The show in Richmond is at Gallery5, a favorite stop of ours. Openers Haybaby and Dazeases are fantastic. Haybaby we know from New York, but Dazeases is new to me. Check them out. Somewhere in there, craving wings, I go to GWARbar, which is in fact a GWAR-themed bar conveniently located down the street from the venue. The wings are overdone and kind of leathery, and the general vibe is unpleasant. Nobody in here looks like they’re having a good time. It’s too brightly lit and the music too quiet for the atmosphere to work. I have generally known metalheads to be extremely friendly and chill relative to the general population, but GWARbar is the only place I’ve been in the world where I’ve left a napkin on top of my nearly-full beer and come back 30 seconds later to find someone unapologetically sitting in my seat. Instead of moving, she grudgingly hands me my beer and gives me a look. The overt rudeness is so shocking I don’t know how to respond and just go sit somewhere else. The bartender is so unresponsive when I try to settle that I am sorely tempted to dine and dash. Am I somehow not cool enough to be here? I thought GWAR was one of the least cool bands possible and that was part of its charm. Is this some sort of schtick like Dick’s Last Resort? Whatever’s going on here, they can keep doing it without me. Eventually I leave some cash on the bar and go on my way. They didn’t even have the house GWARbeer on tap. If you’re going to Richmond you can skip this one. I just wanted some goddamn wings.
The set goes well and we get a good crowd. I meet a cool mom who has brought both of her teenage children to the show. They are big fans and have been to see us a few times. I make a mental note to keep an eye out for them next time. After the set, we decamp to En Su Boca with our local host and her friend. En Su Boca is the ideal Mexican restaurant to hit at the end of a night out. It is a perfect cool temperature and we sit outside. The margaritas are fantastic; frozen, served in pint glasses and more tart than sweet. Most places oversweeten their margaritas and this is a widespread problem in our society that not enough people are talking about. If you put any simple syrup at all in your marg you are fucking up and you should let me behind the bar to do it right. Triple sec (or Cointreau or Grand Marnier if you’re fancy, or Gran Gala if you want to class it up without spending a lot of money) is sweet, and lime juice is sweet, and tequila is made out of a thing that is basically sugar, that’s all the sweetness you need. Sometimes I throw a little falernum in there for some depth but in sparing amounts. En Su Boca gets it. At $8 for a whopping pint, it is quite possibly the best marg for your money you will find anywhere. We get some wings for the table and they are perfect, meaty and juicy and well-seasoned. We get a giant portion of guac, and our server thoughtfully divides the tortilla chips between two bowls to accommodate our large party. I am thoroughly content. Back at the house we sleep late. There is a golden quality to the sunlight in Richmond that is more pronounced than elsewhere, and the house is beautifully lit throughout. Eventually we get hungry and head out for breakfast.
Breakfast is at Sub Rosa Bakery, where our host works. I have heard great things about this bakery from Julian and Carlos who went there on an earlier tour with NADINE, and it does not disappoint. Torn between sweet and savory, I decide to do both.
This is a pain au chocolat and a lamb and beef borek. I know “burek” from back in Ridgewood, it’s an Albanian meat pie that is generally very large and served in slices rather than baked in individual portions. But I’ve only ever seen it spelled with a “u” and based on some other things I’m seeing on the menu I guess the “o” spelling is Turkish. Both items are perfect, buttery and flaky and rich. The meat is heavily but not overwhelmingly seasoned. They heat it up for you, too. Washed down with a cold brew, I am ready to face the day. We decide to grab some discounted day-old bread for the road. I also grab a pogaca (pronounced “pocha” as the menu helpfully points out) since they’re so small and Julian recommends them. It is a completely different savory Turkish pastry, stuffed with potatoes and onions and parsnips and having a texture closer to pie crust. Stuffed with butter and dough and armed with a crusty loaf weighing easily five pounds, we depart for Raleigh.
On our way to Raleigh, we see a series of signs advertising Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts. Since a quorum of us have to pee, and we’re not in a rush, we make a detour down some local roads. The peanuts are in Enfield, NC, a small and sparsely populated town that reminds us all of Weimar, TX where we got stranded last time around. The peanuts are in a nondescript building but the inside does not disappoint. There are easily ten or twelve different kinds of nuts and free samples of all are available. The usually mediocre chocolate and white chocolate covered options are very good, with a nice salty bite at the end. I get some honey roasted almonds and chat with the proprietors. Like most roadside businesspeople we encounter they are friendly and curious about where we’re from and why we’re here. I try to buy a shirt, since they have great shirts and I did not bring enough shirts on tour expecting that I would acquire some. The guy just gives it to me and says to wear it on the red carpet when we win a Grammy. I thank him and tell him I’ll at least wear it at the show tonight, which I do.
Raleigh is abuzz with activity as everyone does their damnedest to prepare for Hurricane Florence. My brother who works for FEMA is getting deployed various places to deal with it, and we’ll be in a state of just missing each other all week. The line at the gas station is no joke. Between that and Hopscotch festival just having ended, we’re not expecting a big turnout tonight, but we’re excited for our lodging situation. We’ll be staying with Mike, who is well-known among bands who go through the Raleigh-Durham area. He’s always hosting somebody or other, and was the first person to play me Lambchop, for which I am truly thankful. Not only do we get to hang with Mike, his friend Satoshi is in town all the way from Tokyo. Mike and Satoshi met when he was doing some sort of chef exchange program, and Dorthy and I went to his restaurant when we were in Tokyo earlier this year. It’s called Hiro, it’s in Naka-Meguro, and if you’re ever there you should go. Satoshi goes to the fish market at the crack of dawn and makes a menu based on what’s good, and has served me the finest sashimi I have ever encountered. He is also an extremely good dude and big music fan. I’m glad his time in Raleigh overlaps with ours. Mike has gotten us all a reservation at what he says is the best restaurant in town. Even though we’re cutting it a little close to showtime, we have to go.
The reservation is at Brewery Bhavana, which used to be an Irish bar called Tir Na Nog last time we were in town. We played there for Hopscotch a while back, and it’s completely transformed, white and sleek and modern instead of dim and woody. It’s a dim sum place, and Mike is running a little late, so he gives us some recs and tells us to go ahead and order. We go all out. Xiao long bao, pork bao, ginger edamame dumplings, Sichuan green beans, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, a whole steamed fish, General Tso’s chicken, crab rangoon, scallion pancakes with bone marrow and braised oxtail, and a next-level fried rice with asparagus and Chinese sausage and a fried egg. They bring us some crispy pig ears on the house. Those pig ears are the best pork thing I’ve had since my trip to Tito Rad’s earlier this year, crispy and fatty and with a nice vinegary sauce. The pancakes/bone marrow/oxtail combo is fantastic and new to me, with the pancakes all small and crispy and the meat just as meaty as possible. The chicken is also next level, it involves hibiscus somehow and is tangy and super crispy. No duds on this table. They comp us a bunch of desserts too: banana cake, coconut cake, fried ice cream, and sesame balls with red bean. I missed photographing a lot of this meal, it all happened so fast. We are thoroughly stuffed and have to play in like twenty minutes, so it’s back to Kings Barcade for the show.
We’ve played at Kings a few times, even way back when we toured with Sharon Van Etten. It’s a solid tour stop and everyone is friendly and professional. The crowd is small but engaged, and I see some familiar faces. We put our server from the restaurant and some other folks we met there on the list. Mike and Satoshi make us do an encore. We pack up and head back to Mike’s. He has stocked the fridge with both good and bad beer for us, and Satoshi sits by the turntable and DJs. It is good to hang. We stay up too late considering we have our longest drive of the tour tomorrow, to Atlanta. Sometimes you just gotta hang. I forgot how good Deerhoof’s The Magic is. Deerhoof is consistently one of the best bands. They’ve been doing it forever and just keep churning out hot shit. High quality people, too. I remember seeing them at the old Knitting Factory back in high school, and then 15 years later playing with them at Market Hotel. That felt good, like something had come full circle. I’m reminded of the quote from legendary awful singer Florence Foster Jenkins: “People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” Like, whether or not you think we are good, we are indisputably doing this. We are A Band and every now and then we do something that my younger self would be impressed with. Eventually, I sleep.
In the morning, Mike and I team up to make breakfast tacos. Sweet potatoes, peppers, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and queso fresco, topped with Mike’s homemade pickled red onions. Tortillas heated up on the skillet. They are a great success, and we leave fortified for our journey. We are lucky to be getting out of town when we are, a day later and the show definitely would have been canceled. We go through some short patches of very heavy rain, but after that it’s smooth sailing to Atlanta. We even get some good healthy road food at Trader Joe’s and get the oil changed. A long but efficient journey, and we arrive pretty much just in time to load in.
529 Bar is another old favorite, where come to think of it we also played for the first time with Sharon back in the day. We’ve been back many times since. Atlanta likes to party, and even though it’s a weeknight we’re looking forward to a good crowd. We are pleasantly surprised to see that the space has been renovated to absorb the storefront next door, and the room is now huge with a new PA. There is also no smoking tonight, a major lifestyle improvement. Even when I was an occasional after-I’ve-had-a-few smoker I always found doing it inside to be vaguely gross. It’s rough on the singers, it stays on your clothes, and it robs you of a normally very good excuse to go outside for a minute and talk or flirt or just have a moment to yourself. I’m sure the old regulars hate it but I’m pleased. We soundcheck and head out in search of dinner.
We settle on So Ba, a Vietnamese restaurant right around the corner. I get bo lu lac with a fried egg plus a Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. Everything is delicious. Beef is crazy tender and a sweet fish sauce offsets it nicely. Band friend/Carlos’s partner Stefanie meets us there. They actually met on tour last time around, over three years ago. A lot has transpired in all of our lives in the past three years and here we are, back at 529. Stefanie has been visiting friends and family and happens to be in town when we are. She has secured us lodging for the night too, at her aunt’s giant house nearby. Tonight will be a late one, 4 bands and we’re on last. We won’t be out of there before 1:30. But at least we’ll get to sleep late in a nice house and do some laundry and make some breakfast. In your 30s these things start to matter more than the romance of roughing it. I guess we are still roughing it in a sense, since we’re not bringing anyone to do sound or merch. DIY and/or die.
Back at 529, we are pleased to see it filling up. Floral Print and Karaoke put on good sets, and I’m pleased to hear that the sound in the house is excellent. Third band Fantasy Guys gets extra props for somehow carrying a goddamn vibraphone around to gigs and incorporating it well into a variety of arrangements. It sounds awesome, like Martin Denny. Our set is a fun one, I try some weird shit on the loud parts and some of it works. The sound system is fantastic, super boomy subs under the stage. I see some familiar faces in the crowd, and the merch table is busy afterwards. Atlanta doesn’t care if it’s a Wednesday, people are out. I even see some people dancing. Beat but satisfied, we pack up and head to Stefanie’s aunt’s place.