Treefort, part 2

Our next stop is the Knitting Factory to see Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. Where is there not a Knitting Factory these days? Back in my day there was one Knitting Factory and it was on 74 Leonard Street. I remember seeing Deerhoof there back in the day, and Shellac, and Jonathan Richman. A band I played with in college did a sweet sixteen there once, so technically I have played at the old pre-chain Knitting Factory. Thank you, Laura, who is now nearly thirty, for the cred. The Boise Knitting Factory bears no resemblance beyond the name. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is a sort of operatic doom metal, and it is fucking fantastic. There is a lot of chanting and they’re all dressed in black robes wearing face paint, so the effect is that of having walked into an occult ritual, the participants too entranced to ask you to leave. It’s kind of like Sleep but slower, dronier, more abstract, with some truly virtuosic singing. At least one of these singers could do the aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, no problem. The crowd stands in reverent silence. It’s the perfect thing to see after the transcendence of Liz Phair. I’ll need at least a full night’s sleep and a big breakfast before I can appreciate just a normal band where someone sings and plays guitar again. My palate is cleansed.

Next and last stop of the night is Boise Fry Company, which in addition to producing delicious fries made of many types of potatoes is hosting shows tonight. We go to support our comrade Jennifer Vanilla, and also to eat fries. As a performer at the venue she gets a deal on fries and graciously orders ours for us. First we get purple, which are just okay. I love purple potatoes but they’re the wrong texture for a fry, lacking a satisfying crunch. Then we get red, which are fantastic. Like the late, great Pommes Frites on St. Marks, they have a nice array of sauces. Garlic aioli and roasted jalapeño ranch are my faves. I also get some tasty flash-fried brussel sprouts, which are technically a vegetable. Jennifer puts on a great show, and there is a particularly vocal contingent of shaggy young lads next to us who are big fans. Video Age comes by to hang some more, and we also talk to a guy we stayed with back in 2012 or so when we first came through. He and his roommates were newly 21 at the time, and it was a classic tour situation where our local hosts wanted to party and get wasted and we just wanted to sleep. He apologizes for having kept us up seven years ago. Wanting to sleep and not being able to was such a common experience back then that we had all forgotten that particular instance, remembering only a conversation we had with one of his roommates where he made the case for Outkast being better than the Beatles and we all ended up agreeing with him. I mean, I like most things better than the Beatles, but convincing Julian was a significant rhetorical achievement. No hard feelings, we tell him. We learned something that night, after all. They are sweeping the floors and turning off lights. In New York someone would have brusquely told us to leave by now, but in Boise they just start closing and it takes us a minute to get the hint. We say our goodbyes. There are more shows, but the day’s journey is taking its toll, so we head back to the room to sleep.

In the morning I go downstairs and am pleased to find free coffee. Exemplary free coffee, it turns out. This is the best drip coffee I have ever had, comparable even to what Dorthy and I make at home. I have several cups, and head over with my bandmates to Alefort. Everything at Treefort is a fort. There’s a Filmfort and a Comedyfort and a Yogafort. Alefort today has a selection of Basque foods as well as Basque dancing and music. Basque food is sort of a French-Spanish fusion, and it is delicious. I have roasted peppers that look like smaller shishitos seasoned with salt and garlic, two different kinds of tortilla (the Spanish kind that is like a crustless quiche), one with potatoes and one with cod, tiny chorizos with onion jam, perfectly cooked steak with a tangy pepper sauce, and some sort of cheese custard with jam and crunchy nut/sugar bits. Everything hits the spot. I have purchased ten food and drink tokens and now have four left. I go back for seconds of the peppers and the steak. I use the last two for little tasting glasses of Basque cider, which is top-notch. Most American ciders are way too sweet, and this stuff is bone-dry. One is like a prosecco and one has a little funk from natural fermentation. I hang out for a bit to watch the dancing, but I can’t get a good view. I set off to explore.

Before long I get to the Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store, which is exactly the sort of find I was hoping for. It is huge and a little confusingly laid out, but the prices are right and I have time. Thrift stores in smaller cities are infinitely superior to back home, because they’re not surrounded by “vintage stores” whose job it is to get to all the best pieces before you and sell it to you and people way richer than you at 1000% markup. I find a foam mat for five dollars and a cool shirt to wear onstage for six, plus my Treefort wristband gets me 10% off. It’s maybe a little gross to buy a used mat for yoga and exercise and such, but I’m trying not to let my physical fitness go completely to shit this tour, for once, and neglected to bring anything to exercise with. I can’t run in these shoes, either. It looks clean and smells neutral and I can give it a light scrub back at the hotel. If I get even two or three workouts in over this ten-day period that’ll be much more than previously. I’m still at the stage where I’m happy if I just maintain a routine. Actually losing weight and not having my body hurt all the time are reach goals for later. Really I’d settle for just not hurting all the time, if I didn’t have a bit of a gut I’d be the first of my line to pull that off. In my defense, food is delicious and our time on this planet is short. Particularly now with all the flooding.

After some more walking around and a stop at the artist lounge for a snack, I return to the main stage to see Chai. Gemma actually played with them just about a week ago at Market Hotel and they kill it again. They wear matching pink outfits and do synchronized choreography. It’s dancey and punky and exuberant, playful but not a joke. Definitely kawaii on its face, but there’s something subversive about it. Before long it’s time to load in for our own show. Our first set of the festival is at the Linen Room, which is just across the street from the hotel. There’s a decent crowd at the venue and we quickly find our festival-provided backline. Unfortunately it’s all still in cases, so it’ll be a tight transition between bands. We have 20 minutes. The staff are on top of things, and have it set up so that bands go on stage left and off stage right, with dead cases stored stage right for easy loadout. After a quick line check, we’re on. We play a new song, which goes pretty well. Later I learn from Instagram that Chai came to see us, which is the highest praise. The crowd is into it, and we immediately sell almost all of our records. Last night before going to sleep I learned that our shipment of more records was delayed and we will not have them until, best case scenario, Monday. This is frustrating, but there was no way we were bringing any more stuff than we already brought. Shit happens. Festivals are all over the place with merch, and often you don’t sell any at all. So it’s a good problem to have. I can only hope everyone who wanted Moon 2 goes down to The Record Exhange to get a copy after we leave. At least we stand a good chance of having them shipped to Denver.

This set marks the triumphant return of my trusty Ibanez SR300DX, the first bass I ever owned. I learned on my dad’s white Squier Jazz Bass and got the Ibanez as a gift once it was clear I was serious. I played it all through high school, switching back and forth between it and my Hohner headless. When I joined Ava Luna, and it became clear I needed to tune it down a 4th to double the synth parts, the Ibanez was the one I had modified for the purpose. It was what I played on all our early shows, and on Ice Level. I stopped using it once I got my G&L L-2000, which is what I play in Ava Luna nowadays. But if all goes according to plan we’ll be doing a lot of flying this year, and flying with an instrument is always nerve-wracking. You can go the flight case route, which means buying an expensive case and always paying to check it and worrying about what the extreme cold of the high altitude will do to the neck. Or you can do what I usually do, which is pack it in the slimmest soft case and gently but firmly insist on bringing it on board with you. I’ve succeeded so far, but there’s always a chance someone between you and your seat will make you check it and something bad will happen to it. So I started to entertain the idea of a travel bass. It had to be maximally comfortable to play, and be tuned down to B, and have a good enough approximation of the sound I want, and not be costly to repair or replace any part of. The Ibanez, sitting neglected in my workspace partially disassembled, was the natural choice.

At some point towards the end of my time using the Ibanez regularly I had switched out the pickups for DiMarzios, a blade-style Split P and one of the regular jazz ones for the bridge. I eventually took these out to put in my Hohner, where they were a huge improvement and remain to this day (featured on the upcoming Gemma release Feeling’s Not A Tempo on Double Double Whammy 5/31). Not wanting to put the crappy stock pickups back in, I thought about what to get instead. I didn’t want another Split P, it’s a beautiful pickup but I already have two other instruments containing it and wanted something different. Several hours of online research listening to every possible sound sample on good headphones led me to another DiMarzio, the DP126. I know from experience that I prefer ceramic magnets to the more common alnico, so that narrowed it down a lot. And I like adjustable polepieces, especially since it quickly became clear that the bridge and the bridge pickup route on this bass came from the factory slightly off-center from the neck. I didn’t notice these things back in the day.

Strings were an easy choice – La Bella Low-Tension Flexible Flats, the bottom 4 of a 5-string set. The lighter gauge and lower tension makes the bass respond more like a short scale, and whatever metal they use in the wrap feels soft like silk. Plus it was an easy way to get one element of the sound close to that of my normal bass. Putting the strings on, though, I started to get annoyed about the bridge. It really was very off center, to the extent that each string fell over its corresponding polepieces at a very different orientation, and the top string was much closer to the edge of the fingerboard than the bottom. The stock pickups didn’t have exposed polepieces, so it wasn’t so obvious before. I determined how far off it was and considered moving it. It was tough, the distance was just about an eighth of an inch, which means I’d have to fill the old holes to drill new ones so they wouldn’t just make one big hole. I could move the bridge forward or back and compensate for the change by moving the saddles, but then the filled holes would be visible and if I ever wanted the old bridge back I’d have to re-drill. So then I thought, while I’m at it, why not upgrade the bridge too? Something with a little more mass maybe, and different screw orientation so I could switch back easily if it turned out to be a mistake.

The next couple weeks, all my free time was spent experimenting with different bridges. A standard Fender or Gibson has lots of solid options for drop-in replacements, but for a 20-year-old entry-level Ibanez the number of things that can go wrong is staggering, even assuming you drill the holes for the screws exactly right. The string spacing can be wrong. This turned out to be the case with the first bridge I wanted to try, an old through-body Epiphone with big thick brass saddles. You can compensate for this by filing the grooves the strings sit in closer together or further apart, but something about this bass and this bridge made me not want to commit to it. Since it was made for a short scale, the saddles didn’t have a lot of room to adjust for proper intonation, and I was worried about doing a bunch of modifications only to end up unable to play in tune. As I found with the next bridge I tried, this time with adjustable string spacing, the saddles can also be too high or too low beyond the adjustable range. You could shim the neck to compensate for this, but the neck pocket on this bass is an odd shape and too long to easily shim with anything I had on hand. I was concerned about whether shimming an asymmetrical neck pocket would in the long term lead to warping. Failing this you could file the most troublesome of the saddles down, only to find that you have made the break angle at the saddle too low and those strings now rattle and have weird shitty overtones, which is exactly what happened next. Or was the rattle coming from the tiny hex screws used to secure the saddle’s lateral position for my preferred string spacing? This design sucks. I had just about given up when I remembered I had an old used Badass Bridge II sitting around, left over from a homemade plywood project bass I bought on Goodwill Auctions and will someday finish restoring. I had to replace the rusty saddle screws, but other than that it was perfect. Whoever had previously owned the bass had neglected to slot the saddles, so I could slot them however I wanted. The added weight had the nice effect of making the bass balance better on a strap. And the whole thing definitely sounded fatter than it did with the old bridge, whether from the added mass, the increased surface area of saddle touching bridge, or the inability of the saddles to move side to side. The Badass Bridge is divisive among bass players, with haters claiming it is made out of shitty metal and that more mass is not in and of itself good. They may be right if they’re talking about a nice vintage Fender, but I can tell you it’s a vast improvement on the stock bridge of a circa 2000 Ibanez. And the coolest cheap bass I’ve ever encountered, a Japanese Aims owned by Gabe of Mr. Twin Sister, has an absurdly large and heavy bridge too. It can’t hurt, is all I’m saying, and having found this bridge just lying around ready to use after so much hassle made me feel like I’d solved a puzzle in Myst or something. Another thing I noticed plugging this thing in after a long period of inactivity is the Phat Active EQ, which is basically a bass/treble expander knob. I use a Sansamp nowadays, but I had that boost cranked the entire time I played that bass back in the day. I hadn’t realized how much the Phat Active EQ formed my idea of what a bass is supposed to sound like. I don’t scoop my mids nearly so much anymore, and have learned to appreciate what mids do, but goddamn it is satisfying to turn that thing all the way up with the improved pickups and bridge. You feel it right in your solar plexus. I eagerly await some gearhead asking what I use after a good set so I can tell them it’s a damn Ibanez, and not even one of the deluxe ones with the fancy wood.

After a trip to the office to get our check, and a trip to the bank to deposit it, I’m beat. I feel an overwhelming urge to go back to the hotel and see what’s on TV. The Mummy is on TV, and I am pleased to see that Julian and Carlos are as excited to watch it as I am. It is the perfect brainless thing to sort of focus on while decompressing. Brendan Fraser exudes a doofy charm. Rachel Weisz has the best eyebrows in show business. The CGI doesn’t look good, exactly, but it still looks pretty cool. When the beetle crawls through The Mummy’s cheek and he crunches on it? That’s entertainment, folks. I remember seeing this in theaters with my friend Nick back in the day, but I had forgotten how much it was like a cartoon. Oh, and you better believe they’re playing The Mummy Returns right after. Somewhere in there, I fall asleep. It teases the viewer with the promise of The Rock in the opening scene, but he is slow to appear.

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