Fall Tour: In which I discover a previously-unknown talent for shadow puppets

Our Kalamazoo show is at Satellite Records, a thoroughly awesome record store on what appears to be the main drag. I take the opportunity to get some tapes for the car: Harry Nilsson, Paul Simon, and best of all, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell. I have a morbid fascination with Meat Loaf. He is definitely one of the weirder things to be that popular. Meat Loaf mastermind Jim Steinman’s website is one of my favorite places on the internet. I love the grandiosity combined with the Web 1.0 design. I will give him his due: Jim Steinman wrote some highly successful songs. But damn, this guy really thinks he’s the best thing to ever happen to music. The word “Steinmania” is used on this website repeatedly, seemingly without irony. Symptoms of Steinmania include diarrhea and night terrors. Talk to your doctor about Steinmania. “[Steinman] is currently writing book, music and lyrics for the musical Bat Out Of Hell for Imminent Production and Nutcracked, a heavy metal version of The Nutcracker with lyrics set to a Tchaikovsky score.” Nutcracked! I love his schlocky audacity. The world of Jim Steinman is a magical place where classical geeks become rock gods, and he got so many people to buy in! Whenever anyone tells you you can’t be whatever you want to be, give them a big fat fuck you from James Richard Steinman, who shows us all things are possible. He probably lives in a castle and is as we speak arranging Nutcracked on vellum with a giant quill pen in complete earnest. He nurses a glass of absinthe with a sugar cube and a raven sits on his shoulder. No one puts Jim Steinman in a corner. He is probably the most fully self-actualized person in the music business, and he is right to be so obviously pleased with himself. I would be very surprised if he didn’t spend hours meticulously editing his own Wikipedia page, which is suspiciously exhaustively footnoted going back to his college days.

Next door to the record store, we stop at The Crow’s Nest for dinner. I get a “Facemelter”.IMG_0835

A black bean patty with spicy salsa, jalapenos, red onions, cheddar, and a fried egg. Normally I am not down with the vegetable-based burger, but it’s easy to eat way too much meat on tour and I figure my body needs a break. I also like the idea that the burger was designed with a particular kind of patty in mind, instead of just offering it as a substitution on normal beef-default burgers. It Is delicious. Spicy as hell, and the egg adds protein. Messy, but it hits the spot. Even better are the sweet potato fries, with both a seedy mustard aioli and straight up fucking honey offered for dipping. I put some Sriracha in the honey and that turns out to be the thing to do.

Our show is well-attended for a place we’ve never been. People are appreciative and buy things. One of the store managers has offered to put us up for the evening, and we decamp to his house to watch Brazil and drink whiskey mixed with Vernor’s Ginger Soda. Vernor’s is not quite up there with a really spicy Jamaican ginger beer like Reed’s, but it is far superior to ginger ale. Great with whiskey. I have never seen Brazil before, and apparently we are watching a weird cut an hour shorter than the original to which Terry Gilliam violently objected. I am told the ending was changed, but I’m sound asleep by then. Tour is a bad time to take in the classics of film. I will have to watch it for real during the week of complete inactivity it takes to recover when I get home.

We have been granted the rare luxury of not having to load out our equipment after the show, and come back in the morning to get it. This mysterious object catches my eye.

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Our host tells us the story. It is a replica of the phallic Cubist obelisk thing from the cover of this Led Zeppelin album, and has been on consignment from some local artist for over a year. The artist comes in every now and then to check if it has sold. It only costs $40, and I think it’s pretty cool, so I buy it. $40 for a piece of art? Am I missing something in thinking that this is the deal of the century? Anyway, it’s mine now, and the next time that artist comes in to check on it he or she is in for a treat. I will put it on my mantel as soon as I live somewhere with a mantel. Until then it can live on my desk at work as a means of advertising to everyone that despite my commitment to excellence in the area of Human Resources, I have never abandoned the ideals of rock ‘n’ roll.

After Kalamazoo it’s off to Chicago to play at the Empty Bottle, where we’ve been a few times before. It’s one of my favorite places due to its combination of free delicious food for bands, a large and comfortable green room, cheap drinks, and punishingly loud sound. I also have to give the Empty Bottle extra-special props for its exhaustive attention to one of the most frequently-asked questions of tour: what can I buy with a drink ticket?

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Our enthusiasm is slightly dampened when we learn that our show is competing with a giant multi-day festival containing ten or fifteen bands that people who like us probably also like. I thought the time we had to play in Houston upstairs from Built to Spill was rough. Considering the fact that every music fan in Chicago is somewhere else, we actually have a decent turnout. A couple I met several trips ago is there, and they buy three T-shirts because they feel bad about Riot Fest fucking up our situation. I spent a long time talking to them last time around, and it’s cool to see them again. We are staying with a childhood friend of Julian’s. I’m beat, but I end up hanging out until the wee hours of the morning. First of all, there’s a bonfire, which is always hard to resist. Her roommates and a few of their friends come by, and it’s a nice low-key hang. Second, there is this dog.

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This is Atreyu, and we’re best friends now. He is extremely fluffy and radiates good vibes. I wake up to find him sleeping at my feet. When I pet him, he makes a sound like a cat’s purr. We are totally psyched about each other’s company. It is hard to leave him behind. Our host tells me that when I go outside, he gets agitated and waits anxiously for my return. But off we must go, to Columbus. I’ll be back someday, little buddy.

Columbus is the best stop of tour so far. We are playing at The Summit, which is dark and grimy and feels immediately comfortable. Bands get free Carling Black Label and a dollar off already-cheap drinks, which makes a beer and a shot cost $2. The Summit is attached to Café Bourbon Street, which also has a small stage and a kitchen. It is dollar taco night, and I take the opportunity to get some much-needed plant matter in my body via three black bean tacos with nectarine salsa. The chef is proud of the nectarine salsa, and rightly so. Because I’m on tour and it’s cheap and fuck it, I also get an order of jalapeno poppers.

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They come with sweet chili sauce, and they are perfect. Extra-crispy outside, gooey inside, spiciness nicely balanced by the sweet sauce. Although it’s a weeknight and we’ve never been there before, there is a decent crowd. Local headliner Torgo brings an awesomely noisy, abrasive set, and I am disappointed to hear that this is their next to last show ever. Unlike the majority of people who make that sort of music, they are totally cool and normal dudes. No offense, noise-colleagues, but you know how you are. You like it. I don’t know how it happens, but all of a sudden everyone is dancing. I credit the DJ for putting on this song at just the right time and following it with a bunch of T. Rex. We are all blowing off some serious tour-steam, and it feels great. We dance for what feels like a while. An attractive woman in heels and a children’s Lisa Simpson sweater that has been modified into a sort of halter top is dancing with us. I like her style. She seems to have somewhere to be, and disappears rather suddenly. C’est la vie. Time to load, anyway.

Afterwards, we stay with some friends of Celestial Shore. They have a large, beautiful, and spotlessly clean house that contains a big organ and this dog.

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This is Jack, and while we do not achieve the deep spiritual bond I felt with Atreyu, we get some good hangout time. I sleep in a longish chair with my feet hanging off the edge. In the morning, we get a nice cheap greasy-spoon breakfast. I want to explore Columbus, which boasts an interesting-looking clothing store and a guitar maker with a storefront and everything. But it is not to be; immediately after eating I have two straight hours of conference calls for work, and then it’s time to go. Columbus gives me extremely good vibes, and The Summit is a great fit for what we do. Ohio generally is kind to us. I’m a long way from being able to actually describe the unique character of the different states we go to, but there is something about Ohio I like.

Oberlin is always a great tour stop, and if you are in a band you should go out of your way to play there. Before loading, I stop by The Feve for tacos. There is some sort of fundraiser, and for $10 I am promised all the tacos I can eat. All the tacos I can eat turns out to be 3, so I guess that is a roughly normal-to-high price for tacos, but they are very good. Our show is at The Cat In The Cream, where we played last time through. It boasts delicious large cookies and very good coffee. The students here appear more musically sophisticated than your average college-age American. They are highly appreciative and buy a lot of records. The show is over pretty early, and we all depart to The Feve again for wings. 10 for $4, which is the best deal I’d ever encountered at a bar I’d actually want to be in. Julian and I split two orders, one spicy garlic and one honey Sriracha. They hit the spot.

A great fringe benefit of playing at Oberlin is getting rooms at The Oberlin Inn. We have been given three for us and Celestial Shore, which means everyone gets a bed and several people even get a bed to themselves. I tell myself I’m going to go to sleep, and actually get as far as putting on sleep attire and getting into bed. But a delegation from the next room comes to retrieve some wine, and I decide to stay up and hang. Even as a little kid I was like this, pretending to get up to pee and drink water and such because I knew my parents and their friends were up shooting the shit in the living room and I wanted a piece of the action. I guess nothing has substantively changed about my personality in the last 25 years. You can rarely plan these sorts of things on tour, but tonight is a night when everyone just agrees it’s on. Except Carlos, who fulfills his commitment to sleep but is somehow still just as tired as the rest of us in the morning. We have most of a box of Franzia, which is a boon to the touring musician due to its low price and relatively pleasant drinkability at whatever temperature. Always get white so it doesn’t stain. We have Chardonnay, which is dry enough for a box wine. We are shushed once by a neighbor and once by security; we are those assholes ruining everyone’s stay at The Oberlin Inn. Julian’s friend Dave joins us, and even if you’re being totally civil it’s just hard for that many people to be quiet. Where else are we gonna go? It’s Ohio, the bars are closed. We record some interesting sounds generated by various hotel room objects. Greg beats everyone at thumb wrestling. We watch some Roseanne. The night ends with me entertaining most of Ava Luna and Celestial Shore with shadow puppets for at least forty minutes. That ought to give you an idea of where our heads were at. I am told I am really good at shadow puppets. The secret is to move the light source as well as your hand for spatial effect, and use foreshortening. Also I can do this cool thing where I make a creature with an eye and his eye moves. As usual, I get about six hours of sleep and promise myself I’ll catch up on the weekend. Miraculously, I manage to conduct all my work business without interfering with loading or breakfast. I eat this amazing red velvet donut. Tonight, Pittsburgh.

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