Sunday, June 28, 2009

Last week

It's Sunday afternoon and we're back in Long Beach. We drove here after our Fresno gig, and we technically have our last show here tonight, although it's a house show and it sounds like a request by residents of the house not to spread the word too widely has led to such little promotion that someone who lives there recently asked Alan where the show is. So, we're not expecting much tonight. But I'm happy to report that the second half of the tour was superior to the first half, and we don't feel the need to accomplish anything more than hanging out at Alan's friends' pad with a computer, ceiling fans, comfortable bedding, and a wonderfully chill boxer mix named Pyrate. We'll be here till tomorrow and then it's back to DC for me and back to PDX for a few days for Shravan and Forrest. Alan is technically homeless for a month, and then he's headed to Europe for three months to tour with Born/Dead, Doomsday Hour, and Witch Hunt. To recap since my last entry:

Eugene sucked, and we drove to Portland immediately after we played. I spent Saturday afternoon hitting record stores downtown and ran into my college friend Steve. He lives in Portland, but I ran into him last summer in Seattle as well. I had given him my email address but he lost it, so it was great to cross paths again. We caught up over breakfast a few days later when I was back in PDX for our second show. Take that, Facebook. Our house show that night was the most remunerative of the tour; Portland always comes through. Sunday was Seattle at Squid and Ink, a small vegan restaurant in Georgetown. Uninspired turnout, but we got decent money anyway. The Squid is closed on Mondays, but the owner, a friend of Alan's (and of the folks we were staying with right down the street), insisted on opening up to feed us brunch and then tried not to accept any money. A true gentleman. We got a slow start that day, ate brunch late and ended up with not enough time to do anything around town before we had to be in Tacoma for that night's show. It felt a little like a wasted day, but sometimes those are unavoidable. Tacoma was a house show with surprisingly good turnout. We spent the night in Seattle again and I made the most out of our day off on Tuesday by taking a bus to downtown, walking to Capitol Hill, and taking another bus to the U District and back. Hit four record stores (one was closed) and rounded things out with gelato and a newspaper by the water with a relatively uncloudy view of the sun going down behind whatever mountains it goes down behind west of Seattle.

Wednesday I brunched alone at the Squid (the owner only charged me $5 for a meal that was probably worth more than twice that) before we headed back down to Portland. Good show at The Know with some partying afterward. I went to sleep around 2:30 in a windowless practice room in the basement and got up at 9 in complete darkness to meet Steve for breakfast. I found out from Julie that our beloved feline bookend/paperweight Miss Kitty had taken a turn for the worse and the vet gently insisted she be euthanized the next day. 21 years is a hell of a run for a cat, but it's sad all the same. It's been a bad couple weeks for pets in the District. Beaujolais, one of Brighter Days' favorite charges (despite his proclivity for bisexual rapings), died shortly after I left town; and then another dog that didn't have anything wrong with him that I knew of was put down a couple days ago.

Thursday was a day off, and I did the whole drive to Oakland. It took us only 10 hours with stops from Portland, much less than I expected. Driving was a great relief from the boredom of passengerhood. Friday we hit Telegraph in Berkeley for food and records and then more food on the Oakland end of the street. Warehouse show at the Hazmat in Oakland went fine. Saturday we brunched at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, a restaurant apparently owned by the Green Day dudes. Overpriced bland bullshit. At least they forgot to include my OJ in the bill.

As soon as we drove out of Oakland we hit hot weather. It was incredibly abrupt. We relented and relied on AC the whole way to Fresno. I thought it felt bad just because we'd been so spoiled with great weather the whole tour, but then we got to Fresno and were told that it had hit 106. Let me set the scene here. It's a birthday party/house show. We walk into a backyard featuring multiple shopping carts and almost immediately see a kid in a full clown suit being barked at by a small dog named Butters. Now you know everything you need to know about Fresno. Actually, for as much as I felt like I was in a west coast version of Gummo, people were friendly and we had a good time. We were only there for about 3 hours total and then we set sail for Long Beach. I'll probably post one last update when I'm home, but till then...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Expired ID, indoor dust storms, and surprise benefit shows

When we last left our intrepid noise punkers, they had been accepted into the waiting brazos of Madre Mexico. No exciting border shootouts or anything, sorry. Anyway...

We hung out at a home in Mexicali for a couple hours before the show. There was what appeared to be a citizen-run checkpoint at the entrance to the neighborhood, just to keep tabs on who comes and goes. The salsa flowed like hemophiliac blood and the beer flowed like...beer. Actually, there was a keg, so my bandmates got a little loosey-goosey. Beer was in no short supply at the venue either, which was really nice and had this crazy Floyd-themed lounge area flecked by dancing laser lighting. Apparently our show was only the second one that had been staged there (after the Warcry/AI tour). The first band didn't start till after 11, and when we played last, three bands later, we actually had to cut our set a song short. Which was annoying. I don't remember the first band's name. Coaccion was good; we had played with them at Gilman last summer. Bumbklaatt blew everyone, us included, off the stage. I think I've heard the 10" Alan put out for them, but I didn't have any expectations before they played. Holy damn, they tore it up.

We stayed at a different house than the one with the lunch party earlier. Everyone was really friendly. The guy who lives there kept trying to get me to drink (I told him a couple of times that I don't), as well as my bandmates, who had imbibed impressively all night but who were ready to be done by the time we crashed out at 3:30. Well, actually Forrest gave in and partied for a little bit. I can't say how many neighborhoods in the US would put up with a bunch of kids rolling into a neighborhood after 3am, unloading a keg, and blasting metal out of a car stereo. But our hosts did it like it was no big thing.

We drove through Mexico to Tijuana the next day, stopping only at a "Routine Military Checkpoint." Love that phrase. Apparently there is one route to TJ that features a vertiginous cliffside drive, complete with old cars piled up below; but there's a new toll road that we took that was less exciting. Still plenty of winding through mountains though. We've been in pretty mild weather almost the whole tour, but we basked in AC for that whole drive. The guy who set up the TJ show hooked us up with cheap burritos when we got there, then we went to the venue (a bar/pool hall) early and Forrest and I played two of the longest, most incompetent games of pool in the 6,000 long years that the universe has existed. Turnout for the show was pretty low, and, just like last time we played TJ, most people stayed seated. Tijuana: the City That Never Stands. We got payed the equivalent of about $50 total for both Mexico shows.

We decided to cross the border right after the show to avoid daytime lines. In the 15 minutes we did have to wait, we watched squeegee kids, a carpet salesman, and a one-legged man walking on his hands, all trying to squeeze a few last pesos out of the departing gringos. Now, I had noticed on the second day of tour that my passport expired three months ago. "Uggggh. Oh my god," I said when I realized my passport had become an ex-passport. "Fuck. God fucking dammit." I probably said some other things that I won't repeat on a family blog. But Alan assured me that at worst we'd get hung up at the border for a short while. This did not keep at bay jokes about what the border guards were going to do to my virginal parts.

So, here we are, sitting in the slowest line back into the US, run by a woman who seems to take her job rather seriously. We pull up, and Alan hands her our passports. I'm riding shotgun; Shravan and Forrest are in captain's chairs in the back. She asks us how long we've been in TJ and what we were doing. Alan tells her we're a band and we just played a show. She walks around the driver's side of the van, tapping here and there either to check for drugs packed into the frame or because she just can't stop the primal rhythms that can bubble up inside a person, demanding to be released as audible manifestations of defiant hopefulness in the face of a godless, meaningless existence. While I can identify with the latter, I believe she was doing the former. She arrives on my side of the van and opens the back door. "Who's here? What do you do?" That is, what do you do in the band. She sounds stern but friendly at the same time. "Shravan, I play guitar." "Forrest, bass." She looks at me. "John. I play drums." "It's always the drummer," she says as she walks back to her station. Always the drummer who does WHAT, I'm thinking. Always the drummer who HAS AN EXPIRED PASSPORT AND NEEDS TO BE DISCIPLINED WITH HOT IRONS...?

But she just meant it's always the drummer who rides shotgun. I figured it wasn't worth explaining to her that, actually, Shravan almost always rides shotgun because he has control issues around music selection in vehicles, and that Forrest and I don't mind because we don't have these sorts of control issues. We were at the border for three minutes, tops, and now we were waved across. We spent the night in Chula Vista, a short drive from the border, in a garage attached to a home owned by the parents of one of the Bumbklaatt guys. Apparently Alan's used it as a post-border pit stop for years. The next day we drove back to Long Beach so that Alan could run some errands and I could pick up some new sticks, having left my stick bag in the thieving manos of the aforementioned Sra. Mexico. Then it was on to Isla Vista, on the coast next to Goleta, about halfway between LA and SF. We played at the house I had visited on tour five years ago with Kadd and Rachel and Rasmus. Low turnout, but at least playing in a living room made it feel like there were actually people watching. We had a good time. Listened to the locals complain about the Irish summerers who descend on the area every year. Before we took off the next day, I wandered down to a cliff-studded beach three blocks away. Very scenic. I saw a dead ray in the sand. It's really, you know, it's kind of a shame. A shame about that ray.

Our San Francisco show was at the same spot we played last summer, then the Balazo Gallery now called Sub-Mission. I met up with Derrick B. before the show at Aquarius, where I picked up various records they were holding for me and of course grabbed a few more of the shelves. There weren't a lot of people at the show, but for whatever reason I really like that place and was happy to play there regardless. I think we ended up getting over $100 from the door, which is a good night for us, and both of the local bands were excellent: Suicide Bomb, which includes members of Condenada, Born/Dead, and Artimus Pyle, and Morpheme, the young crasher band with a Japanese singer. They've got an ep coming out on Prank, but the singer's moving back to Japan, so the band's done after one more show, I believe. We spent the night at our always hospitable friend Matt's house.

Arcata: good show, good turnout. We played with a crappy PA, which basically meant no vocals, but the kids went crazy anyway. First show where that had happened. There was so much dirt in the carpet in the room we played, sent airborne by the attendees, that when we finished playing, the drumset looked like it had been sitting in a basement for five years. Got fed pancakes the next morning. Excellent.

Eugene: lousy show at a tattoo shop made worse by the fact that the people who work there unbeknownst to the bookers had turned it into a benefit for their friend who had put his hand through a window (under not entirely unreasonable circumstances, I'll admit, having heard the story) and fucked up tendons and nerves and stuff. So we got zero money from the door and left for Portland right after we played. That was a day and a half ago, and I'll have to leave it at that for now. I've got a van to Seattle to catch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

First actual tour update

I have not been online since we left Long Beach, and I will probably have to condense this a bit so as to not spend my whole night in a Tijuana internet cafe. Have to play a show, etc.

We had a chance to practice before we left LB, which was fortunate. We needed it. The last couple of times I played before leaving for tour, my left wrist was hurting. My wrists haven't bothered me in forever, so I was actually kind of concerned. It bothered me a little bit at practice here, but not as much as it had. And it's pretty much held steady in that condition. I've noticed it at every show, but it's not consistent or intense. Kids: learn good technique. Warm up before you play. Then when you experience pain, you'll be able to say, 'I hurt, and I have no idea why.'

First show was in LA (Boyle Heights) at the Boulevard Cafe. Unimpressive turnout and interminable, mediocre opening bands. We made over $100 in merch though, which is a really good night for us. We've got more stuff to sell this time than we usually do: three shirt designs, last copies of the LP, a few copies of the second ep, brand new third ep, patches, pins, Lotus Fucker demos, and a few copies of the Framtid 2007 Euro tour DVD that just came out. (We got a few because they included footage of all the bands they played with on that tour, and that means us. Haven't watched any of it yet.)

We spent the night at a house with a bunch of people near route 10, which we would need to jump on the next day to get to Tempe. At some point I was awoken by a coupling, the intended level of discretion or indiscretion of which was rendered moot by its extreme proximity to my head. Oh, tour.

When we left LA, the temperature was around 70, but the Phoenix area was more like mid 90s. We found a vegan comfort food restaurant and filled up before heading to the venue, which was an industrial park storage space cum practice space cum performance space. I had been trading messages with my old hometown friend Jason about meeting up in Phoenix, where he lives. It worked out, and he and his partner and I shot the breeze in the parking lot outside the venue for about a half hour. The last time I saw Jason was at his wedding in Pennsylvania maybe four years ago. He's divorced now. So it goes. It's funny: I generally think of Brighter Days as my first foray into enterpreneurship, but technically I made my first stab at selling my wares with Jason when we were 10 or 12. Those of you who lived through the 80s will surely remember friendship bracelets, those multicolored tied string thingies that were like a half inch to two inches wide that everybody wore. Jason was good at making them. I tried and kind of sucked at it, so I made a really dumbed down version of them that looked ok. We got the local five and dime to take some of our 'J and J String Bracelets' on consignment. I don't remember how many sold. It was Jason's idea, he was always an industrious sort. I distinctly remember learning what the word 'profit' meant from this experience. 'How much profit do you want to make?' he asked me. 'Oh, uh...' 'You know, how hard you wanna make it rain? We doin' this for our health or we doin' this for the motherfuckin' Benjies?' It was 1989 and I'm quoting Jason verbtim. 'Don't trip, son,' he definitely also said. Ok, maybe I'm paraphrasing.

The show was ok, nothing special. Crossing the border at Calexico into Mexicali the next day was a breeze. I'm running out of internet time and should get back to the venue, so I'll have to leave on that suspenseful note.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If you're reading this, you have the city of Long Beach to thank

I wasn't sure if I wanted to bother keeping a tour log on this trip. And I'm still not sure that I do. But there have already been a few moments, brought to you by (and I know I said this last year too) the seriously beat-down burnout of a town that is Long Beach. I commented to Forrest earlier today about the incredibly high number of obviously intoxicated and/or visibly mentally ill people wandering the streets. We had a chuckle about it, but...it's not really hyperbole. Forrest speculated that it was a shared quality among beach towns and likened it to Virginia Beach. Here are a couple of great micro-encounters we've had with the locals so far:

1. In order to facilitate easy unloading of our bags last night, Alan briefly double parked his van in the mouth of an alley by his place, blocking the sidewalk. It's around 1:30am. We were inside a few minutes later, and a woman accosts Alan in his doorway and asks, "Is that your van?" "Yeah." "Ok, I need to get your name." Nothing about the woman's appearance suggests she has an even distant relation to the law enforcement profession. "Why do you need my name?" "Oh, uh... never mind." She walks away.

2. Forrest and I were walking back to Alan's after lunch today, and a hard-livin' type dude asked Forrest who did his "tat work," which was visible on both of his sleeveless arms. Due to an underabundance of teeth in the guy's mouth, I thought he had asked Forrest who did his tax work, which I thought an odd but not unreasonable question. Everyone needs tax work done now and again. Forrest replied that the artist is a friend of his back in Virginia. We continued the last half block to Alan's, where we hung outside for a minute. The guy stopped to chat briefly. "I got a friend who does that. He rides a bike around. Name's Tattoo."

Back to the big picture. All three of us had delayed flights thanks to the positively biblical weather visited on the mid-Atlantic last night. (By biblical, I mean "diluvian," not "weather that never happened," but thank you for asking.) Forrest's flight took off less than an hour late, but landed five minutes after his connecting flight was supposed to leave Cleveland. Run, Forrest, Run he did and made it. My flight was two hours late. Shravan had to spend the night in Atlanta. Fail. But here we all are. Forrest and I drove into LA to pick up Shravan this afternoon because poor Alan needs to vacate his home/record store by tomorrow, so he's off hauling all his shit into storage. He's also been throwing out a bunch of stuff, and while we were helping him last night, he made Forrest carry a box of overrun Parasytic covers to the dumpster lol. Right now S and F are practicing the set list with me occasionally vacating the keyboard to tap out a fill on the desk. Tour's so easy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Into the sunset

Hey, it's summertime again. Which means it's time for me to travel long distances to perform in front of very drunk people. Shravan, Forrest, and I all flew into southern California Wednesday on separate flights. Mine was on time and no sweat. Shravan had to go through Atlanta, was delayed an hour and a half, and was seated conveniently between a pair of single mothers with a young child apiece. Forrest shared a row with two women of a certain size to whom he had to essentially give lap dances in order to access the bathroom from his window seat. Forrest and Alan, our Long Beach host, picked me up about two hours after my flight arrived, and we had to kill another hour and a half before Shravan was ready to be picked up.

We spent Thursday sleeping in and walking around Long Beach, which seems to host a large population of hard-luckers. This hadn't been as apparent to me when we were here two years ago. Alan lives in his record store with a roommate and four cats. It's a comfortable arrangement with enough room to shelter at least two bands; we stayed here with Imperial Leather in '06, and Giuda will be bedding down here tonight. Our first show is in a couple hours in Rowland Heights, a town equidistant from Long Beach and L.A. proper (if there is such a thing). We're playing at an outdoor arena that primarily showcases wrestling. Apparently it's pretty cool except for the bouncers, who behave as if they work at an outdoor arena that primarily showcases wrestling.

Almost time to roll. More later.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chris Morris: A Thinking Man's Pervert

In the fall of 2005, I had the privilege of making contact with English and Welsh soil for the first time. Had it not been for certain difficulties in the area of automotive technology, I'd be able to speak of a similar introduction to Scottish soil (but I wouldn't be able to say that I spent the first hours of my 27th birthday sleeping in a van with eight other guys in a gas station parking lot in the middle of the jolly English countryside). Seeing a dozen new cities (including my first and all-to-brief experience of London), hanging with the members of Night and the City of Broken Promises (who, when not busy inconveniently suffering punctured bowels, served as more than worthy banter-mates), and watching the drowning of New Orleans on the BBC were unforgettable experiences. Though I spent a considerable percentage of my cumulative half-day's worth of time in London inside the Tate Modern, the bit of art that has stuck with me the most from that trip was on a DVD I watched at our driver's house in Barnsley.

I had never heard of the show Jam. I didn't recognize any of its cast members, and none of the related TV shows our host mentioned rang any bells. Jam ran for one season in 2000 in the UK. If you've never seen it, it's like this: think of the darkest sketch comedy you can conjure. Oh come on, you can do better! Slap yourself and try again. You probably still can't compete with Jam, and now on top of that you've slapped yourself for nothing. Jam is relentless in its coverage of the taboo. And it features a sort of anti-laugh track: the arty, often sea-sickly cinematography is underpinned by an unsettling ambient soundtrack. You should be able to decide in the following 20 seconds whether you need to see more:

You can't get the Jam DVD in the US, and though I've done my best to describe my favorite sketches to friends, I was worried that I would never be able share the full experience. Then I remembered a little thing called YouTube, that honestly I don't spend much time on and is not usually at the front of my mind. All the good stuff I see on YouTube is either sent to me or posted on message boards. I don't do much mining on my own. But sure enough, Jam is all over YouTube. Before I get to the brain behind the twistedness, here are a few more of my favorite sketches:

If you find those bits to be right up your dark, dark alley, then continue over to YouTube and search for "jam sketch" or some such thing. There's much more there, including quite a few I haven't even watched yet. So, as I was revisiting these videos on the internet, I started reading about Chris Morris, the satirist behind Jam. He's been at it since the late 80s; highlights include the radio programs On The Hour and Blue Jam, a Jam precursor. On The Hour morphed into the television program The Day Today, which further evolved into Brass Eye, a spoof current events show that anticipates Sacha Baron Cohen's antics in its humiliation of gullible celebrities and government officials. Below in three parts is the Brass Eye show entitled "Paedogeddon," a hilarious pull-no-punches send-up of the media hysteria that surrounds pedophilia. It racked up the third most complaints in British television history.

Morris is also responsible for a trippy, irreverent video remix of the Archbishop of Canterbury's eulogy for Princess Di; as well as the brilliant reworking of Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that you've probably seen without knowing who did it. I leave you with those two videos and encourage you to hunt down more from this under-exposed perverted comedic genius pervert.