In Boston, we wake up to bagels and coffee. We eat quickly and without relish even though the bagels are quite good. I don’t think anyone got to sleep before 3 and it is now 8 and change. We are in the car rolling by 9:08. After a stop in Park Slope to get the records, which are mercifully where they are supposed to be, we get to the venue at 2:45, 15 minutes early for loadin. I am wired, anxious, and cranky. The time between arrival and doors is spent setting up, soundchecking, and organizing merch to the best of our ability. We get a nice long soundcheck, just enough to rearrange an old song for inclusion into the set. Getting that together so close to the show stresses me out but by the end it’s working. I’m glad we had a few days of shows to tweak the sequencing before this one. We have taken the precaution of getting RJ to do sound for us, as he has for the last several release shows. Not a knock on Music Hall, which I’m sure has a perfectly capable house engineer, but it’s worth it to have someone you know for a big one. He just got back from Pittsburgh that morning, slept for three hours, and woke up to come do this. A real champ. Upstairs, I am pleased to see that Music Hall of Williamsburg is the first venue I can remember to read and honor our entire hospitality rider, even the reach items like kombucha. The green room has a shower. This is the bigtime, baby. I fix myself a sandwich on some fancy-ass grainy bread and pour a nip of mid-tier bourbon into a plastic cup. Then it’s doors.
A release show in your home town is sort of like your birthday. Everyone you know is there but you don’t get to talk to anyone for more than thirty seconds, and there’s an undercurrent of stress even though it’s fundamentally a good thing that you are celebrating, and in the time leading up to it you fret about whether anyone will come at all. I meet up with my partner, who has graciously brought me my stage pants from home. I grab her some booze from the green room and we get to hang briefly with some friends as people filter in. I catch bits and pieces of Katie von Schleicher and L’Rain’s sets. We did a good job with the booking on this one, if I may say so myself. Everything sounds great and sets up what we’re going to do nicely. People are coming in. Is this enough people to warrant having booked this big-ass venue? I think it is, it looks like there are people, here, enough people I think. Then it’s time to play. We meet backstage for a brief huddle and go to meet our fate.
The set feels good. I can’t step back to assess it while it’s happening, it requires my full attention. The first thing I do in the set is a simple extended technique, tapped double and triple stops with a brass slide, and this is the first time on the tour I can really hear the pitches come through. My skills from New Music Ensemble back in college are finally being put to use. I am grateful to have my own monitor, as my greatest fear with these new songs is to lose track of the drum machine. After the first couple songs I relax a little. It’s going to be okay. I have a few moments I particularly care about nailing, and I do nail them. The energy is there, and the new arrangement fits the set the way it’s supposed to. I take a moment in the middle to feel some gratitude. We made a good thing, and people want to hear it. We’ve been a band longer than most bands and our shit just increases in hotness with each release. Tonight I will sleep in my own bed and tomorrow I will eat a tasty breakfast and go to DC and at no point in the next two weeks and change will I check my work email. We end up doing two encores. Everyone seems like they’re in a good mood. We did it.
The merch table is a shitshow. I am glad we took the precaution of hiring Greem to do merch for the night, and also very glad she brought a friend to help out. We usually do our own merch, which means one or more people have to go straight from show mode to business mode with no time to savor the moment or take a piss. It is generally a rushed and undignified affair. Both merch people are working full steam to take care of everybody, and I make a mental note to get two people next time we have a big one. This time was just lucky, Greem knew what we needed better than we did. There is to be no hanging out after this show, the lights are on and staff are starting to sweep up. Some of them have to be back in mere hours for an early morning event. I get to have brief chats with some friends who came. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, although let’s be real, who’s going to go to your release show and say “meh” to your face? But no, it was a great show. We are all sufficiently happy and relieved to temporarily forget the trudge ahead.
If only our night were over. We still have to get all our gear offstage, pack up merch, load the van, load out everything into the practice space, and get home. I deal with the money and enter everything into the money spreadsheet. Shirts are stuffed haphazardly back into the cardboard boxes from whence they came. Carlos and I had a good rhythm going earlier, rolling them up all tight and taping them and labeling by size, but there just wasn’t enough time. We make a plan to deal with it in the morning. It’s probably 1 by the time we start making moves to leave, 2 when we leave, and almost 3 by the time we finally get home. That gives me about seven hours before I have to wake up and get ready to go on tour for real.
In the morning, Dorthy and I go to C. Lo for breakfast. I can’t get enough of this place, everything is fresh and hearty and they’re so nice. I get a chapin burrito, which has eggs and beans and sweet plantains, plus a homemade salsa verde.
It’s delicious as always. We have a leisurely breakfast. It’s nice out and I left enough time not to rush. She helps me pack and we say our goodbyes. I went on two pretty long tours not long after we met, when she would have been well within her rights to get back on the apps and find someone more available. So we’ve done distance before, much more than this. But certainly I’ll miss her and she’ll miss me, and after two days in a row of not much sleep it is extremely hard to extricate myself from our comfy couch. Eventually I do, and I go off to the space to deal with merch.
Carlos and I get a good amount done, and are able to leave some stuff we determine to be extra behind. There is still way more merch than is remotely convenient to deal with, but it’ll lighten over time as people hopefully buy things. We make good time getting to DC. The venue is Comet Ping Pong, home of some great shows and also Pizzagate. We were once briefly featured in a Youtube “documentary” about Pizzagate, and every now and then some bot or unhinged person will tweet about us in relation to it. If only we were really in a sex cult with the Podestas, I bet we’d be able to tour Europe more often. Who do I call about that?
At the venue, I realize all at once how exhausted I am. I was running on fumes all day yesterday and did not sleep enough to catch up. I wait for one of the bench seats in the back to clear out so I can take a nap. In between I set up and eat some pizza. I say hi to everyone in the other bands and promptly forget all their names. I am not fit to be in society right now. Eventually I see my opening and grab it. I drift in and out of consciousness through Crab Legs and then Dove Lady, both of which I regret missing but am in no condition to enjoy. I think I had a dream about Crab Legs doing a song about Pizzagate, but Julian tells me that was in fact real. A site-specific work! Our set is fine, I am mostly concerned with staying upright and this one cue I keep screwing up on one of the new songs. There are some real old Ava Luna heads in DC, confirmed by the very old song requests I hear shouted from the audience. I hear Ice Level; Black Diamond. Someone even buys one of the Serge Gainsbourg records, which I take to mean they already own all our other releases. Not to hate on the record, of which I am proud, but the Venn diagram of people who like us and people who like Serge and want to hear us cover him has gotta be pretty small. Eventually people clear out and we start to leave. It’s always good to see Lisa, the promoter, a great show runner and real fan, always getting us more pizzas than are contractually obligated and throwing in some fancy toppings to boot. She offers her house for lodging, which is truly above and beyond. We opt to go with another option presented by Leah from Crab Legs, who offers us the tour trifecta: a soft surface for each person, a parking spot, and no cats. I am so close to going to sleep, real sleep, I can taste it.
But not so fast. Lodging in DC often comes with a caveat: you have to drive through a narrow and winding alleyway to park. This is at least the third time we’ve done this, and it’s probably no big deal in a car but absolutely terrifying in a large van. The alleys seem to go on forever, and no matter how clear the instructions your host gives you you’re never quite sure you’re in the right alley or at the right house. And any one of these tiny turns might be the one that fucks you up, either ensuring that you can’t in fact stay here tonight or worse, trapping you forever. Carlos does an admirable job but it is really up in the air whether we’ll make it. All hands are on deck, including our host, guiding the parking job from outside. Because of the wet ground he has to rev the engine to get over a hump at the edge of the parking spot, stopping less than an inch from the concrete stoop. Relieved, we load our gear and personal items and claim couches. We hang out and shoot the shit with our hosts for a bit. I want to take a shower, but I’m so tired I plan to do it in the morning. We sleep. We are awoken by a knock at the door. It is a neighbor, and he is pissed. Apparently our van is so large that even with the best possible parking job he can’t get his car out of the alley. I am reminded of a rule of thumb I neglected: never put something off on tour because you assume you’ll be able to do it later. The future is unwritten, and the rug can be yanked out from under you at any time. Had I heeded this rule I’d be showered. Instead, we are all dressed and out the door in under ten minutes. I get a food recommendation from our host before leaving: Habesha.
I have always heard great things about Ethiopian food in DC, and this is my first time actually having some. I get a little too excited and overorder, a “deluxe veggie combo,” which consists of ten items. Most of my bandmates get 4 or 6. What I should have done is split this monstrosity with someone else. But I’m hungry, and the lady behind the counter assures me that one person can in fact eat a deluxe veggie combo themselves.
I am not that person, but I enjoy trying to be. Except that bullshit salad you see in the middle and on the right everything is delicious. I am not sure what the jalapeños are for, I treat them like a palate cleanser between bites. I probably get about 2/3 of the way through it and am fully stuffed. My body is relieved to have all these vegetables after two days in a row of too much bread. I can feel them coursing through me, making me strong. DC Ethiopian does not disappoint. Next time I’ll have to switch it up and get some meat, or arrive in time for breakfast. They have an egg and foul situation that looks spot on.
After breakfast we still have some time to kill before Richmond, and we head to the Hirshhorn Gallery to take in some art. I haven’t been to a museum in a while, and it’s nice. There are some unmistakably dystopian elements to DC from an urban planning standpoint, but the breadth and quality of the free and open-to-the-public Smithsonian museums offers a glimpse of a better world. The top floor is all conceptual and the second floor is a Baselitz retrospective and that’s as far as I get before it’s time to go. I have a soft spot in my heart for this guy Tony Lewis, who uses old Calvin and Hobbes strips as source material.
As a kid I probably spent more time reading and re-reading Calvin and Hobbes than any other activity, and it’s cool to see it in this context. I even recognize particular strips. I also get a kick out of this guy, who is simply called Big Man, artist I forget.
I don’t know if it comes off in the picture how uncannily real his skin looks. You can see pores and blemishes and veins. Why so down, big guy? These are the questions Art demands we ask ourselves. The Condensation Cube is also cool.
Also the Rock Flower.
I get back to the van a little earlier than everybody else. Our van, by the way, is legally parked here somehow:
DC is weird. I take the opportunity to explore David’s Tent. What is David’s Tent? From afar, you can just see it’s a tent belonging to David. Getting a little closer, you see this:
Ah. I figured it was probably something like that. The date is mysterious though. September 11th, sure, but why 2015? Is there some esoteric significance? Google research about what David’s Tent is yields the this amazing nugget:
Inside, a handsome youngish guy is playing keyboard and singing. He’s actually killing it in front of a mostly empty room, so that’s one experience we have in common. I later identify the song as “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High.” There are two or three people who appear to be volunteers, and people filtering in and out, looking mostly like curious nonbelievers such as myself. I see two people meet, talk for about a minute and then embrace deeply, tears in their eyes. I have to get out of here before someone tries to save me. Even though I’m not the target audience, I have to say I love the idea of a 24/7 church with music. Every business should be open 24 hours generally, and in particular the things that people who need church need from church should be available all the time. Get some beds and a kitchen in there and we’re really talking. There are not enough places you can go sit inside without spending money. Everyone makes their way back to the van, and we’re off to Richmond.