for a meal. I really cannot convey in words how amazingly tasty this food was. We order appetizers for the table: pretzels, an assortment of house-pickled vegetables, fries, and onion rings. I order a burger, which I am told is the thing to get. It costs nine dollars. If we were in Williamsburg, it would be twice that, and I would buy it. It’s that good.
This burger is hands down one of the top three things I have ever eaten. Every element is made in house, or elsewhere in Portland, and is extremely fresh. Brioche roll, garlic aioli, mixed greens, pickles, cheddar, bacon, the juiciest and most flavorful beef. They even have two kinds of mustard, a seedy one and a smoother dijon-style. I don’t even know what they do to this bacon. I have never experienced anything like it before. It is much darker in color than most, and it has a sweet overtone in addition to all the normal bacon flavors. It is a perfectly toothsome texture. We are all freaking out about how good this food is. We want to go back for breakfast, but they don’t open till noon on weekdays. Still, I feel very fortunate to have had this experience and share it with all my bros and lady bros. An excellent gift. My mom knows how much I love shit like this. If you are ever in Portland, go to this place. It is cheap and not obnoxious and there is not a dud on the menu that I can find.
The show is packed, and the promoter is cool and on top of his shit. Patrice’s daughter Nina comes by. We didn’t see each other for about 20 years, but now she always comes through when we hit Portland, and it’s nice to catch up. She is writing a book, and is on track to get it published. We parted ways for so long, and independently decided to be artists like our parents. I guess if our parents were blacksmiths we’d be doing that. No one has as much agency as they think they do. I order an absinthe, which tastes like fucked up licorice and doesn’t make me see fairies or anything. It just feels like being drunk. I do appreciate that they serve it properly, with water and a sugar cube. I take a moment to be a tourist and hit up Voodoo Doughnut, conveniently located across the street. They are open 24 hours and have all manner of bizarre and unique donut combinations and you can get married there, the owner is ordained by some marriage-sanctioning body or other. If that’s your style. This Butterfinger donut catches my eye, and does not disappoint.
Successful donut. In the morning we spend too much money at the organic supermarket and drive to San Francisco. We have a day off and a 10 hour drive, which turns into 12 because it is raining and most of the driving is at night. We listen to Future Islands and Grace Jones. Some of the drive is legit scary. I think about what an amazing PR move it would be if we all crashed and died in a blaze of glory right on the official release date. Our press guy is fucking great, he could do a lot with that. But we all make it in one piece, so I guess we have to stay on our hustle the old fashioned way.