Leaving for tour requires a series of carefully-choreographed preparations. Preparing to leave home for nearly a month is already pretty involved, but there are a few more variables this time around. We recently purchased a new van, a white Dodge Ram which we sincerely hope is less fucked up than the old blue Chevy we’ve taken around the country several times. It has to have some repairs done, and duplicate keys made, and in a particularly impressive move, beat-up tires swapped out with the much nicer ones from our old van. This requires two people to retrieve the old and new vans from different places to meet at Pep Boys, where they are legit confused by our request, and put both vans up on lifts simultaneously to do the swap. It makes sense, though. We got new tires not that long ago, and it would be a waste to pay for them again. Packing for me also takes on a more complicated dimension, as I will not be leaving directly from home. I have subletters moving in a few days before my departure, so I have to pack for tour as well as two days of work, and shuffle various essentials like toothbrush and deodorant around different-sized bags as I move from home to two different places I would sleep. On the day we leave I stop home, take a shower, drop off my work clothes, and I’m finally set. I make a stop at my favorite deli on Tompkins and Myrtle to get my last decent New York sandwich: pepper turkey, bacon, and cheddar cheese with sweet peppers, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard. If you get a hero, which I do, it comes with a can of soda. As I’ve expressed in previous posts, real delis are not a thing in most places we’ll be going. The one on Tompkins really stands out due to its combination of 24-hour availability, spotlessly clean interior, large selection of fixins, and extremely high-quality bacon. I will miss it. That deli really deserves its own post. The guys who run it have a quiet dignity that resists agitation by even the most wasted and hostile customers. But that is for another day.
This tour marks our first substantive journey in our new van. It has a sort of faded burgundy interior, and an odd assemblage of circa-1990 deluxe features, like a TV/VCR, built-in dustbuster, and CB radio. It is tricked out with real but shitty-quality wood accents, and has a little removable round table that attaches to the floor. It is slightly smaller than the previous one, but has considerably lower mileage and a similarly comfy interior. There is a cool joystick on the stereo that controls the speaker balance. The fact that there is a working stereo at all represents a major upgrade from the old one, though it only has a tape deck and no aux input. All the gear fits, to our great relief, and our load is somewhat lightened by the fact that we can share gear with old-time tour buddies Celestial Shore. I am particularly excited to use Greg’s 4×10 bass cabinet, which is 2 more 10s than I usually have. If the fucking air conditioner worked, we would all be pretty psyched about our lives, but there just wasn’t time to get it fixed before we left. We are banking on the onset of fall to delay the necessity of fixing it, and just trying to remain motivated and civil in the meantime. We might well just crack and do it the next time we have a few hours free. Yesterday was pretty bad. We’ll see how it goes.
Our first show is at The Crown in Baltimore, where we’ve been a few times before. When we arrive to load in there was some sort of altercation on the neighboring stoop in which the police have become involved. A guy is screaming and throwing bottles, and there is a crowd of onlookers. At first we are a little freaked out, but we see the cops having a laugh with one of the parties involved and conclude that it is under control. After loading we have a good amount of time to kill before the show starts, so we stop at our friend Emily’s house for a dinner party. We know Emily through Krill, and she is extremely good people. There is a great spread that includes roasted sweet potatoes and an excellent succotash with corn, zucchini and eggplant. The house is packed with people for what we later find out was initially intended to be an intimate Shabbat dinner for three. There are far too many of us to fit inside, so we all sit out on the stoop. I eat lightly, in preparation for dinner at The Crown, which I vividly remember from last time around.
The Crown is one of my favorite places to play due to its incongruous combination of low-key DIY vibes and spectacular Korean food. The guy who runs it is Korean, and all of his establishments serve food, and he is not fucking around in the food department. I get a bulgogi sandwich, accompanied by fries and garnished with scallions and kimchi. The meat is incredibly tender, with that nice springly chewiness that Korean beef has when it’s been marinated forever, and it is positively pungent with soy and garlic. It is juicy, but the bread holds up till the last bite. A promising first meal, chased with a crisp Natty Boh, which like all domestic beers basically functions as water as well as beer when it’s hot out. There is also a drink called a rhubarb mule, which is exactly what it sounds like and is fucking excellent. The show itself is fun, though it starts late and we are all thoroughly beat by the time we finally play. Baltimore is one of the first places I remember going back when we just did brief weekend jaunts instead of real tours, and we know good people there. It’s nice to soak up all the vibes early on, before going further afield to places we haven’t been. After the show we make our way back to Emily’s, and I for one hit the floor like a ton of bricks. There is no air conditioning in the house, so showering in the morning is more of a formality born of habit than a means of actually making oneself smell better. I am already sweating by the time I get back downstairs. It was nice while it lasted.
Our next stop is Raleigh, NC, where we are slated to play two shows for Hopscotch Festival. It is over 90 degrees out, and the first of our shows is outdoors. To top it all off, we arrive about 15 minutes before we are actually supposed to play, and loading in involves turning down an easily-missed little side street reserved for buses and securing permission from a cop to park somewhere we aren’t really supposed to. Locals eye our overlarge vehicle with hostile annoyance. This after a 6-ish hour drive on not enough sleep is sort of like a hazing, but it all goes off without a hitch more or less on time. The sun beats down on us mercilessly, but it is a blast. I actually prefer shows with more minimal sound systems, because I never have a monitor and I like being able to hear more or less what the audience hears from the bass and drums. After stressing so much about getting set up in time, it is a great release to finally play. We see a few familiar faces out there, as a lot of our friends are also playing at the festival. Members of Palehound, Krill, Softspot, Celestial Shore, and Landlady are all in attendance. We’ve all seen each other’s sets too many times to count, but it’s always good to hang nonetheless. Somewhat dazed from driving for a long time in the sweltering heat and immediately playing a set in the more-sweltering heat, we part ways and make plans to meet later. We have business to attend to, anyway, getting our packet of artist-stuff from the festival organizers.
Said packet contains a wad of cash and five meal vouchers for The Busy Bee, which we immediately put to use. The AC is blasting so hard it is borderline painful, and we drink it in greedily, along with large amounts of water. I can feel my body beginning to achieve homeostasis again. I order short rib tacos with a side of fried green tomatoes, both of which turn out to be great choices.
This photograph sucks, I’m sorry. I’m a sucker for short ribs, which I really think are the best cut of beef possible if prepared properly (braised). They are tender and flavorful, topped with slaw, caramelized onions and something like a salsa verde. Thick tortillas hold it all together despite the rather large amount of meat-juice in evidence. Solid tacos, and the price is right. The fried green tomatoes, however, are transcendent. Thick, crispy breading, possibly panko-based, with just enough tart tomato within to cut through the grease. These are quite possibly the crispiest fried thing I have ever eaten. I really don’t know how they do it. The yogurt sauce on the side adds a lovely coolness to the whole thing. They are totally decadent, and the three served are more than sufficient. Pleasantly full, we pay our tip (you always have to tip, even on comped meals) and head off to the next stop: the Sheraton, where our friend Sarah of Softspot is staying. She has invited us and some other musical types to swim in the pool, and under the circumstances that sounds like just the ticket. We do not wait the full hour after eating. As far as I know, nobody vommed.
When we arrive, the pool party is in full swing, with all our friends who had been at the show plus several new arrivals. There is a hot tub right next to the pool, separated by a thin divider that allows the swimmer to transition quickly from one temperature extreme to the other. Like several of my compatriots I have neglected to bring a bathing suit on tour, and just swim in boxers. It is well worth sacrificing a pair of underwear until the next laundry cycle to immerse myself in some water. There is some chicken fighting, and Marco Polo, and we all harmonize to take advantage of the echoey pool acoustics. Access to any body of water, even a man-made one, is such a luxury. Everyone else has been at the pool for most of the evening, so after about an hour we call it a night and get dressed to go back outside. Someone collects the wet underwear in a bag, to be redistributed later. Like Chekhov’s gun, this underwear is to reappear in the second act. In the meantime, free ballin’ in summer is great and I highly recommend it. What’s the female equivalent of free ballin’? Free monsin’? Free labin’?
Right outside the hotel, Mastodon is in full swing on the main outdoor stage, and we head over to take it in. Metal is not really my thing, with the exception of shit non-metalheads like like Sleep and early Black Sabbath, but I am into it. Mastodon’s drummer is one of the best I’ve had the privilege of hearing live, and the sound was impeccable. I stand listening until an old college friend texts me to meet up. He does some sort of science thing in grad school at UNC that is way above my head, and he has brought two of his friends from the lab to come to the show. We stop to have a drink and catch up a bit before it is time to soundcheck. The show itself is at Tir Na Nog, a sort of kitschy Irish pub that wouldn’t be out of place in midtown Manhattan except for its spacious interior and great sound system. Weyes Blood is about halfway through her set when we get there. I had run into her at the pool but never seen her play, and she is excellent. She closes with a gorgeous cover of “Everybody’s Talkin'”, which is a direct route to my heart even though I know Nilsson didn’t actually write it. The sound in the room is pristine, and I have high hopes.
Our soundcheck leaves me feeling a little on edge. The soundman has a mic on my amp instead of a direct box, and keeps telling me to turn down, to the extent that I can’t hear myself with earplugs in. I decide to forego them, suspend my disbelief about the volume in the house, and just play as though it were loud enough. Aside from that the set feels great, and I can see the crowd freaking out. At one point I see an object fly from the audience and hit Carlos. It is my wet boxers from the pool, thrown by Ian of Landlady. He had clearly been aiming for me and missed. To someone who doesn’t know us it must have looked like a crazed fan just threw his underwear at us in adulation, which I hope adds to our mystique. We sell a bunch of merch, and I am pleased to find the band cooler still stocked with ice-cold tallboys of Pabst. I have not heard headliner Prince Rama in several years, and they didn’t make an impression back then, but this time I am blown away. Prince Rama is two sisters that play sort of psychedelic house-type music. They both sing, and one plays standing percussion while the other alternates between guitar and synth. They perform these functions impeccably, look like hot drag queen space alien Mad Max Peter Pan orphans, and have a commanding stage presence. The music is really meticulous, too; even the pitches and envelopes of each cymbal and bell felt carefully tailored to each track. I feel basically compelled to dance even though I am pretty exhausted and had previously been in no mood to do so. Their merch table is staffed by a kindly older man I later find out is their dad, and offers free fudge prepared by their mom. Said fudge is delicious, something like dulce de leche, and the dad confirms that it is indeed composed primarily of condensed milk. Both parents can be seen dancing right in the front, having a ball. When you’re a teenager the presence of parents at shows is vaguely embarrassing, especially if they’re yours, but when you get to be a little older you realize that it’s really sweet and validating and it gives you hope for the future because someday maybe you’ll have kids and you hope their cultural experience is at least a little legible to you and they’ll make something cool that you can enjoy with them. I usually don’t go for dancey-type music, but something about Prince Rama’s onstage vibe, the tight percussion, the warm bass patches, and the cumulative good vibes of the day leaves me completely ecstatic. I don’t know how it would translate to a recording, I feel like the primary experience is live, but I fully intend to check it out.
The night isn’t over, either, as we were off to our friend Mike’s house, where Krill is also staying. We grab as many tallboys and bottles of water as we can for the road. It is a good rule of thumb to take any complimentary food or drink items you can reasonably consume later, whether or not you want them at the time. We ask Prince Rama if they wanted any, but they are only interested in the Monster Energy Drink. It makes total sense that they would not be into alcohol given how they sound. They probably just drink a lot of Monster and do drugs you haven’t even heard of that like a shaman on an Indian reservation gives you after you spend forty days in a sweat lodge or something. To each his own. At Mike’s, we crack open some beers and prepare a sumptuous meal of triscuits, muenster, and cold cuts, followed by Bagel Bites. Miraculously, Bagel Bites come nine to a tray, and there were nine of us; it has been ordained that this night should transpire exactly as it did. We have a great time shooting the shit and eating bagel bites and cracking open the remaining beers. We watch some humorous videos on the internet and stay up entirely too late. A good time is had by all.
In the morning, Becca makes oatmeal supplemented by dates stewed in milk. Dates stewed in milk look pretty weird and gross, but they’re a perfect complement to oatmeal. I also add some cashew bits, cinnamon sugar, and a tiny bit of salt for contrast. A tasty and non-suicidal breakfast. We feel bad for Krill, who have to drive from Durham back to Boston in a single day, but we are able to take it pretty easy. As I had not-so-secretly hoped, we stop at The Q Shack for lunch. We’ve been there a few times before, and it’s one of my favorites. Definitely the best hush puppies I’ve had, and a very high quality of meat and sauce. I eat this:
Yes, damn near all of it, with a little bit of help from my companions. That is a half a pound of chopped brisket, toast, a jalapeno deviled egg, collard greens, mac and cheese, pickles, pickled onions, and hush puppies. Throughout the meal I apply standard barbecue sauce, vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce, and Texas Pete’s pepper sauce in varying proportions. It is sublime. I savor every bite, washing it down with half-sweet tea and lemon. Korean and American barbecue are two of my favorite foods, and I have eaten both so far on tour. I have high hopes for the journey ahead.
Tonight we are off to Columbia, SC to play a house show. Every date from now on will be with Celestial Shore, and it will be good to hang. My mellow is only slightly harshed-upon by the knowledge I will have to work tomorrow. But that is the price of having it both ways, and I accept it. After Columbia we are off to Atlanta, and then Nashville, where I will see my godfather and eat the storied Nashville hot chicken. Look out, America. I have poor impulse control, and I’m comin’.