Fall Tour: In which I eat several bagels and am crowned Pony Princess
Our show in Montreal is at Casa del Popolo, part of the POP Montreal festival. I cannot resist purchasing these “wine-flavored” gummies at a gas station on the way over. What an interesting idea! I wonder if they taste good.
They do not. They are, in fact, the most disgusting candy I have ever encountered. The “wine” flavor makes them smell like cat piss, and they have an intense firmness that makes them hard to chew. Canadian readers, does anyone actually eat and enjoy these? I am legitimately curious. Please comment. I am going to hang onto them for the sole purpose of pranking Celestial Shore. Much better are these cheese curds.
I have only ever had cheese curds in baked or fried form before. They actually do squeak between my teeth, and have a pronounced but not overpowering saltiness. They hit the spot the way string cheese does, functioning as both cheese and standalone snack. I am into it. We arrive at the venue with a lot of time to kill, but somehow end up having to dash outside in the middle of soundcheck to have a picture taken. The picture and the soundcheck go off without a hitch. My brother comes by to have a beer and shoot the shit for a while. He has a few things to do, but will come back for the show later. I eat a tasty sandwich of goat cheese, honey, and roasted peppers, which suffers a bit from being on soft white bread. It needs some crunch. C’est la vie. The coffee and beer are delicious.
The show is decently-populated; we are fortunate to have gotten a slot that doesn’t compete with too many other things. The act immediately before us sucks worse than anything I have seen in a long time. The band is a bunch of earnest-looking bros who play basically solid and unobjectionable disco/R&B backup for a singer. The singer looks like a real live Jessica Rabbit, wearing a black sequined Bob Fosse ensemble that perfectly accentuates her flawless décolletage, but she cannot string two pitches together to save her life. She’s not just having trouble with the high notes, she’s having trouble with everything. There is a distance of maybe an octave in the middle of her range somewhere that is less bad, but she doesn’t spend a lot of time there. The first song is fast and dancey and kind of works, but everything after that is slow and sultry and really allows her vocal failings to shine through. She pauses mid-set to remind everyone to tag her on Facebook and Instagram, and to inform us that these are all original songs. I suppose the fact that she has to point that out indicates that she moves in a different sphere of the music industry than the rest of us. She is the reason auto-tune exists, and she is not using it. Why on earth would she not use auto-tune? A bad night? No, this is too bad to be explainable by a bad night. We are all stumped, and morbidly transfixed by the unmitigated sonic brutality unfolding on the stage before us. At the end of the set she drops the mic and struts offstage and into the green room while the band keeps playing, a diva move executed in complete earnest that feels both incongruous and unearned. I have never seen anyone do that in real life, and feel as though I have momentarily stepped into some sort of weird showcase for West Coast A&R guys. Maybe some of those are there to see her, and that’s who all the pageantry is for. I happen to know that the green room is a dank basement, which makes it even funnier. I am usually able to exchange post-show pleasantries with other musicians without feeling like my personal integrity is on the line. “Hey, great set” is basically a thing you just say whether you mean it or not, and if I really mean it you can tell from my obvious enthusiasm. I’ve never told anyone they sucked or been told I suck to my face, it’s simply not done. But when I see the singer and keyboard player downstairs I can’t think of anything to say. It’s actually the perfect thing to follow, because it makes us determined to fucking destroy. I feel like we do. Carlos and Becca both scream extra-loud on the parts that involve screaming, and I dial in a nastier-than-normal fuzz tone I’ve been working on for the last few shows. We are on a mission from God. I have never been prouder to make weird music with my friends. These are all original songs, by the way.
After the show, we discuss what to do next. It looks like everyone we’ve spoken with is going to one of two parties in the same neighborhood, a house show and a rave. We have pretty vague directions, but between my brother and another member of our party who’s from the area we are relatively confident we can find both things and split up according to everyone’s preference. But still there are problems. Have you ever taken an LSAT, with the logic games? Try this one out:
There are nine people, not all of whom can drive.
There are two vans.
It is difficult or impossible to park in the neighborhood we are staying in, but relatively easy in the neighborhood where the show is.
If we take two vans, there can be two groups on different schedules, but parking will be twice as hard. If we take one van, parking is easier but everyone’s activities are more limited by everyone else’s.
Depending on whether we take one van or two, one or two people who can drive need to remain sufficiently sober to do so after we’re done.
One van has to leave super early in the morning so Greg can do Jewish holiday activities with his family in New Hampshire before our show in Portland.
However, both vans are limited by the fact that the venue opens at 10 AM, the earliest time we can potentially retrieve our gear.
We have to drop our personal belongings off at my brother’s house before we go anywhere, as everyone has repeatedly cautioned us about the ubiquity of theft around the festival.
No one has working cell phones, so all rendezvous times and locations must be agreed upon in advance.
All nine people have different amounts of information about what is going on at any given time.
Everybody wants to do different things, and has suggestions for a plan that favor their own agenda.
Vans parked before 3 AM must be moved before 7 AM.
Eventually it is worked out. Both vans go to my brother’s house, where we drop off our stuff and temporarily park one of them, taking the other to the show. If anyone wants to go to the rave instead, we’ll discuss it later. Now we just have to find the show, which is no small undertaking. It is not an address, exactly; we are given obscure directions that involve counting doors and looking for a “fish-sword” on one of them. Not a swordfish; the other way around. What even is this? Tour has never felt more like a point-and-click adventure game. We park in an area that looks like Bushwick ten years ago. How often do groups of people like us get brutally beaten around here, I ask my brother? Never. Montreal is extremely safe, he says. I trust his judgment. We see various other groups of young people milling about, and after a few false starts succeed in finding the show. There is indeed a fish-sword on the door, I don’t know how else to describe it. Inside is disgustingly hot and sweat-humid, so I opt to go back out with my beer. We are fortunate to have brought beer, as contrary to what I was told there is none on offer at the show. My brother says the fine for drinking outside is absurdly high, but if you put your bottle down and walk away they can’t really do anything, and we are surrounded by about forty or fifty people who are also drinking and are much closer to the street than we are. It’s actually a good hang outside, most of Krill is there and a guy I know from high school and haven’t seen in many years. Cops do eventually roll up, causing everyone to abandon their beers and cluster inside. It is now even more extremely hot. I am already regretting the decision to go out. I want to hang, but this is complicated, and I am hot and without beer, and there is no dancing, and I can’t leave until everyone else is accounted for and agrees to do so. We’ll just have to stick it out. My brother dryly observes that we could have just gone to a college party in his neighborhood. True, but there was no way I was convincing this crew to do that, and hanging out with college students I’m not related to makes me feel old and creepy.
Miraculously, everyone finds each other after a while, and agrees on a plan. Some of us will go to the rave, and some will get bagels. We will meet back at the van and head home. I opt to join Team Bagel, as that has been one of the things I looked forward to most about this journey, and going to a rave is pretty much the polar opposite of what I feel like doing. It’s a longish walk, but well worth it. We get two dozen. They are small, and we are many. We also get two kinds of cream cheese and some smoked salmon spread, which is a big hit. My brother says you always get sesame, and who am I to argue?
I love these bagels. They are more like a soft pretzel than a New York bagel, and slightly sweet. They contain no salt, and don’t really benefit from toasting, so you have to eat them fresh. About half of ours are right out of the oven, and the rest are easily dressed up with some salmon stuff. They hit the spot. I sleep. In the morning, Becca and I split a big roast beef sandwich from The Main, which purports to be Leonard Cohen’s deli of choice. I do not see Leonard Cohen. The sandwich is excellent, even though it’s cold and soggy by the time we actually get to it.
We have a pleasantly uneventful border crossing, in which the guard basically says “you guys don’t do drugs, right?” and waves us through. Our destination is Space Gallery in Portland, ME. Portland is cloaked by a thick fog that gives the streets a supernatural vibe. The gallery is indeed spacious. Their special cocktail, “e.e.’s plight”, is a delicious mixture of whiskey, spicy ginger beer, Zwack, and bitters. I must also shout out the extremely high quality of Oxbow Farmhouse Ale. Farmhouse ale is apparently a type of beer I had no idea existed. It does indeed taste a little farm-y, but in a good way, with a notable but not overpowering hoppiness. Opener Forget, Forget puts on a solid set that reminds us a bit of the New Pornographers. Their bassist graciously allows me to borrow his nice Orange cab, which is a great improvement over Greg’s increasingly busted-up Hartke. I could tell he was a gearhead from the graphic EQ on his preamp that he meticulously adjusts throughout the set; I knew he’d understand. Our set is pretty sparsely-attended, but I feel good about it. It’s a weeknight, and the roads are straight up terrifying, and it’s a new venue for us. The promoter is a friend of a friend. I hope we come back. We depart for Greg’s parents’ house to crash. Before doing so, we tear into a tremendous array of leftovers. There is turkey, two types of stuffing, roasted potatoes, and a delicious sour cherry crumble. Sam and I fall asleep to the sounds of an old episode of South Park.
In the morning, I feel the urge to cook. We have a short drive, and the kitchen is well-stocked, and I think a large, shared meal is in order after all our two bands have been through together. I can follow a recipe if called upon to do so, but I most enjoy cooking in a seat-of-the-pants intuitive style. I decide to wing this one. We have half a dozen eggs; not enough to make eggs for everyone, but enough to use as a base for a frittata if it is sufficiently packed with other ingredients. But which other ingredients? The roasted potatoes are an obvious choice, since they’re already perfectly-done and will provide needed starch. I find a package of chicken sausage, which I brown in a pan with beer and cut into thick slices. Julian and Felicia are my sous chefs, and they suggest some marinated mushrooms and green beans for vegetables. My cooking does run towards the meat-and-cheese-centric when left to its own devices. The mushrooms are already good to go, and Julian quickly blanches the green beans on the stove. Then it’s just a matter of throwing it all together in a greased pan with the eggs, mixing in a splash of heavy cream for texture, and topping with an assortment of cheeses to form a bubbly crust. The oven has been preheated to 450, and after about 30 or 40 minutes we are left with this.
It’s a big hit, and I’m proud of how it turned out. It’s savory and filling and we finish it all. I can’t claim full credit, though; I owe it all to whoever made those potatoes. They are the star of the show. Fortified with breakfast, we set out for a nearby arcade. Greg’s parents live in Hampton Beach, and the boardwalk is right around the corner from their house. Most businesses around here are highly seasonal, but this one arcade is open year round. It has a full complement of games, including the old favorite Turtles In Time. I spend most of my time playing skee-ball, where my high score is in the low 300s. Some of the sensors are broken, and it takes a few tries to find the best machine. I’m a conservative down-the-middle player, shooting for the 50s rather than the 100s, and I get enough for a decent showing. A few dollars later, I realize I have accumulated enough tickets to exchange for something cool. But what? Perhaps a squid hat? I don’t quite have the 750 tickets required, but a few of my compatriots chip in to help me reach my goal.
I will have to choose the perfect occasion to wear this hat. It can’t be on stage unless I’m among friends. I hate bands where someone is wearing a stupid outfit. Still, one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now, I will need the squid hat, and I will have it. Maybe I’ll keep it at my office for emergencies. It takes a while for the guy behind the counter to complete the transaction. He goes to the stockroom for a while, and comes back empty-handed. “We seem to be having some trouble locating the squid hats,” he says, totally deadpan. I gladly accept the display model. Miraculously, it fits.
After being moved several times, our show ends up being at the Platinum Pony in Easthampton. It is one of those places which, while totally fine as a bar, doesn’t quite function as a music venue. We are immediately chastised for delaying the show with our half-hour late arrival, even though we’re there at 8 and it was advertised as starting at 9. Someone is not communicating with someone else, and somehow we’re the assholes. Whatever. I like this place. It has comfy modular furniture. Everyone behind the bar and several people in front of it are stylish queer-looking women with glasses. There is a bar game on the wall that involves tossing a rubber ring on the horn of a unicorn, and promises a prize. After our earlier experience at the arcade, I just know I can do it. It takes a few minutes, but I do, to the great surprise and delight of all assembled. My prize is this pink pony tiara, which I don with pride and wear for the rest of the evening.
Opener Bunnies puts on a strange and thoroughly enjoyable set. They have to stop the first song because something is out of tune, which turns out to be not the guitar but the extremely fancy-looking Arp synthesizer. It is the kind that you actually have to tune because it’s analog, the sort of thing that like Rick Wakeman probably owns several of. The music is longform, through-composed prog rock in which nearly every line of vocals is harmonized, the drums are louder than everything else, and there are a lot of starts and stops punctuated by scalar guitar-and-keyboard unison lines. I have not heard anything like it in some time, and the experience is refreshing. I am happy that bands like this exist. Adding to the vibe is the movie projected onto the stage, which turns out to be the bizarre dino-Western The Valley of Gwangi. Here is a photo of Bunnies playing in front of someone being carried by a pterodactyl. Excellent.
We play next, and I count five people in the audience that are not members of Bunnies or Celestial Shore or people who work at the bar. Two of them leave halfway through. It’s the first show of the tour that’s been like this, and I’m oddly grateful. Most of our shows on this tour have been at least respectably attended, and it’s a reminder of what it used to be like all the time. Celestial Shore puts on an awesome, low-key set in which Max uses bundle sticks and Sam sits on a stool. Felicia sits in on vocals for “Valerie“, an old favorite they rarely play anymore. Two thoroughly wasted guys stumble around the bar and occasionally heckle the bands, to the increasing annoyance of everyone else, stumbling right into the frame while I’m recording Felicia. One is really docile and friendly, repeatedly trying to shake people’s hands and/or hug them, but totally incapable of doing basic tasks like walking and sitting. The other is more on top of things but also pretty agro and unpleasant. They both want to bro out with me because I am the male who happens to be next to them at the bar, and I gently demur. I want to talk to Kristen, the bartender, who has some truly brilliant ideas about making drinks. My favorite is a hibiscus-infused tequila reposado with berry and orange liquers plus lemon and lime juice. She says infusing tequila with hibiscus is really easy and takes like five minutes. Also worthy of note is a drink involving apricot liquer and ghost pepper vodka, which is so spicy she taps it out in tiny drops like a bitters. It has a lingering heat that builds slowly over the course of the drink. As if that weren’t enough, she also does a pickleback with Bulleit and pepperoncini juice. Fucking aces. She and the other bartender and one of the regulars are doing their damnedest to keep the drunk bros under control, with mixed results. Is it okay for me, an outsider, to refer to them as “Massholes“? Yes, says the regular; that is exactly what they are. One of them pisses off Kristen by repeatedly addressing her as “sexy”. She dryly informs him that she is a lesbian, and that she has a name, which she has told him several times. The last straw is when one of them spills water all over the bar trying to get the other one to drink it. She succeeds in getting them both to leave with a brilliant mixture of cajoling and steely-eyed menace. She actually goes so far as to threaten to count to three, and he does not stick around for what happens at the end of the count. Kristen says she has a three-year-old at home, and the strategy for dealing with him and a very drunk person is basically the same. She reminds me of my mom, who tended bar for many years, in that she is around five feet tall and does not suffer fools gladly. I ask her how many physical altercations she’s gotten into over the course of her many years behind the bar, several of which were at a strip club. “None.” So how do you get a guy to leave when he’s being wasted and aggressive like that? What’s the escalation after what you just did? “I speak softly, and I put my hand on the small of his back, kind of sensual, like we’re on a date, and gently lead him to the door. By the time he realizes what’s happening, he is outside and he is not coming back.” Well, there you go. If you’re ever in Easthampton, go to the Platinum Pony and do not play a show. Just have Kristen make you a drink or three. You’ll be in good hands. Get the thing with the hibiscus.