As usual, getting out of the city takes longer than expected. I have to retrieve my laundry, which entails waiting for the B54 bus for an unprecedented 40 minutes. What the fuck is up with the B54? It is the worst bus line I have ever had the ill fortune to rely on, and the MTA’s usually-reliable Bus Time website outright lies about where the buses are. I quickly pack and shower, and there is just no way I’m not forgetting something. Everyone else is late too, but I am the latest. Fortunately we allowed time for this in our plans, and are able to hit the road at a reasonable hour in spite of ourselves.
Our first show is at the University of New Hampshire. A gaggle of fresh-faced students arrives with a cart to help us carry our gear. This is a particular advantage of college shows: members of the audience are outright psyched to help you carry things. Palehound has already arrived, and we all tear into an assortment of foods. Crudite with a weird runny dip, mixed nuts, chips and salsa, a Box o’ Joe, and pizza. There is a certain type of pizza that only college students eat, and it is the same everywhere. It is thick and doughy and boasts a cheese-to-sauce ratio skewed heavily in favor of cheese. This pizza at least has vegetables, including zucchini, which puts it a cut above the norm. One of the openers sounds exactly like Ben Folds. Is Ben Folds considered old school now, a reference to be mined? I feel old. Somehow I am tired, as if my body is preemptively feeling the physical aftermath of tour. I see a guy sleeping on a long couch, and attempt to nap in a cushy armchair across from him. I succeed for a short while. I am restless. I drink some coffee. Carlos broke a string at the last show, and I take the opportunity to change his strings and do a quick setup before our set. Lately I’ve been trying to learn about fixing up stringed instruments, and I’m happy to have an opportunity to practice a bit. Farhad Soheili of Pentatonic Guitars (and, lately, Ludlow Street as well) has graciously allowed me to sit in his workshop and pepper him with questions a few hours a week. Fortunately this guitar is in good shape; the action is about right but the intonation is off. If I had actual tools I could lower the slots in the nut, but I just have a Swiss army knife and one of those shitty multitools for musicians that don’t actually work that well because the hex wrenches aren’t long enough. I do what I can; at least the strings are strung properly. I finish just in time for our set.
The set goes well, and we set out for the night’s lodging. It is with relatives of Becca’s, and the setup is pretty much ideal: wall-to-wall carpeting and many beds. Palehound is staying as well, and we take the opportunity to crack open some watery domestic beer and shoot the shit. I sleep like a rock. In the morning, we are greeted by this delightful character:
His name is Jedi, and he is trying to hang. He licks and nibbles on all of us and our belongings. I realize what I forgot to bring: a towel. Shit. Fortunately, we’ll be stopping home again Sunday night since there is no show Monday. I can survive without a shower until I get to Boston. Our hosts give us coffee and strawberries and croissants. But we eat lightly, because we have a plan for breakfast, a plan we have made several days in advance and eagerly anticipated: Friendly Toast.
My last trip to a Friendly Toast was years ago, on the way back from a gig with Quilty and Casiorossi, and I remember it vividly. They serve breakfast all day and the breakfast is extremely good and you can feel it coating the insides of your arteries as you eat. Portions appear to have gotten a little smaller in the last couple years, but that is probably just as well. It is plenty of food. I order the Babe Benedict, which is pulled pork, poached eggs, barbecue sauce, and hollandaise on cornbread with home fries.
Pulled pork above the Mason-Dixon line is always a dicey proposition, and this pork might not stand on its own due to a lack of smoke, but the whole package is delicious. I love the combination of hollandaise and barbecue sauce, and I’m a sucker for variations on eggs Benedict in general. The egg yolk soaks in between the little pork fibers. The eggs are perfect. It is with great disappointment that I have to say these home fries are completely dog shit, with some burnt and some appearing not to have touched the grill at all, though fortunately they are parboiled which makes them at least edible. Come on, Friendly Toast. This is a breakfast staple. You can do better. Becca orders this for several of us to share, and it is excellent:
It is basically carrot cake in pancake form: pancakes with shredded carrots, raisins, and walnuts. That substance you see peeking out on the right is ginger cream cheese. In a brilliant and rare decision for a sweet breakfast dish, the ginger is noticeably spicy. These pancakes are like a big, messy sandwich cookie that takes up the entire plate. They don’t even need syrup. It would be too much. The menu describes these as “mini” pancakes, by the way. I shudder to think of what full-sized ones might be.
After this breakfast, which leaves us ready to curl up into the fetal position and go right back to sleep, it is off to Boston. Carlos, Felicia, and Becca are doing an acoustic session for Allston Pudding, and Julian and I are left with some time to kill. I kill some time shopping at vintage stores, which nets me a cute pair of decorative glasses for the lady back home. I know exactly which dress she can wear with them. I am tempted by a few shirts for myself, but they’re all too similar to things I already own. I tend to accumulate a certain amount of clothing on tour, between thrift stores and shirts I buy from bands we play with, so I have to be selective.
After killing an appropriate amount of time, I meet the hosts of Eater’s Digest for an interview. Eater’s Digest is a weekly food-related show on WMBR, the MIT radio station, and as the band member with the most obvious interest in food it was agreed that I would do the interview myself. Aside from an embarrassing brain fart in which I completely space on how to describe what I like about New Orleans food, it goes well. I get to shout out some places in the Bronx. It’s on the radio on Thursday, 7 PM, check it out. We do the interview in the van, with mic stands leaning up against our bags. It’s still early when we’re done, and I set out to wander around Harvard Square. I remember a good music store from our last trip, and I find it easily: Mr. Music. I need an extra set of bass strings to keep around in case disaster strikes, since my weird tuning limits my ability to borrow someone else’s bass. That’s a good reason, right? Bass strings. That is a thing I need that is in the store.
I can’t resist playing some basses while I’m there. The one I like is the Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Bass, which only costs $300 and sounds fucking sick. But I can’t justify another instrument purchase with the amount I already own and don’t use, and I remember it was pretty neck-heavy last time I tried one with a strap, and I’ve been through this thought process at least twice before when confronted with this bass. Maybe someday. They look amazing and sound thumpy as fuck and the short scale makes them really comfortable. On my way out, I can’t resist looking at the used pedals, and see something I’ve been thinking about getting for a while: a bass chorus. There are a few songs on the new record where I play with a pick, and it occurred to me they might benefit from some chorus, a la Peter Hook. It is only $60, and I dig the sound. Sold. They throw in a free string winder, which I stow away for the inevitable high-pressure string changes that will come in the future. It is now time for food.
There is no shortage of food options, and at first I am tempted by Korean. There are three Korean restaurants in my vicinity, which suggests to me that Korean food is a thing around here and at least one must be good. But I’m not quite hungry enough, and balk a bit at the price of a full sit-down meal. There must be something cheaper. Scanning the awnings around me, I see something interesting: Habanero, a Mexican restaurant that also advertises pupusas. Pupusas are a Salvadorian food, and they are considerably harder to come by than Mexican food in most parts of the country. Most people don’t even know what they are, as I did not before last week when I got the expensive miniaturized bougie version from a food truck in Red Hook. So why would this Mexican restaurant offer them? I am betting the owners are themselves Salvadorian, and opened a Mexican restaurant because the base ingredients are similar and the average consumer is more familiar with Mexican food. Either that, or there are enough Salvadorians in the area to create substantial demand for pupusas, and this Mexican restaurant has stepped up to serve them. Whichever of these scenarios is correct, it seems like this will be a good food to eat. I am not disappointed.
I order three pupusas: revuelta, loroco, and bean. Revuelta is some sort of pork, ground so small as to completely merge with the cheese surrounding it. Loroco is a greenish floret-bearing plant that looks and tastes sort of like asparagus, also surrounded by cheese. The beans appear to be black beans, but they are mashed and also merge with the cheese and are unidentifiable. All three are delicious, and I definitely did not need three of them, because they are huge and filling. I was thinking about pupusas from the food truck, which are maybe two thirds of this size. At least as good as the pupusa itself is this cabbage slaw, curtido, which is bright and tangy and cuts through the fatty cheese business. It reminds me of Haitian pikli, minus the borderline-painful spiciness. There is a thin tomato sauce that does a similar thing but doesn’t add texture, so I mostly ignore it. Did I mention that each of these costs $1.95? This is quite possibly the best deal in the area. I am thoroughly sated. For the record, the bean and cheese is the best one, as the others are a bit salty. I wash it down with a weird, too-sweet soda. It is sort of like Inca Kola, an odd bubblegum-y taste. No me gusta. Whatever, these pupusas are awesome, eat them. I can’t find the seam on a pupusa where the filling is added; it is a perfect little parcel of corn-skinned milkfats and proteins.
Still with some time to kill, we meet Julian’s parents at a Korean restaurant. I am far from hungry, but I figure I can eat some banchan and pick at other people’s plates. I do. It is tasty. Julian’s parents are among my favorite local hosts, and it’s good to hang. We’ll be seeing them again in Tucson, where his brother lives, and his mom and I make a plan to play Scrabble. She is a real Scrabble player, and usually beats me, but we’ve never done it in person. It’s on. I am full of two completely different kinds of food. Time to play a show.
The show is at O’Briens Pub, a small venue in Allston. “Small” is a bit relative here; they say the capacity is 70, but if we were back in New York they’d be cramming at least twice as many in there. The show sells out and there is still a lot of room. What’s the deal? Don’t bars like making money? Boston nightlife is more highly regulated than a lot of other places, I assume because of all the college students. Whatever, a sold out show is a good problem to have. The room is a weird shape, and I can’t hear shit. My chorus pedal has its triumphant debut, which no one notices. This is actually not bad! Like the Hippocratic oath, the goal with effects pedals is “first, do no harm”. I’ll try it a little more intensely next time. We sell a bunch of merch and find ourselves very nearly out of small T-shirts. Is America getting thinner again? What is happening? Because it’s Boston, the bar starts closing at like 1. We head off to Julian’s parents’ house to sleep.
As I had hoped, there is a tray of Wegman’s sesame chicken in the fridge. We lay waste to that shit.
I don’t know why I love Wegman’s sesame chicken so much. It does exactly what it sets out to do. It is flavorful and minimally greasy and has the right amount of breading and is even kind of good cold. It is the thing I am imagining when I order shitty Chinese food and am disappointed by it. There goes all my cred as an expressor of culinary opinions. Fuck you, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. It comes with these lo mein noodles. Hot damn. I eat two plates of approximately this size even though a few hours ago I swore I’d never eat again. They also have a Sodastream and one of those refrigerators that dispense ice. I drink a bunch of seltzer with ice, and fall asleep on the couch.
In the morning, there is French toast and coffee with coconut milk. I take my coffee black as a general rule, but I do like to switch it up with the occasional fancy milk substitute. Coconut milk in coffee is great, right up there with almond milk. It brings out the nuttiness of the coffee, which real milk does not do. Excellent. Then we’re off to New Paltz.
The show takes place in a fluorescent-lit room with not enough mics or mic stands and, as we quickly realize, not a real PA. The PA only has two channels, so a third mic wouldn’t even be usable. The left mic goes through the left speaker, and the right mic goes through the right speaker, making harmonies impossible. And, of course, the speakers are also the monitors, so the singers position themselves in front of them. I am grateful we now have sufficient live experience and a deep enough catalog to play a full set under these constraints, one singer at a time, extremely quietly so as not to overpower the vocals. It actually goes pretty well. Playing a college show is a lot like playing a DIY show in a basement in a lot of ways; just some kids who love music and may or may not know what they’re doing, trying to do their best with what is available. I can’t hate. I will say, however, that every college show would benefit from playing music in between bands. I don’t know why they so rarely do this. It creates an awkward silence that causes the show-vibe to dissipate. Take note, bookers of college shows. People at a show want to hear music continuously, even if it’s just a hastily-chosen Pandora station to fill space.
New Paltz is close enough to home that we can drive back afterwards. This is our first time stopping home a few days into tour, and it’s nice. I will be able to stop home and pick up things I forgot to bring, like a towel, and delay the final cleaning of my room for my subletter. I take the opportunity to spend some last-minute time with the lady, rolling into her house as soon as we’re done unloading the equipment at the studio. We sleep late and eat breakfast at Champs Diner, where I regretfully neglect to bring my phone for documentation purposes. Champs is all vegan, but I must admit the fake chorizo is extremely good. Most fake meats fail on texture, and they get a nice crispy exterior on the griddle that really approaches the real thing. Get a breakfast burrito. Hot damn. I don’t even care that all the protein is tofu, and coming from me that is a strong statement. It is thoroughly satisfying and I am unable to finish it.
I try not to be one of those people who constantly gush about their relationships, but I can’t resist sharing the fact that my partner has a menu planned for my last day home. I suppose it makes sense that someone who would want to date me would be similarly into food, but I am continually surprised and impressed by her creations. Lunch is something called a “jalapeno popper grilled cheese“, supplemented by a simple but delicious pasta salad with gouda, tomatoes, and fresh basil.
This is two kinds of cheese, jack and chevre, grilled with bacon and jalapeno-apricot relish. A grilled cheese sandwich with bacon is always excellent, but this relish really kicks it up a notch. It is spicy and sweet and cuts through the fatty cheese/bacon situation situation perfectly, lingering on the palate. The whole thing is a little messy, but hits the spot thoroughly. After completing our sandwiches, we agree to split a third one.
Between the sandwiches and the pasta salad, it is a pretty cheese-heavy meal, but that’s how we roll. We have a leisurely day catching up on Game of Thrones and Inside Amy Schumer, interrupted only occasionally by urgent emails from work. Railings is playing a show at the Knitting Factory, and I want to see them, but I can’t bring myself to go out. I will be out at a show every night for the next six weeks, and I need to relax hard while I can. Dinner is ratatouille with two kinds of brussels sprouts. She makes a sweet one with a cranberry-balsamic reduction, and I make a savory one with toasted walnuts, breadcrumbs, and asiago.
The brussels sprouts were intended to be a sort of friendly competition, but we are hard-pressed to decide which is better. I’m partial to hers, not having had it before, but quite proud of my own. They actually complement each other perfectly, and a neutral third party is not present. We end up mixing them together. I’ve never had ratatouille before, and I’m very much into it. It’s hearty and savory and preserves the flavors of the individual vegetables. Dessert is an olive oil cake, which I totally did not know was a thing, supplemented with fig mascarpone ice cream. The cake is insanely moist and rich, dotted with rosemary, and not too sweet. The effect is similar to a really good skillet cornbread reconfigured for dessert. The ice cream is a perfectly-chosen supplement to the cake. She has baked an additional olive oil cake for the band, and assembled a kit for me to make coffee from scratch while on the road. She shows me how to use the hand grinder and the pour-over cup. It is extremely satisfying to make a good cup of coffee, watching the grounds bloom and the thin foam form atop them. It is an art and a science, and although I feel like I get it I can see that there will always be room for improvement. Being able to make it myself from scratch will be a real quality of life upgrade. Of course, it will also make me think of her and miss her, which I will be doing plenty of already, but what are you gonna do. There are a lot of other things I’m excited to get away from for a little while, and I try to focus on those.
In the morning, I have to stop home again to clean my room and pack a few odds and ends. I am late. Everyone is a little late, but I am the latest. A block from the meeting place, I remember what I forgot: a towel. Fuck. I had a whole day to remember to do that, and did not. Already dreading the next unwashed morning, I set out for Philly.