Mahall’s is a bowling alley with food and a bar as well as shows, and it is huge. Upon arrival we are greeted with the most attractively presented deli and crudite platter I’ve ever seen.
The room is large and has a lot of weird resonances, so soundcheck is tough. Like Cake Shop with more walls and columns for sound to bounce off of. Julian and I nip downstairs to take advantage of our free lane. We only end up getting one game in and he whips my ass. Between the deli platter, the free bowling, the free Black Label at the bar, and a giant bucket of chicken, this is a top-notch hospitality situation. We are all feeling good.
My good mood begins to sour as time passes. Julian’s friend Dave came and brought a friend, and I count maybe three or four people not in one of the other bands in the room. Did anyone pay to come to this show tonight? Does Cleveland know we exist? It’s a great bill, too, with Julia Julian and The Katy. Julia Julian is people we know from a show at Kenyon a few years back, though they went to Oberlin. They have one of my favorite rhythm sections of tour so far, with some genuinely depraved beats and feels that manage to stay funky and deliberate. The singer in The Katy plays a Hofner violin bass like a guitar and has a beautiful effortless voice and the drums and keyboard fill it out like an alternate universe organ trio. This is fucking sick. Where is everybody? I try to reason with myself. It’s been three years since we’ve been on tour, and we never had that much of a base in Cleveland. We deserve nothing and should expect nothing. This is a nice room with a big stage and we have to play and suck it up and give these ten or so people a show.
We do. It’s actually a great set. Afterwards two guys from the audience come to the merch table and introduce themselves, we shared a bill in Pittsburgh a few years back and they drove from Pittsburgh to come to this show. They say we have to come through Pittsburgh next time and give us some venues to play. Chris tried those places, it turns out, and the timing didn’t work. Something to remember for next time. We check into a Motel 6 and sleep until we are awoken by housekeeping. I swear we agreed on a late checkout when we got in last night, I saw the lady at the front desk write it down on a piece of paper, but housekeeping begs to differ. What this business needs is a task analysis to inform recommendations for optimizing its workflows. I’m sure that lady just told me whatever she needed to to get me to go upstairs so she could go back to sleep. In the rush to get on the road I leave my phone charger behind. I made it so long without losing something, but the entropy of tour is bigger than me. I like to think that even Kim Gordon leaves her phone charger sometimes.
This drive will be a long one, to Baltimore. Six hours minimum. We have minimal time to eat. I get a Starbucks breakfast sandwich, which never quite feels like food to me. Starbucks breakfast sandwiches sort of sit alongside your stomach rather than in it. You could eat an unlimited number of them and feel increasingly gross but not get full, like a greedy child in a fairy tale who makes a pact with a witch. It’ll have to do. Our show is at Metro Gallery, where we’ve been a few times. By the time we’re done with soundcheck we are all ready for a real meal. As Julian points out, we have done nothing that makes you feel like a human all day. Some research presents a solution: Jong Kak.
Korean food is usually something I miss when I leave New York, but Baltimore has some good spots. We’re fortunate to be near a few, and Jong Kak looks the best up close. It does not disappoint.
Look at all that banchan. Fantastic. Everyone gets some kind of bibimbap. I go with kalbi, my favorite of the Korean meats. It’s a little chewy and very flavorful, hitting the same spot as skirt steak with a little more sweetness and spice. Bibimbap is in the running for best foods. It’s got a starch, a protein, vegetables, can be as spicy as you want, and the stone bowl adds texture and drama. How cool is it to be presented with that sizzling bowl? So cool. It’s like getting fajitas, but you don’t have to assemble it yourself. Brilliant.
The kimchi pancake is exemplary too. Kimchi pancake is sort of like garlic bread or nachos in that even the worst one is still pretty good, but this one is next level, supremely crispy and packed with scallions, with the kimchi retaining a light crunch. Excellent sauce, scallion-soy-et cetera, of which we get seconds. They even give us each a tiny bottle of that weird yogurt drink with the check. Jong Kak is the real deal. They do barbecue, too, which makes me think of Hahm Ji Bach back home. It’s been a while. Living in Queens means having constant FOMO about different Asian cuisines. You could eat a different meal every day for the rest of your life. My priority is this Taiwanese pork chop I saw on Instagram but the list is getting longer. Props to my friend Jordan for introducing me to @wendalicious888 on Instagram. She eats delicious Asian meals in Queens at about the rate I aspire to.
The show is solid, a step up from the night before. We have some people in Baltimore. It is mercifully done at a reasonable hour, as we are all beat. Still in time for Express Deals from Priceline, too. Express Deals are a great resource on tour but you have to get to them before the day switches over. You can call or walk into a hotel and book something anytime before checkout in the morning, but if you’re past midnight you’re shit out of luck for Express Deals. Today’s Express Deal turns out to be a Sheraton in Towson, a few steps up from the previous night. Checkout is a civilized noon, and there is free coffee in the room. The end of Kill Bill is on. Tarantino is Bill, right? Like this is his fantasy of being stalked and killed by a powerful woman? Everyone is so good in this movie. Soon it is over and it’s time for Will Smith running from the NSA or something. There is a difference of opinion on whether it is okay to drink the remaining tepache, now a few days old and not refrigerated for all of that time. I reason that tepache is fermented already and a couple more days of aging won’t make a great difference. I try a tiny sip and it’s great, at least as good if not better. Julian agrees. He finally succeeds in finding a place that sells it in the city. Izucar on Myrtle, I or II, if you’re curious. Another thing to try when I’m back.
Somehow we are again woken up by housekeeping at 8:30. Just saying hi or something. I forgot to put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, which is on me, but who on earth has not checked out yet and is voluntarily awake in their room at 8:30? What is this shit? The downside of a nicer hotel is they’re much more up in your business, we are conscious of the constant surveillance. You don’t ring a bell when you get in, they just see you enter and spring into action. The seamlessness of optimized modern hospitality is a little creepy to me. I get back to sleep eventually. We get breakfast from a health food store and hit the road. Tonight’s show will be in Philly with folks we know and promises to be a good one.
In Philly, two old friends have reached out and we make a plan to get dinner. Alice and Drew, who I used to see a lot and fell out of touch with when they moved. Philly has a proper Chinatown I’ve never been to, so that seems to be the move. They give me some recs and we settle on Nan Zhou, a hand-pulled noodle place. Carlos comes along. We get a dried cucumber appetizer and some snow pea tips for the table. Snow pea tips are fantastic, with the bright flavor of snow peas plus the satisfying green leafiness of spinach or kale. I also get a hand-pulled noodle dish with brisket, and Alice gives me one of her meatballs. It’s a fantastic soft pork meatball like a lion’s head meatball. My meat and broth are fantastic, rich and spicy. I am a messy eater of noodles and get them all over my shirt, which mercifully is darkly colored and has a pattern on it. I am a solidly C+ chopsticks user, I can get the food in my mouth but it’s not pretty and it takes me a few tries. I soldier on and finish very nearly all of it, leaving just a little broth.
The show is at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, or PhilaMOCA. We are psyched for this bill, which we’re sharing with Remember Sports and Corey Flood. Julian and Carlos went on the NADINE tour with Remember Sports and had only good things to say. They do not disappoint. Carmen’s voice has a sneer to it in the best way. The bassist, Catherine, is truly fucking sick, playing with a pick in the confident and aggressive way I always admired and never quite pulled off myself. First band Corey Flood makes a strong showing as well, and the two bands together make me glad we don’t have a lot of guitars anymore to have to follow them with. The room is filling up. I feel a tap on the shoulder, and it takes me a moment to recognize Stephen. I know Stephen from when I was a junior or senior and he used to come to all the music clubs I was in. He is now half a head taller than me and sports a full beard. He’s been working as a community organizer, and I finally get the opportunity to ask someone who’s been in Philly for a while whether Krasner is all he’s cracked up to be (yes, it seems, he is). A nice thing about being from a big city and going on tour is you’re always going to run into the diaspora in other big cities. It’s good to catch up.
It is sweltering hot in the room, and it feels more like a basement show than anything else that has happened on tour so far. I am into it but are sweating the entire contents of our bodies. The audience demands an encore and we give them one. I relish that moment of knowing I’m going to get back onstage, but my God is it hot. So hot. In the morning I will learn that there was, in fact, air conditioning that was not turned on for some reason. If they were trying to achieve a house show vibe they nailed it. Working the merch table I am disappointed to see that there is no longer beer, but Drew sees my plight and comes through with a can of wine. Truly clutch. People buy a bunch of merch, and I allow myself to dream of the merch bins getting noticeably lighter the next time we have to lift them. They do not, they still fucking suck.
Leaving the show there is talk of going to a party in West Philly. I’m torn, I want to hang but would prefer to do so in a low-key manner at a bar near where we’re staying. My hearing has suffered enough over the years that I find it hard to make conversation in a loud place, and I don’t feel like dancing in my sodden jeans. The decision ends up being made for us as we hang out at the house and lose track of time. We’re staying with a friend, Chadwick, at our friend Andy’s place, Andy currently being on tour with Speedy Ortiz. There are all manner of keyboards in the living room, an organ and a weird cheap electronic keyboard such as you’d find at a Goodwill and a truly fucked up toy one that makes animal sounds. I sincerely hope any audio or video of this night’s jam session is destroyed, there is something truly horrifying about the sampled fake animal sound as lead instrument. In the morning we learn that Julia, a photographer we know who has been subletting Andy’s room in his absence, was home and heard the whole thing. We are all bashful, like when your roommate says they heard you having sex. Just a bunch of people in their 30s taking turns playing a child’s animal keyboard and cackling uproariously. Nothing to see here.
We eat breakfast and hit a few thrift stores before heading off to our final show at BSP Lounge in Kingston. We’ll be driving home that night. We’re all pretty psyched on the prospect. Even with less partying and more hotels and shorter drives, I am comparably exhausted and disoriented to when we’d go away for a month or more. Kingston will be low-impact, there’s an early show and a late show and we’re the early one. Headlining is Jeff the Brotherhood, with whom we last played in maybe 2010 at Santo’s Party House. They have gotten weirder since then, to my great delight, and are all just the nicest guys. It’s good vibes. Shows at BSP have the added benefit of meal vouchers for Kovo, a truly bangin’ Greek restaurant. I get a big salad with lamb meatballs and it hits the spot. A good Greek salad is something I always crave on tour, a lot of vegetables and acidity and variety of textures are always welcome after all the bar burgers. One time in Athens I ate two large Greek salads in a row. Everything is fresh and balanced and well-seasoned, and we’re in and out just in time for soundcheck.
The set is kind of a blur. It’s tight and everything but my mind is already turned towards home.. The events are close enough together that we don’t get any time to linger, people are already filing in for what appears to be some sort of club night. It looks approximately ten times as lit as our show did, and it’s still early. Back in the day this sort of thing used to bug me a little; here we are busting our asses to go all over the country and play shows and these people just want to dance to stuff they could hear on the radio? Webster Hall is a venue where I remember feeling this many times, as I’d be loading out from a lackluster show in the small room and be greeted by a line around the block for a DJ night at the big room. But now I get it. It stands to reason that an event where all the most popular artists for a particular audience can be heard instead of just two or three, and the audience can dance the whole time, and everyone gets dressed up, and there are drink specials, and if you’re trying to fuck there are more other people also trying to do that, would be more popular than a live show by us or anyone at our level. Even playing an instrument with strings on it is kind of an anachronism. I, and we, choose to do something that is by nature limited in its reach. Your competition isn’t the DJ, or even the other bands playing in town that weekend. It’s you in the past and you in the future. We just finished our first proper tour after a long hiatus behind what we all believe to be our best record, and we’ll all get to take home a little money at the end. And tonight I will take a proper shower and sleep in my own bed which will have air conditioning if I want it and won’t if I do not. Plus it’s only Saturday, so I’ll have a full day to recharge before I have to return to the office and convincingly impersonate a member of the straight world. I am feeling good.
Back home, it takes me a few trips to get up the stairs. I have my bass and amp and bags and also some merch, which has to be divided up among our houses because the practice space is prone to mildew. I am still in a state of flow with regard to loading after so many nights in a row, and I get upstairs to my apartment in complete silence. I take about an hour to brush my teeth and shower and have a snack, because I can. My partner has left me a cupcake on the table, and a new shirt. I eat the cupcake and resolve to try on the shirt in the morning. I slip into bed. She murmurs but does not wake up.