Fall Tour: Carlos hears Son of Salami in Burlington and Bursts Into Tears
Our show in Boston is at a house. House shows in Boston must be handled carefully because the cops put considerable and occasionally hilarious effort into shutting them down. The address can’t be disclosed until the last minute, and anyone asking about the show that someone doesn’t know personally stands a nontrivial chance of being a cop. I am not sure where their fervor comes from. These shows don’t sell alcohol, and are actually among the way more benign activities a large group of young people could be engaging in on any given night. If someone calls them about the noise, that’s one thing, but anyone who has house shows either enforces a curfew to avoid complaints or doesn’t have the sort of neighbors who complain. I have always found house shows to regulate themselves pretty effectively. Fortunately, we manage to arrive and load without any static from the House Shows Unit of Boston Major Crimes. A spinoff of Law and Order where they just break up house shows would be pretty entertaining. Imagine Christopher Meloni as Detective Eliot Stabler just fully wilding out at a group of young punks while an absurdly TV-fied hardcore band in sleeveless denim vests plays between a couch and a fridge. He gives them all a lecture about responsibility and pours their beers down the sink drain one by one. He picks up the owner of the house by his shirt collar. Every episode ends with empty threats and no charges being filed. I would watch this show.
The house has a backyard, and the basement is pretty spacious. The girl whose house it is is really nice, and there’s a good crowd. Current and former members of Krill are in attendance, and it is good to hang. Rosie and the Rosies are excellent. For some reason the drummer and bassist are wearing fur coats and sunglasses despite it being both hot and dark in the basement, while the lead singer/guitarist is dressed normal. Palehound does a spectacular set, as always, with seemingly all-new members aside from Ellen. Ellen also makes an insane guest appearance during Celestial Shore’s final song, in which she basically picks up Sam’s guitar and executes a the riff from “Creation Myth” perfectly on the first try. As far as I know she has never played with them before. You can’t even see her fingers. She probably just watched him and figured it out a few minutes earlier. Ellen is one of the best guitarists I know personally, and the combination of her and Celestial Shore is brilliant. Of course, it is immediately after this triumphant finale that the power goes out. We are on a tight schedule, and we’re the last band. Everyone is stumbling around with their phone flashlights trying to find the fuse box. Eventually it turns out that a breaker in an outlet shut off, not the actual fuse, which is why it was difficult to locate the problem. It has shut off because every single piece of electronic equipment in the basement is plugged into a single outlet. Sigh. We are now past curfew, and will have to play a very short set. We make it about three and a half songs in before our hostess cuts us off. The cops have come, and she has been threatened with a summons. Concertus interruptus. I am annoyed, because if it weren’t for the power we probably would have been able to finish. No one buys merch because they are all being compelled to leave. It is the only show of tour in which we do not sell a single item. At least we get paid. Shit happens with house shows, and it’s usually nobody’s fault. Sometimes it’s really transcendent, and sometimes it’s a dud. Tonight is both. Win some, lose some, et cetera.
Carlos and Becca have gone off to hang out elsewhere, and the rest of us load and depart. Our destination is Julian’s parents’ house, one of my favorite tour stops. They have a lot of soft places to sleep, and they always buy us a bunch of beer and tasty prepared foods from Wegman’s. I’m particularly fond of the sesame chicken with lo mein, and lo and behold, here is a huge family-size tray of it! We tear into it and some fried rice with reckless abandon. It is a massacre. There is also fresh watermelon, which gives me an idea. I know Julian’s mom always keeps St. Germain around. What if I combined these two things? I suspect the light, cool taste of the watermelon would complement the St. Germain perfectly. I am not keeping track of the proportions because there’s no jigger to be found, but let’s say it’s about a shot of St. Germain and a half-inch-thick slice of a quarter-round of watermelon. I cut the watermelon into little chunks and muddle it in the St. Germain. Then it’s just some ice and a splash of seltzer. The result garners glowing reviews from both Julian and Felicia. It’s light and refreshing and not too boozy, and you can eat the watermelon when you’re done. The flavors do indeed go together perfectly. I have yet to come up with a clever name for it. Suggestions are welcome.
I get a bed to myself, and we have most of the day to lounge. I get a bunch of work done and a little bit of writing. I snack. Our next show is in nearby Providence, only an hour away, so it’s no rush. We’re playing at AS220, an awesome art space/bar/restaurant on what seems to be a main drag of some sort. There is an enticing-looking menu of mostly local and organic and otherwise fancy items. I am disappointed to hear they are out of lamb, and order a BLT instead. Still hungry, I realize I’m actually a meal behind for the day and order an ear of grilled corn and some crispy chickpeas. The corn is delicious, but the chickpeas are next level. They are extremely piquant with garlic and basil, and the bartender suggests we add sriracha, which we do. An awesome snack food. I wash them down with a crisp IPA.
The show is pretty low-key, but we are pleasantly surprised to see that one of the people in attendance is Devlin of Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. We’ve played together on several occasions, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see him. I guess he lives in Providence now. Devlin is a great musician, all-around nice guy, and one of the few males around my age who actually looks good in a hat. He watches the set, and we all do some beers after. We crash at his house, where he prepares us a delicious meal of extremely spicy tofu, fried rice, and spaghetti squash. Devlin is a consummate host; he wouldn’t think of inviting you over and not cooking something, even if it’s like 2 in the morning.
You see all those peppers? They are fucking hot. A bunch of Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acid adds salt and umami. That stuff is pretty amazing even though it comes from like a secret lab of hippie alchemists and no one knows what it actually is. I always forget about spaghetti squash. It is a brilliant concept, functioning as both spaghetti and squash. On the fridge is a photograph of a lady I’m pretty sure is his girlfriend kissing a guy who is definitely Willie Nelson. I forget to ask about the story behind it. I sleep peacefully on a couch that is a bit too short for me. Beats a floor any day.
Our next show is in Burlington. We make a quick stop in Boston to pick up our merch bag, which we left at the house amidst all the post-show chaos. The girl whose house it is has to stop by on her lunch break to let us in, which makes us feel like dicks, but she is totally nice about it and the handoff goes off without a hitch. It isn’t tour unless we lose the merch bag at least once, I guess. A good rule of thumb is that if it looks like there’s any room in the van at all, you’re probably missing something, but every now and then we forget just long enough for it to be a problem. We stop at the delicious and overpriced City Feed for some breakfast. I get a bagel with lox. It hits the spot. Our drive to Vermont is definitely the most scenic so far, full of rustic farm scenes and nice foliage and the ever-present fear of hitting a deer. Even the gas station snacks get noticeably better as we approach our destination. Check this shit out:
Smoked pepperoni and smoked cheddar, from nearby Meriden, NH. The smoke flavor is really pronounced, and they hit the spot. My only complaint is that the gas station we get them from does not also sell crackers. Seriously? What the hell kind of business is this? I pass the bags around for everyone to sample, and make a mental note to save the rest for when crackers can be added. They work great by themselves, but I just know crackers would take them to the next level.
Our show in Burlington is at the Speaking Volumes bookstore, and we get an immediately good vibe. The store has a great book selection, of course, plus a lot of records and stereo equipment. Carlos and Julian are tempted by a giant old analog PA system with spring reverb, which they will end up buying the next day. I buy a few books, of which I’m most excited for a pulpy-looking lesbian mystery novel and a book of Isaac Bashevis Singer stories. I’ve always loved Singer, even though I recognize that as a gentile and non-speaker of Yiddish I’m probably missing a lot of what’s going on thematically. The awesomely baroque names of his characters alone are worth the price of admission. Paltiel Gerstendrescher? Amazing! I remember having been very affected by the story of Shrewd Todie and Lyzer the Miser as a child, and for a while even misremembering it as being biblical in origin. It gave me a lot to chew on, ethically. Then I forgot about him for about twenty years, until I chanced upon a copy of Old Love at our friend Adam’s house in Baltimore. I found that in addition to a complex and conflicted confluence of ancient and modern moralities, and a fascinating look into pre-WWII Jewish life in Europe, there was also a lot of fucking. Sold! Adam graciously gave us a copy of Shosha for the road because he had two, and Carlos and I both devoured it over the remainder of the trip. Now I also own Gimpel the Fool, and I’m excited to get home and read it on my balcony before it gets too cold to comfortably do so.
The show is in the warehouse behind the bookstore, and we’re able to actually pull our van all the way in to load. It’s all ages, but we are still allowed to bring beer; an excellent combination. Vermont seems to be cooler about this than other places. There is not a lot of food within walking distance, but we are doubly fortunate: we are right next door to Myer’s Bagels, and they are having pizza night. Pizza night at a bagel store? Sure, what the hell; we like the place, and none of us want to leave. We get a margherita, a white pizza with a bunch of fresh herbs and roasted peppers, and most excitingly, a pizza with figs and brie.
Because this is Montreal-style bagel dough, there is no salt, and the pizzas suffer a bit from this deficiency. They couldn’t, like, put some on top even? But the freshness of the ingredients makes up for it. It is the kind of pizza you don’t feel gross after eating a lot of, which is good, because we do. I also get a Caesar salad to share, because that is technically vegetables. The croutons are made out of bagels. Excellent. The place is starting to fill up. We are offered fresh apples by the promoter. Delicious. I’ve noticed a lot of books and signage and shirts and such promoting environmentalism in Vermont, more than elsewhere. There’s a whole shelf in the bookstore for it, and it makes perfect sense: these are people who concretely have something to lose when the overall condition of the earth deteriorates. It is beautiful, and the bounty of the land is walkable from your house. Concerns like carbon emissions and fracking can seem abstract in a city, where you’re so far from nature. But if you don’t love nature, what the hell would you be doing in Vermont? It’s kind of the main draw. People’s attitudes around it seem common-sensical and unpreachy and legit, and the coal-rollers of our great nation would do well to visit. A lot of artisanal food trends like home pickling seem a lot less obnoxious when the stuff you’re pickling is from your neighbor’s farm instead of Whole Foods.
Opener Victory Morning brings some nice free jazz, consonant but far from simplistic. Celestial Shore kills it, as always. I feel good about our set. We both benefit from Greg’s new, fully-functional bass cabinet. But Son of Salami blows us all out of the water. I am not going to do Son of Salami any justice trying to describe it. It is just a guy, who goes by Joey Pizza Slice, singing over pre-recorded tracks and manipulating his voice with some effects on the fly. He doesn’t even stand up, he just sits in a chair hunched over his digital workstation, futzing with the tracks and periodically putting on and taking off sunglasses. It is bizarre, uproariously funny, and deeply, heart-wrenchingly sad all at once. Listen to this. And this, and this. Shit, listen to all of it, the songs are like two minutes long. The first words out of his mouth are “shit, that was a really good band; it’s gonna be hard to follow that.” The backing tracks are recorded to tape that has had the erase head removed, which adds all these cool analog artifacts and unpredictable flourishes to the final product. He does totally earnest and beautiful covers of “Moon River” and “You Only Live Twice”. His voice is gorgeous, childlike and world-weary at the same time. He asks the audience if it is okay to smoke weed (it is). He tells a funny anecdote about seeing Little Richard at Disneyworld and reads some original poetry. The only piece of merch he has is the little book of poetry, written on the backs of photographs stapled together. Sam buys it. I am filled with a joy I have not felt in some time. After the show we meet him, and he is funny and sweet and engaging. He seems to have enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him. Son of Salami the act is a sort of deliberately-crafted variation on Joey Pizza Slice the guy, but both are the real deal. He invites us to crash, but he doesn’t have enough room for everybody, so we opt to stay with some people who set up the show instead. We make vague plans to play a show together again someday. I do hope it materializes.
At the house, they give us fresh goat’s milk. In the morning we go back to the bookstore to get the PA, and to Myer’s for bagels. The best one is rosemary and sea salt, because it fucking has salt on it.