I kind of meant to blog about the tour while on it, but I sort of forgot to get around to it. It’s a pretty hectic and busy process, and I was simultaneously trying to wrap up a contract gig and do a little job-hunting during the few times I could get internet access. This is going to be one of the main technical stumbling blocks of my concept networking application for independent musicians will have to deal with: on the road, you can go several days without being able to come up with a place that you can get on the Internet.
The original plan was that I was going to play bass in Sam’s sets on the first two nights, at The Yacht Club in Iowa City and The Reverb in Cedar Falls. When I came down for a rehearsal though, Sam, who I guess was already a bit worried about how the rather sparse lineup of himself (on vocals, banjo, and guitar) and two of the Teddy Boys (Joel on guitar, Graham on snare drum and splash cymbal) would sound, decided once we got going that bass was the missing ingredient and he really liked where I was going with it. He floated the idea of me joining them on the tour, and then I floated it at Leah when I got home, expecting a universal condemnation of the idea. It didn’t quite happen. So pretty soon I was committed to ride along and do 14 shows in 14 days (though we ended up doing only 11) as Samuel Locke-Ward’s bass-man, with occasional bouts of simultaneous bass and trumpet, on a tour with The Teddy Boys – giving my final confirmation on the eve of the tour’s kickoff, which Sam says set some kind of record.
I rode down to Iowa City in a car with Joel, Graham, and Devin. Graham is the Teddy Boys’ drummer now, and Ross is out. I can kind of understand the decision. Stylistically, Ross was always kind of an odd fit – all hard-hitting tightness and machinelike precision. He’s amazing at it though, if that’s the sound you’re after. Graham is more of an indie-rock drummer, looser and swingier, which better suits the Teddy Boys’ easygoing guitar power-pop. He’s also an iron-man at van driving, who did probably about half the driving on the trip.
Iowa City, Sam’s home turf and the first show of the tour, had possibly the most interesting/weird bands we played with. Family Van is a crazy outsider group with funny outfits, toy instruments, and zero musical training. Imagine catchy, repetitive chants shouted over primitive rhythms, cacophonous feedback, and chiming dissonance. They’re like what you get when a bunch of six-year-olds pretend to be in a band, except a lot louder and with lyrical subject matter that I suppose I wouldn’t recommend for children, although in a way, it seems like children could think it up, and probably get a spanking for it if mom heard them. Also, a goodly portion of the band are strikingly attractive individuals. They gave a very spirited and fun performance.
Liberty Leg was awesome as well. I had heard some tunes on their MySpace in passing, but hadn’t listened particularly closely and wasn’t really sure I would like them. I didn’t realize until I was told later that the singer, who puts off a definite latter-day Nick Cave vibe, had been the singer of Iowa Beef Experience, though in retrospect, there’s really no mistaking that voice. A lot of the lyrical subject matter comes from American history. They’re a bass-less trio lineup like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the musical backing is built around supremely dirty garage/blues riffage. The guitarist often fingers the lower parts of chords with his thumb hooked over the top of the neck, which will irritate the hell out of gearhead technical guitar-dude types, but you can’t argue with the results.
I sounded out the three-note trumpet clarion in the chorus of The Teddy Boys’ “Baby, You’re The Best” by ear out in the alley before their set, after asking Dylan which chord it occurs on, and joined in for it the rest of the tour, except when they pulled a subdued semi-acoustic version of it in New Orleans.
Sam came back and stayed at my place the next couple nights; the second night’s show was at The Reverb. It was cool hanging out with him. In fact, it was cool hanging out with him the whole tour. He and I are compatible shades of crazy, something I’d long suspected but hadn’t been able to spend enough time with the man to see in action before this tour. As is often the case at Reverb, folks didn’t really start showing up until kind of late, so Naked Station jangled and yelped with youthful aplomb for almost nobody.
We took off for Omaha Saturday afternoon and played at The Barley Street Tavern that night with a one-man version of A Tomato A Day on acoustic 12-string, who sounded great. The turnout was kind of dismal, though; turns out Feist had done a free show in some park that night, and some other fairly largish band was having an album release party nearby. We met up with Brendan and Pearl, the couple that heads up the band Outlaw Con Bandana at the venue, and the plan was to stay at their place and experience some authentic Omaha culture the next day, checking out a record store called The Antiquarium and eating at a place called Louie M’s Burger Lust.
Things didn’t work out as planned, however. We were hanging at Outlaw’s place, having some beers and getting ready to crash, and Joel and Dylan had already bedded down in the van parked on the street out front, when Graham went out to get something from the van and returned reporting that the van was gone. At that moment Sam’s phone rang. It was Joel, calling to tell us that the van had been attacked by a large group of young Latino fellows with knives, attempting to break in, shouting at them to get out of the van, something about “I hear you talkin’ about by holmes” and “Lo Mas.” After barely a few seconds of trying to talk their way out of it, Joel had sprung into action, closed the side door window on one of the guys’ fingers who was trying to reach in and unlock the door, hopped in the driver’s seat, started up the van, and took off, possibly running over a couple of them. Joel, Dylan, and the van were now several blocks away, freaked out and in need of directions back to the house and any suggestions what to do next.
Our first inclination was that they were pulling a practical joke on us, but then assuming that was not the case, there was question as to how many thugs there actually were and how serious they were. We stood around in the front yard trying to assess the situation for a few minutes, and a neighbor who was quite drunk claimed to have witnessed the incident, and said it was just some bunch of little kids, so I played off his belligerence for fun, advocating that we gang up and fuck them up if they come back, then headed back inside to use the bathroom. While I was in there, Sam came knocking at the door saying hurry up, we had to get the hell out of there like right fucking now. Apparently while I was in there, a car had driven slowly by with some guys in it, yelling “Lo Mas” at us again, and seemed to be circling. Brendan said it was a bad idea for everyone to keep standing around in the yard looking like they were ready for a fight lest someone end up getting shot, and Sam and the guys had decided that this definitely did not look good so we were leaving posthaste. Reportedly Lo Mas is the #3 gang in Omaha. The top two gangs don’t screw with regular folk, occupying their time instead with shooting each other and selling hard drugs. Lo Mas, being a bit lower on the totem pole of Omaha gangs, feels they have something to prove I guess. So we gathered up our shit, hopped in the van, and took off into the night, eventually stopping to sleep in the van at a truck stop in the southwest extremity of Iowa that was all full of Christian stuff, like bible verses painted on the walls and everything. Joel, Graham, Sam and I ate at the diner there called “The Apple Barrel” (which we nicknamed “Crackerbee’s”) and the food was pretty good.
Thus it was that we made it to Lawrence, Kansas a bit earlier than planned. We hung out in town and hit The Replay early, among what seemed like quite a good crowd for a Sunday, checking out their early show on the outdoor stage. Some local gal did an amazing solo set of jazzy guitar and 1940s-style vocals which had us blown away. By the time we went onstage we had been drinking away the shell shock from the Omaha incident all day and I do suspect my performance was embarrassing, though reports from the guys were that it was hilarious. At one point I actually fell off the stage, and Sam said to the crowd, “Somebody help him up – nah on second thought, fuck it, leave him there.”
Lonnie Fisher and the Funeral headlined, and the lead guy played guitar in an open-chord tuning, using his thumb rather like the guy from Libery Leg. I remember them being quite good and a nice group of guys and somehow I ended up with a copy of the keyboardist’s solo CD, a guy named Charles McVey. Haven’t listened to it yet. After the show I stumbled around the bar playing bad blues trumpet and Joel drew chest hair on me with a Sharpie.
We stayed with a guy named Seth from Rooftop Vigilantes who works at Replay and had done sound for the show. He and his friends were super cool to us. Just before our set, Sam received a call from the promoter of our next night’s show, in some smallish town, informing him that the show was canceled. We were to be the first show at a new venue there, but the venue failed to open because the sprinkler system wasn’t finished.
So we had to somehow kill a whole day hanging around Lawrence. The Teddy Boys are a pretty spirited crew and we ended up having a lot of laughs in spite of the boredom. Besides which, Lawrence turned out to be a pretty cool town. People seem to drink a lot of beer there – among the places that served beer were movie theaters and coffee shops (something we saw more of as the tour went on), including one called The Bourgeois Pig, allegedly owned by The Get Up Kids, where Sam and I ended up hanging out a lot using their wi-fi. We spent a good chunk of the day walking around and joking around, checked out a great record store called The Love Garden, had some very tasty pizza at a place whose name I don’t remember, I talked to my web-dev client and some recruiters on the phone, and later on the Bourgeois Pig (which we had nicknamed “The Boojie Douche”) had out some free food in honor of Bastille Day. We decided to try to make some extra cash by busking on the street doing Sam’s tunes with me playing trumpet and melodica. Good thing I brought my melodica.
We didn’t make a whole lot though. We did, however, have a middle-aged couple waltzing to us for a couple songs, and the guy gave us a few bucks and expressed appreciation for the music. Then we were playing outside the Replay, and a couple of bums were dancing, when suddenly one of them took issue with us being on their corner: “You know, I like your music, but ya know, it’s mighty disrespectful of you guys to come out here on our corner where we’re trying to sell flowers.” So we left in search of another corner, and upon looking back, noticed that the bums were picking flowers from the corner flower-pot planted by the city and selling those. Nice business model you got there, guys. Then some guy suggested we try playing in an open jam at this jazz club, that that turned out to be way too collegey and besides there was a cover. We did the set again for tips at another venue that was looking to have an acoustic act do some stuff, but there wasn’t much going down there either. We did end up chatting with a guy who had been a roadie for Split Lip Rayfield and he told us some good places to eat in New Orleans.
Seth was kind enough to have us for a second night at his place, but while we were hanging around The Replay waiting while they closed up, shenanigans were occurring directly outside. A blind homeless guy who Seth is acquainted with was lying on the sidewalk wrapped in a sheet sleeping, and members of some band from Florida that had played the Replay that night opening for Fag Cop started fucking with the poor guy and taking pictures with him. One of them pulled his dick out and made like he was jerking off on the guy, right in front of the tinted window of the Replay that several of the Teddy Boys were sitting by one of the pinball machines next to. Seth ran outside and shooed them away with some harsh words. The previous night I saw him confront some guy who was coming out of The Replay with a fountain cup and end up having to contend with several argumentative guys that turned out to be accompanying him. Seth is one brave son of a bitch, he don’t fuck around. Serious kudos to him.
Sam, Harper and I stayed up most of the rest of the night with Seth and a friend of his, a member of Rooftop Vigilantes I believe, drinking and talking on their fire escape. Some guys showed up in the morning with cameras to shoot some shots for a movie out of Seth’s apartment window, and that rousted us out of there and on towards Oklahoma City.
For a few days around the end of the tour I could not for the life of me remember Oklahoma City, and I had to go back and look at the tour schedule and see the name of the venue to get it all back in my head. The bartender who was opening up the Hi-Lo Club when we arrived recommended we get some food down the road at a place called Lee’s Sandwiches. We had no idea what we were in for. Lee’s Sandwiches was amazing. For one thing, the place is huge – the building appears to be a former grocery store. Secondly, they specialize in Asian style sandwiches on baguettes that they make in-house, the place has this cool/crazy Asian vibe to it, and the food there is not only almost ridiculously cheap, but also delicious on a level I can’t even describe to you. One thing I can say about this tour: when I managed to eat, I ate well.
The Hi-Lo club had been a speakeasy during Prohibition, and I’m told that when the cops came knocking, all the politicians and fatcats boozing there would escape through this secret underground tunnel that leads to a bar across the street, and they had illegal gambling and a brothel down there back then. People were crazy there that night. They seemed to partying awfully hard for a Tuesday and most of them seemed to be trying very hard to get laid. Things got pretty wild, and there was this creepy edge of menace and weirdness over the whole evening, which was either scary or fun or both.
The local headliner Asleep, Audience! Dream! put in a long, jammy set in serious need of some focus, but they were definitely in their “playing for a bunch of our close friends in our hometown” element. If they’d quit screwing around switching instruments with everybody trying to play a little of everything whether they’re any good at it or not, and ease up a little on the extended “obnoxious psychedelic effects-pedal-worship noise guitar” freakouts, they would sound like a rather appealing mix of Hawkwind and Flipper. Hell, I’d give them another chance.
During their set a certain young lady was trying to entice various of our band members to get up and dance with her, which some of us did very badly and recklessly, resulting in considerable hilarity and nearly in a fight when Joel tumbled head-first over our seat, accidentally kicking some guy at the neighboring table in the head. Luckily, the guy already had a broken arm and thus, though irritated, was disinclined to push the issue.
Leah was excited that we were going to Tulsa. She spent some time there in her traveling days and has very fond memories of it. Sam and I ate at Tabouli’s, which was very tasty, and we hung out at a coffee shop using the the wi-fi for a while. I stayed while they were were closing up, and the kid working was listening to Minus The Bear. I tried to get him to come out to The Soundpony for the show but I don’t think he showed.
We met up at some bar for a couple beers and to regroup. Turns out that my uncle Duane and aunt Chris were in Tulsa that same day, and my my dad had figured this out and called them. Chris called me up and chatted for a few minutes but they were gassing up and preparing to head home and I couldn’t provide directions to where we were, so they didn’t meet up with us to hang out. Some drunk goosber with a pitbull did, though. His pitbull was very friendly, but he joked with us in a rather offensive manner and seemed like trouble, so we escaped to the Soundpony.
The Soundpony has bike stuff all over the place. Furniture made of bike parts, bike parts on the walls, bike posters, and they were watching the Tour de France on the TV. Pretty cool little bar, although the PA was kind of sad and there was no sound guy there to help us operate it. The crowd wasn’t too bad considering there was no local act on the bill.
Next we went to Graham’s parents’ place, in that general Austin metro area, and they put us up, made us pancakes and jerk chicken, and the T-Boys swam in their pool and Sam watched a lot of cable TV. We did a house show in Denton that Simon Joyner hooked Sam up on (he decided not to push his luck to try to get the T-Boys on it too, which was probably wise). A couple solo acoustic guitar types opened that weren’t too bad, but usually those kinds of acts don’t hold my interest all that well. Kids from surprisingly far off came out to see Simon Joyner and some gathered around outside the house before the show to ask him fanboy questions, so it was apparent I had no idea what a deal Simon Joyner actually is, especially with him coming out to play such a small show. Now, of course, I understand why. There are a million “singer-songwriter guy/gal with an acoustic guitar” acts out there, but not one I’ve ever seen in my life holds a candle to Simon Joyner. With just a few simple chords he succeeds at being mesmerizing based almost entirely on his lyrics. He has recordings out with other instruments involved, but they make for icing on an already tasty cake. Sam had been trying to get me into his stuff, and now I’m definitely a fan.
The next day was the Austin show. I forgot to eat anything that whole day, apart from a croissant I grabbed off Graham’s parents’ kitchen counter as we were leaving. We saw Daniel Johnston’s frog mural and Sam snapped a photo of it from the van, though I rather wish he’d have jumped out and had the guys circle the block to pick us back up in a couple minutes, so that we could have got a closer picture with some of us standing in front of it. Some orange juice got spilled in the van and rotted in the heat of Texas’s hottest summer on record, and smelled awful. It spilled on Sam’s laptop bag, a really cool thing Grace had made for him, so we hit a laundromat near the apartment of Dan, an Austin-based ex-Iowa boy known as The Bassturd whom we were to play at Quack’s Maplewood with that night. The Bassturd was hilarious despite his set being hurt by a combination of bad sound and his being rather intoxicated. The man is a comedy genius with a keyboard who positively shits funny lyrics and catchy tunes almost like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. We also had some fine garagey rock from Bob Taylor’s Latest Review. The gal who got us the show got her boyfriend, who is the manager of a hotel, to hook us up with a couple rooms, where we stayed up late with Dan’s tape recorder and keyboard recording made-up songs and campaign commercials for his 2012 presidential bid and drinking Lone Star beer. Word to the wise: don’t get drunk on Lone Star, you’ll hate yourself in the morning.
The next night we played at the Tantra Coffee House in nearby San Marcos, again with The Bassturd and Bob Taylor’s Latest Review. The Bassturd was again brilliant. Afterwards we slept on the floor and couch of an efficiency apartment of a young lady who seems to be a friend of his. Sam, Dan, Joel and I accompanied her to some bonfire party later that night, but it was pretty dull and I ended up falling asleep sitting up on the ground, even as Dan made up funny songs on the accordion, before we finally went back to her place and crashed out, then hit a movie theater the next day to catch Batman before leaving town.
Somewhere around this time, Dylan’s Fender amp head shitted out. We suspected a blown tube and resolved to look into having it fixed as soon as we could. It being a Sunday though, we had to make do in the meantime.
Both Austin and Houston have grown like weeds over the past few years, but you can really tell when driving through Houston. It’s a sprawling metropolis and there’s construction going on everywhere. Everything’s jumbled and it almost seems like new stuff is being built right on top of old stuff. Rudyard’s English Pub is a really cool venue. They gave us very tasty food and the sound guy was one of the best on the tour, even with Dylan playing direct through the PA. Too bad nobody came to hear it. Well, a couple guys wandered up to the upstairs stage area, but I don’t know how much they bothered to pay attention.
Things were beginning to look a bit grim – low turnouts, little money, busted guitar amp, less-than-ideal accommodations, and thoroughly unpleasant weather. We took off in the middle of the night again for New Orleans. The humidity was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Sam says he thinks if he’d have held a cup out the window during the drive he could have filled it with water. Another bad truck-stop sleep on the way. Even getting paid as two acts, gas for a large van with seven guys in it pulling a trailer full of gear was killing us – an hour on the highway cost a good thirty bucks, and our average between-show drive was about four hours.
Touring can be hazardous to your physical and mental health. I quit smoking on any habitual basis some time ago, though I still indulge in the occasional pipe or cigarette. I have kind of an epicurean/moderation attitude about drinking and smoking, that if you aren’t doing it out of a thorough enjoyment, you’re probably overdoing it and ought to lay off for a while. But spending hours a day in a van with five guys who smoke is a sure-fire way to get started back up. I went cheap though, and bought rolling tobacco. Thus I smoked hand-rolled cigarettes the whole two-week tour at a total cost of four dollars. Also on tour, you drink too much. Sometimes it’s the only way you can get any sleep in a van or on a strange floor, and stay optimistic in the face of all the various unpleasantness and frustrations of the touring process. Venues seem to know this and offer cheap specials, or sometimes free beer, to bands, and we definitely took advantage of whatever we could get.
The thing that saves you is the music. You have to absolutely love it. Playing a bunch of shows in a row night after night is the best practice you can get, and the playing gets tighter and tighter and the music sounds better and better, so it can get to be very uplifting the way you start to lock in with your group, if that’s the kind of thing that makes you happy. Meeting other kindred spirits who are in the music game is another positive thing.
I thought New Orleans was going to suck if I didn’t have tourist money to spend, but it wasn’t all bad. The French Quarter is full of shops all selling mostly the same junk anyway. We hit a liquor store and bought some cans of beer, which we drank sitting on a sidewalk in front of the jail while waving at passing cops. Sam got some new shoes because his were falling apart. We hit one of the restaurants that had been recommended to us in Lawrence, and feeling adventurous, I ordered up a crawfish tail po-boy, which was delicious. Dylan took his amp in to a guitar shop and they said the circuit board was fried and there was nothing they could do. The Circle Bar, where we played, was a bar in a converted old house on a roundabout. Some local guy-with-acoustic-guitar headlined and he made fun of us. I was tired. I think I fell asleep sitting against a lamppost. Then another late-night drive, another truck-stop van-sleep. We arrived in Nashville sweaty, dirty, smelly, homesick and miserable.
Scoring any kind of gig at all in Nashville was a coup though, even a non-paying one – there’s a lot of pay-to-play in Nashville supposedly. We played the “New Faces Night” at something called The Basement, which was downstairs from another very cool record store called Grimey’s, and there were ten acts in total on the bill that night, doing 20-minute sets. The sound man was top-notch and the venue provided a house drum kit and bass amp, both of better quality than our own gear. There were a lot of one- and two-man singer-songwriter outfits, none of which I found particularly memorable apart from a folkie named Bonnie Whitmore who had an awesome singing voice and engaging stage presence. Right after her set she hopped into a white Subaru wagon and took off, which I thought was kind of shitty, but what the hell, she rocked the place. There was also an outfit that involved Kid Rock’s steel-guitar player and the drummer from Agent Orange, but I don’t remember much about their set.
We played great; the crowd that hung around for the last three acts loved both our set and the T-Boys’ set, enthusiastically cheering and such, and the final act of the night, whose name I have forgotten, were quite good too. For as cutthroat-competitive as the Nashville music scene supposedly is, it was surprisingly friendly. Dylan played out of Devin’s bass amp since Devin was using the house amp. The bartender, another former Iowan, got us hooked up with a good deal on drinks, additional drinks were bought us, and the Teddy Boys made some good contacts.
And then we were on the road again. Another truck-stop van-sleep was in store for us, but a couple of the T-Boys decided to spring for a room at a Days Inn. Thus we got much-needed showers before proceeding to Columbia, Missouri. As we approached Columbia, we assessed our situation and found it to be broke. A decision was made to cancel the next night’s St. Louis show, which we knew was not going to pay much – it was at an all-ages youth center type place, and involved a backtrack in our route that was going to be expensive for gas, so we determined that we’d be better off heading right back home after Columbia.
Columbia, and our show at the Eastside Tavern, ended up being a real highlight of the trip and a good high note to end the tour on. Sam had some friends in the area, including a member of the soon-to-be-defunct Witch’s Hat, that we got to hang out with a little. Sam had been talking up Shakespeare’s Pizza during the trip; he says it’s the best pizza in the country and the main reason he plays Columbia, so knowing that eating there would bring up his spirits, and curious to try it myself, I spent what I could come up with to get he and I a pizza there, and it was indeed everything he said it was.
The show went very well too. Our bands had become road-tight. The local headliner, who kindly let Dylan use one of their amps, was also excellent, an energetic riffy/bluesy garage-rock trio called Monte Carlos whose guitarist blew my freaking mind. In fact, they pretty well kicked ass all around. They will also be playing the upcoming August 2nd show at The Picador in Iowa City, at which an incarnation of Sam’s “big band” will be playing, with myself again on bass. That show should be quite something.
And then it was homeward bound. I had been getting most of my sleep during the drives the past few nights, and this was no exception. We dropped Sam off at home, dropped off various Teddy Boys and their gear, and I made it home around 10 in the morning.
Overall, it was a pleasure and an honor to stand up next to Samuel Locke-Ward and play his songs. I gained a whole new appreciation for his music and lyrics, and he told me stories about how some of his songs were written. Some of them, like his classic “Please Don’t Think Poorly Of Me,” connected with my own experiences in the kind of way that makes you really love a song, and that emotion got channeled into my playing in a really positive way. I got to meet some amazing music people and returned home with some new inspiration to put towards my next album, which is now very nearly recorded.
I would do it again, but I think I’d save up a few bucks first. When you’re in music in this way, you don’t do it because there’s money in it, you do it because if you couldn’t, you’d probably pretty much give up on life. Maybe that seems pretty fucked up, but it’s true. But it’s also true that the bills gotta get paid. Guys like Sam and I have to work our butts off at regular jobs to be able to do this shit. I’m job-hunting now, and I only hope that I can either pull together a good stream of contract work, or a steady gig with a place that’s understanding about this stuff. Because there’s no way I’m going to give it up and just be the pathetic sad sack local musician that does nothing but play the fucking Reverb once a month. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Reverb, but you know what I mean.